October 30, 2006

Mercury in retrograde

Negotiations for business deals dangling? Internet connections going funky? Past loves suddenly reappearing in your lives? Travel delays? And generally just weird shit happening all over the place? It's not you. Blame it on Mercury, the messenger of the gods!

It's the time of the year, when this little planet closest to the Sun, appears to be orbiting backward (due to the Earth's own rotation and own orbit, as well as Mercury's own thing). And whoa! The effect sure packs a punch! I normally don't believe in this sort of thing until last week, when everything seemed to just go bonkers on me.

It all began when I went out into the street outside our subdivision to wait for a cab. As I stood there on the curb...a huge green and black butterfly, the kind we all used to see in our gardens (only bigger!), fluttered down gently and landed on my handbag. It sat there for awhile and I talked to it, asking if it was Alex, an editor who had just passed away that morning. It didn't answer back of course, but I was very disconcerted that this butterfly was fearlessly sitting there on my bag. I shook my bag a little and off it flew away. Perhaps it was because my bag was red and the butterfly thought it was just another flower? But aren't these creatures supposed to be colorblind?

The week went downhill from there. After following up on certain projects, I was told it was either on hold 'til next year, and another well, was probably not going our way despite earlier assurances made by certain people. Through all this, my Internet connection was going nuts...with my Ibook indicating I had no Internet connection, and yet I was streaming music from ITunes and downloading Season 3 of the Entourage! But I was having difficulty opening web sites, even as I write this. By the end of the week, friends from the past reappeared or renewed communications with me, as well as other idiots I particularly didn't care for.

Mercury officially went into retrograde on Oct. 28 and is supposed to last 'til Nov. 17 – a full three weeks...damn! But I've been told that its effects can start start even before the official schedule and may last a few days after. So if it's possible, avoid signing any contracts or traveling as this will surely lead to delays. Double-check your appointments. And save your work on your computers!

There is an upside though. You can re-do things or processes that were previously unsucessful... like reading a book...or finishing a project, also reconnecting ties with old buddies. It also provides an opportunity for introspection and meditation. The important thing is to go slow...and be more understanding of others. There will be a lot of miscommunication and angry people because of this, so keep your cool! It's the only way to ride out this phenomenon.

For more info on Mercury in Retrograde, check out this site.

October 27, 2006

A Time for Comings and Goings

Something Like Life
Oct. 27-28, 2006

ALL Saints’ Day is one holiday I often look forward to. This is only one of the few times in the year (the other being Holy Weekend) when the streets of Metro Manila are almost deserted, and traffic can be found in the expressways going to the provinces. This year I’m staying right at home and lighting up three big white candles—one for my Lola Ding, and the two for my brothers Monching and Eugene.

While everyone in my family may sound normal these days, it really has been a tough couple of years, after losing my brothers to the Grim Reaper. Grief gnaws at your heart until it’s all chewed up and ready to be spit out. And all there is, is a hollow cavity in your chest. At the most unlikeliest of times—when you’re hard at work trying to beat a deadline, while looking at dresses in a store, or just as you are about to fall asleep—the memories of your dead loved ones just come flooding your consciousness like a dam had just broken. You can’t stop them. You just have to quietly relive all of them, painful or otherwise.

The most difficult time is usually on Christmas Day, when all the family is supposed to be together enjoying the Noche Buena and watching everyone open their presents. At no other time of the year are the dearly departed more awfully missed.

My family and I have never talked about our loss with one another, at least not seriously. I think it’s because we can’t stand seeing each other in pain. We try to be strong, especially for our parents. We know that the minute one breaks down, everyone will follow. How can people, handicapped by pain and grief, comfort one another? So like me, I suppose they chose to talk about our loss with their friends who then comforted us as we cried our hearts out.

My family has basically dealt with our loss with humor. It is escapist, I know, but I’m glad that we are all funny people on our own and the jokes we crack have helped us ease our sadness. Otherwise, probably we all would be downing bottles of Lithium or Prozac by now. I cannot forget the first thing my mother said when we finally buried Eugene. As she gingerly dried her tears with her hanky, she squeaked, “Can I play mahjong now?” We all laughed and told her that that was what Eugene would have wanted her to do.

I’m pretty sure everyone in the family still cries, as I do, especially in the solitude of our respective bedrooms. We just don’t do it in front of each other. Because Monching’s death was so sudden, and there were many things left unsaid between us, I still find myself sometimes stopping in the middle of tapping away at my computer and just weeping. But crying is just something we have to do. It helps us get rid of all that pent-up feelings and seemingly forgotten sorrow. It is like our body’s built-in safety valve to release all that pressure building up inside of us.

Work also keeps you focused away from the aching sadness of losing the people you love. When Eugene finally passed away after being in a coma for about a week, I just went home to wash up, then went to the Bangko Sentral to cover the events of the day, after which I submitted my stories. Of course, I knew I was just going through the motions like an automaton, but at least I wasn’t wallowing in depression. Eugene, who had such a lust for life, would have not wanted me to drown in grief.

Then there is God. Prayers help a lot in riding out one’s grief, as you ask for strength and calm during a most distressing time. It is the most real relationship anyone can lean on for support. Believing in an afterlife, I have never badgered Him why Eugene and Monching were taken from us. It is a complete acceptance of how the way the world works. There is no one at fault. No one is to blame. There is a time and a place for birth and death. My brothers, and many others like them, have completed their journey on this earth and the mission the Lord had set them out to do. It was time for them to move on to the next.

It is in this spirit that we should all remember our departed ones this All Saints’ Day. We are ever so lucky to have known all these wonderful people, and to have had them in our lives. It is a gift that I thank the Lord each day as I look forward to the next journey when all of us shall meet again.


CLOSE to noon on Monday, I received a text message that Philippine Star editor Alex Fernando had passed away. It was shocking, to say the least, because I always thought of Alex as one of those permanent fixtures in our field. I had to double check with our editor Chuchay Fernandez if it was true, and to find out the cause of his death.

According to Chuchay, she and Alex had been close friends for about 30 years. The sense of loss was very palpable from her, considering that they had only toasted each other on her birthday last week. I never had the good fortune to have known Alex that long, but I had plenty of occasions to enjoy a few drinks with him at a journalists’ hangout in Malate. In the short time that I knew him, I can summon up only fun memories.

Alex was one of those typical male editors who had a gruff exterior but is really a softie inside, which was why I took to calling him “Swit,” as I dubbed a few of my male buddies. He had a heart for certain causes, and was one of the few editors I could count on to help in my environmental campaigns. He was always ready to lend a hand when he knew that what you were fighting for was right.

There was one birthday celebration of his I missed, so by way of an apology I sent him a pizza to his office nearby. But when he texted to thank me, he said that he didn’t eat pork. Ack! I never really found out if this was true or he was just kidding around as usual.

Because that, too, was typical of Alex. He always had a joke ready and would crack me up, sometimes in the middle of work, with the latest gag making the cell-phone rounds.

I don’t quite remember the last time I saw Alex. Perhaps it was still in that old bar in Malate, during someone’s birthday or despedida. We lost touch when I worked abroad for a year, and when I came back I failed to ring him as I had lost his number. I recall trying to get his number from a mutual friend because I had a feeling his birthday was coming up but wasn’t quite sure. I never got it. And I now feel awfully sad for not having been able to either text, call or just say hello.

Alex, I don’t like brandy, but whatever I’m drinking tonight, I drink to your memory.

(My column Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life Section of the BusinessMirror.)

October 21, 2006

On Suri Cruise

GOT my October issue of Vanity Fair, AT LAST! (Many thanks to Hermie Castro of APCEI for attending to my missing issues. APCEI is the local distributor of VF and many delicious magazines and periodicals I wish I could subscribe to.)

I've been too busy to search the web for any pictures of the once-mysterious TomKat baby, even as news of the VF cover spread throughout the Internet. I would patiently wait for my subscription issue. So seeing Suri staring at me (with the eyes of her mom) from the cover of VF with her tussle of dark hair (like her dad's), was strangely unnerving and exciting. She was tightly snuggled in the brown leather jacket of her dad as he and mom fawned at her. What a doll! Page after page of photos taken by the grand dame of portrait photography Annie Leibowitz, showed the little cutie looking fearlessly straight at the camera, as if saying "Hey you! You wanted to get a look at me? Watch me be a star!"

I'm not a Tom Cruise fan. Never have and never will be, especially after that maniacal behavior on Oprah Winfrey's show. (We here in the Philippines would call it "OA".) He always struck me as an overrated actor. Long on the looks, but short in the acting department. Like Brad Pitt. And Leonardo di Caprio (why Marty Scorsese is so enamored with this guy is beyond me). Gimme Johnny Depp anytime! Now that's an actor.

And neither am I fan of Kate wastherface. See, I don't even remember her surname and what movies she's starred in. But after seeing all the photos of baby Suri (TomKat claims it means "red rose), and never mind the interview of the couple who just griped about suffering in the hands of a merciless media (hey, who told you to be actors?), I'm an instant fan of the tyke. This kid will be bigger than her parents put together. Just you wait and see.

Mark Jimenez on Korina

I FINALLY was able to watch the much-talked about appearance of Mark Jimenez on Korina Sanchez's show on ANC. Watching MJ vent and rant on TV strangely made me think of him as an Imelda Marcos in butch. I was just waiting for him to espouse something like "a hole in the sky and light shining on the Philippines" theory (he came close). Still his appearance was weirdly compelling.

I must say that I gave up having Sunday lunch with MJ and a few other female journalists sometime in 2002-03 because I had to work that day. I wonder if he has changed much from how he was then. I remember after one New Year's celebration that he was the talk of the town because of the expensive fireworks display he put on at his Makati residence. He has been hailed as a "financial genius" and was said to be responsible for brokering the sale of PLDT to Manny Pangilinan's group. I don't remember much about his stint in Congress short as it was, then he left for the US and jailed briefly because of some election-related offense.

He again hogged the headlines sometime in May for donating a huge sum of money to bail out the members of PEP (parents, mostly Pacific Plans planholders) charged with libel by the Yuchengcos. He then made a donation to fund scholarships of the children of PEP who were having difficulty enrolling because of the insufficient funds to pay for their tuition fees. Like everyone else, I suspected an ulterior motive to this donation. Is he running for some political office again?

On Korina's show, he talked about making mistakes, sleeping alone in his "bartolina" at home, how he is willing to talk about (former justice secretary) Nani Perez if asked to testify, how his family has suffered, how it was "EVIL" to steal from the poor and gave the Yuchengcos and the Sobrepeñas (Pacific Plans, CAP) as examples, etc. MJ also deftly parlayed questions about any deals with the presidentita GMA and largely stayed away from directly criticizing her. (Korina for once, was strangely quiet offering only a few questions, bewildered perhaps by all that MJ was saying.)

What's MJ's agenda? He claims he doesn't want to have anything to do with politics as he can do a lot more "for the people" even without an electoral seat. He talked about distributing rosaries to every family nationwide, and about his devotion to the Divine Mercy. He obviously has still more to say on many hot issues and will surely be making more appearances on other talk shows. Yes, folks, we're in the grip of another bad telenovela. I can't wait how this will turn out.

(An aside: My regret about MJ is his sale of Meridian Telekoms to Smart. While it was in MJ's name, this Wifi-broadband provider was top of the line with very efficient customer services and maintenance people. Of course, all that excellence was flushed down the toilet when the lumbering arrogant giant of MVP's creation took over. Sad. But then MJ got a tidy sum from Meridian's sale. Financial genius indeed.)

October 20, 2006

Something Like Life

I DON’T mean to sound like an economist today. But the latest slew of data out of the National Statistics Office (NSO) makes very interesting read, and probably says a lot about the state of romance and relationships in the country.

Based on data culled from January 2003 to March 2004, the results of which were released in August:

• Most couples get married in May

According to the NSO, one out of nine couples chose May because they were probably “riding on” the fiesta season. But of course…everyone’s happy and stupid drunk while making merry during the fiestas, so any bride with the hots for a man can just get him to say yes. Or is it the other way around? Will they be surprised when they wake up the next morning with their hangovers!

Seriously, an average of 2,189 couples got married daily in May 2003, compared with 2,051 in December, and 2,042 in January. The leanest month was August, I supposed because of the rainy weather, and perhaps due to the Chinese superstition that this is a “death” month.

• More people are getting married

There were 593,553 marriages recorded in 2003, up by almost 2 percent from the 583,167 who got married in 2002. (The data is pretty comprehensive as it includes couple who were married by a recognized and lawful officiant. He can either be a priest or pastor, judge, mayor, etc. The data, of course, only includes marriages registered at the Office of the Civil Registrar.)

Despite our heavily Western-influenced ways where “living in” is now generally acceptable, I guess most Filipinos still see marriage as the ideal situation to be in when involved with another person. It is the consummate proof of their love and commitment to each other as a couple. Blame it on our Catholic upbringing. I know gay men and women who are also desperate to get married to their significant others and if only they had enough financial resources, would probably move to a country where such marriages are legal.

• More couples get married under civil rites rather than religious rites

This is an interesting phenomenon as the data shows 41.3 percent of marriages were solemnized by lay officiants. But the Catholic Church should not be worried as there were still many who got married under Church rites, recorded at 37.1 percent. The rest of the marriages were solemnized under other religious rites (Islamic, other Christian, or tribal rites).

I wonder if more couples are getting married under civil rites because they think it is easier to break this off than if they were married under a religious ceremony? After all, being married by just an ordinary man, like a judge, is nothing compared with being married under God’s watchful eyes. Does this mean then that, sure, we want to show our commitment to our significant other, but we still want a mode of escape just in case the marriage doesn’t work out?

Or is it because most people can’t afford religious ceremonies so they just opt for a civil wedding? The concept of the engrandeng kasalan has been so ingrained in our female DNA that it will always be the ideal to achieve for most of us. But if the couple can’t afford such a wedding, they will settle for the town mayor and just a family salo-salo at home. The data didn’t show an income demographic, so we can’t say for sure why there is a trend toward civil rites.

• Women marry earlier than men

“The number of teenage brides [under 20 years old, 80,085, or 13.5 percent] getting married was more than four times the number of teenage grooms [19,829, or 3.3 percent],” says the NSO. I think this is because most teenage brides are pregnant. There is government data that shows that about 35 percent of women get pregnant before marriage.

I suppose parents of these pregnant teenagers still think of the anak sa pagkadalaga as a source of shame and embarrassment for the family. So they would rather marry off their pregnant teenagers, never mind if many cases have shown that such forced marriages only lead to the couple’s separation later.

On the other hand, parents of teenage boys would move heaven and earth for their sons not to get married, no matter how many girls their sons have gotten pregnant. Parents still put a premium on the males to achieve all that they can, no matter the personal circumstances.

The NSO data shows most men marry when they reach 27 years old, while for most women it is 25, up from 24 the year before. Yes, perhaps more women are postponing marriages in favor of their careers.

• More men beyond their golden years get married than women in the same age group

Now this is awfully cute. The data specifically cites “grooms aged 75 years old and over were three times more than the brides in the same age group.”

I think that this just proves that men really can’t live without us women, and that they need constant companionship to make the rest of the years worth living. And, of course, they would want to make an honest woman out of their old gals. How romantic!

Corollary to this is the finding that:

• Remarriage is more common among men than women

Of the registered marriages, the NSO said, 2 percent were grooms whose spouses either have passed on, or they are divorced/separated from their original spouses. In contrast, only 1 percent of the registered marriages had women who were either widowed, or divorced/separated.

I guess women generally are able to bounce back from their grief and depression (either from death or separation from a spouse) and lead very interesting fun-filled lives even without a man. Many “suddenly single” or separated women have told me that remarrying is far from their minds, more so if they have kids. They would rather spend their time in nurturing their children and devoting more energy to their career than finding the next Mr. Right.

The rest of NSO’s marriage statistics deal with intermarriages and showed that the highest number involved Filipinas married to Japanese, with American grooms a close second. Filipino grooms, on the other hand, were likely to marry Chinese brides, followed by American brides. Still and all, our romantic Pinays and Pinoys still prefer each other over foreigners. Sigh!

The marriage data can be found on here.

(My column Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life Section of the BusinessMirror.)

October 16, 2006

Sightings...at Island Chicken 2

Yeah, yeah, you think that's all I do. Eat at Island Chicken huh? Actually my visit last Thursday at its Sct. Borromeo branch was the first in over two months. Too bad our Inasal gal Niña B. was back in her fave isle of Boracay to prepare for the forthcoming peak season, which starts on Halloween, boo! So if you haven't made your vacation reservations yet, start calling those resorts and airlines. Those rooms and seats are going, going, gone!

Back in Sct. Borromeo, as my friends and I waited for our plates of chicken inasal and kansi, along comes former Senator and DENR Secretary Heherson "Sonny" Alvarez. As he passed our table, we gave a cheerful "Hi Sir!", which probably befuddled him, as he wracked his brain trying to think of who and where we met him. We of course, were not in the mood to explain our journalistic circumstances as we had a tinge of vertigo due to our hunger pangs. His response to our hello was equally befuddling to us. He told us, as he pointed to his face, "Hindi ako nagme-makeup ha. Galing lang ako sa TV show." We were too surprised to respond with anything except an "Okay!"

Anyway, according to Niña (via text), her sister used to work for the good senator. Sonny A. has always been known to trust Ilonggas to work at his offices.

Borgy for Mayor? Ick

THIS is the most amusing story yet. According to a news report from ABS-CBN, former first lady Imelda Marcos is giving way to her grandson Borgy Manotoc, who will run as mayor of Manila. This was announced by Borgy's mom, the ever fabulous and hip Imee Marcos, congresswoman of Ilocos Norte.

Need we remind Ms. Imee that not too long ago, she had to apologize to the public through the Inquirer for her son's despicable behavior one holiday in Boracay? She apparently believed that her son had nothing to do in an incident where a poor teenaged boy was beaten up by fellow teenagers at the beach. And like any mother, she defended her Borgy against these "unfounded" accusations. Of course, as it turned out, Borgy did have something to do with the incident. In fact, he was the major player and led the way in ganging up on the poor kid. To be fair, Ms. Imee, as we mentioned, did apologize, especially to the father of the kid who landed in the hospital. (Sure he's a cutie. But can you actually take this billboard bod seriously? Photo from the web)

The Boracay incident was not the first, nor the last this testosterone-laden hunk, has been involved in. Wasn't it only this year that the Marcos heir got into another fight at the Embassy with some singer? So does Manila want a basagulero for its Mayor? Though I cringe at the loud strombotiko design that Mayor Atienza has adopted along the Baywalk and other parts of Manila, I think Manila is better off with the ex-propsman of Bayanihan.

For more on Imee and her son, and her being a Marcos, click here. This is a fun read, I promise.

October 13, 2006

Improving customer relationships

Something Like Life
Oct. 13, 2006

I WAS in Singapore again recently to cover an event, and it always blows my mind how this tiny city-state managed to be one of the most efficient nations in the world. You can say anything you wish about Filipinos being hospitable (mostly to foreigners) but, sadly, we can’t beat the Singaporeans in terms of professional customer relationships.

Okay, okay, I know some of you can no longer stand reading stuff about why some countries are better than ours (truth hurts doesn’t it?), but I just have to say my peace. Because I can’t imagine how we Filipinos—who are in demand all over the world because of our courtesy and how we put clients’ needs before our own—can do such a bang-up job here at home. And if we are supposed to make it in the global arena, we have to learn how to treat each and every customer with respect.

I have to give props first of all to the Palm technical support staff in Asia. I had sent them a few electronic missives from here in Manila to report that my phone, a Treo 650, was going nuts on me. They came back to me with clear, concise instructions on how to address my problem technically. Telling them that the reboots they suggested didn’t work, they told me that I could drop off my unit at a local address and Palm would ship me a replacement in three to five days from Singapore.

The tech staff also told me that if available locally, I could get a swap immediately instead of waiting for a replacement from abroad. I never got the chance to do this as I became too busy with my assignments. (Also I was too scared to actually part with my unit, which I have become dependent on to organize my life.)

When I had the chance to go to Singapore, I jumped on the opportunity to renew my communication with Palm tech support. In less than a day, I got my replacement unit without having to submit any paperwork or voluminous documents. All I had to do was give the serial number of my unit, pay a minimal fee by giving my credit-card details (as my unit was considered out of warranty), then drop off my defective unit at Palm’s Drop Off Zone at Tang’s. (Even going to Tang’s from my hotel which was three MRT stops away, was no big deal, as I just jumped on the train, got out, took the underground connection which led me across the street and up to Tang’s. When I finished, I returned to my hotel the same way. The entire exercise was completed under an hour, and would have been shorter if I didn’t walk around the displays of the gorgeous techie toys. How’s that for Singaporean efficiency?)

In contrast, my telco provider, which had given me the original Treo 650 through my postpaid subscription plan, has turned out to be a model of extreme inefficiency. I love my telco provider to bits, but since it has grown bigger, I think it is now suffering from too much bureaucracy. One would think the government has now taken a majority stake in it.

What’s more, the telco’s success has obviously swelled the heads of many of its executives who can no longer even answer simple questions from the media or the public. Wonder no more why its closest rival has been attracting more and more customers. Most are probably “switchers,” people who are no longer satisfied with this telco’s services that they just had to “switch” to its rival.

First off, I didn’t have any international roaming services even though I had signed up for it. In vain I tried to surf my telco provider’s site on how to activate the international roaming feature. Of course, after wading for what seemed like an eternity through a totally nonuser-friendly site, what confronted me was another dazzling display of low-tech nonsense where I was told that under my subscription plan, I could “Go out and roam! You are all set. No application, no fee required.”

(Read books like this guys! It might actually help your company improve and make your executives behave less of an ass.)

When I returned to Manila, I wrote to my telco provider’s customer service about my problem, and a representative e-mailed me back saying:

“Upon checking, International Roaming feature for mobile no. xxxx is inactive. Although your account is entitled to this feature and International Roaming deposit is waived, activation of the feature necessitates submission of signed letter of request and valid ID.
The scanned documents may be sent through this channel or fax to 8487-8807/848-8870.”

Whoopdeedoo! Welcome to the 21st century!

Of course, I told the customer service representative what I thought about this idiotic instruction, and she responded by saying that I could go instead to the telco provider’s web site and activate my international roaming service online. In other words, there was no way I could get roaming service because, as the site had cheerfully declared, I already had roaming!

I then called the telco provider’s PR department and one of its officers finally got back to me after two days, saying that he already had my international roaming service activated permanently. He added that there was also a problem with the telco’s partner in Singapore, which was why I was unable to roam. So what really was the reason for my phone not being able to roam? An unactivated roaming service or a defective Singaporean partner? Oh brother!

Thing is, I never ever had any problems using this telco’s services. I’ve been subscribed to this telco as far back as I can remember. Roaming abroad had never been an issue for me up until then. I land in another country, I switch on my phone, and I am automatically registered to whichever is the telco provider’s partner is in that country. I upgraded my plan last year so I could get even better services. Or so I thought.

Of course, now that this telco is such a success, it can’t help but be a victim of its own arrogance. In the process, it has alienated its own customers. (One columnist in another paper had also recently written about its bureaucratic unintelligent customer service. And, mind you, he was about to become a new subscriber after the telco’s CEO encouraged him to get a plan. Of course, you can pretty much guess what the columnist finally did to his application.)

So why are Filipino companies so bad at dealing with customers here at home when we’re supposed to be the best at this everywhere else? Sad to say, I can’t figure it out myself. Times like this, I just wish I lived in Singapore.

(My column Something Like Life appears every Friday in the BusinessMirror.)

P.S. I just found out that the Palm Technical Support Staff is actually based in Manila. So that just proves my point that there is a huge difference when it's Singaporeans who manage the customer services, instead of Filipinos like those belonging to my telco provider. Sad, sad, sad.

Asian Spirit: Only 25 minutes from Manila to Boracay

JACK PO, executive vice president of Asian Spirit, announces that the airline is aggressively expanding to Asia and Micronesia, in addition to offering faster service to travelers to Boracay.

By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo
Special to BusinessMirror, Oct. 12, 2006

FLAG carrier Asian Spirit will be offering a faster service to Caticlan, the gateway to Boracay in November, and is aggressively expanding its reach in Asia and Micronesia.

In an interview, Jack Po, executive vice president of Asian Spirit, told the BusinessMirror that the jet service to Caticlan will add three more daily flights to the airline’s current 16 and will only take 25 minutes from Manila.

The carrier will be using a British Aerospace 146-100, normally an 80-seater, but reconfigured to 60 seats to enable it to take off and land in the short Caticlan runway.
BAE executives were in town last week to test the reconfigured jet. “The test flight was successful and went without any hitches,” said Po.

The 25-minute service will top its rival Southeast Asian Airlines (Seair), which currently offers a 35-minute flight to the Aklan seaport. Seair uses a 32-passenger Dornier 328 turboprop for its Manila-Caticlan flights.

More routes

Flushed by the success of the test flights, Po also announced plans to fly to Macau; a new route to Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) from Koror, Palau; and a flight between Cebu and Koror.

He said the air service to Macau, to be offered in mid-December, is a tie-up with budget carrier, Viva Macau. The flight will use Viva Macau’s planes, either its 181-seater Boeing 767-200 or 245-seater B767-300.

“The service will initially be four times a week, and will depart from Clark,” Po said. The departures/arrivals in Clark ensure no direct competition with Air Macau, which is currently flying the Macau-Manila route, with a code-sharing agreement with Philippine Airlines.

Founded in 2004 by former Cathay Pacific general manager for international affairs Andrew Pyne, Viva Macau will also start offering services in November between Macau and Jakarta, Indonesia, and to Male, in Maldives. The carrier also hopes to offer flights to the Middle East and Europe.

Viva Macau has an existing international licensing agreement with Air Macau, the territory’s flag carrier, allowing it to fly the latter’s international destinations, like the Philippines, but using other arrival/departure points.

Asian Spirit is also planning to fly from Koror in Palau to Pohnpei next year, a route presently served by Continental Air Micronesia three times a week. According to the Continental web site, Pohnpeians transit through another FSM state, Chuuk, and Guam, and then change aircraft for the flight to Palau, making the trip long and circuitous.

Another route is through Honolulu and Guam before landing in Koror. There are two stops in between Pohnpei and Honolulu at Kosrae, FSM and Kwajalein, Marshall Islands.

An obstacle to the planned service however, is the lack of a refueling facility between Koror and Pohnpei. Ideally, a fuel stop has to be made in the island of Yap, but oil giant Mobil had already closed its refueling facility.

Asian Spirit plans to use its British Aerospace 146-100, an 80-seater plane, for the route. “With a refueling facility, we can use our jet and connect to Yap and even to Chuuk,” said Po.

If the refueling facility is not opened, he said Asian Spirit would have to buy “a long-haul aircraft” to service the said route. He expressed confidence that another plane could be purchased by the airline using “internally generated funds.” Talks are ongoing between the Pohnpei government and Mobil executives to reopen the refueling stop.

Micronesia is famous for its diverse marine resources making it an attractive area for scuba divers and game fishers. Po said the Koror-Pohnpei could “open the gateway to Yap” and other Micronesia states, which have a lot of tourism potentials. “It’s part of [our] plan to expand into Micronesia,” he said.

Koror to Cebu

Aside from the tourism potentials in Micronesia, Asian Spirit also wants to cater to Filipinos who are working and leaving in the Micronesia states. With the airline’s existing route between Koror and Davao City, it will be easier for Filipinos to connect to Manila or other provinces using the flag carrier’s other routes.

Before Asian Spirit can fly the Palau-Pohnpei route though, a bilateral air-service agreement has to be forged first between the Philippines and Pohnpeian government. In lieu of that, the Philippine flag carrier can use the flying rights of Palau Micronesia Air (PM Air) to service the said route. PM Air is the general service agent of Asian Spirit in Koror and holds flying rights to Micronesia, Japan and Australia.

In an e-mail to BusinessMirror, Surangel Samuel Whipps Jr., whose family coowns PM Air said: “PM Air has rights to fly to the FSM [Federated States of Micronesia] and would like to cooperate with Asian Spirit in expanding its route to the rest of Micronesia.”

According to data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, 393 Filipinos were deployed in FSM (Chuuk, Pohnpei, Yap) in 2005, 10.48 percent lower than the 439 deployed the previous year. The data includes new hires and rehired land-based personnel.

Asian Spirit is also finalizing plans for a Koror to Cebu City route, which aims to target Europeans who are going to Palau. The service will also cater to OFWs in Palau who want to come home, and also to Palauans who can fly to other international destinations using Cebu as a jump-off point.

“There is a bigger market in Cebu and it has better international connections,” said Po.

Several domestic Philippine carriers are now aggressively pushing their expansion in the international arena, competing with pioneering flag carrier, Philippine Airlines. The budget carriers hope to boost their sluggish incomes with revenues from international routes. Domestic revenues have tapered off due to the rising cost of aviation gas.

Many of these local carriers, such as Asian Spirit, Cebu Pacific and Seair, offer no-frills, inexpensive travel between several points in the Philippines and key Asian destinations such as Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Xiamen in China, Macau and Palau.

October 12, 2006

Reeling: Truths, Art & Classification

by Tito Genova Valiente

THE silent film opens with a man and a woman, strongly reminiscent of a primordial scene in the Garden. The two ill-fated lovers, as the program notes of the filmmaker label them, are looking up to a mango tree, a blackened fruit dangling and seducing the female. The woman named Guima says: I want eat mango. The man Aras replies: No eat mango. Sand god forbids. You know the rest of the story—the man turns his back and the woman eats of the fruit of some Tree of Whatever Good and Whatever Evil. In this tale, the woman partakes of the forbidden fruit as her man cools off and takes a dip. As the man walks to the water, we glimpse upon the warning that the waters are not fit for swimming or wading.

We know what happens when people do the forbidden. Something horrible is bound to befall upon them. Aras is drowned and resurfaces as a zombie and Guima is transformed into witch having frenzied sex with the men on the island. Mang Kepweng, the hermaphroditic witch doctor who is the only one who survives the killing caused by the toxic mango, chases the two monsters and slays them. As they lay dying, Aras asks: Why you eat mango? Guima replies: Why you very black? Then the screen darkens for the ending.

The short film bears the title Toxic Mango. It is part of the “Guimaras: Shortfilms from the Oil Spill,” a project by the Philippine Independent Filmmakers Cooperative for the TV network ABC. The Philippine government through its instrument, MTRCB, has X-ed the film.

It is quite a journey for a film that is part of a company that involves such names as Kidlat Tahimik and my good friend Roxlee, and figures known for pushing the boundaries like Raya Martin, Milo Paz, Emman de la Cruz, Jeck Cogama, Paulo Villaluna, Wilfred Galila, Kidlat de Guia, JP Carpio, Seymour Sanchez, Ann Shy, Victor Villanueva, Drei Boquieren and Oscar Nava.

It is quite a slap, too, against a move by a group aiming to raise the awareness of the people regarding what is considered the worst oil spill in the history of this country’s islands through a potent and quirky medium they have individually and as a group developed.

Hexed and vexed

Documentaries have always been a problematic tool. They are neither here nor there in approach. In fact, as Pauline Kael has put it: Many of us grow to hate documentaries in school, because the use of movies to teach us something seems a cheat—a pill disguised as candy—and documentaries always seem to be about something we are not interested in.

But documentaries change. One thinks of Michael Moore, who, in the words of James Wolcott in his Vanity Fair February 2006 article “Through a Lens Darkly,” had the brazen effrontery to bring the documentaries to another level. Otherwise, as Wolcott phrases, documentaries “might still be poor cousins [to other media] camped on the stoop, ringing the buzzer and being ignored.”

You may not like Toxic Mango. The anthropologist, Dr. Hiroko Nagai Yabut calls it a strange joke while marveling at its textured cinematography. Bloggers giggle as they try to decide what to do with the work. Our columnist Stella F. Arnaldo says it “is not a Sundance candidate” but surely it does not merit an X. Watching the short film, there is no debate: the piece does not merit an R or even a PG as we understand the implications of these subjective letters.

Legal minds say that when a piece is censored or “classified,” it is the duty of that censuring body or authority to explain its decision. It has to articulate and, even as most of you would wince, educate us about its informed decision, its avowed taste. Even for the nonlawyers, this makes sense. Picture this: the authority—be it censoring of classifying—demands that you appear before them. In their midst, you are asked to explain to them why your work is obscene.

Obscenity in the Philippines has generally been about bodily matters: frontal nudity, breast exposure, sex acts especially if they are represented by the disturbing “pumping” acts.

Lately, it has gone into the fashion tastes of singers and to the humor of our comedians. It is a scary proposition that people we do not know are up there, quiet and concentrated and isolated, are deciding for us what we should see, what we can see and what we cannot see.

These select few are our conscience, our arbiter, our taste. They explain to us why we cannot see things that they see. Most of the time, they do not explain.

Toxic Mango does not have these “sex” and violent things. What it has in terrific quantity is an irritatingly disturbing discourse on an environment gone crazy in a land that is lazy about its own salvation.

As of this writing, there are no documents out there explaining the position of MTRCB and clarifying its stand. For those, with access to computers, though, a service called YouTube is running for us the short film. YouTube is a consumer media company that allows people to watch and share original videos worldwide through a Web experience. (It was acquired recently by Google—Ed.) Through its technology, users can see firsthand accounts of current events, find videos and interests, and “discover the quirky and unusual.” In the meantime, the poison of Khavn de la Cruz, the man behind Toxic Mango, is dripping in and on the Internet without control. And without boundaries.

UPDATE: The filmmaker who has won awards in Tokyo, Spain, Germany, Italy and here in the Philippines says he is submitting a recut of his film to MTRCB so that it can be shown to the public. I, however, wait at the gate of YouTube to watch the condensed poison—to be irritated, to be angered, to be aware of how oil spill is not limited to Guimaras and other small, poor islands. To take a candy only to find out it is a bitter pill.

As for my promised Part II about the rebirth of OPM, I will continue my rhapsody on Tuesday; this topic on oil spill is more urgent.

(Originally published in the BusinessMirror, Life, Oct. 12, 2006)

October 10, 2006

Silver pesos: Elderly consumers challenge marketing concepts

MY parents are both pushing 80. But it doesn’t show. They are both still active—my father still drives out to the grocery or drugstore, while my mother still does the marketing and goes out with her friends often. Both spend quite a sum on food (eating out or taking out), medicines, clothes, even junk food, every month.

And yet, I hear them complain all the time about the noise in the malls, or the loud music at restaurants, or how some store outlets don’t even recognize the senior citizen’s discounts mandated by law. Places with loud music—and there seems to be more and more of these—are unfriendly and inhospitable venues for senior citizens. My mother and her amigas, also don’t seem to have elderly-friendly activities to undertake— discounting ballroom dancing—and usually just end up having lunch as a major activity every month.

Unless it’s an arthritis medicine, an adult diaper or a hospital, there are really not many products geared toward the elderly generation, dubbed the “silver market” by Dr. Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, an economic adviser to MasterCard Worldwide in Asia Pacific. Dr. Yuwa has just come out with a book entitled The Glittering Silver Market, which chronicles the rise of the elderly consumers in Asia, and the exciting opportunities created for companies, given that these consumers have relatively high spending power.

In his book, and during a recent roundtable discussion in Singapore with select journalists from around the region, Yuwa outlines startling facts:

• Due to the wider accessibility to healthcare, and a better psychology, human beings live longer, and are active beyond the average retirement age of 65. “The elderly are living healthier and leading more active lives,” said Yuwa, giving rise to the phenomenon called “compression of morbidity.” He said this trend shows that as life expectancy rises, the average age of the onset of chronic illnesses also rises. “The elderly get sick usually only a few months before they die,” he explained.

• The mindset of senior citizens is now changing. In a global survey, two-thirds of the elderly beyond 65 felt these years as a “second opportunity in life.” “They have a desire to do other things,” he added.

• Women will outnumber the men in most of the countries included in the book, except for India. From a consumer market perspective, this is an important development as “women can bounce back from life and become active in the social network,” thus maintaining their place as consumers, according to Yuwa.

• As more people move from rural areas to urban areas—estimated at 90,000 per day, every day in Asia—the elderly population growth as a market will be more evident.

• Despite the traditional close ties among Asian families, across generations, more “silvergenerarians” now prefer to live on their own, away from their children.

• The discretionary spending of the elderly household in emerging Asia (China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines) is projected to rise to $430 billion by 2015, from $153 billion in 2005.

What this means

It was surprising for me to discover that of all the markets covered in the book, the Philippines has the youngest average age at only 26 in 2005, which MasterCard projects will rise to 28 in 2015. (Japan, expectedly, is the oldest, with one out of five Japanese now over 65.)

It is perhaps because of the relative youth of the Filipinos that local businesses cater mostly to the younger, so-called MTV generation, which has to be fed loud rock or heavy metal music all the time for them to enjoy shopping, dining and spending (mostly their parents’ money, of course.)

Companies spend billions of pesos in marketing and advertising to the youth as they are seen as a segment demanding the fastest turnover of consumer goods. Just look at how many times cell-phone companies or telecom providers come out with new phone models every three months. The youth get easily tired of their “stuff” and want newer products, no matter the cost. All they have to do is charge their purchases.

Yet it cannot be denied that the elderly Filipino market also presents a good-sized challenge to local businesses. By 2015, the silvergenarians are estimated to total 5 million, or almost 40 percent of the projected total population of 13 million, from 3.4 million, or 38 percent of the 9 million total population, in 2005.

According to Yuwa, of the estimated $153-billion discretionary spending of elderly households in emerging Asia, Filipinos accounted for $1.95 billion in 2005. Of this amount, the largest chunk went to dining and entertainment at $0.9 billion or P4.5 billion.

Every year, this discretionary spending is estimated to grow by 13.4 percent, reaching almost $5 billion by 2015. The largest growth, at 11.4 percent, would be seen in spending on auto, personal computers, mobile phone, and others at $0.2 billion or P10 billion.

Yuwa noted the large contribution of overseas Filipino workers in supporting the elderly in the Philippines.

“The vast majority of these overseas workers leave behind their spouses and young children. In many instances both parents work overseas, leaving the young children at home. Thus, a situation is created in which the grandparents (and sometimes the granduncles and aunts) serve as surrogate parents for the children of overseas workers,” he said.

“The overseas remittances support the family, including the elderly who are at home taking care of the grandchildren. And, for the elderly themselves, their role as surrogate parents enables the parents to seek work abroad. It may not be ideal, but in many ways, this is a win-win situation for the elderly, the overseas workers and the children left behind.”

Because of the OFW situation, the spending power of the elderly, which include retired empty nesters, as well as old singles, is projected to grow to $6.8 billion by 2015, from $4.4 billion. Think of the marketing possibilities for this segment in the society!

Perhaps other businesses can take a cue from the local property market developers who are now actively seeking out the OFWs who want to retire in the Philippines and other foreign retirees, to sell their future projects. Ayala Land Inc., for one, is already designing a retirement village with European and Asian retirees in mind, with all the amenities needed by the elderly such as recreational facilities, telecommunication and Internet connections, a nearby hospital or a well-equipped onsite primary health facility.

“If I were a developer today, I would think of developing flats for the elderly. They don’t need much space but everything is geared toward the elderly—from the bathroom, the kitchen, but they only need one bedroom. I would build this facility right next to a good health center, fitness center, make it all convenient. These are all business opportunities,” Yuwa said.


Local tourism is another sector that will benefit immensely by targeting the elderly market, specifically those from Japan.

According to Yuwa, Japanese senior citizens come in second to the 35- to 45-year-olds in terms of frequency of overseas travel. Most of these Japanese elderly, he added, are women —whose travels are tied to a specific lifestyle interest. They like visiting, for instance, places of historical interest, cultural interest.

So as a tourism destination, they have to tap that growing trend, Yuwa advised. They have to preserve their historical sites of interest and make it easy to travel and visit. They should also have local museums and curators who can provide information and engage the elderly. Make resorts and hotels elderly-friendly, he said.

What’s more, Dr. Yuwa noted, these elderly Japanese women are making their bookings via the Internet. This alone already debunks the misconception that the elderly are afraid of new technology.

Other businesses that could benefit from catering to the elderly include recreational or sports facilities and elderly wellness management, where there is a rapidly increasing need for gerontologists or specialists in preventive medicine and wellness management who could help the elderly live healthier lives. These specialists include even nutritionists or exercise trainers, he clarified.

The challenge, of course, is developing the right products for the elderly, and not make them feel, well, old. Marketing specialists, if their clients do decide to sell to this niche market, may find themselves at a loss on how exactly to tap into the thoughts of the elderly.

“If you look at marketing today, the common practice is you do surveys, you do your focus group. But what do you do in a focus group? You invite a bunch of kids and I come in they start yapping and you watch and you record them. That may not work for people in their 60s and 70s. If you can tap into their existing social network, you can learn a lot,” said Yuwa.

He cited Intel as an example of the more progressive companies that are now turning their sights on the elderly market. In China, for example, Intel has employed an anthropologist to observe (“as if looking at the elderly as a different tribe of people”) and to apply scientific training to really understand how they live, how they behave, how they interphase with technology, he said. Intel found that this kind of setup actually scares them. “They hate it, but in another way, they love it,” Yuwa said.

My folks may perhaps be too befuddled to learn to use the Internet, but all I know is, they need and want to get out more but have few places to go.

If only local businessmen would be able to see them and those in their age group as a potent niche market, which can also give their business the margins needed to succeed. (Related story below.)

(My article was published in the BusinessMirror, Perspective, Oct. 10, 2006. Photo of Dr. Yuwa courtesy of MasterCard Asia/Pacific. Photos of retirees from www.greenmeadows.com.)

Arguing for an older retirement age

WITH better diet, more accessible healthcare and a different mindset, more and more senior citizens feel the need to continue working beyond retirement.

In the Philippines, the mandatory retirement age is 60. Those who worked in the government are entitled to receive a pension—actually a measly amount not sufficient to provide anyone even below 60, basic goods and services in a month. Those who were in the private sector, which normally pays a higher amount of salary to its employees, are a bit luckier as their pensions may be a little more in tune with their basic needs.

But what is a retiree actually expected to do? With Grandparents Day and Elderly Week just passed, there is increasing evidence that “old age” may actually be a state of mind.

Gone are the days when at 60, senior citizens actually looked and actually felt old. Their joints creaked with every movement, and their backs bent not only due to actual exhaustion but osteoporosis. These days, with 60 bruited to be the new 40 or 50, many retirees still want to work and lead very active lives.

One can only turn to elderly businessmen like John Gokongwei and Henry Sy now in their 70s and 80s, as models of “working retirees.” They may have already turned over the reins of their massive empires to their children, but they still remain active by helping plan or oversee some aspects of the businesses.

Dr. Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, a business strategist and economist, and author of the MasterCard publication The Glittering Silver Market: The Rise of the Elderly Consumers in Asia, makes the argument for a change in public policy to allow senior citizens to continue working.

“A multipronged approach is needed in terms of public policy in terms of pension. . .Plus make the system flexible so that the elderly are not penalized for wanting to work. Because in many countries now, as long as they continue to work, they’re not eligible for pension.

We should reward them beyond what age whatever that they deem appropriate to retire. They should be allowed to draw pension, and work and keep their income at the same time. Why not encourage them to contribute? But the way the system is set up, it penalizes the elderly who wants to work,” he said.

Asian countries have generally adopted the Western concept and policies on retirement. “But the irony is, as Asian countries are adopting the Western model, the west is changing. They are now prolonging and pushing the retirement age up, because they have to. They recognize they need the workers, they want to tap into their productivity,” said Yuwa.

He cited Northern Europe, specifically Finland, Sweden and Denmark—countries which face a rapidly aging population—as already finding ways to make their retirement policies flexible. In Finland, even if you work less than 25 hours a week, you can still draw on your full pension and keep your income.

In Canada, he said, 10 years ago, professors were mandated to retire by 65. Now the retirement age has been pushed back to 70, although many professors buck any mandatory retirement age.

Such a retirement model, if adopted in the Philippines, could spell the difference between just surviving and living full lives for many senior citizens, especially those who belong to the lower- and lower-middle income classes. Companies have to find a way to allow those dubbed as “knowledge workers” to keep their jobs, though not full-time. Although there are no official data on knowledge workers, they are typically professionals such as accountants and teachers, as opposed to manual laborers and industrial workers, or those who use their hands to make a living.

But at what cost to local business? Actually, such a change in retirement policies would allow local companies that value the work of certain employees and staff, to keep them beyond retirement, albeit on a contractual basis. Business expenses need not increase because of this.

“You pay them by the hour. Most productive knowledge workers don’t want to work full-time anyway. They don’t want to work 9-5; they hate it. They want to tell you, ‘Next week I can fit you in for three hours. You pay me the three hours.’ For the company, that’s a tremendous opportunity. You need a very flexible system,” said Yuwa.

But he stressed that the need for a multi-pronged approach due to the large numbers of poor senior citizens. “Especially in emerging Asia [China, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines], you’re going to have elderly poverty big time. Let’s not forget about [the] bottom third of the market. You have a lot of poor people depending on family support and so I think, public policy has to address the poverty, too—how to create effective support from a social welfare point of view.” (Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo, BusinessMirror Perspective, Oct. 10, 2006. Photos from www.greenmeadows.com)

October 07, 2006

When Women Delude Themselves

Something Like Life
Business Mirror, Oct. 6, 2006

WOMEN sometimes obsess over men they like and feel attracted to. And often, a woman will come up with the silliest excuses why some man didn’t call her back for a second date, or why some guy continues to see her without attempting anything remotely encouraging, despite all her signals and invitations that she’s ready to move the relationship to the next level.

Take Precious. She says she’s pretty sure this guy she has been seeing off and on is attracted to her as well. They’ve slept together, literally. (Sorry, it was a downright uneventful GP-rated night.) The kind of sleepover you have with your friends. According to her, the guy has said that he doesn’t want to wreck the good friendship they have.
Apparently, he had just been through a very traumatic relationship with an old girlfriend (and I thought he was gay, to be honest) who Precious thinks he may still be pining for.

I told Precious it would help to sit the man down and ask him if the relationship, such as it is, would go anywhere. But, of course, she hesitates. She isn’t the type of woman to make the first move. But she likes him a lot and it makes me just feel sorry that she feels unhinged by the whole relationship. It’s neither here nor there. She wants more from it and yet the guy doesn’t want to push forward despite, according to Precious, the fact that they have a lot in common and they understand each other totally.

Star is almost in the same boat as Precious. She says she has gone out on dates with a certain guy, a colleague, but he is torpe. What a divine flashback to the ’70s! This old term torpe, of course, describes a man too shy or too intimidated to make the first move in bringing a relationship forward. Perhaps, I say, it is because the man still sees Star as his boss. As his editor, though they are the same age I believe, she taught him the rudiments of news reporting and he would tag along during coverages, trying to learn how she wrote really good stories. She is leaving soon for the US, and she says the guy is crushed.

I admit I have been guilty of making such excuses for the men we like keeping around as well. I remember this friend who I wanted desperately to be not just my friend, constantly seeing me and coming over to my apartment for dinner. We went out once with some of his friends (some of whom jokingly intimated that he was gay—who needs enemies when you have friends like that, huh?), and used to meet for lunch or merienda whenever he would be in town. But, really, I would make the excuse that he was just such a Momma’s boy and probably unwilling to severe the umbilical cord by actually having a real relationship with another woman. Our common friends were all for matching us together.

And then an episode on my favorite show Sex and the City, entitled “He’s Just Not Into You,” was aired a few years back, with Miranda describing a date and how it ended with a kiss outside her apartment. The guy didn’t make the move to invite himself. The guy said he had an early appointment the next day. Miranda’s friends, of course, accepted this as a reasonable excuse, except for Berger, Carrie’s boyfriend at the time, who uttered the immortal line: “He’s just not into you.”

That dose of reality, surprisingly, doesn’t get Miranda down who instead says, “It’s the most liberating thing I have ever heard. Think of all the time and therapy I could have saved over the last 20 years if I had known this.”

A book based on that episode was subsequently published, and dramatically changed women’s views about how men really behave when they’re dating. Coauthored by proclaimed metrosexual and former Sex and the City consultant Greg Berendht and show writer Liz Tuccillo, that simple line drove home the point that if a guy likes you, he’d call you, he’d do everything to get your attention, get into your bed, whatever. If he doesn’t, then he doesn’t want you to be the mother of his babies. I haven’t read the book but have watched Greg’s various TV appearances on Oprah and all the late-night talk shows and comedy shows, and realized that hey! Why should I even waste time on this Momma’s Boy?

According to Greg, men are not complicated at all. If they want something, they’ll get it, no matter what it takes. And if he doesn’t feel a connection to the woman, then he won’t lift a finger to actually pursue the relationship. It’s as simple as that.

The thing is, we women spend so much time and energy dissecting what a man does and says, getting drunk and desperate as we go over every statement made, every word uttered, every action made on the date in search for clues as to where the night went wrong. Then we make up the excuses for him. Perhaps we do this also as a way to protect our fragile egos. After all, admitting that a guy doesn’t like you is tantamount to saying that there’s something wrong with you! And since we love our girlfriends, we indulge them and their excuses, agreeing with their assessment 100 percent why this guy or that man they like hasn’t called them back.

According to the book, which I scanned through on the Internet, here are the common excuses we make for the man who fails to make the connection with us:

He’s afraid to get hurt again.
Maybe he doesn’t want to ruin the friendship.
Maybe he’s intimidated by me.
He just got out of a relationship.

And while men can be direct about their feelings with other men, with women they’re just wusses who can’t tell a woman straight that “you are not the love of my life.” Or “You are not the woman I want to marry.” Instead, their actions speak louder than words. They do what they can’t say. Only sometimes, we tend to go blind when we’re interested in the guy, and can’t see or comprehend the message he is actually sending us.

So this time, instead of indulging Star, I told her to make the first move in the relationship. But if the guy doesn’t respond to her overtures, then either he’s gay or “he’s just not into you”—and she better move on to another guy.

As for me, my Momma’s Boy and I are still good friends. But I no longer obsess about him and am quite happy where our relationship is. (Even our common friends no longer create events just to pair us up.) There are no expectations that the friendship will lead to anywhere beyond the dining room or the sala. As long as he is around for me to run to whenever I have computer problems (it’s geeky, I know), then things are fine.

I’d rather obsess about Hugh Jackman.

(My column, Something Like Life, appears every Friday in the BusinessMirror.)

October 02, 2006

A post-Milenyo tale

I FEEL a little guilty here.

While Milenyo was lashing away at the islands, I was dry, safe and sound in a posh Singapore hotel covering a very interesting MasterCard event. (More on that in a future blog.) I was so busy between the event and uploading my Guimaras oil spill blog, and trying to get a swap for my Palm Treo 650 which had finally given up the ghost, that I hardly had time to read up on what was happening back here. I thought Milenyo was just going to be another typhoon anyway, the kind the metropolis is used to, that there was nothing to worry about.

When I flew back home over the weekend, I arrived in an almost pitch dark NAIA. It was stifling hot as the generators weren't powerful enough to make the airconditioning work. No wonder the immigration guys, normally friendly at any time of the day or night, were not at their "smiling-est" best.

(Workers climb to dismantle a billboard structure that fell on a bus during the typhoon Xangsane (Milenyo) in Manila September 29, 2006. Photo by REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo
This was the toppled billboard I had passed on the way home from the airport. )

It was still raining a bit outside the airport as I waited for a cab to take me home. Good thing I had my trusty raincoat which I had packed, as the weather sites I visited predicted a wet Singapore. Finally getting into a cab and trying to traverse Edsa, I was quite surprised that the traffic was heavy despite the late hour (10 pm). And then we came upon one of the toppled billboards on the northbound lane, which had crashed a bus. No wonder traffic was still crawling.

Arriving finally in Quezon City, we made our way through the main road of our subdivision which was plunged in darkness. There were massive power cables which had fallen under the weight of a collapsed tree. At home, there were huge Colemans already out, prepared for the eventual transfer of food items from the dead fridge. While everyone appeared okay, mostly just grouchy from the heat, I went up to my room and found a broken window. Apparently, the folks forgot to shut my bedroom windows before Milenyo struck and its 130 kph-force winds just knocked through the glass shutters. I was just too tired and sleepy to clean up the broken glass. It could wait 'til morning.

I slept through the hot sticky night, thankful for my jersey cotton bedsheets, which is cool on the body compared to the usual commercial bedsheets. Remarkably, power was restored to the subdivision sometime in early the next day. I know people have cursed Meralco's for their sluggish response to the disaster, but I've been through far worst typhoon conditions and longer power failures abroad, and know that restoring power to the Luzon area barely two days after the typhoon struck is really a huge accomplishment for the power distributor.

I thank God for small mercies like this and for being back in the Philippines. Living in Saipan two years ago, I saw how the tiny island was always lashed severely by typhoons with winds reaching up to 205 miles per hour. (Milenyo's winds only topped at 80 mph.) Over there, residents put up wooden shutters to protect their windows. And I remember during one very strong typhoon, I forget its name now, I slept on the floor right beside the bed, afraid that the powerful winds would rip through my bedroom window and tear up my apartment. I thought that at least, the huge bed would protect me if anything terrible like that happened.

Saipan being a small island with normally US efficiency, didn't have power for four or five days. I mean really! Even during the Katrina tragedy last year, New Orleans didn't have power for more than a week. So Meralco being able to put us back online in two to three days, is a good thing. Let's not waste our energies anymore pilloring the company okay?

Btw, as I was googling for Milenyo photos and stories, I came upon a really cool Philippine tropical cyclone site called Typhoon 2000, maintained by a group in Naga. Get your updates and forecasts on the incoming Typhoon Neneng from the site.

(For more post-Milenyo photos, click here.)