Sundays in Pasay

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My favorite place of worship when I was young was Don Bosco Church in Makati. It had an unimposing aura about it as it is a school and church, and most importantly, it was directly in front of Makati Cinema Square which didn’t use to be a pirated DVD and cellphone repair stalls haven. It used to be, from what I recall, a decent enough mall where Catholic families such as ours could go after the extremely nourishing Sunday homily. I can’t honestly say that I cared for homilies when I was in grade school age, but Don Bosco was truly like heaven with its perfectly mowed lawns and playground-like courtyard, making it easier for young Catholics like me to suffer the burden of hearing English-speaking priests speak allegedly virtuous aphorisms. Sundays spent hearing about Christ our Lord was worth it as long as there was a promise of mall entry immediately after. If only Christopher Hitchens had some sort of reward for being inundated with religion early on in his life, he may have been slightly less vile towards religion and/or just Catholicism.

Santa Clara Church in Pasay, on the other hand, just wasn’t the right place to be taking your kids for Sunday mass if you’re a parent who wishes to have a religion or god-conscious children. I wish my parents knew this then. The best it could offer were cheese curls and popcorn stands which were hardly capable of making mass-averse children okay with going to church. In the mind of a young person, those precious 1.5 hours pouting and salivating (for cheese curls) at church could have been spent playing Rockman 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Santa Clara in Libertad held no wonders for children wanting to spend their Sundays more productively. Masagana had treats for the adults (the sleaze-infested cinemas, the cheap grocery) and teenagers (arcade games) but none for little children finding their place in the world, specifically, in Pasay City. Since I was not a special child, I behaved predictably and never had fond feelings for church-going as a Sunday activity.

Going to other churches within the Pasay-Makati vicinity was just too depressing to even contemplate, not to mention very unnecessary, and so, I believe that as child, I exercised what very little conviction I had, when I refused to go to church if the church were neither Don Bosco nor Santa Clara. I would have rather spent the remaining hours of that Sunday entertaining thoughts of befriending Satan, than go to a church that is unfamiliar and even bleaker than Santa Clara. I don’t know that this is what really went through my mind as a church-negating child, but I recall quite vividly that hearing the Apostles’ Creed is one of Sunday mass’s greatest providers of relief as it signifies the end of the homily, a 30-minute gabfest that I never once remember appreciating the existence of. Looking back now, I think priests had much more freedom to talk smack about reproductive health and similar bills and things that are supposed to be the causes of inflammatory language in most opinionated Facebook persons’ posts. Back then, there was just no way anyone could badmouth any priest who deigned to preach antiquated lessons, moral or not, in a free medium for all to see. It can be supposed that people are a lot more caring now and more enlightened.

I grew up and that meant one thing: I have become a Masagana target market. As a ten, eleven-year old boy in Pasay, I finally recognized that there are sources of joy where one dares to find them even in a place as delectably grimy as Pasay. Interest in video games transitions into a mild addiction for arcade games and Masagana had arcades, ugly though their joysticks may be. Also, ten and eleven is when I started being fascinated with cassette tapes. It could be an interest in hearing music and nice songs first before the cassette fascination, but it was great either way. I bought my first album, 4 Non-Blondes, in Masagana department store and it was great. What’s Up was such a big hit in the early 90s and Spaceman, the second single, is also wonderful.

Tapes were truly great, I soon discovered. One of the best incentives of growing up is having a genuine interest in a thing and mine seems to have been throwing away money at record store cashiers. Yes, throwing. After 4 Non-Blondes, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Cranberries, lots of Eraserheads, Alamid, Rivermaya and even Orient Pearl and plenty others. I liked my taste.

Then, I started reading. In the topmost floor of the Masagana super store, there was a stack of very randomly arranged books that were sold for 5, 10, 15 pesos. That’s when I first realized that shoplifting can be done if one puts enough thought and effort into doing it and doing it well. 1993 was a good year in literature and life education for me.

Odyssey soon appeared. With its twice as many albums and CDs, life was never the same. I was already in my teens which meant that TLC has penetrated my consciousness. Beyond the greatness of Waterfalls, I was slowly appreciating the significance of this group to a music-appreciating life. They have talked about very worthy topics such as having confidence in yourself, taking care of yourself (by not having unprotected sex), the value of creeping, dealing with unrequited love and lust, and a host of other subjects involving self-empowerment.

I wanted so much to buy the hologram version of Fanmail but that would have meant pawning one of my mommy’s jewelry, back when I still had one of her jewleries. If I were more audacious, I would have pawned the gold charmbracelet she gave me (through my daddy) and bought the Fanmail special edition which, according to rumors, had the rap version of No Scrubs featuring Left-eye. It would be so much later in life when I would learn the value of audacity, and also patience. As for patience, I thank God for providing me it early in life because having that virtue meant waiting for albums to get cheap. Sometime in the last decade, I found a Japanese edition of Fanmail with a bonus track, a track which you can never ever find in any other version of the album.

My Brother Knows The Real Me

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When we moved to Better Living in 1994, my brother and I made friends with the neighbourhood kids. We had to because our house was poorly furnished and the architectural lay out was ill conceived. Our bungalow was a box with two bedrooms – one small enough to fit two boys who haven’t been circumcised and one master’s bedroom which I didn’t see the masterliness of at all – and a bathroom that has drainage problems. Maybe it is a little early to be talking ill about a house that we still live in but someone has to document its history and right now I have time to do just such a thing.

Our mother, who was responsible for the house, was about to die and so it was a sad time for everyone, although I don’t remember any of us being very, very sad. We didn’t look forward to it maybe because we weren’t sure her death was imminent.

After she died, we moved on and made friends with the kids in our new neighbourhood. Kids in the village were nice, especially the girls who maybe found me and my brother intriguing. As children, we were very cute and we advertised ourselves as half-Chinese although the truth is that we are maybe only one-fourths Chinese. Being half-half is great because you get asked about your heritage by Filipino classmates and friends who are 100% Filipino and who have no other heritage to speak of except their Filipinoness which is something me and my ‘half-Chinese’ siblings wouldn’t ever be curious about. Being young and Chinese-looking is one of the best life stages ever. It makes you feel special, unique and attractive.

Mostly, the girls found my brother cute. I know this because they told me and also some of our boy friends. My brother truly is the cute one. Aside from being good-looking, he was also good in math, algebra, English, dancing, HEKASI and architecture. He was well-loved by high school teachers who made it a point always to emphasize that I am not like him at all in terms of interpersonal skills and smiling skills and maybe also dancing skills. He can wear Spice Girl drag in a cheerleading competition and still be adored, but if I had pulled a stunt like that in high school, my sexuality would have been questioned and that would have really hurt my feelings.

I used to like basketball because there used to be a basketball court in front of the house. Despite the presence of this mini-court I never really got better at it because my heart belonged to volleyball. Volleyball is such a beautiful, graceful sport and I loved it and I think I still love it now. But anyway, my brother and I used to play basket with the annex boys even though I knew in my heart that volleyball is my sport. My brother, my kuya, got better at it, although he looked really funny, like a flying hanger about to dunk.

One summer afternoon, I overheard my brother talking to some of the girls. The girls, apparently, found me a bit effeminate because maybe I played volleyball well or I played it with apparent glee and abandon, I can’t be sure. Maybe, they found me a little girly because I’m one of the two boys in the group who never got teased with a female. The other one is an obvious gay with quite a gay name so his effeminacy surely has never piqued anyone’s interest. It is very hard to imagine that gay’s gayness ever having disturbed anyone’s peace. Also, I got along well with the girls.

If you’re a second child, being the subject of discussion induces feelings of preciousness in you because it rarely happens. I didn’t exactly delight in being talked about but of course I wanted to know just how my brother would defend my honor. He didn’t defend my honor because maybe, to begin with, no one’s honor was being besmirched.

‘So, is he gay?’ was what I remember being asked of him. I don’t recall him disproving their suspicion. Instead, he described my character in a way that, even now, will be hard to refute. He told them that while I may not actually be totally gay, I do have a tendency to mimic the behavioural patterns of the group to which I attach myself the most, which during that particular era was the group of the volleyball-playing girls. It was classy of him. He knew that I could get very sore about being accused of homosexuality. He knew how much it would have wounded me. On our worst fights, I need only to be called ‘gay’ in order to lose my shit and lose.

I’ve always believed that my personality is special, magnetic and that in time, it will shine. Coupled with my exotic half-Chineseness, I used to believe that once I get out of school, I could dazzle people and employers with what I have to offer – my Catholic education and ability to describe people and things using big, Mariah Carey words. These didn’t happen very often. Instead, I became the dead of the party in most parties and my half-Chineseness has officially ceased fascinating people.

When I was in college, I bought a lot of CDs. Random albums that I thought I might enjoy. I bought Coldplay’s X&Y, Tiesto’s Just Be, and Sarah McLachlan’s Mirrorball and many, many, many others. I read somewhere that Mirrorball was Patty Laurel’s leave-me-alone CD. But who cares about Patty Laurel’s favorite album? Thanks to my mother’s fortune, I was able to buy all the albums I desired. Mirrorball was the album I played the most because it was gorgeous and her voice, indescribable. My brother said something about how Sarah McLachlan was one of those artists who sound as gorgeous in concert as they do in the CD. I agreed and that was when I became a super Sarah McLachlan fan. Even though I haven’t found the time to care about Shine On, hew new, I hope she comes to Bangkok very soon.