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wilfrido david
wilfrido david THE PHILIPPINES, as the past American occupiers (conquerors?) liked to call it (simply to refer to the country's three main islands and numerous small resort-size islands), as it was and still popularly known as, is a far different Philippines from today. My American friends here and even other ethnic groups who have migrated to the US are admiringly surprised when I tell them that I have a fair understanding of Spanish, am fluent in English, can speak in flowing Kapampangan and Tagalog, and can deliver a smattering of Japanese (which makes me multilingual).

In the old days, Filipinos were known as such—Indios, christened after Spain's King Philip II (Felipe), who thrived in the islands purportedly discovered by Portuguese-born Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan (sino ang maysabi?). Now we are called Pinoys (a contraction of Filipino), whether we like it or not. Pinoy is mostly accepted by Americans, who find it easier (and so more for their convenience rather than for any other reason) to pronounce. Other ethnic groups in Asia, Europe, the Moslem countries still have to know what exactly a Pinoy is. They only have to turn to their househelp, caretaker, physician, and what have you. Chances are that they are not even aware they have a Pinoy in their midst.

The younger generation of Pinoys, likewise, need to know about the mother country's history and immediate past. That is the only way you can appreciate (and perhaps even feel pride in) who and what we are and not what others think and say, portray, or write about us (often in a degrading, condescendng if not altogether in a denigrating way).

Well, anyway, back then we did not have drugs or medications that doctors now readily dispense, for the simple reason that they have a "kickback" or hidden "commission" from those huge drug companies. What all the hospitals had then were sulfa drugs to treat infection, aspirin for headaches, Phillips milk of magnesia for acidity or indigestion, cod liver oil or aceite de castor (the old folk called it asiete de castor) for stomach upset, and—oh my God—lavatiba, also supposed to wash out the impurities in your system. Ask me what a lavatiba is and I'll tell you, as subtly as I can: imagine your gas tank being filled by that mean looking small tube inserted into the proper hole in your body as you lie in bed, anxiously waiting and watching the long ritual of water and soap being mixed and administered. (The procedure would make you feel better the next day though.)

We had home remedies that proved effective in making us feel cured, thanks to our solicitous mothers and grandmothers—bulung biabas for diarrhea, sampagang gumamela to ripen that pigsa (tigsa?) in our behind much faster, tintura de odo or mercuriochrome for minor cuts and bruises, Vicks or mentholatum rubbed on our chests to ease that cough and fever.

Our folks were not bombarded with hearing aid offers, nor with Lasix eye surgery options, or free scooters. They were quite happy with their nga-nga. If my grandmother or grandfather were alive today, they would scare their balikbayan grandchildren out of their wits from seeing Lola's red teeth, à la Vampira, or Lolo's Dracula fangs. I have often wondered why my grandmother smoked her black (shades of Virginia Slims) La Yebana inside out. I asked her why one time and she smiled at me and said, "Loko, mag-enjoy ku ustung daramdaman kung medyu mapapaltus ku keng abu a mababaldug keng dila ku!" That's weird, but that's OK. She died at the ripe old age of one hundred and one, which goes to show that nicotine isn't as deadly as doctors deem it to be.

Cholesterol was not yet discovered, and the old folks probably could not care less whether they had too much of it or not, because mothers and/or kusineras would rather stay in the kitchen and see their families enjoy life by indulging their appetites. Us children ("kids" in today's terminology), busy as we were crafting our own toys (sarangola or burarol, cars made from sardine cans), lured by the aroma of my mother's cooking that wafted into our room, would drift towards the kitchen. Despite our katakawan, as is natural of kids, there was not obesity to worry about. Perhaps it is because all that we were allowed to drink was a bottle of sarsaparilla (rootbeer) or an occasionally forced salabat.

My doctor, who insists that I have high blood pressure, intimidates me into taking cholesterol-lowering pills. I avoid telling him that the only time my blood pressure rises to an alarming level is when I go to the shopping mall and watch by the side of my eyes those young things passing by in short shorts, or to put it mildly, mini-pants (whatever the difference!).

Back then, you did not have TV to turn on when the wife starts asking about your whereabouts the night before. Kids had no TV games—just patintero or sipang-preso. There were no cellphones—I supposed only the rich and influential had "cellphones" (that is, if they ever got jailed they would pay the prison guards to install a regular telephone inside their cells). There were no computers—the only times that my grandparents came close to doing numbers (math) was when they would place their jueteng bets. And so no internet—which was way nothing that resembled the hairnets my older sisters would subject their hair to before attending a social function). No mini spy cameras—only the box-type Kodak. No faxes—it used to take days for your sweetheart to receive your perfumed love note. No copiers—you had to copy that love letter straight from the book, word-for-word, and your beloved would respond with: "Turn to page 6—and you will see my answer."

Much of our leisure time was spent listening to the vacuum tube radios which had nothing on except for amateur singing contests (where a singer, most times one who was inadequate, would be cut mid-song by the sound of a gong—if the young ones know what a gong is), and soap operas (that you had the privilege to listen to even if you did not buy soap). People in the barrios retired early either by choice or by force of circumstance—no electricity (a handy explanation why Filipinos of old had big families; twelve, more or less, was not an unusual number of children in the household—a wonder of wonders on how the head of the family was able to sustain the family despite formidable odds).

Back then, we did not have cancer as we know it today—doctors, for lack of a better term, diagnosed tumor. We did not have preparation H, the best selling ointment in San Francisco. We did not have OTC sleeping pills—we relied on good old cerveza or a shot of whiskey. We did not have wart (galigo) removers—we had api (apog) to burn it out. We did not have Viagra, Cialis, etc., to liven up our sex lives—older men had their queridas (girlfriends) just a few streets away. We did not have cosmetic surgery—women just grew old graciously and they were more the beautiful for it. As Filipinos (we did not care much about other Asian friends), we had to be content with what God has blessed us with: pug noses (sarat), dark (sometimes lice infested) straight hair, smooth and lovely morena complexion, real white teeth, and an incredibly infectious happy disposition. The most accepted or credible reason why mestizos and mestizas abound in films and tele-novelas of today, who we must acknowledge positively contribute to the template of our looks as a people, are products and by-products of hacendero-househelp relationships in the days of yore, and, of course, intermarriages with remnants of the friars' offspring during the Spanish regime, as well as with our great white American liberators in World War II.

The Filipino of today stands proud of what he or she has become and is highly reputed for: a hard worker, a survivor amid overwhelming odds, a dedicated and loving family person. This is especially true for Filipinos in diaspora who bear the hardships of foreign employment just to be able to support a family back home. They are giants in their respective chosen field of endeavor, whether in medicine, engineering, nursing, caregiving, and—though much maligned a profession by welfare-dependent citizens of host countries who do not know any better—in household managing (wherein Filipinos are prolific as domestic helpers, from baby- to even adult-sitting). The FiliPINOY can stand by him/herself any time and anywhere. The Pinoy excels everywhere!

[About the author. Wilfrido David first retired as Computer-Analyst from the Ayala Group of Companies. He immigrated to the US in 1985, worked there for another 25 years in the Medical Field (Medical Lab Tech), until he retired for the second time. Sometime ago, he was involved with FAANM (Filipino-American Association of New Mexico) as correspondent-contributor-writer-editor, publisher—all rolled into one. He says about that stint, "I ran out of energy, patience, and money but kept on with my duties until the next set of association officers were voted in." The earliest writing he did was for his high school paper in Holy Angel University. His present writing derives from the perspective of a Filipino expat in the US who faithfully keeps up with what's happening in the home country, as gleaned from his Filipino channels on DirecTV, aside from CNN and HLN.]

-Posted: 9:39 AM 9/21/09 | More of this author on eK!