Jerel Says, ‘Ato no matsuri’; Organize

Obon Night

Ato no matsuri

Translation: The day after the festival (to be late, to miss one’s chance)

-Japanese proverb

Every August, for three days, the Japanese celebrate the bon festival, otherwise known as Obon. It is one of the most important Japanese traditions: a time when many Japanese return to their hometowns to honor their dead relatives.

Festival Crowd

The origin of Obon comes from the story of Mokuren, one of Buddha’s disciples. Mokuren used his psychic powers to look for his deceased parents to see in what world they had been reborn. Dismayed at finding his mother in the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, he went to Buddha to ask how he might save her. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who finished their summer retreat on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (eighth in the Gregorian calendar, hence August and not July). In doing so Mokuren was able to rescue his mother. Looking into his mother’s past, he also began to see and appreciate her kindness and the many sacrifices she had made for him. Overjoyed and grateful not only for his mother’s rescue but for her selflessness, Mokuren began to celebrate and dance. His dance became known as bon odori, or simply the ‘bon  dance, which is still one of the major aspects of the bon festival to this day.

Bon Dance

I’m pretty fortunate that there is a rather large Japanese demographic where I live, and Edgewater, NJ is home to the largest Mitsuwa Japanese Marketplace in the country. These two things combined mean that every year around the 15th of August our Mitsuwa holds a giant summer festival in honor of Obon and it never fails to draw an enormous crowd. I even ran into an old coworker from my glory days working at Blockbuster and an old classmate and former club member from college. It was nice to run into old friends and catch up for a bit while enjoying a whole assortment of Japanese summer treats. There were all kinds of treats to enjoy. I had an assortment of grilled seafood, grilled chicken skewers, takoyaki (fried dough filled with octopus), yakisoba (fried noodles), okonomiyaki (Japanese style pancakes), squid pancakes with fried eggs, gyudon (rice bowls with simmered beef and onions), gyoza (Japanese dumplings), and desserts like shaved ice and mochi (sticky rice dough filled with ice cream).

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There were games where you could win prizes by shooting targets with a plastic toy bow or if you could get plastic rings caught on wooden pegs. On others you had a tiny net with a thin strip of paper and you had to delicately try to catch toys floating in a kiddie pool. Still others had a whole assortment of prizes attached to pieces of string and on the other side you had to grab one and pull and find out just which prize you ended up pulling out. You could also buy a variety of plastic Japanese festival masks. Some were the traditional demons and gods while others were things like superhero masks from Japanese television shows or even Pokemon.

Throughout the day, local Japanese cultural clubs and societies put on different displays and demonstrations. One was the trademark bon odori with singing and dancing and bells and spinning hats and parasols. The other was a taiko drumming performance. There was something really therapeutic and de-stressing about watching the flurry of sticks and movements and the yelling and the deep thunderous roar of drumbeats.

Taiko Drums.jpg

It really was a huge community event and not just for the Japanese (obviously, since I’m Grilled Seafood 2Filipino). You see a lot of people enjoying the summer festival every year. It’s not uncommon to see a couple young kids from high school and college anime clubs doing cosplay and showing up dressed as their favorite characters. There are plenty of families and it’s adorable to see little kids dressed up in yukata and kimono (traditional Japanese festival wear). I can’t tell you how many times I probably fell in love with some of the young women dressed in kimono as well. Whole generations of families, grandparents, parents, and children, Okonomiyakiwere enjoying the festival together. Some were celebrating their culture, others were learning about an entirely new and different one from their own. Plenty of couples, groups of friends, all different kinds of people coming together not just to enjoy, but tons of volunteers of all different ethnicities running booths and helping to organize the event behind the scenes as well.

In the US the summer festival is a fun celebration of Japanese culture and food. Mainly food. It’s a nice community event, but it’s obviously more about the surface level things like food, toys, and fun cultural displays. But I like to remember the spiritual origins that Ohakamairi.pngare still major in Japan. See the story of Mokuren ended up taking on a very specific and influential meaning in Japan. It became a story of honoring one’s ancestors and celebrating and appreciating family. Over the three days of the bon festival the dead are allowed to return to the realm of the living. Families clean their houses in preparation and hang lanterns to guide the spirits back home. They also visit their ancestor’s gravestones to place offerings such as food and incense and also to clean them up every year by brushing away dirt and leaves and washing them with water. This is known as ohakamairi. On the last day of the festival families light paper lanterns and set them afloat into rivers to send their ancestors’ spirits back off into the afterlife. It’s a beautiful tradition that fills Japan’s rivers at night with floating lanterns that is just surreal and serene and at times equally somber but also celebratory, remembering our family members who’ve since moved on.

Bon Lanterns.png

Obon is definitely a beautiful and wonderful time to reflect on family and to honor the people who’ve moved on. But I also think it’s an especially important time to remember to appreciate life and the moments we have, because we never know when it’s ‘ato no matsuri’. There is a Buddhist teaching that says that the most universal message the dead have to give us is that death will come for all equally. Kings, peasants, rich, poor. Obon is a surreal, magical time where the infinite divide between the living and the dead is shrunk just a little. We feel closer to the people who’ve moved on, who we miss and who were huge parts of our lives. Maybe it’s nice to think that there is this time where we might be visited by them, that they haven’t entirely left us and we can bring them home. Or maybe it’s just nice to have this festival to set aside time for us to reflect and remember them and honor their memories. But it’s also an important lesson that the best thing we can do is to live our lives fully and well, and to leave a mark on the world that our families and friends might remember in the future, so that years from now, they might light a lantern for us.

Jerel says, don’t wait until the day after the festival.

Day 252: The Man and the Luck of the Asians; ‘Luck’

I suppose I should be grateful that today’s prompt wasn’t ‘corned beef’ or anything but we’re still kind of hitting the nail right on the head here, aren’t we? Subtly, thy name is not WordPress.

Well while everyone else is being kissed because they’re Irish or celebrating that the Pope said they can eat meat on a Friday or out in the fields looking for four-leaf clovers, I wanted to talk about some lesser known Asian superstitions that pertained to, you guessed it, making sure you had some good luck.

Snakes on a Plane

More common I suppose in the Philippines than say, the US, but perhaps also relatable for the Irish, it is said in the Philippines that if a snake crosses your path this will bring good fortune. Unless it bites you. Or you’re on a plane.

Chinese Sweep

In both China and the Philippines, when and where and how you sweep can determine your good fortune or bad. For example, in the Philippines it is considered bad luck to sweep at night or whenever people are playing cards or gambling, for fear of sweeping away good luck. In China for the Lunar New Year the house is cleaned top to bottom but sweeping is done inward and then gathered in a pile to be brought out the back door, as the front door is said to be where good fortune and grace enter.

Teru Teru

Teru teru bozu are little white dolls made from cloth or paper. They are especially popular among Japanese schoolchildren as they are supposed to help influence the weather. Hang a teru teru bozu right side up to ensure good weather, or hang it upside down to try and encourage bad. Great for right before school field trips or final exams.

Money Wallet

In almost all Asian cultures, when giving either a wallet or bag as a gift, it is customary to put some small change or at least one bill in it, to help ensure good luck and prosperity. The same is true for the coming year; everyone in my family will make sure there is at least some money in our wallets to start the year with.

Santo Nino

In any and all Filipino houses or businesses you will most likely find a statue of the Santo Nino (child Jesus). This supposedly brings good luck. The supposed origin of this is when the Philippines was still a Spanish colony, the Spanish set fire to most of the city of Cebu as punishment for hostile actions by the Cebuanos wanting independence. After the fire, amidst the wreckage, Spanish soldiers found the statue of the Santo Nino remarkably and miraculously unscathed.

Ema.jpg

Ema are wooden boards that the Japanese can purchase at Shinto shrines. The Japanese use these boards to write their wishes, after which they hang them at the shrine for the gods to receive and fulfill. It is fun when visiting shrines to read what some people wish for. You will see students hoping for good results on their college entrance exams, couples wishing for a long and successful relationship, or workers hoping for a new job or promotion.

Fresh Off the Boat

Wearing red in China is considered auspicious and can bring the best of luck. That is why celebratory garments are often red and on the Chinese New Year gifts of money are given in red envelopes to impart good luck and good fortune. The same is true of oranges, which are often given to elders or in offerings.

Koinobori

Children’s Day is a holiday in Japan that is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month (May 5th). It is a time for families to celebrate the happiness and health of their children and to wish them good luck to grow up strong, healthy, and successful. A common practice on Children’s Day is to fly koinobori, which are kites that are made to look like the Asian carp. This is from a traditional folk tale about a little carp that swam upstream and became a dragon.

Of course, being a gambler, I have my own set of superstitions for good luck and good fortune whenever I’m at a casino. There’s no real rhyme or reason to it. I think pyschologically it helps me to deal with the complete lack of control over my actual results. Before I open up my cards, I always rub them on the table face down and over the money. I tell everyone I am about to hit the tables because I don’t want anyone to think about me and miss me, or else I might lose because they want me to return. If I want the dealer to get a high card, I yell ‘monkey, monkey, monkey’ to scare a high card to the top of the deck. Don’t ask me why.

Hope you’re all lucky and happy and healthy. And if not, grab one of these superstitions and get to it! And remember…

Paddy not Patty.jpg

Day 252

Man: 219 Loneliness: 33

Day 215: The Man and the Edible Mentality; ‘Tremble’

Yesterday as I was looking up some information about the taba ng talangka and how it is harvested/made I found out that aside from the food, when you say talangka (crab) to Filipinos it could also be used to refer to someone who has a talangka mentality. That is to say, a way of referring to someone who is prone to jealousy and does not like to see others succeed or surpass them.

crab-mentality

If you’ve ever been to a live seafood market, check out the live crabs in their bucket and you might notice where this phrase came from. As individual crabs on the edge of the bucket try to grab and claw their way out of the bucket, the crabs further down and more in the center will actually grab onto the crab and in doing so, pull it back down. This is often why no lids or other means of securing the crabs are needed. They do it to themselves.

So having a talangka or ‘crab’ mentality is akin to the behavior of crabs in a bucket. As we see those around us succeed, rather than feeling either a sense of joy for their crab-frenzyaccomplishment or a sense of inspiration in a desire to emulate them, we are overcome with feelings of jealousy and bitterness towards their success and wish to see them fall; perhaps even going so far as attempting to facilitate that either by sabotaging their attempts or undermining their accomplishments. In the Philippines we call this feeling of envy and bitterness ‘inggit’. When someone experiences a sudden burst of success and prosperity, we don’t want to be them, we want them to go back to being like us. Now to be fair, I don’t want to paint my fellow Filipinos as particularly resentful or envious people. Nor do I want to claim that this is an exclusively or even particularly Filipino trait. I think we can all relate, at least at times, to this particularly destructive feeling of envy. It is I believe, natural and even common, to sometimes feel jealous of the success of others. On its own this does not make us bad or narrow-minded people. I believe it is when we succumb to this tendency and lack the ability to elevate ourselves above this mindset that we become like those crabs in the buckets and turn a momentary reaction into a permanent characteristic.

What’s interesting is that while ‘talangka’ mentality might be a common phrase in the Tall Poppy.jpgPhilippines, most cultures have their own way of expressing this though; further emphasizing that this is a universal and deeply human emotion that we get to wrestle with, analyze, and grow out of. It is part of our experience in growing and improving. In Britain and Australia you may have heard of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’, which is strikingly similar. This comes back to a reference by the Greek historian Herodotus in his Histories series.

Periander had sent a herald to Thrasybulus and inquired in what way he would best and most safely govern his city. Thrasybulus led the man who had come from Periander outside the town, and entered into a sown field. As he walked through the wheat, continually asking why the messenger had come to him from Cypselus, he kept cutting off all the tallest ears of wheat which he could see, and throwing them away, until he had destroyed the best and richest part of the crop. Then, after passing through the place and speaking no word of counsel, he sent the herald away. When the herald returned to Cypselus, Periander desired to hear what counsel he brought, but the man said that Thrasybulus had given him none. The herald added that it was a strange man to whom he had been sent, a madman and a destroyer of his own possessions, telling Periander what he had seen Thrasybulus do. Periander, however, understood what had been done, and perceived that Thrasybulus had counselled him to slay those of his townsmen who were outstanding in influence or ability; with that he began to deal with his citizens in an evil manner.

-Herodotus, The HistoriesBook 5

References to ‘tall poppies’ can be found in recorded debates in Australian government over things like controversial knightings or taxpayer costs and in Britain it is even said that Margaret Thatcher is quoted to have used the phrase when discussing her governing philosophy.

So, while maybe not as extreme as resorting to trying to kill everyone with influence or power greater than yours, I do think we can agree that there is something comfortable, australia-poppyfamiliar, and sometimes regretfully habitual about feeling jealous of others. It is sometimes subtle, sneaking into our subconscious mind and influencing our thoughts. Maybe we find ourselves questioning just how someone got their position in a company or how they are able to afford themselves such seemingly nice and expensive things. Bitterness and vitriol leads us to sometimes accusing those around of us of certain unscrupulous things because we find that temptingly easier than rationalizing the benefit but also effort of genuine hard work. If we do find ourselves resorting to this kind of unproductive and toxic thinking, how do we elevate ourselves out of this ‘bucket’?

We have to realize that success and prosperity is not a ‘zero-sum game’. In game theory, this refers to any sort of game where the win of one person has to mean the loss of another to keep balance. I think one of the reasons why we have this ‘crab mentality’ or ‘tall poppy syndrome’ is because we fear that the success one of our peers achieves and Image result for crabs gifexperiences could in some way mean that there is less chance or room for our own. You may fear that there is only so much success and positive attention to go around and that its limited resource means you have to bring someone down before you can bring yourself up. This is often characterized in communities where upwards mobility is seemingly limited. For example in poor communities where it is difficult to ever leave the environment. I believe this could explain why a lot of Filipinos seem to either relate to, or fear they are the victims of, this ‘talangka’ mentality. When you grow up thinking that there are only so many opportunities out there in the world, you become cynical and jealous and wary of others’ success. From this, we have to realize that there is always room for everyone to succeed. In fact, it is often best to encourage and support the success of others because it keeps us focused on the goals rather than the misses. Not to mention that when I find myself in positions of advantage, I like to reach out to those who have helped and hopefully give them a leg up as well. It isn’t about being the only crab out of the bucket or the only poppy to grow tall. It’s about seeing how many we can work together to see succeed. Unless you’re a crab catcher. Then you make sure all those suckers stay down.

Ultimately, I think it is just important for us to realize that the world is bigger than just our bucket, and that just because one poppy may be taller than ours, the sun will reach both just as much. With the current political climate, I absolutely believe that there are certain peoples of power out there who would totally want us to believe that this is not the case. Right now so many of us are succumbing to the easy and insecure belief that there are people out there trying to ‘get us’ and that their attempts at trying to secure success and livable conditions for themselves somehow impedes on our own. Loud and frighteningly powerful voices are trying to convince us that the world has become an ‘us or them’ environment. I refuse to believe this. It will take the most noble, selfless, and generous aspects of our spirit and dignity to rise above this rhetoric and not tremble and realize that the best thing we can do for our own mutual success is to work towards, or at the very least do nothing to obstruct, the attempts of others to succeed. Don’t be afraid if you happen to catch others leaving the bucket faster than you. You’ll get there also. And maybe even with the helpful claw from the other side.

Day 215

Man: 183 Loneliness: 32

Day 91: The Man and the Taste of Identity; ‘Daring’

Philippine Flag.png

So apparently October is National Filipino-American History Month. Another reason for a guy to love October I guess. Filipino-American History Month was established by the Filipino-American National Historical Society back in 1988 but was only recognized nationally starting in 2009. The FANHS decided on October as the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the US was on October 18, 1587 when ‘Luzones Indios’ (natives of Luzon) were brought on the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza to the shores of Morro Bay, California.

It’s pretty cool and all. And I am damn proud to be Filipino-American and that they have set aside this month for us and everything but I’ll be honest with you…I can’t say much to Filipino identity or notable people or culture, really. When I say I’m Filipino, I really mean that my parents are from the Philippines. I never, and I emphasize never had any desire or interest in joining any Filipino culture clubs or anything in high school or college. It actually just *shudder* made me cringe just to think of it. UAASO, United Asian-American Student Organization, was the largest Asian club on campus in college and it was completely run by Filipinos. You’d think I would’ve run there with arms wide open, burst through the doors and yell ‘My people! I have come to you!’ Instead I went the complete opposite direction and became President…of the Chinese Student Association.

I think it might be a Filipino-American thing though, honestly. When I visit the Philippines it’s not like I think ‘oh god I can’t stand being around all these Filipinos’. I find the native Filipino spirit and personality very friendly and agreeable and a lot of fun. But Filipino-Americans around here…eeh…yeah not so much.

My family and I are perfectly content and happy to be proud Filipinos…on our own. We really don’t feel the need to broadcast this to everyone or to be with others just to tell ourselves how happy we are to be us. We still behave and act and think and do things in very Philippine ways. Yes we have a painting of the last supper hanging in our dining room (and another in the kitchen). Yes we point with our lips and pick things up with our feet. But we never thought we would ever want to make that our ‘thing’ or identify with all of this. We just wanted to do it because it made sense, whether culturally, historically, logically, or emotionally.

Don’t ask me about famous Filipino figures. Don’t ask me about Filipino art or music or literature or film. I feel like sometimes I purposely go out of my way to avoid Fil-Ams in pop culture because it would just feel like lazy adoration. Like, I’m not going to like or listen to the Black Eyed Peas just because apl. de. ap. is Fil-Am. I’m not going to listen to Bruno Mars for the same reason and I don’t want to give people the chance to assume that of me. Having Dante Basco be the voice of Prince Zuko was pretty bad-ass though. And yes, I admit I did have a crush on Vanessa Hudgens. But an awesome TV show and a pretty face precede any sort of national or cultural affiliation!

I think one of the reasons why I have such a disconnect with Filipino culture here in the US versus actually in the Philippines is because of how fluid it seems to be. One of the greatest strengths (and conversely greatest weaknesses) of the Filipino is adaptability. We are the second largest Asian ethnicity in the United States and why we are so numerous (and why you probably didn’t even realize that) is because of how well we can assimilate into our environment. We really don’t want a lot of attention drawn to us. We would much prefer to be known for how easily and quickly our neighbors felt safe next to us. Hahah. But because of that I’ve always struggled with the concept of ‘authenticity’. I don’t know what it means to be ‘Fil-Am’ when we have no real strong sense of community or identity. A first generation Filipino-American growing up on the East Coast is going to turn out a whole hell of a lot different from a West Coaster and I really don’t feel comfortable or at home with either. I grew up around other ethnicities. My best friends were and still are Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, and white. My entire sense of Filipino identity was derived only from my parents who also quite notably did not really interact with other Filipino families. (I understand their reasons now but…hardly seems apropos considering we’re supposed to be celebrating Filipinos right now. Hahah.)

Even our food, which is usually used as a mark of cultural identity, differs from place to Adobo.jpgplace. We cannot even unite on what should be on our plates. This is more than just a regional anomaly. This isn’t like categorizing Chinese food as either Szechuan, Hunan, Cantonese, or Mandarin. A dish can change from family to family and interpretations abound. You will often times find more ‘Filipino Fusion’ restaurants than you will ‘authentic Filipino’ simply because almost all Filipino food is fusion. No one wants to unify or define Filipino dishes for fear of singling out certain areas or ethnicities or offending the myriad Filipino families who can cook the same dish a thousand different ways. Who would get to define what Filipino food ‘is’ and how would we even establish their credibility or criteria for such a task.

Still, when it comes to cultural identity, you can talk to me about food. I know food. Filipino dishes still share many of the same characteristics despite the variances. I love Dinuguan.jpgthe hearty and flavor-packed ‘sabaw‘, or sauce that comes with each dish. A lot of Filipino food is stew-based and the rich sauce that is the result of that long stewing process is so good over steaming white rice. Unlike many East Asian dishes that focus on exemplifying and stressing one or at most two different flavors at a time, Filipino food is about packing as many flavors and textures into one dish as possible. For this reason many of my friends have had to become ‘accustomed’ to Filipino food because of how strong the flavors are. Now they love it and when they crave hearty and rich, they know where to go.

Filipino food is also all about being daring. We never let any part of the animal go to waste Balut.JPGand we’ll be damn clever about it too. I love dinuguan, a pork stew of belly, ear, and offal braised in pig’s blood (regional varieties include my preferred one which lessens the amount of vinegar and adds hot green pepper for punch). There is of course the infamous (though utterly delicious) balut. Easy shock-TV material for the uninitiated  but really, it’s just a fertilized duck egg.

 

Okay I get it, that might be a bit…tough to swallow. (HAH. Get it. Swallow like to eat and swallow like the bird which comes from an egg.) You don’t have to jump off the deep end just yet. To be perfectly honest my mother and father were born and raised in the Philippines and refuse to eat balut. Personally I think it’s a great breakfast alternative. Regardless, if anything at all, I would highly recommend that this October in honor of Filipino-American History Month, please, find your friendly neighborhood pinoy and ask them to take you a restaurant. Try some Filipino food if you haven’t yet had a chance. I guarantee you that there isn’t one too far from where you are. We’re everywhere. We’re just very good at blending in. But everyone is going to need a nurse or a nanny!

Day 91

Man: 72 Loneliness: 19

 

 

 

Day 57: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Fierce’

Tell me what you would do in this situation.

You check into your AirBNB for the weekend in the Poconos. Your friends have all split the cost for two nights and it came to ~$140 per person for this house rental.

You find out only after opening the door that the house has no central A/C. It is currently 89 degrees. You would like to turn on the fans around the house, but they are all coated in dust. You blast the central A/C unit in the kitchen and hope it spreads while you explore the rest of the house. Luckily the rooms have their own individual units but again, fans and surfaces are dirty. It’s been a long two and a half hour drive due to traffic and you go to relieve yourself. You reach for the toilet paper and the holder drops with a loud, threatening metallic THUD as the stainless steel paper holder drops to the ground, seemingly attached to the wall by a strand of hair. You go to place your towel on the towel rack by the shower and THUD it falls as well.

Whatever. It’s fine. We’ll just place the toilet paper on the window sill and our towels by the sink. You and your group all go grocery shopping, spending more than $200 as the plan is to cook all your meals as part of the experience. You return home hungry to begin the first meal and notice that the stove fire is weaker than normal…and weakening…and weakening…and then…it’s out. Like, completely out. You try to reignite. The starter works. You hear the characteristic *click click click* of the starter and you can see the spark. But no flame. In remote PA, you know all the houses rely on their own propane supplies versus hooking into a gas line. You fear the worst…and check the fireplace. You hit the start and hope to see a flame. It flickers…flames…and then dies again…

The propane is out. You notify the homeowner who tells you that, while they apologize for the inconvenience, they cannot get anyone to refill the propane until Monday. When you check out. It is Saturday and you have two days’ worth of food in the refrigerator. It’s fine. Whatever. We have an electric rice cooker, an electric griddle, and a microwave. We’ll cook everything hibachi style like our ancestors at Benihana (note, I am Filipino, one friend is Korean, and the rest are Taiwanese).

Ultimately, for the inconveniences of the house the owner reaches out to your group and offers a consolation of a $50 refund. The groceries cost $200, and each member paid more than $100 for the two nights. You feel it is a paltry sum and not reflective of nearly the amount of inconvenience, but it’s fine. Whatever. We’ll go spend it on gas and tolls.

TigerI know there are many of you reading this who would have been up in arms by the third paragraph. Outraged by the fourth. Livid by the fifth. There would have been harsh words. Demands for more compensation. Sharply worded complaints and negative reviews.

So what did my group of friends and I do? We wrote a four star review noting how wonderful the owners were for caring and trying to make us happy.

This is the curse of the Asian attitude. A cross-cultural embedded ethos of humility, meekness, and tolerance. It is why issues of racism against Asians and Asian-Americans are never as widely publicized or heard. This is why American actors are cast in Asian movies and no one cries foul. It is why relationally, American women are not as interested in Asian men as they are seen as ‘weak’ and American men fetishize Asian women as ‘submissive’.

When I was a travel agent, this presented a whole new level of complication and issue because my capacity to endure trouble and hardship without complaint was now affecting my clients. Clients who, primarily Caucasian, would call me furious about the fact that the ‘blankets are gaudy’ or that the room is ‘ocean view and not ocean front’ or that ‘the hotel has to move us from one room to the other in the middle of the trip’. All of these issues that, were it me or my family or friends, we would have accepted as part of the unpredictability of travel and would simply soldier on. But for my clients this was the end of the world and somehow I had to find within me a fierceness and an aggression not characteristic to me or my culture to demand of equally confused hotel staff refunds, upgrades, special amenities, things I have never dreamt of asking for.

KittenThis is by no means a criticism of American culture. It is an observation of the Asian mindset that has characterized many of my social interactions. I don’t know who of us is more right or appropriate. There are certainly times when the fierceness of a tiger is more apropos than the meekness of a cat. But conversely there are times when the ability to accept and move on is critical and better for the heart and the blood pressure.

I think the Filipino is even more at a disadvantage than most other Asians. See a key characteristic for the Filipino is in fact their ability to endure. ‘The Filipino endures’. Corruption. Poverty. Natural disaster. The Filipino is applauded for his ability to endure and smile and move on. They never cause a ruckus, never raise a voice, they are the most adept at adapting. You could throw one of us anywhere in the world in any situation and we would find a way to succeed. It is a matter of strength and resolution but also of accepting one’s fate and making the best of it, rather than subvert or augment it.

But there must be a turning point when to adapt is no longer acceptable. A firm stance is necessary. It seems so difficult, combining Catholic values of ‘suffer in this life to be rewarded in the next’ with the natural tendency for Asians to be more reserved, less open about troubles and difficulties, for us as Filipinos to ever ask, expect, or seek better in life.

Take meals for example. If you are not Asian and have ever eaten with them, you will notice a certain phenomenon near the end of the meal. No matter how hungry people are there seems to always be one last morsel of each dish still on the table. And now comes the song and dance of trying to get others to eat it and being offered by others to eat. There are smiles and gestures and gestations and it’s all a big commotion. Until your white friend, confused by what is happening, unused to the rhythm of the dance, helps himself to it all.

EatingThis is a huge social faux pas. What is happening behind the scenes is every good little Asian boy and good little Asian girl is doing what was always taught to them. Concern yourself with others and, ignoring your own condition, offer to someone else and allow yourself to take only what is offered to you. We are all hungry. We all want something. We know who to offer what so they can get what they like and we know someone will offer to us what we want. We won’t even find the ability to tell our friend what happened because again, we should simply be good diners and allow him to finish what he would like. To the untrained eye though, it looks like the perfect environment for more aggressive and self-assured people to thrive and take advantage.

Filipino Eyes.gifMake no mistake. Asians are fierce. Fiercely proud and protective. Fiercely loyal. Fiercely attached to honor and tradition that we endure the mark of meekness. If you cross us we will fight back. We have overthrown governments and dictators. Started revolutions. We just think that going a little hungry is less important than the contentment of our friends. We are used to a bit more hardship, and in the grand perspective of things, we shrink to the common trivialities and difficulties of the everyday. But we are fierce. And Filipinos? Some of the fiercest lovers. Blame that on some of our latent Spanish blood.

Day 57

Man: 41 Loneliness: 16

 

Day 55 Supplemental: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Witness’

Eye.jpg

We have always been a society of observers. We take in information most frequently, efficiently, and primarily through sight.

We witnessed fire. The wheel. We witnessed the migration patterns of animals and the cultivation of agriculture.

When civilization rose we witnessed the advancements of science, mathematics, government, and art.

As our borders grew we witnessed great battles and advanced weaponry and tactics and the making of legends.

When we were comfortable we witnessed entertainment. We were there to watch the great tragedies and comedies. We witnessed mortality in the Coliseum. Drama at the Globe.

We have always been a society of observers. But somewhere along the line there was a shift, and we went from observers to capturers.

As we reached the pinnacle of observation technology we began to focus on the ability to capture what it was we were observing. We have telescopes powerful enough to observe the farthest reach of our galaxy and microscopes powerful enough to view in between the minute infinity in the space between atoms. But we wanted to capture these images, for posterity or study or vanity, so we worked also on the ability to freeze sight.

But now I feel people have forgotten how to observe and cherish. There was a time when beauty before our eyes was enough to bring us to our knees. It was a very intimate moment between object and observer. And we never really felt that we lacked the ability to portray it afterwards. We have our words, our stories, our drawings and pictures. We have always had the ability to share. Never once did I ever feel that I lacked the ability to observe and relay the great things I have seen.

StadiumBut now people have forgotten how to appreciate the things in front of them. I cannot see the stage past the bright LED sea of cell phones. I cannot enjoy a meal without fussing over the placement of plating and the composition of light. Those I speak to have lost the words to portray what they’ve seen. Their minds have forgotten beauty because their devices have captured it for the lazy.

Being able to observe, being the one to see, was once a private and reserved pleasure and privilege. You felt empowered and special. It carried the responsibility of commitment and dedication to share with others. Now we are all consumers, capturers, but we do not know how to appreciate what it was or how to share it. We just post and share and tag and like but forget the subject.

Even more dangerous, in times when observation is not enough and participation must be warranted, we are now so occupied with the former that we often miss every call for the latter. How many videos are there of people being hurt versus stories of those who stepped in. How many more videos are there for people to consume of game and sport versus how many actual players.

I cannot believe sometimes how many viewers someone online playing a game can get Food Photowhen I cannot get enough people to fill a board game. I cannot believe how little people can tell me about the pictures and videos they have captured. Yes, the food looks incredible. But what did it smell like. Taste like. Feel like on the tongue. Did the dish shine and shimmer as you cut into it. Did you see the freshness in the fish, the richness of the meat. Did it crackle and crunch and slide and bounce when you cut into it. Did the flavors dance on your tongue with bright vibrant spices and seasonings. You were there! I was not. This is how our society grows. This is how we have conquered the world. Share with me. I don’t want your grainy video. I don’t want your shaky cam. I don’t want you to be satisfied with simply capturing.

I don’t want to witness the great and vast and beautiful infinite world through a five inch screen.