Singkwenta

“Ano, singkwenta ka na?” Sigaw ng kaibigan ko sa kabilang linya ng telepono.

Tumaas agad ang blood pressure ko to aneurysm levels. Kung si Incredible Hulk ako, nagsimula na akong maging kulay green. Hindi ko talaga napigilan ang sariling magmura.

“Hinaan mo ang boses mo, lintek, ka. Bumati ka nga ng belated  happy bertday, nang-insulto ka naman.”

“Gago, compliment yun! Pramis, ang akala ko talaga, 32 ka lang. Di halatang kalahating siglo ka na,” sabay malutong na halakhak tulad  nung kay nasirang Bert Marcelo.

Contagious ang laughter ng hinayupak kaya natawa na rin  ako sa karinyo-brutal niyang attack.

Pagkababa ko ng phone, mixed ang reaction ko. Kasi since my birthday a few weeks ago, I’ve been trying to evade talking about my age. Yung isang bahagi ng utak ko, proud na proud na naabot ko na ang edad kong ito. Aba, yung iba nga, teen-agers pa lang, natitigok na agad o di kaya’y naglalaslas na ng pulso kasi di na nila keri ang pait ng buhay.

Pero yung kabilang bahagi ng utak ko, in-denial. Hindi masabi-sabi ang edad at punong-puno ng hesitation na pag-usapan ang pagpasok ng golden year sa aking buhay na para bang isang krimen ito na dapat itago o takasan, o di kaya’y baho na kailangang isprayan ng pabango, at alikabok na dapat punasan.  Bakit nga ba? Anong nakakahiya sa pagiging singkwenta?

Naaalala ko tuloy ang kaibigan kong si Bhebot. Nung siya’y mga 27, kinuwento nya sa akin na gusto raw niyang makipag-eyeball sa ka-chat niya sa YM. “Kanya lang sir,” matatas na kuwento niya sa akin,  “thirty-two  na siya. Yuck! 32! Nakakadiri!”

Agad naman akong nag-alma: “Punyeta ka, Bhebot, bubusina ka, ha? Thirty-two pa lang yun, ganyan na ang reaction mo . Nandidiri ka na sa edad niya. So anong gusto mong palabasin ngayon?. Ermitanyo na ako, ganun?”

Sabay kaming nagtawanan ni Bhebot pero inaamin ko, slightly—na-offend ako. KasI naman sa mundo nating ginagalawan, youth is hot and middle-age is considered uhhmm….passe’? Di katulad sa Hollywood, mas hot ang tingin ng maraming tao kay Clint Eastwood kesa kay Justin Bieber. Sa atin, may stigma yun na para bang nagsisimula ka ng maagnas kapag nakalagpas na ang edad mo sa mga numero ng kalendaryo.

Pero ako lang naman ang nag-create ng multong yon.

Kaya sumundot ang mas may katuwirang bahagi ng sarili ko, at nagsimula na itong mangonsensya. E ba’t ba kasi ikaw nagpapadala sa agos ng kombensyon? Tanong ng sarili ko sa sarili ko. Akala ko ba wala kang pakialam?

Unti-unti na ngayong lumakas ang loob ko. Nagsimula yun sa pagbibilang ng aking mga blessings. Masaya ako. Wala akong sakit. Mayroon akong maayos na trabaho. Nabibili ko ang gusto kong bilhin ng di nangungutang. Marami akong kaibigan at ka pamilyang nagmamahal sa akin and I love them back. True, wala nga akong partner at aktibong lovelife, e ano ngayon? Marami nga dyan mayroon ngang kalambutsingan pero miserable naman ang buhay. Ang bilis kong naipalo ang pendulum sa kabilang side at kaagad akong na-empower.

Pero totoo yun. Sa simula lang awkward, pero na-discover ko na turning 50 is truly liberating. Parang mas sigurado na ako ngayon sa mga gusto kong mangyari sa buhay ko. Mas kampante at di na ako gaanong nagre-reklamo ngayon. Mas tanggap ko na ang aking mga limitasyon. Wi-ne-welcome ko na rin ang aking mortality at mas lalo ko ito ngayong  pinapahalagahan kasi nga, mas glaring ang katotohanang umuunti na ang aking natitirang panahon sa mundo. And I am not being gross. Fact of life yun.

Ewan ko, pero sa kabila ng mga takot, mas lumalaking insecurity, pangamba, panganib, lungkot at mga latay ng mga sugat ng mga nagdaang taon, mas buo pa rin ang tiwala kong may mas magaganda pang mangyayari sa akin. At 50, mas feel kong buhay na buhay ang aking buhay.RGM@50

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Nai-post sa Reflections | 1 Puna

Here Comes the Sun

Takot sa araw ang mga instik. Yan ang isa sa mga napuna ko sa ilang taon kong paninirahan dito sa Taiwan. Maglakad ka lang sa kalsada, marami kang makikitang mga babae at lalaking nagbibisikleta, pero mga naka-payong, dahil ayaw nila na ma-direct hit ng araw ang kanilang mga sensitibong balat. Hanggang ngayon, di ko alam kung paano nila nagagawang mag-balance sa bisikleta na hawak lang ng isang kamay ang manibela, habang yung kabilang kamay naman ay may hawak na payong. Di ko kasi kaya yun.

Yung kaibigan kong Taiwanese, tatawid lang sa kalye ay kaagad magbubukas ng payong, at hihilahin ako na sumukob. “I’m okay,” sabi ko. Pero mag-I-insist sya. “It’s hot,” sasabihin nya. “bad for the skin.”

Nung weekend, umakyat ako sa tuktok ng Yangminshan mountain–all of 1,120 meters. Height ng summer pero ang lamig sa itaas. Lahat ng nakakasalubong ko, kung hindi nakapayong, naka-long sleeves o may malalaking cap at sombrero. Yung isang babae, pinagmasdan ko ang mukha. Ang akala ko ay punong puno siya ng pulbo. Tapos na-realize ko, sunblock yun siguro. Marahil SPF-50 o mas mataas pang numero ng Sun Protection Factor. Ito kasi ang rekomendadong SPF ng mga dermatologists sa mga taong malimit magbabad sa araw.

At totoo nga naman. Sa lahat ng mga grocery at convenience stores, nagkalat ang kung ano-anong uri ng sunblock, sunscreen at mga skincare products na nangangakong protektahan ang balat ng mga mamamayan–mula noo hanggang talampakan. All the more reaffirming my theory na oo nga, takot sa araw ang mga instik.

Na dapat lang naman, dahil ang prolonged exposure sa araw ang pangunahing dahilan ng skin cancer. Ayon sa skincancer.org, “over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other forms of cancers combined.”

Sabi nga ng isang kaibigang Pinoy, tayo lang namang mga Pilipino ang nagtatapang-tapangan at pinagtatawanan ang mga taong balot na balot kapag naglalakad sa ilalim ng sikat ng araw. HIndi rin daw tayo natatakot mangitim kasi kumbaga sa pandesal, dark brown na ang kulay natin papunta na sa papaitim at tustadong kulay. Sa panahon ngayon, wala ng sinasanto ang ultra violet rays of the sun kahit na anong kulay pa ng balat ng tao.

Kanta ng grupong Beatles nung 1969: “Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right.”

Ngayon: Oy, magsipag silong kayong mga tinamaan kayo ng magaling!

PayongMahapdi ang tama ng araw!

Nai-post sa Health, Taiwan Life | Mag-iwan ng puna

Matmo Story

Hatinggabi nung opisyal na nag landfall ang bagyong si Matmo sa Taipei city nung Miyerkules, July 22. Bagyong Henry ito sa Pinas na naging si Matmo nung pumasok ito sa Taiwan. Northwestern ang movement ni Matmo–20 kilometers per hour with maximum sustained winds of 155 kilometers per hour, ayon sa ulat ng weatherman sa CNN. Fine, note ko sa sarili, sabay patay ng TV at ilaw, at higa sa kama. Kaso, kahit na antok na ako, hindi ako makatulog sa tindi ng lakas ng hangin. Panay hampas nito sa bintana ng tinitirhan kong apartment at natakot akong baka mabasag ang bubog.

Every 15 minutes, bumabangon ako para tumingin sa labas. Nag-e-expect ako ng brownout pero di ito nangyari. Tinitingnan ko rin kung mawawala ang serbisyo ng aking wifi pero tuloy-tuloy lang ito. At ganun na nga ang aking naging routine hanggang alas singko ng umaga. Bangon, silip sa bintana, bukas ng TV, check ng Facebook, basa ng magazine at libro. Bandang alas tres, di na ako talaga makatulog kaya umupo na ako sa kama at nanood na lang ng sine sa Cinemax. Of all movies, akalain ko ba namang “Ten Commandments” pa ang palabas. At sa lahat ng eksena, yung confrontation pa ni Charlton Heston na gumanap bilang Moses, at Yul Brynner na gumanap bilang Rameses ang naabutan ko. Winawarningan ni Moses si Rameses na kapag di daw pinalaya ang mga Israelites ay lalaganap ang sakuna. Di naman natinag ang Hari ng Egypt hanggang sa sumunod na eksena, umulan na nga ng bato at apoy at namatay ang lahat ng may anak na panganay na lalaki. Langya, sabi ko sa sarili. Parang nananadya ang pelikula. Pinatay ko ang TV.

Kinuha ko na lang ang aking cellphone at ininstagram, sabay post matmong mga nakunan kong photos ng bagyo sa labas. Instant ang reaction ng mga kaibigan. “Ingat ka.” “be safe,” “stay warm”–mga salitang nakakagaan at nakakapanatag din ng loob. Dito na ako nakatulog.

San ka pa, nanaginip ako. Bumalik ako sa memories of five or six years ago nung ma-trap ako sa Makati nung kasagsagan ng bagyong Ondoy. Pero hindi linear ang panaginip ko. Parang MTV images na paroo’t-parito. Pasulpot-sulpot. Yung iba, di malinaw. Parang sepia at photoshopped. May nag-na-narrate tungkol sa climate change–very scientific ng paliwanag kaya nakiusap ako kung pwedeng simplehan lang nya ang explanation. “Yung kunyari, grade one ako. Go!” sabi ko. Tapos sabi nung narrator: “basta ang mga bagyo palala ng palala.” Alam ko na yun, sabi ko. Wala na bang iba?

Nag fast forward ang mga images. Ang bilis: Mga batang sugatan sa Gaza; ang nag-crash na Malaysian Airlines sa Ukraine;  space exploration sa Mars; at mga naghihiyawang German champion football players sa World Cup. May isang huling image na off at natawa ako. Kung paano ito napasama sa grupo ng makabuluhang images ay wala akong idea: ang image ng ensaymada post ni Kris Aquino nang ipahamak niya si Ate Vi. Dito ako nagising na humahagikhik.

Langyang ensaymadang yan. Okay na sana!

Tapos ay napatingin ako sa labas. Uy, tahimik at maliwanag na.

Wala na si Matmo.

Nai-post sa Taiwan Life | 2 mga puna

Fat Facts

TimeJune232014Kung paniniwalaan at isasapuso ko ang dalawang articles na nabasa ko kamakailan tungkol sa resulta ng mga bagong pananaliksik tungkol sa taba, ngayon pa lang ay mananakbo na ako sa grocery at mamimili ng sandamakmak na butter, steak, whole milk, red meat at ang paborito kong bacon. Bakit? Dahil di daw dapat tayo matakot kumain ng taba. Yan ang sinasabi ng June 23, 2014 na cover story ng Time Magazne na pinamagatang “Don’t Blame Fat” at halos yan din ang tumbok ng May 31 article ng The Economist na mayroong review tungkol sa  librong “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Milk and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet” na sinulat ni Nina Teicholz. Sa parehong articles, ipinaliwanag ng mga manunulat ng nasabing mga sikat na magazine na ang mga pagkaing aking nabanggit ay hindi ang siyang nagiging dahilan kung bakit tayo tumataba at nagkakroon ng sakit sa puso, diabetes, cancer, high blood at kung ano-ano pang sakit.  Sa totoo lang daw, kaibigan natin ang mga pagkaing ito at hindi kaaway.

Ang totoo raw kaaway ng ating katawan ay asukal. Yung mga pagkaing matatamis. Yung mayaman sa carbohydrates gaya ng kanin, pasta at tinapay. Sila raw ang dapat nating iwasan. Bakit? Dahil yung ating hormone na insulin, yun ang tumataas kapag kumain tayo ng mga pagkain na mayaman sa carbs. Yun ang nakapagdudulot ng maraming sakit.

Parang nahihirapan akong paniwalaan ito dahil kamakailan lang, nabalitaan ko nga na may mga bansa na raw na nag-iisip ng maglagay ng warning signs sa mga produkto gaya ng butter at bacon. Gaya ng sigarilyo, lalagyan na rin nila ang mga nasabing pagkain ng tarheta na may nakasulat na “Eating this product is dangerous to your health.”

So bakit nagkaganoon? Anong nangyari? Ayon sa article sa The Economist, nung early `60s daw, nagkaroon talaga ng matinding paglason sa utak ng mga tao hinggil sa diumanoy masamang epekto ng fat o taba sa katawan. Na-vilify o na-demonize ang taba, sabi nung nag-review ng libro ni Teicholz. Nagsimula ito ng inilabas ni Dr. Ancel Keys ng University of MInnesota ang resulta ng kanyang mga pag-aaral na nagsasabing masama ang taba sa katawan. Pero nito raw nakaraang ilang taon, marami na ring scientist ang nagduda sa paniniwalang ang tunay na kaaway natin ay taba. Bakit kanyo? Kasi noon daw kasagsagan ng mga diet fads nung `80s kung saan binawasan talaga ng mga health freaks ang taba sa kanilang diet, mas tumaas pa raw ang incidence ng heart attacks.

Maraming mga scientific explanations ang inihayag sa dalawang articles na tumutumbok sa diumano’y kakulangan ng matibay na ebidensya na nagsasabing masama talaga sa katawan ang taba. Sa katunayan, kung pagbabasehan daw ang mga bansang gaya ng France at Germany, kaduda-duda ang mga results ng mga pag-aaral ni Keys dahil sa mga bansang ito, matataas ang taglay na fats ng mga pagkain ng mga French at Germans. Pero sa kabila nito, mababa pa rin daw ang heart disease rate sa mga bansang ito.

Pero sinabi rin naman ng manunulat ng Time na si Bryan Walsh na di naman daw nangangahulugan na kailangan na nating magpista sa mga matatabang pagkain araw-araw.

Inaamin kong matapos kong mabasa ang mga articles na ito, mas lalo akong nalito at natuliro. Ang dami na kasing impormasyon na magkakataliwas. Di ko na malaman kung ano ang susundin. Sinagot din ito sa dulo ng Time article ng isulat ni Walsh na “the cold hard truth is that the only way to eat well is to eat well.”

E ano nga yung “eat well?” tanong ko sa trainer ko sa gym.

“Clean eating. Smart eating,” sagot niya.

Yun din naman pala ang tumbok ng lahat. Balanse lang. Kumabaga sa temperature, di gaanong malamig, di gaanong mainit.

Maligamgam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nai-post sa Uncategorized | Mag-iwan ng puna

Ano Na?

Tinawagan ako nung weekend ng isang kaibigan sa Pinas. Ganito ang naging takbo ng aming konbersasyon.

Friend: Ano na?

Ako: Ano’ng ano na?

Friend: Kumusta ka na?

Ako: Naku sobrang busy. Pasensya ka na.

Friend: Pambihira ka talaga. Di ka sumasagot sa Facebook.  Di ka na nag-t-tweet! Di ka na rin nag-b-blog. Abang ako ng abang!

Ako: Sorry, ang dami kasing trabaho e.

Friend: Sus, echosero! Pero panay naman ang Instagram! At bakit bigla kang na-addict sa Instagram?

Ako: (Natawa) La lang. Kakaaliw pala. Yung blog kasi, pinag-iisipan. Kumakain ng oras lalo na yung act ng pagsusulat. Ang Instagram, instant. Nakakapag-update at kuwento ka sa pamamagitan ng pictures lang.

Friend: Nakanang…pa-epek nito. So ano ng latest sa `yo?

Ako: Busy nga. Wala naman akong ma-u-update sa yo kasi ang boring ng buhay ko, lately.

Friend: Hindi ako naniniwala. Ikaw pa. E kahit saan ka itapon, nagagawa mong interesting ang buhay mo.

Ako: Wag kang masyadong bumilib sa akin kasi tumatanda na ako. 

Friend: Ano ng mga napanood mong sine?

Ako: “Edge of Tomorrow,” “X-Men” “Yves Saint Laurent” at saka “Grace of Monaco”

Friend: Tingnan mo, tingnan mo! Ba’t di mo kinukwento sa akin yan?

Ako: Oy, hindi lahat ng nangyayari sa akin, kelangan mong malaman!

Friend: Huling libro mong binasa?

Ako: “The Fault in Our Stars” ni John Green at “A Million Little Pieces” ni James Frey.

Friend: Namamasyal ka pa rin?

Ako: Lately, di na. Ang kulit mo kasi, busy nga. No time. Pwede mag-email na lang tayo?

Friend: Kainis `to. Miss na nga kita kaya kita tinawagan. Pwede ba kitang bisitahin dyan?

Ako: Oo naman. Pero timbrehan mo ako para makapag-prepare.

Friend: Sige, sige….gusto ko yan.

Na-guilty naman ako sa aking kaibigan kaya ako naman ang nagtanong at nag-usisa sa kanyang buhay. Nang magpaalam na kami sa isa’t-isa, bigla akong na-homesick. Gaanong katagal na nga ba akong di nakakauwi at nakakakapag catch up sa mga kaibigan? Matagal na. Kaya dun sa kaibigan kong nag-request na i-blog ko naman daw ito (pero laking emphasis nya na no mention of names at baka daw siya sumikat), eto na po. Granted na ang iyong request. Sorry for my long silence. Sana sa pamamagitan nito, nakabawi na ako. Image

Nai-post sa Uncategorized | Mag-iwan ng puna

Horror sa MRT

Sa gym ko unang narinig ang balita na may naganap daw na patayan sa loob mismo ng train sa MRT Jiangzicui station sa Bannan blue line. Dinadaanan ko ang linyang ito kapag galing akong main station o kaya ay bumisita ako sa St. Christopher church. Noon daw mga 4:32 ng hapon noong Miyerkules, May 21, nag-amok ang isang 21-anyos na estudyante na nagngangalang Cheng Chieh, mag-aaral ng Tunghai University sa Greater Taichung at nakatira sa may Banciao area sa Taipei. Basta na lang daw ito naglabas ng kutsilyo at pinagsasaksak ang mga taong katabi niya. Apat na tao ang namatay at 23 ang sugatan. Nakita ko pa ang live TV coverage ng insidente habang hinahabol nung nag-amok na estudyante ang mga nagtatakbuhang pasahero papalabas ng train.

Pinakagrabeng violent attack daw ito na nangyari simula ng mag-operate ang MRT sa Taipei noong 1996. Araw-araw, ayon sa government statistics, may 1.74 million na pasahero ang sumasakay dito, halos one-fourth ng total population ng pinagsamang Taipei at New Taipei City. Sa mga editorial ng mga pahayagan dito sa Taiwan, dalawang bagay ang idinidiin ng mga social critics. Una, ang kakulangan ng safety measures para ma-protektahan ang mga pasahero ng mga pampublikong transportasyon. Pangalawa, ang kakulangan din ng pagsusuri sa mental health ng mga kabataan ngayon. Tahimik daw na bata itong Cheng Chieh pero mahilig mag-isa. Galing siya sa may kayang pamilya pero hindi raw ito mahilig makipag-socialize at laging nag-iisa. Sobra din ang kanyang obsession sa mga violent combat video games. “When I play and see the characters in the video game being hacked and blood spurting out of them, I get this strange, ecstatic feeling,” yan ang sinabi ni Chieh sa mga pulis nung siya ay ininterrogate matapos niyang gawin ang kahindik-hindik na krimen.

Sa isang artikulo sa Taipei Times tungkol sa psychological profile ni Cheng Chieh, inilahad ng mga pulis na bago maganap ang madugong krimen sa MRT, nagsusulat ng nobela si Chieh tungkol dito–isang first person point of view tungkol sa kung papaano isasagawa ang pagpatay sa mga tao sa train bilang parusa sa mga mamamayan ng mundo. “I have aspired to do something big since I was in elementary school,” kumpisal ni Chieh sa mga pulis.”...I felt that my life was empty, that it was not worth living anymore…However I cannot bring myself to commit suicide, and so if I kill more people, then I will get the death penalty.”

Kagabi, dahil kinailangan kong pumunta sa main station, sumakay ulit ako sa blue line kahit may konting kaba sa aking dibdib at ito ang aking mga napansin. Marami ng mga pulis sa loob at labas ng train. Wala akong nakitang natutulog o naghahalakhakan. Bibihira rin ang nag-te-text o naglalaro ng games sa telepono. Ang lilikot ng mga mata ng pasahero. Parang pinakikiramdaman ng lahat ang bawa’t-isa. Tama ba ang aking na-observe o malikot lang talagang maglaro ang utak ko?

Pinipilit kong kumbinsihin ang aking sarili na isolated case lang ito. Na one out of 3 million ang katulad ng estudyanteng train stabber na may tililing sa utak. Na kahit ano pa ang sabihin, napaka safe pa rin ng Taipei city kumpara sa ibang mga siyudad sa mundo. Pero ang bilis  ng lakad ko pauwi. Gustong-gusto ko na agad makarating sa bahay at magsusi ng pinto.1

 

Nai-post sa Taiwan Life | 1 Puna

Auntie Sider

Kaarawan ngayon ng yumao kong tiya. Kung nabubuhay siya, dapat ay 96 years old na siya ngayon.  Bilang pagpupugay at pag-alaala ko sa kanya, ibabahagi ko itong personal essay na sinulat ko may tatlongAuntie Sider taon bago siya pumanaw. Dahil sa kanyang edad, hindi na niya ito nabasa. Sana kung nasaan man siya ngayon ay makarating sa kanya ang mensahe ng sanaysay na ito. Simple lang naman yun: lab at miss ko siya. Happy birthday, Dada. Lagi kitang naaalala.

Long before Maricel Soriano was called “Taray Queen” of Philippine movies, my beloved aunt, Isidra “Sider” J. Gutierrez, was already reigning as the supreme icon of sternness in our small neighborhood in Batangas City. Children would fearfully scamper away at the mere sight of her. Relatives would literally shake when she starts arguing with them. And when her voice reaches that angry note, expect deafening silence in the house. Nope, Auntie Sider was not a neighborhood toughie who kills bad men. She simply would slap nephews and nieces who misbehave, wield a sharp bolo at inebriated men who would roughly answer back, and drive other neighbors to tears when her acerbic tongue would start to hurl those famous crisp invectives. “Iaanak pa ang katatakutan ko“, she would often say. If her life would be made into a movie, that famous line of hers would certainly pass for a good title. For Auntie Sider, being a true-blooded Batangueña, never retreats from any fight.

Yes, if her life would be transformed into the big screen, it would be an action-comedy genre — very verbal, kinetic, and a rib-tickler. Those three adjectives might as well give us an idea to her multifaceted and colorful character. For my auntie is an amalgam of words, energy and humor. She talks her mind out, works like a horse, and laughs at herself. The result is a synergy that translates to strength. Today, at 83, that strength continues to sustain her every waking hour. She still does the daily house chores, goes up to Baguio alone twice or thrice a year and is an expert in entertainment gossips.

One morning, as she was getting out of the grocery store, the security guard opened the door for her and courteously said, “thank you, lola.” Auntie Sider was aghast. “Putang ina, dismayado ako“, she told all of us when she came home. “Sasabihin nyang lola na ako eh ni hindi pa ako nagkakaanak? Ngali-ngali kong umbagan.”

At another time when we were in Rustan’s Makati, she was looking at this opulent and expensive Charles Jourdan shoes, when a pretty and friendly saleslady approached her and said: “Can I help you ma’am?” Auntie Sider replied in her thick Batangueña accent,” Magkano ari ineng?” “Six thousand nine hundred fifty ho,” the saleslady politely intoned. My auntie’s eyes suddenly became big, like that of a dog who has spotted its enemy. “Ay sa putang inang `yan! Inyo na `yang sapatos na `yan. Paghihirapin nyo kami.”  The lady, instead of getting angry, giggled quietly.

Now that is what I call colorful character.

She also loves to tell this story. In the late `60s when my mother owned and operated a beauty salon in the heart of Batangas City, my auntie Sider took a shower one afternoon and noticed the lysol liquid disinfectant in the bathroom floor. Knowing that it kills germs, she poured a small amount of lysol in a tabo, and used it like a feminine wash to clean her, uhm, private part. Since she forgot to dilute the concentrated disinfectant, the effect was like that of pouring acid into the skin. Alas, that was what exactly happened. She shouted at the top of her voice and like a wounded horse, jumped and jumped to deaden the pain. My mother’s patrons, of course, were scandalized. When my auntie got out of the bathroom, they asked her what happened and when she told the whole story without missing any detail, everybody burst into peals of laughter. “Masama na ang tinawa ng lahat, lalo na si Bining.” She was referring to a neighbor who like her, is also a spinster. “Pero talagang hirol ako. Masakit ang putang ina.”

Yes, my auntie would say putang ina (son of a bitch) as if she is merely putting a period or comma to every sentence. She could do that and get away with it. But if there were children listening, she would almost always give a warning. “Hoy, mga bata, huwag nyo akong gagayahin, ha? Hayaan nyo na la-ang na ako ang magmura.” In my entire life, I must have heard a million of putang inas from her, up to the point when it didn’t seem to sound like cuss words anymore. Truly, among those kids like me who grew up with her, no one acquired her fixation on that horrible expression.

From her name spawned numerous derivatives. From Isidra, she was called Sider. Her brothers and sisters, on the other hand, would sometimes call her Cinderella, while we, her nephews and nieces, would address her as Auntie Ida. Now, her apos sa pamangkin (grandchildren from her nephews and nieces) call her dada. She is comfortable in all those names, just as she is with her civil status. When people ask her why she didn’t get married, her reply is a standard one: “May pagka-suplada kasi ako noong araw, she would say matter of factly,“Takot ang mga lalaki sa akin,”. There’s no trace of regret in that voice. Just a casual explanation from someone who has accepted her fate, and has become very contented with the choices she made in life. “Kung walanghiya lang ang mapapangasawa ko, mapapatay ko pa `yon kaya mabuti na `yong di na nga ako nag-asawa.”

And true enough, when a married sister of hers went to our house to complain about her marital woes, Auntie Sider began her famous litany: “Ayan na nga ba ang sinasabi ko. Dati rati’y sinasabihan mo pa ako na kesyo walang nanliligaw sa akin. O ngayon, sino sa atin ang kalbaryo ang buhay?” And the poor sister agreed, “Oo nga. Mabuti ka pa.” With arched eyebrows, my auntie just looked at her sister with that stoic expression that seemed to say, guess who’s having the last laugh? Talk about vindication.

Auntie Sider never smiles at pictures. One time when I was helping her organize her photo album, I noticed that she had this standard facial expression — like that of an action star with that serious, stern look. I asked her about this and all that she said was: “Ay sa ganun ako eh, ano’ng magagawa mo?” Anyone who meets her for the first time would say that she is, indeed, stern. But that is only on a surface level. For underneath that stern and abrasive façade is a funny woman with a heart of gold.

Isidra J. Gutierrez was born on May 15, 1918 in Batangas, Batangas (now city). The sixth among the 11 children of Cecilio Gutierrez, Sr. and Marciana Clar de Jesus, Isidra grew up playing with the boys. She effortlessly climbed towering trees, wore a slingshot around her neck, and punched and kicked her playmates. “Lumaki akong tomboy,” she recalls. “Bata pa’y di na ako nagpapaapi.” Because she was extremely naughty, her mother often spanked her with a slipper. One time, the spanking went a little bit too far. She was badly hurt. “Lupaypay ako sa sahig. Pero di ako umiyak. Yung tingin kong `yon sa Inay, ang ginawa ko, pinunit ko yung damit ko. E bagong bago pa naman.Hindi kasi ako makalaban kasi magulang ko `yon, e. E di sa damit ko binuhos ang galit at iyamot ko.” Her mother could not believe when she saw her with torn clothes. She just turned to her husband and said: “Look at her.” Auntie Sider’s father only shook his head and bristled: “I told you, Marciana, she’s going to be a problem.”

Well, she didn’t really grow up to be a problem child. She was simply hyperactive and fought whenever she felt that her personal domain was threatened. During her adolescent years, she discovered the movies and became a movie fan. “Sumusulat kami noon ni Ate Dading kay Fernando Poe, Sr, ” she fondly remembers, “pero hanggang doon lang.” Ate Dading was her elder sister who went to the States right after World War II, and never returned back to the Philippines. Their youngest sister, Maria, is my mother.

After the war, two Americans courted my auntie when she worked as a clerk in an American camp. They happened to be brothers who competed for her attention. “Si George at si Ralph ClarkSabi sa akin ni George, hey Isidra, which do you prefer, to marry an American or a Nigger? Eh alam kong hinuhuli ako. Kaya ang sagot ko, I prefer to marry my own race. Sagot ni George, but I’m not asking for your own race? Nakangiti la-ang ako. Akala nya makakaisa siya.” Both brothers wanted to marry her but it was her lawyer brother, Mario, who dissuaded her from marrying. “Sabi ng Kuya Mario, sige magpakasal ka. Pagkatapos, I-di-divorce ka lang nyanAnon’ng gagawin mo sa Amerika pag nag-iisa ka roon?” Though she was known to be a rebel, she was subservient to her family on things concerning romance and marriage. That’s why she heeded her brother’s advice. She dumped her two American suitors and continued to watch movies.

It was the movies that paved the way for her to work in a movie theater for more than 20 years. Even when I was still a toddler, auntie Sider was already working as a portera at Emelic theater in Batangas. Everyday, she would tear movie tickets after movie patrons bought it from the takilyera. Quite an easy job, one might say, but auntie Sider said it wasn’t so. She constantly watched for people who wanted to sneak inside the movie house without paying for the tickets. And she caught quite a few. “Pinipitcherahan ko sila. Wala akong pakialam kung lasing.” When she went home every night, she carried an umbrella with abalisong knife inserted inside its folds. Just in case, she would be attacked, she said she was always prepared to fight. “Iniisip ko, lapit kayong mga linsyak kayo at pag di ko pinaglalaslas ang mga pakana nyo!”

It was during her Emelic days when she forged friendships and found a regular barkada. There was Delia, her best friend, who later married Rudy, the jeweler. There was Gloria, another married woman, whose husband was a war veteran. Other middle-aged members of the group were Aurea, Lydia, Belen, Naty. There were some men in the group whose names I can’t remember anymore. This group often went out to drink, attended fiesta celebrations in different towns, and even watched x-rated films. “Fighting fish ang pinapanood noon nina Gloria. Tinatawag nila ako. Manood ka na, Sider. Pero ayoko. Nasa labas la-ang ako. Sabi ko, kayo na la-ang at may mga asawa naman kayo. Pero `yang si Delia, nagkaka-dalagang tao `yan noon, nanood. Napaka-hayop. Kaya hayun, nag-asawa.”

Auntie Sider’s boss at the Emelic theater was a woman called Mary. She was the theater manager, and by my auntie’s recollection, also had the temper of a tigress. “Pero di sya umubra sa akin kahit pa sabihing mataray sya. Minsan nga, pinalabas ko `yan ng opisina. Sinigawan ko. Basta ako nasa katuwiran, di ako natatakot, kahit mawalan ako ng trabaho at makarating pa kay Mrs. Rodriguez.” Mrs. Rodriguez, a woman of Spanish descent, was the theater owner.

In 1972, a few months before Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law, Auntie Sider went to the United States at the invitation of her youngest brother, Danny. She stayed there for six months in Milpitas, California and went sight-seeing, shopping and eating. She savored the taste of American life. It was I think the most relaxing moments of her life, for many years after she returned, she still kept on narrating her U.S. trip like a broken record. She did love it there. As a matter of fact, she gained a lot of weight from eating ice cream and milkshakes. Still, “there is no place like home,” she quips.

When she came back to her life in Emelic theater, auntie Sider was treated like a movie star. Everyone called her “stateside.” Her skin glowed, she gained weight, and looked very much rested. “Hindi makapaniwala ang mga kaibigan ko na ang porterang ito ay makakarating ng Amerika.” She was very proud of such an achievement that I remember every time we had a visitor in the house, she would always insert her U.S. trip into the conversation. “Noong nasa Amerika ako, panay ang pakain ng ice cream sa akin ni Danny. Ika ko, ay busog na busog na naman ako Danny. Pero magagalit si Danny. Basta kumain ka Ate!”

Two years later, in 1974, Auntie Sider’s eldest sister, Goring , succumbed to cancer of the throat and lungs. She, too, was unmarried. From the beginning to the end of her sickness, it was Auntie Sider who took care of her. They took the public bus and went to Manila, checked into a hospital and there, under medical supervision, fed her, gave her sponge baths, took her to the bathroom, gave in to her requests. Everyday, Auntie Sider saw how her sister’s health deteriorated. She got scared, but toughened herself. “Umiiyak ako noong mag-isa sa banyo, ” she told us right after Mama Goring’s funeral, “hindi ko pinapakita sa Ate na natatakot at naaawa ako sa kanyaAyaw ko siyang panghinaan ng loob.””

For Auntie Sider, life went back to Emelic theater after Mama Goring died. I never really saw her mourn for a long time. She bounced back into the groove easily. She got up before sunrise, sang in the shower, went to work before eight in the morning, and came in the evening with the latest in showbiz gossips. For years, that routine never seemed to end.

But not for long. Several years later, Auntie Sider resigned from her job and Mrs. Rodriguez lost a legal case to have the theater continue its operations. The Emelic theater barkada still saw each other from time to time but after a few years, they completely lost touch with one another. Oftentimes, when I would accompany my auntie in shopping malls, she would start looking for faces of her barkada among the flock of busy shoppers. “Hindi ko man lamang makabangga dine sina Delia at Gloria. Nakaka-sura.”

Post Emelic life meant staying and working in the house. For years, she would wake up before sunrise and cook breakfast for all of us. When I was a child, it was she who bathed me everyday. And then, she would go through the motions: washing and ironing our clothes, going to the market, cleaning the house, cooking lunch, washing the dishes and preparing dinner. Her forms of rest were watching television, reading the newspapers and listening to the radio. Sometimes she complained about the monotony of her life, but she still did her daily chores as perfectly as she could. I remember her gastronomical delights — that Chinese dish, pork “humba,” with “tahore,” the “chopsuey,” “paksiw,” “tapa,” “sinaing na tulingan,” “giniling,” etc. Such dishes peppered our Sunday lunches and dinners. They were all small meals, but to me, they were like Bacchanalian feasts — delectable, redolent and ambrosial.

Another funny story happened when she underwent appendectomy at the St. Patrick’s hospital. Instead of getting worried about going under the knife, what concerned her was the thought that she would be shaved down there. “Naku, ineng,” she told the nurse who already held the sharp razor, “ako’y hiyang-hiya sa iyo. Itong pinagkatago tago kong pakana na iningatan kong walang makakita sa matagal ng panahon ay makikita ninyo.” The nurses were all giggling. “Hayaan na ho ninyo, they all assured her, “pareho naman ho tayong babae.” For many months, she also got worried at the thought that the male doctors who formed part of the operation team, saw her prized “treasure.” “Bistado na ako ni Dr. Pastor,” she said. Linsyak na iyan. Pabayaan ko na.”

When she is in a good mood, Auntie Sider would sing and dance even if there were people watching. Sometimes, when we have informal parties in our house, she would even dress up and spray perfume before she would dance. “Mukha akong alila pag narito sa bahay, pero pag labas ko naman ay sinisigurado kong isputing ako, she would often say. “Isputing,” to her, meant wearing her Sunday’s best — jeans, t-shirt, sandals and a face made up — complete with lipstick, powder and eyebrow pencil. Why don’t you try putting on rouge? I would often joke her. And her answer was also a standard one: “Hindi na….bagay lamang `yan sa mga mayayamang artista.”

It was from her that I learned old “deep” Filipino and Batangueño words — words, which I don’t hear spoken anymore today. For example, she would call a loose, flirtatious woman “pandit,” “pulandit” and “maluwag ang sihang.” Cleavage, she would call “lukan,” while a tough killer, she would term as “tiribut.” When a woman loses her virginity, she would say, “butas-te na ang babaeng `yan,” while people with bladder problems who pee in their pants she would say, “maluwag ang kanyang roskas,” which means his/her “screw” is already loose. As a communicator and researcher, I found those words fascinating for they are indigenous and endangered. As a matter of fact, I told my colleagues in media one time that I’m going to make a collection of my auntie’s private lexicon. It’s a project, which until now, I have yet to start.

Although she is an Aglipayan, auntie Sider does not regularly go to church because she said she feels like she’s committing a sin whenever she would see people she doesn’t like. “Mas nagkakasala la-ang ako pag nakakakita ako ng mga butas na medyas, batang iyak ng iyak, mag-nobyo na lambutsingan ng lambutsinagn. Putang inang `yan.” She said she would rather pray in private.

At 83, going on 84, auntie Sider is still as active as ever. Except for an arthritis problem, which attacks her joints during cold weather, and her weak left lung, which gives her occasional coughs, she is still strong compared to other women half her age. She never had weight problems, and would still drink coffee everyday, eat meat and all fattening foods with gusto, and at times, even drink beer with the boys. She knows the latest movie stars and watches television as if she were an annotator. “Putang ina mo, sampalin mo!” she would shout at the TV screen every time she would see Judy Ann Santos being maltreated by the contrabida in her favorite TV soap opera. Kung sa akin lamang nagtama `yon ay pag di ko iningudngod sa sahig ang hayop na `yan– ay sabihin mong sinungaling ako.”

Perhaps what contributes to her longevity is the fact that she does not really have an emotional baggage. She says everything that bothers her without using any forms of “filters.” She could tell nephews and nieces ugly things about their lives and make them stand there like wet cats as they quietly reflect on their mistakes. Her words could both hurt and heal. And while we would not always necessarily agree with the wisdom of what she says, we always leave our house with the astounding impact of her own little sermons resounding in our heads.

Auntie Sider was never married, but she never felt alone. For she touched our lives in her own unique way and showered our family with love like no one else did. Her zest for life, faith, fortitude and ambivalence continue to mesmerize and inspire us as we face the slings and arrows of life every day.

I ardently love our undisputed “Taray Queen” more than she will ever know.

P.S. Three years after I wrote this essay, my Auntie passed away. It took me a long time before I became my old, funny self again.

 

Nai-post sa English Entries, Humor, Personalities | 2 mga puna