Balikbayan Box: “Making a Home Away from Home”

Published February 22, 2016 by Marya
balikbayan_box

Photo from: pinaysaamerika.blogspot.com

Time and distance can’t stop a mom from “mothering” her child.

Sending a balikbayan box is a way for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) not only to connect with their loved ones but also to continue assuming their role in the household. In a traditional Filipino family, the father acts as the provider while the mother takes care of domestic needs with the help of daughters. But wives and sisters are forced to leave the comforts of home and face the uncertainties of living alone abroad to provide for the family.

Purchasing the “perceived needs” of the family, organizing them inside a box and wrapping it with different kinds of tape before shipping it home allow women, “despite their physical absence, to be hailed back into the domestic and intimate spaces of home” (Camposano, 2012, p. 99). The ritual enables them to “make a home away from home,” as migration anthropologist Clemente Camposano puts it in his 2012 study on “Balikbayan Boxes and the Performance of Intimacy.” Men rarely send balikbayan boxes, he noted.

Camposano said in an interview with GMA that the sending of balikbayan boxes could be considered as “long-distance mothering” as it shows “their power over their households by making consumption decisions” (Takumi, 2015).

Facebook posts of friends showed that the contents of the balikbayan boxes they have been receiving include household items like kitchen utensils, blender and iron and everyday needs such as food in the form of canned goods, soaps, and shampoo. In the country, it can be observed that mothers usually accompanied by their daughters go to grocery stores on weekends to buy shampoo, soap and food. Most mothers also watch out for bargains in the mall’s home section to acquire appliances like blender that would make their work in the kitchen easier and more fun. Following Camposano’s (2012) observation, mothers and sisters continue to perform these perceived duty and activity to give them a semblance of home. Despite the distance, the receivers or the family members they left behind, feel their “presence” through this act.

The large box filled with goods sent by migrant workers to those they have left behind in the country has become a symbol of Filipino diaspora or the mass migration of our fellow countrymen to the different parts of the globe in the hope of a better life. Philippines is one of the world’s top labor exporters. As of 2013, over 10 million Filipinos work overseas in 221 countries. Half of them are women, according to government statistics.

Dr. Grace Cruz, a commissioner of the Philippine Commission on Population (POPCOM), said the surging demand for “nurses and caregivers—most of whom are women” paved way for the “feminization of overseas labor” (Barcelona, 2007).

Apart from the hardships they experience in performing their jobs as nurses, caregivers or nannies, the mere distance and the sadness that goes along with it is enough to bring them to tears. Sending money remittances is a lot easier but migrant workers continue to ship these boxes to sustain relationship with loved ones (Fausto, 2006W). Thus, every balikbayan box is a product of “blood, sweat and tears.”

“Each box would take months to fill up and a month to reach us. But when it does, it’s like Christmas came early. It’s like she’s home, even if she’s thousands of miles away,” wrote a Facebook friend whose sister has been working abroad since 2000. =

Goods in a balikbayan box serve as “manifestations of love between persons as expressed through things” (Fausto, 2006).  This is exemplified by Rappler’s graphic accompanying its article, “The real contents of a balikbayan box,” where a young girl runs toward a box with her mom’s shadow.

A Facebook friend shared it and wrote: “Exactly what I felt whenever I received balikbayan box from mommy.” Rappler contributor and Palanca-winning essayist Shakira Sison described the “triple-sealed and heavily taped” box as the “only tangible connection between an overseas relative and those he or she left behind.”

While new technology like Facebook, Skype and advanced gadgets has enabled parents to virtually watch their children grow, it is still through the changing contents of the box that cater to the evolving needs of the recipients that care is expressed. From sending her first cooking set and Barbie to supplying her with stocks of napkins, soaps and shampoos, her mother has shown her love that transcended distance and space. . Apart from needs, some of the items are special requests of loved ones. This is exemplified by the Facebook post: “That Nike running shoes your teen has been pestering you for his bday. That nice bag Lola wanted but you cannot part with because it was a gift from the husband so you bought a similar one for her. That nice pink Swatch watch for the daughter, who would then Viber you back: Thank you, Mama, and make Mama cry too.”

The contents of a balikbayan box are gifts from the migrant worker to the loved ones left behind. In Marcel Mauss’ classic essay The Gift, objects and services create an interdependent relationship between the sender and receiver (Hermann, 2001).  Following the Maussian tradition, the Nike shoes for the teen, the pink watch for the daughter and the bag for Lola are “inalienable” gifts which serve as a binding force. Reciprocity exists as the receivers get the items they want while the sender is able to gain a sense of belongingness through appreciation and gratitude.

Migrant workers ship about 7.2 million balikbayan boxes a year, according to an Inquirer report. For decades, the money sent home by OFWs has been the country’s main economic engine. “Balikbayan,” which refers to a migrant who comes back to the Philippines, was coined by the Marcos regime to encourage Filipinos living abroad to visit the country. Wanting to revitalize the economy and boost tourism, the government at that time increased tax incentives and reduced airfares for these returnees (Fausto, 2006). A Facebook account named “Pres. Ferdinand Emmanuel Marcos” posted OFW balikbayan box privileges or what it referred to as the “Marcos gift” can be traced back to the dictator’s government when Section 105 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines was amended to allow OFWs to send duty- and tax-free goods. Emigration was encouraged during his term to stimulate the economy that was going down at that time.

According to a GMA News article, the OFW phenomenon began shortly after Martial Law was declared. Marcos issued Presidential Decree 442 or the 1974 Labor Code which formally adopted a recruitment and placement program “to ensure the careful selection of Filipino workers for the overseas labor market to protect the good name of the Philippines abroad.” It was a “band aid” solution to a weakening economy that was later institutionalized by creating policies favorable to OFWs and recognizing them as the “modern day heroes” at the expense of having a mother, a father and children in one home.

United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef)-New York’s deputy director for programs Vanessa Tobin said children are the most affected when one or two parents are away. Although they gain material goods, kids “do not recognize this as a form of care.” Therefore, they are less “socially adjusted” (Rufo, 2008).

The absence of parents cause a “displacement, disruptions and changes in care-giving arrangement,” which is more felt when the mother is away (ibid).

In times of crisis, what sustains an individual is ontological security, which sociologist Anthony Giddens defines as “confidence in continuity of one’s self-identity and in the constancy of the surrounding environment and persons in the environment (cited in Latini,2011:24).

Ontological security is developed when a mother establishes “a regular routine of eating, sleeping and playing” with the child (ibid). Without a mother to create a “routine” with a child, the social costs are bigger than the economic benefits.

The balikbayan box is what Camposanocalls “diasporic intimacy.” It fills the emptiness felt both by the OFW and the family left behind by serving as a tangible link. This is illustrated by an ABS-CBNNews.com graphic for the article, “More than a box: What a “balikbayan box” means for OFWs” OFW Marvin de Guzman was quoted in the article as saying: “Balikbayan boxes are like love letters, and letters should not be opened nor read by anybody not even the BOC unless there’s a crime involve. I say it’s the same because filling up a balikbayan box you personally select what gift you want to send… just like in a letter you carefully choose every word you want to say. Why would you tax those gifts, things that are products of each OFW’s labor of love?”

The clamor against the opening of boxes and imposing taxes was strong because the Bureau of Customs has relegated the balikbayan box and its contents as mere “commodities.” For Marx, commodities are manufactured products for market exchange in a capitalist system, which is marked by “alienable” production and “impersonal” exchange (Hermann, 2011). However, packing a balibayan box is a laborious process and choosing the content is affectively charged that the items are no longer just commodities but Maussian gifts. A video showed how the BOC disregarded the whole ritual, resulting to the anger of the speaker.

Transcript: Tinitingnan daw nila yan isa-isa, yung labas at yung loob. Tinitingnan nila ang tatak  kung may mamahalin at sini-search pa nila ang Internet kung magkano ang halaga kasi dollar ang nakalagay sa tag ng items at isi-search pa nila ang value niyan sa peso para sa babayarang tax. Talagang mga ano sila oh. Ang dami nilang nag-iinspect sa loob, kala mo. Hay naku, mamatay na kayo, mga gahaman kayo. Hindi na lang kay magtrabaho, nangungurakot pa kayo nang nangungurakot. Tinitingnan talaga isa-isa, binubuksan talaga oh binuksan. Tingnan mo nga, o diba? Pati wallet tiningnan kung may pera at yung kasuluksulukan. O, may ebidensya na.

Lack of sensitivity and respect for the balikbayan box tradition resulted to hatred toward President Benigno Simeon Aquino, Customs commissioner Albert Lina and Liberal Party presidential bet local government secretary Mar Roxas. Black propaganda (Graphic 5) and memes circulated on Facebook. Netizens also created new meaning to the box—political casket  Filipinos worldwide signed in an online petition urging Sen. Miriam Santiago to stop BOC’s proposal to inspect and impose taxes on balikbayan boxes. In response, Santiago filed a petition seeking an investigation on the agency’s plan. Following the clamor, Mr. Aquino ordered BOC to immediately stop the manual random inspection.

The OFW phenomenon that took a leap during the Marcos era has changed the domestic frame in the country. The concept of “traditional Filipino family” with the father as provider and mother as caregiver in one physical home with their children is no longer true for most households. Mothers and daughters are forced to leave home to provide for the family. Through the balikbayan box ritual, women are able to continue performing their role of taking care of domestic needs. The purchasing of items, packing of goods and wrapping the box allow them to feel a sense of home.

Through the sending and receiving of box, interdependence is established. Thus,  Facebook was swamped with negative reactions because the BOC intervention would have broken the flow of connection between OFWs and their sons, daughters, parents, siblings, relatives, friends and lovers who look forward to unwrapping the gift first. The touch, the smell, the “feel” and the carefully handpicked items would have been lost if the opening of boxes and alleged “pilfering” of a “corrupt” government agency was not prevented by no less than the president following the people’s outrage.

 

REFERENCES:

 

Camposano, Clement. (2012). Balikbayan Boxes and the Performance of Intimacy by Filipino Migrant Women in Hong Kong. Vol. 21 (1), p. 83-104. Retrieved Sept. 11 in http://www.smc.org.ph/administrator/uploads/apmj_pdf/APMJ2012N1ART4.pdf

 

Fausto, Johanna. (2006). Inside the Balikbayan Box. Retrieved Sept. 11: http://www.columbia.edu/~sf2220/Thing/web-content/Pages/johanna2.html

 

Fausto, Johanna. (2006). Balikbayan. Retrieved Sept. 11: Retrieved Sept. 11: http://www.columbia.edu/~sf2220/Thing/web-content/Pages/balikbayanbox.html

Hermann, Gretchen (2001). Gift or Commodity: What Changes Hands in the U.S. garage sale? P. 72-97 in Consumption: The History and Regional Development of Consumption. Ed. Daniel Miller.

 

Medina,  Andrei, Palumbarit, Veronica (Sept. 21, 2012). How Martial Law helped create the OFW phenomenon. Retreived September 11: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/275011/news/pinoyabroad/how-martial-law-helped-create-the-ofw-phenomenon

 

Takumi, Rie (2015). Sending balikbayan boxes a way of long-distance parenting for some OFWs –expert – Retrieved Dec. 12, 2015 from http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/536943/news/pinoyabroad/sending-balikbayan-boxes-a-way-of-long-distance-parenting-for-some-ofws-expert#sthash.SbAxQeOT.dpuf

 

Rufo, A. (2008). Six million Filipino children left behind by OFW parents. Retreived Dec. 12, 2015 from http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/pinoy-migration/09/25/08/six-million-filipino-children-left-behind-ofw-parents

 

Latini, T. (2011). The Church and the Crisis of Community: A Practical Theology of Small-Group . USA. Wm. B.  Eerdsmans Publishing, Inc.

 

Heneral Luna

Published February 22, 2016 by Marya

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Photo from http://8list.ph/heneral-luna-quotes/ Retrieved on Oct 16, 2015.

Bayan o sarili? Pumili ka!”

Perhaps one of the most memorable scenes in Jerrold Tarog’s critically-acclaimed “Heneral Luna” was when the lead character played by John Arcilla posed this question to the cabinet members, who were proposing the annexation of the Philippines to the United States. Based on the online poll conducted by Inquirer.net, “Negosyo o Kalayaan? Bayan o sarili, pumili ka!  was chosen as the quote that “strikes the most truthful note” by 29.39 percent or 1,892 out of 6,437 respondents. Gen. Antonio Luna’s biopic, the highest-grossing Filipino historical film of all time, does not only narrate the life of the hot-tempered pharmacist-turnedbrigadier general of the Philippine army but urges the audience to reflect on what we can do as Filipinos to a nation still beset with the same problems—selfishness and greed. It does not put  “Luna” in a pedestal but brings him closer to the youth, to the masses that they may find the hero within.

Unlike Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s “Jose Rizal” (produced by GMA films and top-billed by Cesar Montano) and Mark Meily’s “El Presidente” (produced and starred by former Laguna governor  E.R. Ejercito), which glorified the national hero and Emilio Aguinaldo by highlighting their feats in wartime, Tarrog’s independent film offered no pretense.

Gen. Luna was depicted as a flawed and inflexible commander, who is infamous for his ill manners yet admired for his excellence in defense strategies. He was human, thus, he was “relatable.” His sarcasm, arrogance, wit and fierce way of dealing with those who go against him made him a more interesting character who we can laugh at yet learn from. He may be violent but at least he stood for what he believed.

Most of the Philippine historical films I’ve watched were so fixated with what happened in the past that it was hard to see its relevance to the present other than why these heroes need to be venerated. “Luna” does not only give history lessons on who, what, when, where and how but offers some answers on why the country failed to attain freedom and why we won’t progress as a nation until we set aside our differences for the greater good.

Perhaps what Luna said about his time is still true today.  “May mas malaki tayong kalaban sa mga Amerikano–ang ating sarili.” Indeed, our worst enemy is still ourselves. The politics of the past still resonates with the current issues from the debates on the passage of the

Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to the country’s claim on the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The ill effects of regionalism, familial or clannish loyalties and debate on independence and bilateral relation were among the problems highlighted in the two-hour film. As a nation, the Philippines is still divided not only by its geographical makeup but also by peoples’ religious and political beliefs and affiliations, regional bias and prioritization of own family’s welfare. The film suggests that the lack of unity is the reason why the country is still trapped in the shackles of poverty and neoliberalism. It also became more relevant with the upcoming 2016 elections. Sen. Miguel Zubiri, who lost his senate seat in 2011 after facing allegations on the 2007 election fraud, even used the “bayan o sarili” theme in his bid for reelection. But he and other politicians were criticized by netizens, who viewed the film and took to heart the line “Para kayong mga birhen na naniniwala sa pag-ibig ng isang puta.”  “Luna” managed not to be preachy while trying to convey lessons. As entertainment columnist Nestor Torre puts it, the film is persuasive because of the “combination of artistic virtues, production values—and insights into the significance of past events and their continuing relevance to the way we are today.” With a good mix of action film elements, Inquirer Arts and Books subsection editor Lito Zulueta said the well-choreographed battle scenes make it more engaging.  Zulueta likened the success of “Luna” to that of the 1970s hit film adaptation of the

Tagalog comics on the life and exploits of Filipino General Artemio Ricarte, “El Vibora.” Ricarte was the commanding general of the Philippine army before Luna.

The general’s humor and litany of profanities such as “punyeta” as he fought against American troops, the bloodshed, the brutal way that Filipino soldiers murdered him and the controversies hounding his death elicited a range of emotions from the moviegoers at Trinoma in Quezon City on Sept. 20, 2015. The jam-packed cinema was filled with laughter in the beginning, followed by muttering of expletives as the story unfolds, then silence perhaps from controlling tears when Luna died in the hands of fellow Filipinos, and finally as a fitting  gesture for its world-class quality, the audience applauded as the credits started to roll. Some even took to social media to share how the film affected them and how they reacted while watching.  We watched the film on its second week. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to draw huge crowd at that time. But we were forced to settle for the 7 p.m. viewing instead of our initial plan to watch the movie at 5pm because the cinema was already full an hour before the movie schedule. Historical films are not known as crowd-pleasers and I haven’t even seen a trailer of the movie on TV.  Previous historical biopics like “Jose Rizal,” “El Presidente” and “Bonifacio:

Ang Unang Pangulo” were shown during the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) so they were given the hype along with other mainstream films. For “Luna,” it was friends and friends of friends who endorsed it on social media. Weeks later it competed with the phenomenon #AlDub in flooding my news feed.

After five weeks in cinemas, the film managed to rake in P240 million ticket sales, enough to recoup the P80 million production cost, taxes, theater share, distribution commission and expenses, producer-scriptwriter E.A. Rocha explained the division of the box office pie in the Inquirer article “Heneral Luna: lesson in breaking the rules.” Thanks to social media, “the modern word-of-mouth,” Rocha said, the film became a hit. In the same article, lead actor Arcilla and producer Ortigas said that people went beyond spreading rave reviews as they “took ownership of the film.” “Luna’s” reach was not limited to historical aficionados. Celebrities and ordinary citizens went out of their way to advertise the film in blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and by making fan arts and memes, among others. #SaveHeneralLuna went viral online as a “revolution” to keep the movie in cinemas. Due to the weak turnout during the first few days, some cinemas planned to pull out the film to give room for foreign and mainstream movies. But with the social media promotion and the people’s clamor, the film lasted for weeks in cinemas and will even be shown abroad.

What makes Heneral Luna different? Why are people so involved? Rocha attributes the film’s success to Tarrog’s “pulse on what’s hip among Millenials.” The young director, in his thirties, belongs to this generation of Internet-savvy individuals born in the period between 1980 and 2000.  This cohort represents the bulk of the population and with their social media skills, they have the power to make or break a film by a simple tweet or post. There have been a lot of thought-provoking independent films lately like the 28-year-old Pepe Diokno’s “Above the Clouds” (2014) and “Engkwentro” (2009), which transcended borders by reaping awards. But most indie films with heavy content fail to get wide support from the locals or reach the consciousness of the masses. “Luna,” the country’s bet in the 2016 Oscars, is based on “The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna” written by retired University of the Philippines professor Vivencio Jose. But makers of the film exploited their creative license to make their message clear—the country needs change and we can be the hero. This idea is further reinforced with the distribution of “bayan o sarili” stickers and a list of how to be a hero after the film showing. Something must be done because the problems that plagued the country during the American war are still the same issues we face today. By emphasizing the role of “self” and highlighting Luna’s persistence amidst criticisms, disloyalty, lack of soldiers and weapons, the film, although ending in tragedy, gives a sense of optimism. And the realization of that hope lies in the living and not in the dead. Would the  Philippines be a better nation if Luna were not killed? Should we live by his ideology?

Applying the Gramscian approach in analyzing “Luna,” the filmmakers, as dominant class who wants to instigate change, successfully exerted expansive hegemony. Lately, the news has bombarded us with the corruption of government officials such as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, the horrible traffic that affects the majority and the election season. “Luna” echoes the sentiments and frustrations of the audience, the popular classes. “National-popular will” arose from the filmmakers successful adoption of the peoples’ interests. The audience willingly subscribe to the ideology that the filmmakers are trying to convey. This is similar to how James Bond narratives were linked to social and political issues in Britain to create “the imaginary possibility that England might once again be placed at the center of world affairs” as discussed by Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott in Bond and Beyond (cited in Jones, 2006: 71). The association “does not impose a dominant ideology but articulates subordinate and dominant ideologies together, ‘overlapping them onto one another so as to bring about movements and reformations of subjectivity’” (ibid).  Thus “Bayan o Sarili” is not just a question but a challenge to the audience to choose the former over the latter in order to avoid the past from repeating itself, yet again.

References:

Gonzales, Y. (Sept. 30, 2015). INQUIRER.net poll: The most striking ‘Heneral Luna’ quote is.. Retrieved on Oct. 16 from: http://entertainment.inquirer.net/179955/inq-net-poll-the-moststriking-heneral-luna-quote-is#ixzz3oi54zkBb

Jones, Steve (2006). Antonio Gramsci. New York. Routledge.

San Diego, B. (Oct 12, 2015). Heneral Luna: Lessons in breaking rules. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved on Oct. 15, 2015 from http://entertainment.inquirer.net/180772/heneral-lunalesson-in-breaking-the-rules.

Torre, N. (Oct. 10, 2015). History lessons insightfully taught–and vividly learned. Philippine

Daily Inquirer. Retrieved on Oct. 15, 2015 from: http://entertainment.inquirer.net/180626/history-lessons-insightfully-taught-and-vividlylearned#ixzz3oZ7AoCSP

Zulueta, L. (Sept. 7, 2015), Epic movie shows how the Revolution assassinated ‘Heneral Luna’.

Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved on Oct. 15, 2015 from: http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/205799/epic-movie-shows-how-the-revolution-assassinated-heneralluna#ixzz3oZ7pKMRX

Fickle-minded Dreamer

Published February 22, 2016 by Marya

“What do you want to be?”

As a fickle-minded dreamer, I had several answers to that question. In kindergarten, I wanted to be a doctor. But early on, I realized how much I hated blood and injection so I changed my mind. Every year I would write down a different ambition when asked to sign slam books in grade school and high school. I dreamt of becoming the country’s first lady to a dashing president, an actress, a rock star, a journalist, a shoemaker, a novelist, a painter and a lot more. 

Growing up watching Disney shows and movies made me believe that I can be anything I want to be. Hannah Montana portrayed by Miley Cyrus, for instance, lived “the best of both worlds” as a normal schoolgirl by day and a recording star by night. This “follow your dreams” mantra is reiterated in televised concerts where former Disney stars like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears tell fans: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

But we, Millenials born between 1982 and 2004, are stereotyped as “lazy, delusional and narcissistic.” A 2013 Time magazine cover story dubbed our generation as the “Me Me Me Generation.” Most of us may flood Facebook news feeds and fill Instagram with selfies. But not everyone in this generation is as self-obsessed as Kim Kardashian who makes millions by simply showing off her ass. A lot of youth work their ass off in establishing social enterprises to help disadvantaged communities. Some think beyond their own success for the greater good like the group of University of the Philippines (UP) alumni in their twenties who formed Sinag Microfunds Inc. to help finance the education of underprivileged students and young Harvard graduates who went back to the country and established Habi Education Lab to reform the public education system here.

According to a 2012 United Nations report, “Millenials are increasingly acting as agents of change in society.”  Howe and Strauss (2000) forecasted that Millenials are the next “hero generation.” The hero of our generation did not wear a mask or take off his glasses to make a difference. He’s not a hunk like Batman or Superman but a boy who has a scar on his forehead and wears nerdy glasses.  We could easily identify with Harry Potter and his friends Hermoine Granger and Ron Weasley because they looked like us. They were kids when we were kids. We grew up watching actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint portray them on the big screen. J.K. Rowling created characters that helped us celebrate our individuality and respect our differences. Harry was the champion of stigmatized groups such as half-bloods and muggle-born wizards and witches.

The series taught us to fight for the rights of the marginalized. Today, we use Twitter and Facebook to support these groups and instigate change. Even those who do not belong to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community rejoiced when the Supreme Court of the United Sates legalized same-sex unions. The rainbow-colored profile pictures and trending hashtags pertaining to the landmark decision not only showed tolerance but oneness with the sector. And while it may seem impossible to push for the same law in the country because of the strong influence of the Catholic Church, young lawyer Jesus Falcis III, who submitted a similar petition to the country’s Supreme Court, is trying to beat the odds and gaining wide support online. When overseas Filipino worker Mary Jane Veloso was about to be executed for smuggling illegal drugs in Indonesia, we prayed, joined movements and wrote long Facebook posts on why she should be spared. But sometimes we tend to go overboard in saving the “oppressed.” Ms. Universe 2012 first runner-up Janine Tugonon was bashed online for breaking up with his not-so-cute boyfriend Jaypee Santos to allegedly flirt with The Script frontman Danny O’Donoghue. It was a hot topic and some of my guy friends even posted blogs expressing sympathy for her ex-boyfriend.

The Internet has given us voice and power beyond imagination. We feel like heroes in our own virtual sphere.  Helping others or tweeting for a cause feeds our ego and makes us feel good about ourselves. Proud, self-righteous and entitled are among the words used by mainstream media to describe us. Perhaps most of us believe we are special and that there’s so much more we can do beyond the confines of office walls.

We have witnessed how Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg changed the world with Apple and Facebook. These college dropouts redefined success and stressed the importance of passion. “If you just work on the stuff that you like and you’re passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out,” Zuckerberg said. According to Jobs, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, don’t settle. As with all the matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

How do you know what you are passionate about? How long should one search for passion? Should job hunting be like “love at first sight” as Jobs advised?  My Mama told me “love at first sight” is not real. “You learn to love and develop passion for work or for Mr. Right,” she said. When I told her I fell in love the first time I saw Korean superstar Lee Min Ho, she brutally told that he will never reciprocate my love. “Find someone within your reach or you’ll be a spinster,” she added. Ouch! My parents abide by a life manual: study hard, get a job, reach the top, build a family and save enough money so you can live life to the fullest at 60.

It would have been easier to follow my parents’ path. I could stick to a job that pays the bills and forget about my delusions. However, the pressure and promise to be happy and great exist. We take risks and move toward a different direction because of fears that someday when we’re old and grey, we might look back and ask what if? Death may also come too soon.

This year, one of my closest friends and I decided to resign. We left the jobs we’ve had for five years to go on a soul-searching sojourn and find out what we really want to do with our lives. Before quitting, we took to heart the to-do-lists and advices on Elite Daily, Thought Catalog and other blogs created by “twentysomethings.” The proliferation of these sites proved that we were not alone in the search for meaning. Like Mace played by Angelica Panganiban in “That Thing Called Tadhana,” we travelled to find clarity. It was not the love story or the beauty of Sagada that grabbed me but the honesty and frustrations that the characters shared.  This was highlighted in the scene where Mace, who wanted to be a novelist and frustrated artist Anthony (JM de Guzman) expressed their hopes and disappointments:

Aren’t we supposed to be great by this time?-Mace

To the great people we could have been.”-Mace

“Parang ayaw ko naman yatang mag-cheers dyan.” – Anthony

“To the great people we are today.” – Mace

“Sinungaling.” – Anthony

“To the great people we will be?-Mace

“To the great people we will be.” – Anthony

Leaving one’s old life to form a new one is among the ways to cope with the so-called “quarter-life crisis” or QLC. Similar to mid-life crisis, it is characterized by depression, insecurities and disappointments caused primarily by the failure to meet one’s expectations. Growing up, we were fed with the notion that we have all it takes to be anyone we want to be. Who says I can’t be Beyonce Knowles? We both have 24 hours in a day, right? Youtube and all other social media platforms can launch our way to stardom. We have seen how lives were instantly transformed by the Internet. Can I become all that I have written on slam books when I was younger? Solenn Heussaff is an actress, a painter, a model, a singer, a dancer, an entrepreneur and so on and so forth. She has so many titles attached to her name. They’re celebrities, I get it. But Facebook has turned our friends and peers into somewhat celebrities.  They post every milestone and even minute details of their lives online. We know when they land a new job, volunteered for an organization, travelled somewhere, get married and have babies. Those Facebook updates made me feel worthless and insecure because I had nothing new to share.

We live in the era of oblivion. Everything is fleeting. What is popular today could easily be forgotten tomorrow.  Remember how even grandmas and little kids would dance to “Nae Nae” and upload their videos a month ago or how Taylor Swift shocked us with “Shake it off” and “Bad Blood?” Try dancing or singing these songs today and your friends will say, “That is so last year!”  They quickly become viral and swiftly disappear. QLC is a byproduct of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, iPhone, iPads, tablets and other gadgets. I can’t help but ask myself: “Change is happening so fast, can you keep up?”  Zuckerberg made us believe that we can change the world in our twenties. We feel old and unaccomplished at 25.

I’m a grown-up now but I still can’t answer the question my nursery teacher asked: “What do you want to be?” Perhaps there is not a single answer to the question. Who knows where “destiny” will take me? What matters is the “narrative” keeps going. As sociologist Anthony Giddens puts it, “The individual’s biography, if she is to maintain regular interaction with others in the day-to-day world, cannot be wholly fictive. It must continually integrate events which occur in the external world, and sort them into the ongoing ‘story’ about the self.” (cited in David, 2002). 

We take risks for a happier life because as Meghan Trainor’s song goes, “We are not promised tomorrow.”

What If? Lessons from Cinderella

Published January 19, 2015 by Marya

When I was just a little girl, I believed that there’s a place and someone out there made especially for me.

I used to think I was special. Life’s a fairy tale. And no matter what I do, everything will end happily ever after…

But I realized that even Cinderella took the risk of going to the ball.

Happiness involves going out there and exposing yourself to uncertainties.

Cinderella wasn’t sure the prince would fall in love with her. What if her stepmother and stepsisters recognized her and humiliated her in front of everyone?

That’s the worst that could have happened. But thank God, she’s smart enough to cheat and use magic.

Aside from giving her a makeover, the fairy might have cast a spell on the prince to make him fall in love with Cinderella.

Don’t you think she’s a scheming little bitch—acting like some goody two-shoes when she’s actually cunning and manipulative?

Hey I’m not destroying Cinderella’s image. In fact, I’m trying to break the notion that she’s helpless and naïve.

She may not be confrontational but I guess she’s brave. It’s totally hard to make decisions that can turn your life 180 degrees.

Truth is I aspire for change but I’m afraid of change at the same time.

Doubts still clog my brain. But I’m glad my heart tortures my veins and make my body ache that I am forced to make tiny steps away from my “cage.”

Just a little more “push” and I think I’ll be able to break free.

The future, I believe, is a consequence of the choices we make today.

The boring or the exciting? The predictable or the unknown?

It’s up to you.

You don’t have to chase butterflies. But at least you have to allow yourself to bloom.

Or make some bold moves that you never thought you would.

Most of the time, it’s not the things we did that we regret  but the words we never said, the  actions we never took or the reply we never sent.

What if I walked with him and helped him look for his family?  That could have been another version of “A Walk to Remember.” But I’m selfish, self-centered and I only think about my own comfort, okay? 

Or what if I exchanged text messages with the total stranger who gave me a ride in his golden vintage car because it was raining so hard? We could have been friends. We talked a lot. We seemed to have chemistry. He’s cute. He’s five years older. He cooks!

Girl, he went out of his way to help you and the least you could have done was say “thank you” when he said “It was nice to have met you.” Why do you have to be so rude? Learn some courtesy, Miss!

God must be totally frustrated. I hear him telling me, “My child, I have given you opportunities to make landi with some tall, good-looking guys. Haven’t you learned from your history class that it was Maria Clara who made the first move and kissed Crisostomo Ibarra?

Oh My G!

Serendipity? Destiny?

Let’s not close those chapters yet. Our paths may cross again someday, who knows?

The prince searched for Cinderella. He didn’t even know her name; all he had was a shoe.  😉  

#GGSSpost

Beating the Red Light

Published July 9, 2014 by Marya

The stoplight is blinking.

In a second it will turn red.

I shouldn’t be running.

I should have stayed on the platform and waited until it’s green again.

I don’t have Usain Bolt’s speed to escape every moving bus.

But I love the thrill that comes with beating red lights.

It feels like reaching the finish line in a marathon with a greater dose of andrenaline.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to run from Quezon City to Makati with all the buses, jeeps, cars and all other vehicles you can imagine.

Woman vs. Machines.

Hahaha.

What a dream! And when I wanna rest for awhile, I can just hop into a Supernova and jump off of it at any bus stop and run again.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Wonder Woman.

I love her hair!

And who wouldn’t want to have her body?!

Wouldn’t it be nice to be strong enough to break boundaries and defy conventions?

Journey to the Unknown

Published March 15, 2014 by Marya

“If you have to choose between something that has form and something that doesn’t, go for the one without form. That’s my rule. Whenever I run into a wall I follow that rule, and it always works out. Even if it’s hard going at the time.” –  Chance Traveller by Haruki Murakami

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The gate toward the vast ocean and limitless sky is always open.

But most of us choose  security over freedom so the unknown remains unknown.

We dream. We imagine. We wonder what’s out there. But only few go beyond the gates.

I wanna leave and live, disappear and discover.

It’s about time for my imagination to make love with reality like the ocean kissing every curve of the sky.

Boredom makes us braver, giving us courage  to leave the familiar and embrace uncertainty.

I am scared. But fear adds to the excitement.

I’m ready to hit the road. Wherever my journey leads, I know I won’t regret.

I have learned to accept failure and the fact that mistakes are necessary for growth.

We live to grow.

And I’ve finally found a new dream. It’s something that goes beyond my own satisfaction. That’s what makes it worth pursuing. My new dream doesn’t require stairs and ladders. It does not recognize competition. It is born out of passion and compassion.

I’m saying goodbye to deadlines. No more tailored tomorrows. I have learned to stop anticipating the future. I have a dream but I am a woman without an ambition.

I dream of wearing a black bikini, sailing a boat, dancing  on top of a stranger’s car and of  endless roadtrips.

I will do all these while I’m 25.

Life is not all about earning money to pay the bills, saving for a brand new gadget or dating at fancy restaurants.

I know how it feels to be full.

You’re only happy for awhile but soon you  feel the void again and the urge to fill the emptiness with whatever money can buy. It’s a  cycle I want to end. I’d rather feed my soul and experience  a thousand “firsts.”

Tailored Tomorrows

Published February 11, 2014 by Marya

“Where there’s life, death is inevitable. Dying’s easy; it’s living that’s hard. The harder it gets, the stronger the will to live. And the greater the fear of death, the greater the struggle to keep on living.”

Mo Yan, Big Breasts and Wide Hips

I can’t die tonight because I have yet to know life.

I’m still searching for something. And that something doesn’t have a form.

It can be anything—a tree, a bird, a shoe, a key or a door.

The world offers a plethora of choices. I aim for what fits best.

Entertaining possibilities is liberating. For too long I’ve believed in stairs and ladders. But elevators were invented for a reason.

You pick a number. Life takes you there.

I’ve given up the idea of “tailored tomorrows.” We complicate life by trying to create the future.

A wise woman told me that success is “50 percent talent, 10 percent determination and 40 percent destiny.”

Sometimes we try our best but we don’t succeed. Maybe we’re not good enough. Or maybe it’s not for us.

The academe, reality shows and success stories make us believe that perseverance and hard work will lead us to our dreams.

The earlier you get there, the more praises you get.

But sometimes what we want is not what we need. Halfway, we get bruises. When the game is over, we realize why we had to lose.

Someday I’ll take my future daughter to a shoe shop and tell her: “Finding the perfect pair of shoes is hard. You try a lot of pairs that don’t match your size. Yes, it’s frustrating. But remember that trying is NOT a waste of time.”

NEXT Shoe Room. Photo from whatemmadid.com.