May Araw Din Kayo

Kung makaingon mo ug “mirisi” noh, lagot kaayo mo sa ABS-CBN noh? Bahala na ug 11,000 ang mawad-an ug trabaho? Pero wala mo naglagot nga sa tanan gi-saad ni Duterte kay ang pagpanirado ra sa ABS-CBN ang iyang natuman? Hain naman tong zero drugs and zero criminality after 6 months? No more corruption? No more red tape? No more oligarchs? No more contractualization? Wala mo naglagot nga sagpaon kuno niya ang virus pero karon nagsigeg saka ang COVID-19 cases sa Pilipinas? Wala mo naglagot nga nagsige s’ya’g pangutang and naabot na ug 1 trillion kapin ang iyang gi-utang pero walay sakto nga accounting? Wala mo naglagot nga sayun-sayunon ra ug dakop ug pag-preso ang mga ultimo ug ordinaryong mga tao nga naka violate kuno sa quarantine guidelines pero wala gyud nasilutan sila Koko Pimentel, Debold Sinas, Mocha Uson, et al.? Wala mo naglagot nga ang nakapabor ra aning gobyernoha kay ang mga duol sa luwag? Apil na ang mga POGO nga dili mubayad ug tax, mga Chinese nga mang-bully sa atong mga mangingisda sa West Philippine Sea?

Hinuon dili ko mahibung nga wala mo naglagot aning gobyernoha unya lagot kaayo mo sa ABS-CBN kay hangtod karon gani ang inyong gikalagotan gihapon ug ang gibasol sa tanan kay ang previous administration nga mao’y sad-an sa Yolanda funds, Dengvaxia, SAF 44, tanim bala. Upat na ka tuig ang milabay, mga Dilawan gihapon inyong gikalagotan? Inyong basulon? Gagmaya ninyo’g utok noh? LOL

Pero matud pa sa akong amahan nga taga-ilog, hindi araw-araw pasko, may araw din kayo. Ayaw mo’g balimbing inig human aning termino ni Digong ha? Bantay bitaw. Tan-awon nato. 😁

News

When a reporter goes out to look for news, he or she isn’t going to say, “Okay, let’s ONLY look for GOOD news today, we don’t want to put the country and the president in a bad light.”

When cops molest a 15-year-old girl and eventually kill her, it gets reported because it’s news. When cops murder a group of soldiers in cold blood and then try to pass it off as a shootout, it gets reported because it’s news. When the Philippines’ COVID-19 cases surpass Singapore’s, it gets reported because it’s news. When the country’s inflation rate rises this month, it gets reported because it’s news. When ordinary Filipinos are dying of starvation and the virus, when the corpses of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Middle East that died of COVID-19 can’t get transported home (and when surviving OFWs in the Middle East resort to selling their own blood so they can buy food to eat), when hospitals are running out of beds and can’t accept more patients–all those are reported because, guess what, it’s news.

If you read or listen to or watch all these and think that the reporters are just biased and are, worse, purveyors of fake news, then don’t blame the journalists. You really don’t want to consume and digest and analyze the news and make sense of this country (or the world); you only want to read a piece of propaganda by a DDS troll or some press release written by a hack from Malacañang or a blog post by Mocha Uson or a Facebook post by Jay Sonza. You only want to listen to Harry Roque defend the president; you only want to listen to the president’s incoherent ramblings. And somehow that makes you feel better?

Confirmation bias, a type of cognitive bias, is when you search for and interpret information that confirms or supports your prior personal beliefs. You end up believing what you want to believe.

Whitewashed

Of course the bigger problem here, obviously, is the desire to whiten one’s skin and not the simple renaming of a product. All these personal-care companies–like those pharmaceutical companies that produce glutathione pills–are, after all, just supplying a demand. That demand, by the way, of wanting to get rid of one’s brownness, which many Filipinos are guilty of.

That’s not all. I’ve met Filipinos who’ve wanted to get a nose job (she’s now in the United States; I don’t know if she pushed through with her plan–many Filipinos have naturally flat [or big, or round] noses), who’ve taken growth pills as a kid (now fully grown, he never grew past five three; Filipinos are naturally short), who’ve wanted to slim down a round face (majority of Asians, Filipino-Chinese included, have naturally round faces; she pushed through with the surgery, and now she looks like Madame Auring).

If someone is naturally racist against being Filipino, as evidenced by the discomfort (I prefer to call it an “allergy”) of their natural physical characteristics and the subsequent desire to change those characteristics by slathering copious amounts of whitening lotion on the skin, ingesting pills, and going under the knife, etc., then no wonder a lot of these individuals are also racist and are quick to pass judgment against other people of color.

It’s easier (or is it?) to try to look like the “masters” (or at least try to look as close to them as possible), or at the very least to try to distance one’s self from one’s original “indigenous” appearance, than to sympathize with the people that are trying to emancipate themselves from those who–after centuries–still actually think like “masters”–consciously or unconsciously.

You’d think that after more than 300 years of being colonized by the Spaniards and almost 50 years of being under American rule, we as a people would know better. Apparently not.

After all, there are several definitions of the word “whitewashed.”

Flashback Friday: Guatemala Part 1

I was more than halfway done with my first Guatemalan beer (I’m particular about beer brands, but the brand of that particular beer eludes me, perhaps because of the traumatic border-crossing experience I was subjected to before I reached Guatemala, but that’s another story) when a white car pulled up in front of the restaurant–Jade, a Chinese restaurant–where I was waiting. I was seated facing the door, and there weren’t any other cars parked in the slots, so the car was impossible to miss.

Sensing that this car was the one sent to pick me up, I quickly finished what remained of my beer, stood up, grabbed my backpack, and waved my thank-you to one of the waitresses. A woman stepped out of the passenger side and entered the restaurant, looking around. She was pretty, about my height, with bobbed brown hair. As I was the only patron, she looked at me inquiringly, smiled, and asked, “Mark?”

“Si,” I replied and took a step toward her, extending my hand. She took it, shook it warmly.

“Jennifer.”

“Mucho gusto,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”

She led me to the car, whose trunk was already popped open and waiting. A guy with jet-black dark hair, bushy eyebrows, and a dusky complexion was holding the trunk lid aloft. “Carlos,” he said, smiling, offering his other hand. I shook it and dumped my bag into the compartment.

In no time we were on our way, putting as many miles as we could between the border town–that, just an hour ago, I crossed on foot from Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico–and Quetzaltenango (or Xela, for short), Guatemala, our destination.

So this was Guatemala.

Visible vegetation, green and jungle-like, on either side of the narrow and winding road that we were traversing on was a welcome sight. I was already used to the concrete jungle of Mexico City, where I was currently living at that time before I visited Guatemala, so this was a breath of fresh air—literally. We drove with the windows down, and I could immediately tell that the air I was breathing was a lot cleaner than the smog-filled air of the Mexico City. In the city it doesn’t take long after I step out of the apartment for my allergies to act up; here, though, it was a different story—it seemed as though my sinuses were cleared up.

In my limited Spanish, Jennifer and I made some small talk, with Carlos content on putting in a word or two but mostly focusing on his driving. About an hour into the drive we stopped by a roadside stall that sold pollo rostizado or roast chicken; apparently Carlos was famished. He asked me if I was hungry, said no but thanks anyway, and he proceeded to pick at his roast chicken and tortillas in the front passenger seat while Jennifer took over the driving.

We made another stop, which was a pleasant surprise for me—at a tattoo parlor. We met Jennifer’s teen daughter Andrea, at the shop, and she proudly showed off her freshly inked tattoo to her mom. It was Jennifer’s turn to get a matching tattoo, and we waited in the shop as I chatted up one of the tattoo artists, the husband of the artist currently working on Jennifer. I was pleasantly surprised that the guy—heavily inked, of course—spoke very good English, and he introduced himself as a former English teacher before finally deciding on switching up careers and becoming a tattoo artist full-time. Carlos went to a nearby corner store and got me a big can of beer, a local brand—Cerveza Gallo—which was pretty amazing. (I would try other Guatemalan beer brands but would stick to Gallo for the remainder of my stay.)

Finally Jennifer’s tattoo was done, and we all piled into the car—with Andrea and her friend joining me in the back seat—for the long drive home to Xela. By this time it was already dark.

(To be continued . . .)

A Modest Proposal

Cops in the United States are becoming frustrated that they’re increasingly being policed (pun definitely intended) for their past–and present–abuses and violence against black citizens.

Majority of these frustrated cops are, of course, whites who have a racist bent. They are the types who don’t mind bringing a Confederate flag to a Nascar race or those who are up in arms (literally) at the dismantling of Confederate statues, which Donald Trump calls “beautiful.”

Well, who says that these white racist cops have the right and privilege TO BE cops just because they are white? Who says they can’t become garbage collectors or caregivers or janitors? (Not that I’m looking down on these jobs; I’m not.)

You want to reduce violence against blacks caused by systemic racism in the US? Prohibit whites from entering the police force. LOL. Problem solved.

(Photo by USA Today via)

Vignette, 06/20/2020

I still dream of cigarettes.

I think it was at the two-month mark after I smoked my last stick of Marlboro red that I started having those dreams. And they’re all the same, give or take a couple of details. Sitting at the gutter beside the corner store across the apartment building where I lived, happily puffing away, painfully knowing it would be my last taste of nicotine.

That was more than a year ago, in the Philippines. But every few nights I’d be reminded of that scene, in my dreams, and I’d be jolted awake. And every time that happened, I’d sit upright in my bunk bed, sweating in my boxers, licking my lips.

Sleep would elude me. Again.

Oh that glorious, glorious smoky flavor.

This time, though, I didn’t have to imagine.

Carlos had just finished ripping the top off a soft pack of Camels. He took a stick, popped it into my mouth.

“I quit, Carlos. You know that.”

I didn’t spit out the cigarette, though.

He lit my cigarette for me, and lit one of his own.

“Go on,” he said. “Smoke.”

I did. I sucked in my first taste of cigarette smoke in more than a year. Inhaled. Allowed the lightheadedness to consume me. Sweet, sweet nicotine. Exhaled. I took another long drag; Camel filters, like Marlboro reds, have an amazing throat hit—the best I’ve ever tried. I added more nicotine to my brain, increasing the lightheadedness, my vision blurring a bit. It felt amazing, though. I was in heaven.

This was supposed to be the part where, removing the cigarette from my lips, I’d use my index finger to tap out the ashes. I couldn’t do that, though.

Not with both hands tied behind my back as I sat there on a plastic chair, sweating, puffing.

“Now,” Carlos said, blowing smoke. “Let’s get down to business.”

The Manny Pacquiao Train Keeps Chugging Along—God Forbid, Up to Malacañang?

I used to cover Manny Pacquiao a lot back when I was still writing seriously about boxing and mixed martial arts for Interaksyon, for a couple of boxing websites, and for my now-defunct fight blog, PinoyFightScribe. This was before Pacquiao entered politics for the first time, running for a seat in the Philippine house of representatives in the May 2007 legislative election, aiming to represent the first district of South Cotabato province.

Pacquiao was eventually defeated in the election by then-incumbent representative Darlene Antonino-Custodio, who said, “More than anything, I think people weren’t prepared to lose him as their boxing icon.”

I remember, back then, Pacquiao was extremely disappointed about the loss and chalked it up to his lack of a college degree at that time (he has since earned his degree in political science, graduating from the University of Makati last year). But I agree with Antonino-Custodio: I believe that Pacquiao’s fans didn’t want to see him swallowed up and corrupted by politics.

Before running for congress, Pacquiao had already avenged his loss to Erik Morales, both by stoppage. He had already upset Marco Antonio Barrera and had fought Juan Manuel Marquez to a draw in a barnburner of a fight that saw Pacquiao drop Marquez three times in the first round. Pacquiao’s stock was going up, and the future was bright for him, boxing-wise. Why try to derail that by entering politics?

Pacquiao’s fans heaved a huge sigh of relief when their idol lost in the 2007 elections, but it was short-lived. Manny eventually won a congressional seat, but this time in Sarangani, the hometown of his wife, Jinkee. Now he is a senator, having won a seat in the Philippine senate in 2016.

In my short-lived career as a boxing writer, I had to write about Pacquiao a lot, not only because he was one of the hottest commodities in the sport—he’s eventually become boxing’s only eight-division champion—but also because my boss in one of the boxing websites I was writing for demanded that I write about Pacquiao 24/7, even though I wanted to write about other fighters, about other fights. This led me to quit my job there, but that’s another story.

The point here is, as much as his fans never wanted Pacquiao to enter politics—this blogger included—he has shown that he could actually juggle being a politician and being a boxer well (or maybe not: Pacquiao is actually the top absentee in the senate). Could he have reached even greater heights as purely a boxer instead of as a boxer-slash-politician? Hard to say. Pacquiao, both in and out of the ring, thrives on chaos: inside the ring he’s a whirling dervish of energy, his in-and-out, side-to-side movement and the nonstop pumping of his fists having brought him much success in his boxing career; outside the ring his love for chaos—evidenced by a huge entourage of hangers-on (which have included unsavory political allies) and the unbelievable ability to juggle, as well, not only sports (including basketball; he was once a playing coach for the Philippine Basketball Association) and politics, but also show business (he has made a couple movies and hosted several TV shows)—has brought him, ironically, much peace of mind. Sure, some have argued that a couple of Pacquiao’s losses here and there could have been the result of the Pacman stretching himself thin, but in the end it’s only speculation.

Especially since, in the course of his last three fights, Pacquiao has strung up three straight wins—a stoppage victory against Lucas Matthysse and two impressive distance victories against Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman, where Pacquiao even scored a knockdown early in the fight against the latter—since losing his fight against Jeff Horn in Australia. Pacquiao’s recent resurgence isn’t something new, even at the ripe age of forty-one, as bouncing back from a loss has been a trademark throughout his career: after his first loss early in his career to fellow Filipino Rustico Torrecampo, Pacquiao won fifteen straight; after getting stopped in Thailand back in 1999 and losing his WBC world flyweight title, he managed to string thirteen victories; after losing a hard-fought decision to Morales, Pacquiao managed to string another fifteen-fight winning streak.

But it remains to be seen whether Pacquiao will continue fighting, especially since the sports world right now—apart from the odd live Ultimate Fighting Championship events held every few weeks—is at a standstill.

But Pacquiao being Pacquiao, he can’t seem to find solace from the limelight. Just recently he figured in a couple of news items: one, Freddie Roach throwing out there that Manny could possibly fight middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and two, Bob Arum saying that Manny could possibly run as president of the Philippines in 2022.

Speculation, of course, but God forbid that both push through—especially the second. We know that Pacquiao won’t be a good president. Don’t believe F. Sionil Jose.

(Photo by Bleacher Report via)

This Means War

I was supposed to leave Facebook forever.

I was disappointed with the social media platform, and my disgust started when Mark Zuckerberg defended his company’s decision to not to take any action on a controversial post by US President Donald Trump that glorified violence, when Trump posted, “when the looting begins, the shooting begins,” which many people interpreted as a call for violence in nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd. And while Twitter, courtesy of its CEO Jack Dorsey, put a warning label over the tweet, flagging it as violent content that broke the company’s policies, Zuckerberg declined to take any action on a similar post on his site.

And then there was the news of Facebook cracking down on posts slamming the anti-terror bill.

Now comes the creation of dummy accounts by paid trolls, against those who have been vocal about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

And so, in my disappointment, I already requested for the permanent deletion of both my Facebook accounts.

But guess what? I changed my mind.

Why?

If we leave, they win. We lose.

Because now, now is not the time to be disappointed. Now, now is the time to get mad. Now is the time to get mad AND to get even.

And when I’m mad, I write. That’s the only thing I know how to do well. And that’s what I am going to do and do regularly, from now on.

So expect more long-form content on this blog: essays and criticism on Duterte and his administration, which will promptly be posted and shared on both my Facebook accounts.

Because, make no mistake about it:

This means war. But not a war against the virus going around and spreading in this pandemic. This is a war against something more insidious, something more vicious.

This is a war against those in power who think they are free to take away our freedom and liberties, those in power who think they are free to take our lives, a war against those in power who hide behind a faceless army of killers in motorcycles, an army of killers in uniform, an army of paid online trolls.

This is a war against those in power who think they are free to take away our voices.

Because, make no mistake about it:

If we’re silent, they win. We lose.

For now, though, I’ll leave you a beautiful write-up by Conrado de Quiros, on why he writes. It’s a longish excerpt from the prologue of his second book, Dance of the Dunces.

***

Writing is hazardous to health. This is so because crooks and murderers, who may or may not read Plato, agree that the poet has no place in the Republic. Many of them think poetry is a communist front, and the poet has no place on earth. Prey to hunger and the attentions of the intelligence community, the writer can only cry out before the Department of Environment and National Resources, “Never mind the trees – save the writer!”

But if not for fame, fortune, and health, why does one write? Why does any reasonably sane man write?

Quite seriously, one writes because one must.

Jose Diokno once said that human rights are not something one has, they are something one is. They are essential to his being. Without them, he not only ceases to live well, he ceases to live at all. The same thing may be said about writing. It is not really something one does. It is something one is.

Writing, of course, is always writing about something. I’ve often been asked about why I write about the things I do. I write about them because, like Mount Everest, they are there. This is not a facetious answer. It is not always easy to see, or acknowledge, the thereness of things. The mind reels at the sight of unimaginable horror – of villagers who flee from burning houses and forage in forests, of children who die from mortar fire or grow old before their time, of wives who seek their husbands and find their heads floating in rivers. The mind reels at the sight of unimaginable horror, and imagines it is not there.

To see the thereness of mountains is not merely to see the tangle of green that mats their slopes and the mists that cling to their peaks. It is to see the cunning cut of rock and stone, the rivers that roil in the rain, and the slime that has gathered in the footpaths. Yet, for all this, it is to climb the mountain anway, at risk to life and limb.

Why does one do it? Why does one climb the mountain? Because he must. He does not do it for fame or fortune or health. He does it out of – despair: Because not to do so would be to disappear from the face of the earth as surely as from “salvaging,” or melt like Salvador Dali’s liquid watches.

One climbs mountains because they are there. But, in the end, mountains are there because one has climbed them, if only in one’s dreams.

Of course, writing is a choice too, as life is a choice. But it is the choice, to use another metaphor, of the tragic hero. It is the choice of Hector to fight or not to fight Achilles. Hector knows, as he broods over his fate on the eve of battle, that he will bite the dust. He knows that Achilles is invincible and seethes with rage at the death of his friend Patroclus. He knows that when the sun falls next day, his body will burn at the funeral pyre while Andromache grieves before it. But he emerges from the gates of Troy anway, his head held proudly before his enemy, his armor glinting in the sun.

Some call this a tragic flaw, a flaw in character that makes one do what he does – in a tragedy, to do so before the jaws of catastrophe. It is the compulsion that drives one to face his destiny, or destruction. But how gloriously! To stand on victory in the hour of seeming defeat. To laugh in the wind and cry, like Dylan Thomas, that death shall have no dominion!

Writing is a tragic flaw, too.

I do not mean by this only that writing hurls you into the catastrophe of death or detention, although, heaven knows, these are quite real consummations in these times. I mean that writing brings you to face the truth of your own world and of your own self. I mean that it brings you to face the unimaginable horrors of your own land and the even more unimaginable horrors of your own life. I mean that it brings you to look at the bloodstained face of humanity – and know that to turn away is to be turned into a pillar of salt.

I mean that writing brings you to face the truth. And truth is the greatest catastrophe of all.

The alternative is silence, a silence deep and elemental. There are, says the author of Silences – whose name I cannot now recall, as my copy of it is in transit – silences and silences. There is the pregnant silence of a writer whose mind is as the earth lying fallow in the sun to prepare for planting. There is the bitter silence of a man who must work for a living instead of write. And there is the silence of Rimbaud, the silence of a poet who squandered his gifts as a young man and chose to be silent. In old age, he would discover the ache of wanting to say things again, and discover, too, that through a pall of silence he had lost the very gift of utterance. Even dogs keen, they would cry out at death’s door. How can men be silent, and not despair?

One writes because one must. As it is with human rights, writing is not an amenity of civilization, like tea. It is a source of life itself, like air. Just as well, one writes about things because one must. In the end, we do not really choose what to write. They choose us. They are there. We cannot choose to write only about the bright and cheerful in the thought that the spirit is set free only by them. The spirit cannot soar to the heavens on leaden wings, however it imagines that they are feathers. Or it cannot do so on fluff kept together by wax, as Icarus found out while falling into the sea.

The spirit soars to the heavens by looking at all that is there, by reviling the vile and revelling at the marvelous, by facing the truth of its world and itself, as Edmund Hilary once faced Mount Everest and Hector, Achilles, finding hope in despair, victory in defeat, life in death, by paring reality to the bone and dispelling the vapors of illusion, all the while telling the author of this voyage, this seeking, this confrontation, the terrible truth of its own being, “You are neither god nor devil, priest nor soldier, bird nor snake:

“Writer ka lang pala.”

(Conrado de Quiros, 1991)

This Morning’s Special, from Hong Kong

We were all tired and hungry as we sat down for a late lunch in one of the restaurants near our hotel. I don’t exactly remember WHY we were all tired and hungry, because the flight time from Manila to Hong Kong only takes an hour and a half give or take, but yes, we were starving. I guess you can forgive me for forgetting a lot of details about a trip that happened sixteen years ago, but hunger is a state that I have a problem forgetting.

A middle-aged woman that I assumed was the proprietor approached our table–which was the only occupied table at that time–and handed us the menus. It was a small restaurant, more of a diner, and because she didn’t have to attend to other customers, the woman graciously focused all her attention on us. Which was a good thing because she never spoke a lick of English, and none of us spoke any Cantonese.

I was with my three siblings, my parents, an aunt, and a cousin. This was my first overseas trip, and was my siblings’ and cousin’s first as well. (My father had already explored Southeast Asia at that time, and had also been to Australia and Japan with my mom; while my aunt had already visited the United States and Taiwan, if I’m not mistaken.) That it was Hong Kong was not a surprise; for many Filipinos, Hong Kong is a good choice if you want to pop your overseas-trip cherry: it’s close enough, and although relatively more expensive than, say, a trip to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta, Filipinos’ love for Chinese food (dim sum, in particular) more than makes up for the country’s reputation as one of the most expensive cities in the world.

And delicious Chinese food was precisely on our mind as we sat there and tried our best to “communicate” with the proprietor. It was pretty straightforward: we each had a menu, and we promptly pointed to a photograph of our dish (and drink) of choice, and that was that. After taking our orders, the woman collected the menus, poured all of us some piping-hot tea (which my dad, I remember, enjoyed immensely–he wouldn’t drink anything else during the day but tea; at night he’d have his usual beer), and she hied off to the kitchen.

I guess the tea was indeed pretty good–for my dad to have ingested copious amounts of it during our short vacation. My father is addicted to coffee, not tea, and for as long as I can remember he’s always had a mug of coffee beside him while he watched TV or made reports at home during the weekends, back when he was still working. (He’s STILL addicted to coffee; I once brought him several jars of instant Mexican coffee, and he proceeded to drink it like water until he was forced to take a break on account of hyperacidity.) And so my dad happily sipped his tea, in that Hong Kong diner, while the rest of us waited for the food to arrive.

I don’t recall if I happily sipped my tea as well (I’ve only been recently a tea guy, and unlike my dad, I never drink coffee), but I do remember the strange feeling of finally being in a foreign country. I remember, in particular, glancing out the window of the restaurant and taking in the new sights–amid the giddy conversations shared among my siblings and parents and aunt and cousin–of people going about their lives and doing their regular, everyday stuff, but the difference was, these people (well, most of them anyway) were Hongkongers!

Could I possibly, I thought at that time, land a job here? I’ve heard that lots of overseas Filipino workers called Hong Kong their home. Surely I could try my luck too? I was twenty years old at that time, naive and full of life and impressionable, having left college a few months before, with a vague idea of wanting to be a writer but with nothing substantial or anything set in stone yet. (I’d land a writing job a few months later, still the best writing job I’ve ever had, right after I turned twenty-one–but that’s another story.)

Finally the food arrived, and the giddy table conversation and my own daydreaming would have to wait. The woman–and a man, I’m assuming the cook–served us, ALL of us, steaming plates of sweet-and-sour pork and rice.

There was a problem, though.

None of us ordered sweet-and-sour pork.

Too tired and hungry to argue with her (thinking about it now, though, how in God’s name could we have argued anyway? Through sign language?), we decided to dig in.

I wasn’t sure (and honestly, until now, I’m still not sure) if that’s how they really prepare sweet-and-sour pork in Hong Kong, because it was way TOO saucy and not really sweet, and–worse–vinegary sour. In fact, my brother, Miles, proceeded to wipe each piece of pork with his napkin to get rid of the sauce. Only after wiping each piece dry would he then proceed to pop it into his mouth and eat it with a spoonful of rice (the portion of rice, that is, that wasn’t still drenched in the sour sauce). I don’t remember now about the others, but I personally thought that this was a brilliant idea–my little brother, when we were younger, was, and STILL IS, a fountain of brilliant ideas–and I followed suit: I got busy wiping down the pork.

Needless to say, we never went back to that diner again–even if it was close to our hotel. Even if we’d regularly pass it by, tired and hungry, after a long day’s sightseeing.

***

We went back, though–again and again and again–to this other greasy spoon (with emphasis on GREASY) where we ate our morning breakfasts. It was not close to the hotel we were staying at–heck, it wasn’t even INSIDE the hotel we were staying at, and I thought at the very least it should have been–but because the free breakfast coupons bade us venture further, we did. Every day. And because we didn’t have a good meal the day before, I was looking forward to that morning’s special.

Which turned out to be greasy ham and eggs (lots and lots of eggs), bread, and watery coffee (no delicious tea for my dad, what a shame). So, every morning, we partook of the same fare. And ever time, for some reason (maybe because they WERE GREASY?), my parents and my aunt never finished their sunny-side-ups. But because I felt that it was my duty to make sure that nothing would go to waste, I took it upon myself to finish all the fried eggs that were untouched. The entire trip, I remember, I’d eaten an unhealthy amount of eggs for breakfast. (I recently had to be treated for high cholesterol here in Mexico City, and I’m pretty sure it’s still because of all those eggs I ate in Hong Kong sixteen years ago).

I’ve been to a few other countries through the years after that trip, and had tried some pretty amazing breakfast food, but until now I still can’t forget the Hong Kong breakfasts of ham, bread, watery coffee, and–of course–lots and lots of greasy fried eggs. And it didn’t help that the diner’s unique logo was indelibly seared in my mind, even until now–a squiggly orange figure of a human being with its legs spread wide apart.

(A few years ago, my cousin Iya went back to Hong Kong with her friends, and she encountered a branch of that diner. She excitedly sent me a photo of that orange logo through Facebook Messenger, and immediately [for good or bad] memories came flooding back to me. And it’s not that hard to imagine eggs, anyway, when you see a human figure with legs spread wide apart)

***

Like every holiday trip, you take the good with the bad. It’s normal. So for every disappointing welcome meal and breakfast, you get to try the authentic dim sum that Hong Kong is famous for (we did, and it was heavenly). For those times that you’re late for the tour (and in our case, ALL THE TIME, which prompted our guide to always utter a snide comment of “Big Filipino family always late” whenever we’d walk down the bus aisle), you get to take in the beautiful sights and sounds of Hong Kong’s tourist spots. For every time you get scammed and swindled (like the time my dad and aunt were grifted into buying overpriced digital cameras by a sweet-talking salesman), you genuinely get good buys–it’s impossible not to while night-shopping in Mong Kok market under bright neon lights and among other excited shoppers and street performers. For every boring (and forced) forays through a jade factory and jewelry store (something to be expected when you’re on a budget tour), there’s the free time you have for yourself to actually explore the place, no matter how short. (And for me it was, believe it or not, exploring the profusion of 7/11 shops that littered the Hong Kong streets; although convenience stores were already common in Manila at that time, we didn’t even have a single convenience store in our small town in Cebu. That was the first time I’ve ever seen a 7/11 on every street corner.)

I’ve taken quite a few solo trips on my own after that first overseas trip, and although traveling alone has its charms, for me traveling with family is still the best. You never forget the place, you never forget the food, you never forget the buys (on that Hong Kong trip, in particular, I got myself a JVC digital camera with 5 megapixels and my first portable MP3 player with 128 MB of storage, LOL), but somehow an overseas trip is more unforgettable (even a budget one) when you’re with loved ones.

Yes, even if the ham and eggs are a little too greasy and the coffee is watery. When you get tired of the free breakfasts, that’s what the cup noodles in the 7/11s are for.