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Saturday, January 7, 2012

It's More Fun In The Philippines When You Have Complete Set Of Limbs


"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." - Albert Einstein

In elementary, we were taught that Bayanihan only existed in the Philippines. The iconic scene that is of a nipa hut with both ends perched on the shoulders of men in the village and carried off to a nearby place, comes to mind.  Volunteers sometimes run a risk of getting stuck in the mud and losing the balance, if unfortunate the hut follows somersaulting into the dirt mud. Then cheering women let out a scream in unison that turns into laughter. Men stuttered by the sheer weight can't help but join wriggling in laughter as women start to pick on them for having lost their stamina in a previous night's grind. My  childhood memories store of similar scenes from where I grew up and indeed our Bayanihan is a virtue that is one of a kind, if not unparalleled, even so intellectuals grapple to find its foreign equivalent, the jargon of sort, at least.

Okay, we own the patent for that world-renowned virtue embedded in our culture. So what's next? Of course we are darn proud of our customs and tradition. We are proud to be Filipinos. We are  proud of our race. We are the best and we are willing to don belt bomb to annihilate skeptics. It is but natural, no argument here. (In fact, this one here has a familiar banner gleaming over the sidebar of his blog). But ask one sincere fellow whose candor to say he is not proud to be one could spontaneously provoke a race to set up a Facebook page condemning him and putting him in the same breath as the anti-christ. Add up some smart mind literally swimming in wealth due to the success of a venture on polo shirt with the ubiquitous Philippine map emblazoned on it, for a proof.

Of course, this degree of patriotism does not only thrive within  domestic confines, more so a bold statement a Filipino carries with him beyond his shores. In the streets of Jeddah, one does not need to make a wild guess whether the driver is an Indonesian or a Filipino. Tendency is, the gleaming tri-colors and I love Philippines stickers spread across the windshield or trunk of the car serve for easy identification, well, in this case it makes  a patriotic compatriot easy target for a cruising hormonally charged local.

Now here goes the question: What is the relevance of us being proud to the gruesome photo above? Okay, we are proud to be Filipinos, right? And we are super proud of our tradition too. So it's about time that we own up too to the colossal embarrassment that we rightfully deserve from a taunting world because of our world-renowned  New Year's tradition.

Random Thoughts on the 3 Fs of New Year's Tradition in the Philippines:

Food: For the well-to-dos, ushering the new year should be a picture of opulence that dining tables overflow with sumptuous food. Mountains of carb-rich and cholesterol-laden menus adorn tasseled tables of the well-to-dos that leftovers could still feed an entire village - not the typical scene you find in poor households. The month-long holiday mode in December sets the norm for food bingeing that  the omni-present Christmas parties get a malevolent middle finger for a palm-sized increase in waistlines as the year culminates. High-end hospitals similarly enjoy the perks of draining cash from rich patients, whose talents at stuffing their bellies to the brim trigger the hypertension and cardiovascular issues in them. And some who survived the death threat still get the chance to flock online, filtering on the very best advice on how to get rid of the curse slash proof of gastronomic indulgences. So they say, at least they're active in promoting what our culture teaches us: to welcome and feel the Christmas spirit in the form of food, exchange gifts, getting drunk, debauchery, excessive revelry and some endless and senseless partying.

The stark contrast of Christmas 'spirit' seen in poor families is hardly surprising, given the glaring gap between two social levels. The poor do not see Christmas and New Year much of happy holidays when nothing has changed much in their dining table. Not many similar left-and-right invitations for some Christmas gathering; a stray one could prove a nuisance to their daily quest for a living, yes even for a day. Christmas parties at school of their kids can sometimes pose a problem for parents who find mandatory exchange gifts a real burden. But in the race for a flatter belly after the holidays, the poor win hands down. They don't have much to burn; good for them, their daily grind for a living does them a favor. Observe a decrepit cart-pushing man in his topless along the streets of Manila and you will envy at his six-pack you would want to trade your skin-encased blubber with his, except for his trade.

Firecrackers: It is without a doubt that no other country on the planet comes close to the fame the Philippines enjoy for being outrageously crazy over New Year celebrations. What new year revelry in the Philippines without fire crackers? And what new year celebration without flying limbs and blown-up fingers strewn across empty spaces, where adults and kids alike compete setting light to bombs like Goodbye Philippines and Bin Laden?

The Philippines has laws in placed banning powerful firecrackers that perennially gift significant members of population on new year's eve the following:  bombed-out limbs, mangled fingers, blown-up faces, and take this - mangled bodies reminiscent of Baghdad bombings where relatives struggle to piece together their dead's limbs and entrails. Forget about those laws. They were made to make it appear that the government is doing something else besides plundering and milking the cows.

And what government can constrain a determined people bound by tradition and belief that loud  and scary explosions  actually scare evil spirits off? (By the way, if nations of evil spirits were successfully driven out year after another, we would have succeeded in jailing the politicians and illegal loggers who conspired to wipe off a substantial populace in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. We would have sent the Marcoses in jail in the company of a pardoned convicted plunderer, and the Arroyo clan that occupy rightful places alongside greatest corrupt leaders in history. And the list goes on and on.)

To make a really credible point here, the data below and actual situation in the wake of New Year's celebration especially in Manila have given weight to the shift of world's attention on us, not with awe but  this time a well-deserved contempt:

  • 916 firecrackers-related injuries - combine the power of Goodbye Philippines, Goodbye Universe and Bin Laden and you will get a real war zone reminiscent of World War 2 that rendered Manila the most devastated capital next to Warsaw. The world has been educated that the Philippines is a third-world country famous for its manpower export, but New Year tradition in the country is tantamount to  hundreds of millions of pesos spent on  firecrackers, in addition to millions worth of destroyed properties and lost lives brought about by careless handling of these explosives - all for the sake of tradition. So, despite their award-winning campaign to keep limbs still attached to their owners come 2012, people at the Department of Health were reduced to tears, not for overflowing compassion for the victims but of feeling slighted when all they had to deal with were a bunch of boneheads.
  • 28 injuries caused by stray bullets (a handful of them died) - who else feel entitled to spray the air with bullets with complete disregard for innocent recipients of their bullets of arrogance, but the men in uniform and educated individuals? This is the worst part of the New Year tradition when monsters are itching to pull the trigger of their guns, knowing fully well that at some point the bullets will be buried in the bodies of the unlucky ones in a mega city of over 20 million. When does killing another person become acceptable for the sake of tradition? When does revelry become a license to cause others to mourn? Okay, it's a given, where else but the Philippines where revelry is equivalent to savagery. 
  • 5 kids injured for ingesting firecrackers - perhaps parents underestimate the dire consequences, thus the complacency and carelessness to keep firecrackers close to their kids' mouths, or as one CNN comment puts it - these being "easily edible when nothing is on the table save for four corners". When have we become a country of responsible parents, when 85%  of the population squirm in poverty and disease due to overpopulation propagated by the Catholic church and sanctioned by the government? 
  • An international airport unable to handle air traffic due to thick smog hovering over Metro Manila - and now that's very self-explanatory. People cannot just curse the smog and pray it away when its sheer thickness can shield the whole city from hailstones as big as Pacquiao's fist. Include the upsurge in respiratory illnesses that cause a stampede to get to emergency rooms first, then we have a bunch of people to blame for preferring fried chicken over vegetables that weaken their immune system. Please forget the amount of toxins they inhale - they are there to stay for weeks, or months - so count them as part of their existence - remember there are still remnants of Bin Ladens that didn't get to explode.

Feng Shui: Of course this is big fat business. Remember how so-called Feng Shui experts find their lives changed? Most of them live glamorous and opulent lives. They are being given substantial media exposure because people rich and poor alike, come to them for advice on what to do and what to avoid for the coming year so that nice fortunes don't frantically running from them but beggingly coming to them. And what happened to Gloria? I just doubt if she ever got the best advice and offered the most potent charm with all her money to buy much, if not all of Binondo's and Quiapo's  amulets and lucky charms on offer. I once heard one famous Feng Shui store razed by fire and another ransacked by ciminals and never to recover. If only those spirits invoked by Feng Shui were offered the best perks or perhaps a little entertainment, they would have not staged a protest and firmly guarded those stores and not let misfortune ate them up. But don't count  the poor just yet out of the equation, because some of them try, really try, to acquire some prized lucky charms in lieu of canned sardines for a meal. Did they not argue that a meal can be ignored but not the nice fortune that awaits them the entire new year? Ah, only in the Philippines!

I don't mean to advocate sarcasm but here is to tradition that symbolizes our national identity: Those who survived the war zone with limbs still attached and both eyes able to see, happy and prosperous New Year!

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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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