eK! is electronic Kabalen, a web-exclusive Kapampangan journal of ideas

papa osmubal
oscar balajadia MY LIFE in the past week has resembled that of the legendary Rip Van Winkle's, unconscious of the hustle and bustle around, sleeping like a newborn baby. Perhaps it is my body's insistent way of getting back the good night's sleep I lost since we started this current school year. I must have worked a lot. There is no need of an Einstein to explain my condition: it is simply wear and tear. A ship has to be dry-docked for repair and checked for whatever needs fixing, so to speak. My entire being dictates that I sleep, and I just can't help it. I have to give in because my body and soul just mysteriously turn heavy. I can simply fall like a timber at the mere sight of a sofa. Gravity is more than just a force, it is a formidable temptation.

For a little more than a week now I have not seen the world outside the four walls of my home. What will it feel like when I step out of that door and sort of rejoin the rowdy society? How will I again cope with the busy life outside after this long self-incarceration?

Come to think of it, it is the last week of October and it is my long-awaited fall break.

These are those recurrent biological dog days. I call this appreciation of home. But inveigle and torture my wife before she buys into that. She knows quite well I am just covering up my intermittent self-indulgence and indolence. She complains that sleeping---which I insistently call resting---is no appreciation of home.

Why, yes, that is not my wife's idea of home! Her culture elevates home as the deepest expression of human existence. Home to her is active---a place of and for activities.

My wife is Chinese, who spends her life between Macau and her ancestral hometown, Chung Shan, a thriving town in the Province of Guangdong (Canton). Chung Shan brags to be the town where Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the great Guangdong Yan (Cantonese), the father of the Chinese republic, was born and grew; hence, considered to be the birthplace of all of modern Chinese world.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen also was once a resident of Macau, where he worked as a medical doctor in what is now the only private hospital in the enclave. I just don't know if it is a matter of coincidence and sheer luck that his Macau residential home, which is now a memorial museum open gratis to the public, is located right across the street where we live; it is just right in front of my house.

I have been in Dr. Sun Yat Sen's memorial home, and it felt so very different inside---it was something grand that words can't decipher and explain. It is a place rife with culture---the very source of pride and hope for a people. It is just hard to believe that such a place housed the father of all of modern China, and the ideas and dreams that were shaped there have already gone so far as to consider modern China as a great nation lionized in the current international political arena.

Home is important to the Chinese because, to them, it is where everything starts and ends, which is why my wife says home is not for slumber.

But, in a nutshell, what is a Chinese home?

One thing that is quite special about the Chinese home is its utmost secrecy. Only family members know what happens in the family. Forgive the expression, but it has the secrecy of the mafia. This is perhaps the forte of the Chinese home---it is an autonomous place. Family members, young and old, strictly observe decorum and protocol, and that no other people should know whatever goes on within the family.

This is not to refute the assumption that Chinese are gossips. Lest I be accused of having a cultural stigma against them, who are also now my very own people by virtue of marriage, I just have to tell that Chinese are in fact noisy and fast talkers.

Their loudness and urgency to convey a point are not meant to annoy because such are just a way to show their enthusiasm when they talk. It is just a polite way of making things clearer. Clarity is important to the Chinese. There should be no words floating and hovering with the wind (one can't just insinuate), because they are a people frank and brave with their opinions and feelings (quite different from what Philippine history books and urban tales flaunt). This is perhaps one of the reasons why they produce great businessmen, leaders, and diplomats. Retracting what I have just said, therefore, Chinese are not really noisy gossips. Their so-called noise is not bad behavior; it is social ethics and necessity---for clarity and candidness---so that where there is that minute full-stop, there is decision; and where there is decision, there is action.

A Chinese home is a micro-state, as it were, where the father is the absolute head because he, being the "eldest" (even if the mother is older, the father is still deemed as the "eldest"), is the representative of the ancestors. To be the eldest means to be wise and strong, to be an effective planner and an exemplary decision maker. Such wisdom and strength emanate from the blood, bequeathed to him by none other than the family ancestors. Which means all that the eldest decides has to go down to the good of the clan members.

Looking at this in a bigger picture, Chinese political leaders are all following this domestic set-up---from Lee Kwan Yu's Singapore to Chen Chiu Bien’s Taiwan, from the Chinatowns in all nooks of this planet to the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Beijing. This can't be refuted because of what Chinese have repeatedly shown throughout history. This can't be disproved because of what now China is fast becoming, which makes global powers do serious soul searching. Ergo, the term "China" is actually a home, a consolidated clan, and regardless of the type of government put in force in a Chinese territory, decisions are--- no more, no less---made for the good of clan members (in this sense, the citizens).

The head of the clan makes it sure that his ideas and decisions are feasible, simple, and concrete. This is embodied in the truth that Chinese thoughts and philosophies are practical, aimed primarily at attaining moral, cultural, and economic success. Such has been a millennia-old practice starting from the sages of the old like Confucius and Lao Tsu. In fact, Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," which is considered to be one of the many cultural bibles in China, is used by magnates, business executives, sportsmen, and leaders around the world for their strategies, particularly those in Japan, the United States, and Europe. Felipe Scolari, the Portuguese national football team coach, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the "Philippine redeemer" Douglas MacArthur, were inspired and influenced by Sun Tzu.

A Chinese home is a place of devotion as well, a place that connects life (the living) and the after-life (the ancestors, the dead). Going to temple, which is just occasional and happens on a special feast day, is just an extension of home life, not the other way around. This makes the Chinese home so sacred to the family members.

Heathen as Christians may look at it, but Chinese family members venerate and worship their ancestors who they believe are with heavenly beings. It is a very straightforward and practical belief as it is not used for proselytizing. It is a clan-centered belief that doesn't throw fire and brimstone at the followers of other beliefs. Chinese folk believers are unlike Christians who go around telling people to worship their God or else suffer eternal damnation. Chinese folk belief does not encourage one to spend their precious time climbing buses, distributing pamphlets, asking people to worship and venerate their ancestors.

Worship (or Pai San, in Cantonese), being familial, is the privilege of a Chinese family, because it is through worship that they get re-connected to their dead ancestors, who are honored like gods, as Chinese believe that without them (their legacy and everything they created and did for their offspring) the family would not have thrived. Some home altars have decorative urns containing the ashes of dead family members. This is gross and spooky to non-Chinese, but it is a rich Chinese tradition.

That having said, it is but flattering that when I am no more my daughter and son, together with their own families, will be venerating me and all the spirits that accompany me because I am their elder who passes on to them all the wisdom and strengths of my ancestors (all proud Kapampangans looking after everyone from a Celestial Pampanga).

Chinese education is rigid and tough, in the strictest sense of the words, and there is no place where they are at their toughest and most rigid than at home. Elders are masters (that is, teachers) who pass on to the younger family members all the values and knowledge they have got.

I have never seen a home where philosophy (thoughts from the past) is seriously taught by elders to their younger family members, but with the Chinese it is one of their staples in home education. Calligraphy and writing, classical Chinese music (zither, drums, and other traditional instruments), and mathematics (mainly the abacus and speed mental computing) are taught at home. And economics is a thing not to be missed. Some kids find home education as punishment they have to bear, while others take it for their amusement. Either way, it is beneficial for their upbringing. If elders are too busy to provide home tutoring to their younger family members, as is often the case in wealthy clans, private tutors are hired to teach their young. Which is why in and around a particular Chinese community one may often find small learning "centers" that provide after-school tuitions to students.

Eating in a cozy restaurant is like eating in a Chinese home, and vice-versa. Food, to the Chinese, is an art. My mother-in-law preaches to her family that Chinese cuisine is sacred, because it is a kind of wealth that their ancestors bequeathed to them. This may not be the reason why Chinese offer delicious dishes to their ancestors on Chinese All Souls Day, but it sure makes sense paying obeisance to them by offering them with such an important fruit of their labor, a work done in a way an artist does his magnum opus. I reckon this is one of the reasons why Chinese food is famous all over the world.

As I write this piece, I haven't seen the world outside my room for a good number of days. But an invitation we just received will make me go out sooner. My sister-in-law and her family are moving into a new house. They will do pai san (worship) to bless the house. It is a sort of thanksgiving for the bounty and peace that the new place has to offer. They hired a fung sui master to see the place. This clearly indicates that a Chinese home is established through wisdom and sciences, because Fung Sui is the philosophy and science of understanding and knowing the universe and its forces or elements and the position of things in relation to the position of other things in the universe (yin and yang); indeed, fung means wind---as in tai fung or typhoon; whereas, tai means big, and fung, the wind, so typhoon is a big or strong wind---and sui means water. Water (symbolizing earth) and wind (symbolizing heaven) are forces that always accompany other elements to form the universe. Fung Sui is therefore the law of heaven and earth. It is a way of being one with nature, and not manipulating it.

Lest I might look like the Mandarin Confucius and the military genius Ho Chi Minh, I will have to give myself a good shaving (though, admittedly, I can do nothing about the beer belly) to attend my sister-in-law's house blessing. It is a big family gathering that will again put the spotlight on the family ancestors. On the way, I will cherish the world that I have missed for a week---the world that I call my big, interminable, home; the home of all homes.

[About the author. Papa Osmubal is Oscar Balajadia of Magalang, now Macau resident and married to a Chinese local. He has been a Catholic seminarian, Catholic missionary, bookstore staff, teaching assistant, and teacher. Currently at daytime he is the Assistant Librarian at The International School of Canada in Macau, while at nighttime he moonlights as part-time teacher and tutor. His poems have appeared in various anthologies and publications, online and hardcopy. He has work archived in the University of Columbia Granger's World of Poetry and other places. A work of his will also appear in the forthcoming W.W. Norton Poetry Anthology of Contemporary Voices from the East. He is a contributing writer to Chick Flicks, Our Own Voice (OOV): Writing from the Filipino Diaspora, and other publications.]

-Posted: 11:11 AM 11/3/07 | More of this author on eK!