Category Archives: culture

On NFTs (now)

Apparently NFTs are still a thing and there is still much about them that I don’t know about. I’ve written negatively about them before, but a friend of mine who works in fintech has been educating me a lot about them. Now, of course I’m still very wary with investing in anything, and I’m really in no position to buy any bored primates, but I’m now more open-minded about them. A few things about them however.

1. They could be one of the only ways to truly sell and monetize digital art. Digital art is still art, and it is a bit unfair that they haven’t been able to be part of the art market until NFTs came around. This is similar to my complaint about anatomical/scientific illustrations. Why are they not seen nor exhibited as high art? There should be room for them in galleries, the same way there is room for most kinds of art. The only difference with anatomical/scientific illustrations and digital art is that the former can be monetized while the latter hasn’t been able to until NFTs came around.

2. The NFT market, much like the cryptocurrency market will always be in a state of ups and downs. I prematurely predicted the demise of the NFT market months ago and yet they are still here. Many NFTs have lowered in value since then, but many are still worth the initial investment. And me, I’m sitting here eating crow.

3. Many if not most NFTs are bad art. The percentage of bad art among NFTs compared to just plain digital art is considerably higher; I’d say 98% of NFTs are bad art. And it naturally will be that way for two reasons. One is that most of the NFT buyers are in it for the investment. They are not in it for the art. The second reason is that much like the Bored Ape Yacht Club, lots of NFTs are a set of similar images with a randomized set of traits that are digitally generated. Make 10,000 similar drawings, randomize their features, have people bid on them or set prices on them based on the rarity of the features an image has.

4. I don’t think many artists are making digital art and turning them into NFTs on a 1:1 ratio. I think that’s a rarity. The story of NFTs helping unknown artists in developing countries finally make a living off their art is a fairy tale that is only true for the smallest percentage of the market.

5. Most NFTs will not increase in value. There’s simply too many of them, and the initial prices of NFTs that made the news last year were so high that there’s nowhere else to go but down. Just check out what happened to the NFT of Jack Dorsey’s first tweet. It was sold for $48 million, and on the most recent auction, it barely got $300 in bids.

6. Celebrities who promote NFTs or who show off their purchases are in it for themselves. They are actively trying to increase the value of their NFTs before selling them. Did anyone really believe Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton when they mused about the uniqueness and artistry of their bored apes on the ‘Tonight Show?’

7. As incredulous as I am about the metaverse, NFTs will be an integral part of it. Basically, anything that is traded over the Internet for monetary value that has a limited amount functions as an NFT. The only difference is the blockchain element. If the metaverse does become all-encompassing as Mark Zuckerberg wants it to be, then we have no choice but to be involved in things like NFTs.

8. I am still skeptical of the element of the artist earning a percentage each time their artwork changes hands. This was one of the initial selling points of NFTs and I didn’t really see a point in it. Why would they get a royalty for items that they already sold? If I sold a painting, I don’t care if it increases in value when it gets resold years later. Good for the buyer. Good for me too because it means I’m talented enough to command such prices. But getting a percentage of the sale? Why? And when does that stop? Until I’m dead?

9. I am still dismayed at the cost of minting NFTs, both monetarily and environmentally. Apparently, the technology is getting better and the process will become greener, but who knows when that would be reality and whether that would also affect the price of minting NFTs.

10. Will I be making NFTs in the future? Who knows? I dismissed them prematurely last year, and now I’m no longer sure. I will need to talk to more people about them. I still need a lot of education.

11. I believe there are two camps when it comes to looking at NFTs. One camp are old school artists and the other are artists willing to try out new things online. During the beginning of the pandemic, I was trying to sell an idea to a friend of mine who owns an art gallery. It was a virtual art gallery that people could navigate in 3D online. She dismissed the idea as too fanciful and would require too much effort on her part. I tried to volunteer my services but she shut me down. Two years in, many galleries and artists are doing shows online one way or another, including virtual 3D galleries. Boy, did I feel vindicated.

I don’t want to be in the old school camp with my friend. I’d like to be more open-minded.

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A Slow Crawl to the Dark Ages

Abortion has been decriminalized in South Korea last year, January 2021. Prior to that, women still got around to getting rid of unwanted pregnancies through other means. I can’t remember any case of women going into prison for abortion. Perhaps it’s this Korean habit of ignoring laws for the sake of pragmatism. Smoking in the streets is illegal, but the police don’t regularly enforce it in order to not harass people. Prostitution was tolerated for the longest time until the red light districts became a target for real estate developers. Now it’s kept more hidden but is still tolerated. Men will never stop seeing prostitutes and I imagine cops are getting kickbacks from pimps, etc. And as for abortion. There are different ways to stop a pregnancy, and Koreans don’t have a good record of adopting other people’s children. Abortion happens, even when it’s not legal.

What’s happening in the United States is not abortion being made illegal. It’s the criminalization of safe abortion. When abortion becomes illegal, I’m not sure people and doctors will skirt around it the way they did here in Korea. Women will be risking their health and their lives getting rid of unwanted pregnancies. And as much railing conservatives do against activist judges, I can’t think of anything more activist than taking away women’s rights, getting rid of a decades old precedent, and opening the doors to action against other cases which hinge on privacy laws.

There was a girl I once loved dearly. This was back when I was young, too young to know much about anything. Anyway, things didn’t work out between us mostly because of circumstances and our paths separated. She was in a bad place and mixed in with a questionable group of people. She got herself pregnant and was desperate for drugs to terminate the pregnancy. Someone offered her the drug Cytotec (or misoprostol). She was young at the time and I’m not sure how this person got access to this drug. Either he was old enough to be a pharmacist or just simply old enough to have access to it. I’m guessing she was sixteen or seventeen at the time. To get the drug, he asked her for sexual favors. I don’t remember how she ended up getting the drugs in the end. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t, but that memory is long gone from my head.

It’s interesting. I remember the pain of hearing the story, I remember the drug, but I don’t remember how it ended. I guess that’s what trauma does. Not to forget this girl’s own trauma, but my heart broke when I learned about what happened. And now I don’t know how that episode ended.

But this sadness… this desperation… this exploitation, this is what the conservatives in the United States have planned for the country.

I mentioned privacy laws because this is the government getting inside a woman’s body. This could potentially threaten other aspects of life in America including gay rights, gay marriage, inter-racial marriage, heck even old school laws regarding sodomy.

Unless Biden makes abortion the law of the land now, the Democrats are just going to let this happen. The president can either unilaterally make Roe v Wade law, or simply expand the court and save the United States from decades of judicial devolution by radically conservative judges.

But I don’t have high hopes. Establishment Democrats are really just Republican-lite, and they are so feckless that they have failed to make a resounding political defeat of the Republicans after Trump and his failed coup attempt. I mean, after a failed coup and a win last year, If I was Biden and the Democrats, I would be making so many changes so fast to undo what Trump did before the Republicans could regroup. But now from the looks of things, the Republicans are set to gain more power again come next election. Just like the Winnipeg Jet’s this year, this is depressing to watch.

As the art shows, I was raised Roman Catholic. But I don’t push my religion to other people. You do you. You let women do whatever they want with their body. Let everyone do what they want with their body. God loves me. God loves you. God loves everyone. Leave women alone.

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Billionaires Buying Things

Around two years ago, I got banned from Twitter. It was over a response to Laura Ingraham, a vile racist Nazi on Twitter. So yeah, I don’t mind being permanently banned on Twitter fighting the Nazis. I used to be a heavy Twitter user. And since I stopped using Twitter, I’m less stressed about the news, etc. I no longer have this useless need for one-upping strangers on the Internet. With Twitter out of my life, I focused more attention on Reddit, which I find more populated with people who are constructive and are actually interested in conversation, instead of Twitter where people seem to be more concerned about burning other people.

Now Elon Musk has bought Twitter. I never liked the man. I find him obnoxious and for lack of a better word, “corny.” He’s trying too hard to be Tony Stark, an obnoxious fictional character that only works via the nebulous deus ex machina of his genius and technology in general. “What seems like magic is actually nanobots. Plot hole filled!” Anyway, for a man who is the richest in the planet, Musk tries too hard to insert himself into our lives. A group of boys are trapped in a cave in Thailand, he sends a useless submarine. He asks the UN for a plan to solve world hunger. They give him said plan, but he doesn’t act on it and pretends he never offered to finance their plans in the first place. He gets into a dick-measuring contest with other obnoxious billionaires in their race for space (when the planet is literally dying). But my favorite is him evangelizing his idea of the Hyperloop in order to solve traffic problems. Years later and many companies involved in the idea, it has eventually materialized into nothing but tunnels, absolutely normal non-special tunnels.

My biggest problem with him is how he panders to the worst people on the Internet. The Joe Rogans, alpha males, conspiracy theorists, crypto bros, etc. His idea of free speech is for everyone to be able to say anything they want, no matter how vile or how dangerous it could be, except if it affects him. Just a couple of days into acquiring Twitter, he’s already unleashed one of the two female executives on Twitter to his horde of trolls. Maybe it’s creative termination or maybe it’s just his nature to be vile. But as one ex-Twitter CEO replied, “Bullying is not leadership.” He is a good salesman and a good hype man. Tesla ran for years without making any profit based on his promises, but it’s also been revealed that the company fosters a very misogynistic, racist, and hostile work environment.

When Peter Thiel, another billionaire, managed to get rid of Gawker, a media company that displeased him using a lawsuit and Hulk Hogan’s sex tape, it didn’t feel right to me. I felt it was the beginning of billionaires using their wealth willy-nilly to acquire or destroy companies and significantly affect people’s lives. Rupert Murdoch has been manipulating the public with his media empire for years, but when Peter Thiel got rid of Gawker, it showed that monumental changes can happen significantly faster via the tyranny of capitalism. And now that Elon Musk bought Twitter, he can use it to attack his enemies, gain more cultish followers, and boost his stock with his tweets, something that he’s done before in the past.

It’s the wild west now. What if Jeff Bezos just suddenly bought NBC and made it shill for Amazon non-stop? He already bought the Washington Post. And while the paper hasn’t really changed much since its acquisition, who knows how many Amazon stories they decided not to run since being bought by Bezos?

What bothers me also is that for the amount that Musk paid for Twitter, he could’ve used that money to help finance world hunger programs that he was previously talking about with the UN. He could’ve used that money to make college education free in the US. There are so much good that could be done by these billionaires’ money. Instead, Musk is using it to flex during his mid-life crisis.

As much as I don’t mind Warren Buffet and find him charming, there really isn’t anything good about being a billionaire. It is basically a person accumulating too much wealth to the detriment of everyone else. Sure, they might not be doing it maliciously, but by the amount of taxes they are not taxed alone, they are by definition taking more than they deserve and contributing less to society than the average person. When an average person pays their taxes, they literally gave away a bigger proportion of their wealth and effort more than any of the billionaires. Maybe they are not creating jobs, but they’re certainly working as the tiny cogs that make every day life work.

Billionaires should be illegal. They shouldn’t be allowed to exist. What is their point other than abusing their wealth?

For the past ten years, Twitter, despite its valuation, has struggled to make a profit. I’m not too optimistic about its future with Musk at the helm. Tesla has also struggled to make a profit for years. And I believe to this day, the company has not made a profit from selling cars. Instead, it’s made a profit by selling its regulatory credits to other companies. So yeah, I can’t wait for Twitter to become the next Myspace. Or be like Facebook, currently pushing a virtual reality world that most people won’t be embracing.

BTW, by Tesla selling regulatory credits and running on electricity that most probably was generated by fossil fuels, doesn’t that make everything a wash? Doesn’t that make going electric ultimately more wasteful than sticking with internal combustion vehicles, especially with electric vehicles needing more rare metals and requiring its batteries, which cannot be recycled, to be replaced every now and then? Internal combustion vehicles have a longer lifespan and require less rare metals. They won’t be subject to rapid technological cycles and be frequently outdated compared to electronic products and thus won’t generate as much physical waste. I believe that the future is electric vehicles, but as they are right now, they are doing worse for the environment than internal combustion vehicles. The cars and their batteries are not as efficient as they could be, and current internal combustion vehicles are running on the most efficient engines at the moment. The internal combustion car you are driving right now isn’t the same gas guzzler from the 60s. It is far cleaner and more reliable. And at the end of the day, you can drive it longer than your rich neighbor’s Tesla or Chevy Bolt.

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Dave Chappelle is wrong about Filipina OFWs.

Dave Chappelle opined on the impact and importance of Manny Pacquiao. He mentioned that the women being sent overseas to do domestic work contributes considerably to the Philippine economy, leaving behind men to take care of children. Generations of children in the Philippines are growing up without their mothers. I quote, “Men are left rearing their children, twiddling their thumbs, waiting on their wives’ cheques. These men have been fucking emasculated.” But then suddenly, Manny Pacquiao, with his fists, reinstates Filipino men’s masculinity with his fists. Now, this was a small part of a longer spiel that involves Manny Pacquiao’s views on the LGBTQ community, and yeah, Dave Chappelle has his own issues with them as well, but I’m here to talk about his rather skewed view about Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) women and male masculinity.

He got this wrong. He got this so wrong.

I remember Chappelle saying that he read Pimp: The Story of My Life, and that he’s basically a student of Iceberg Slim. I can’t believe how he can’t see the similarities between Iceberg Slim’s life of taking advantage of women and having them work for him to the life of women OFWs. Chappelle himself said that fathers are “twiddling their thumbs” while their wives are out there in the Arabian peninsula and other places overseas working for slave wages and opening themselves to abuse and exploitation. Now, pardon me, and I don’t mean to compare Filipina OFWs to prostitutes, but I have issues with Chappelle seeing the men in these relationships as emasculated victims when they are more closer to being pimps.

Patriarchy is ingrained in Philippine culture. The first man in Philippine mythology was named “Malakas” (strong) and the first woman was “Maganda” (beautiful). As head of the household, he used his strength to beat his children out of the house because there were simply too many of them. He treated them more like pests than children. All of this while his wife simply let it happen, a passive actor. To this day, men are the heads of households. Celebrities and politicians still make hay out of their macho image. And despite twice having women heads of state, Filipino women still lag behind in women’s rights. The Catholic church doesn’t help in this matter either, with abortion being illegal and access to birth control a perpetual controversial issue.

According to a recent survey, 25% of Filipino women have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from their husband or partner. As surveys go, I tend to think that with such a sensitive topic, the percentage could be higher. Shame, denial, and fear makes reporting partner abuse more difficult to do compared with other types of crime. And now let’s look at OFWs. There are an estimated 2.2 million OFWs. 56% of OFW’s are women. 58% of these women work as living assistants and domestic workers. That’s around 700,000 women working as OFWs. In 2020, only 5000 cases of abuse were reported by OFWs. This can be anything from physical and sexual abuse, to workplace and contractual disputes. Let’s imagine that half of these cases are with women. That’s 2,500 out of 700,000. But again, as with surveys and sensitive subjects, I tend to believe that abuse is under reported, especially if the women’s employers are holding their passports and virtually control their existence in their respective countries.

Or maybe I’m just imagining things. Maybe my math is totally off. Maybe things are so good overseas that only less than 1 percent of women OFW ever suffer abuse.

The world is not made of candy and rainbows.

So women are sent overseas to live as domestic helpers, basically on call for most of the day as they live with their employers. They’re in a foreign environment, away from their children, friends, and relatives, probably occasionally facing discrimination and abuse, and most of the money they earn, they send back home to their husband and children back home. All of this, while the husbands twiddle their thumbs as Chappelle puts it. Does this sound like Filipino men are emasculated? Was Iceberg Slim emasculated when women worked for him while he twiddled his thumbs waiting for his cut of their pay? No. He was seen as an alpha male, in control of his women. And I can’t help but see the men who send their wives overseas to work as domestic helpers while they stay at home and wait for their remittance cheques as being lazy. They’re not pimps, but they sure get the better end of the deal in the relationship.

44% of OFWs are men. Why can’t that be higher? Why can’t the roles be reversed and have Filipino men be out there working while their wives stay at home, take care of their children? I’m not trying to be sexist and put women in the kitchen. But women are physically more vulnerable than men. Why would so many men put their wives at so much risk when there’s overseas work that men OFWs can do? Maybe they don’t want to be living assistants or domestic helpers, but they can work in other unskilled labor sectors like agriculture and manufacturing. I’ve met a few of these men OFWs in these fields before. (I sold my old computer to one. Gave him a great deal.) They are sending their money home to their wives and children. Why can’t there be more of them?

The thing is, the men who stay at home, I’m sure not all of them are lazy, perhaps they are also working. Good for them. Perhaps they are setting up their own businesses with the help of remittances from overseas. But it’s very hard to argue that they aren’t living a much better and more secure life in their home country compared to their wives overseas. Their neighbors are probably jealous that they get to spend time at home while they receive remittances which are likely higher than the average wage in the Philippines. They get to still be with their family and friends, heck, they can even go drink with their buddies late into the night. There is no isolation, prejudice, and constant risk of abuse. They are not emasculated. And if Dave Chappelle thinks that merely being the primary caregiver of children is emasculating, then he needs to get on with the times. The man doesn’t have to be the primary breadwinner. And yes, perhaps that “woke” statement is going against my main argument here, but I suspect that the majority of the men whose wives are overseas aren’t helpless actors in their situations. They don’t have to be “emasculated.” They can actually take action, keep their wives at home, and go overseas instead.

They don’t have to just sit there and wait, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Their wives are out there, working hard, missing their family, and sacrificing so much! These husbands could actually take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing them, end them. (I apologize, I just saw ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ and have Shakespeare’s lines from many of his plays on my head all day.)

Lastly, the idea that a boxer holding a long undefeated record would reinstate another person’s masculinity is laughable to me. Pacquiao’s success is his success. His masculinity is his masculinity, not the country’s; the same way his dumb comments about the LGBTQ is his and not anyone else’s. Yeah, he’s a boxing champ, and some Filipino men are still at home waiting for their wife to send them cheques from Dubai while they take care of the kids. It doesn’t change anything. This Filipino infatuation with macho figures is a pox on the country and just reinforces outdated patriarchal ideas. And if anything, I would say Filipinos and Filipino men need to get off from idolizing Pacquiao already and have better figures to look up to.

Dave Chappelle is wrong. Women OFWs, just like all OFWs, are modern-day heroes to the Philippines. But the husbands of the women OFWs are not emasculated. That is an insult to their autonomy.

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The Out-of-Taiwan theory and My Outdated Education Regarding the Philippine Origin

The Philippines, being a group of islands with villages separated by mountainous regions, there are a number of creation myths coming from different groups of populations. There’s the Lumawig, the great spirit myth coming from the Igorot population, the creation stories from Bagobo, Bilaan, etc. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I grew up being taught the Tagalog creation story, which is probably the most common one.

In the beginning, the world was nothing but sea and sky. A great bird that was tired of flying stirred up the sea to create some land on which to land and rest. The sky and the sea created some islands and the bird built a nest on one of them. The sea breeze and the land breeze married and gave birth to a bamboo plant. The great bird split the bamboo and out of it came a man and a woman. I believe they were named “Malakas (strong)” and “Maganda (beautiful).” They married, had numerous children, and they became the origin of all races due to a bit of child abuse. Yes, child abuse.

The couple got sick of having so many children that the father began beating his children with sticks. The children hid in different places around their house. Those who hid in hidden rooms became chief of islands, those who somehow hid inside the house’s walls became slaves. The children who ran outside became free men. Those who hid in the fire pit became black people (or the local “Negritos”). The ones who fled to the sea and later came back became white people.

The latter part regarding child abuse was not widely taught, but it’s still part of the creation myth nonetheless. It’s interesting to note that patriarchy and child abuse is baked into the culture from the creation myth itself. That’s something I’ll be writing about later. But speaking of baking, another Filipino creation myth involves god baking men out of clay and it exemplifies the special place of Filipinos in the eyes of the creator.

After creating everything in the world, god decided he needed a caretaker to oversee all of his creation. He created man out of clay and baked him under the sun in order to animate him. At first, he didn’t bake man long enough. This created white people. Next, he baked man too long, and this created black people. Finally, he baked man “just right,” and this created the Filipino race. To modern ears, the story sounds like a mixture of Goldilocks and racism.

Now, those are taught in school as myths. There might be some variations to the stories, but they’re basically the same stories.

What was taught to children when I was growing up as the scientific and accepted theory of where Filipinos came from was through a series of migrations, the “wave migration” theory.

The first settlers of the archipelago were the “Negritos.” They arrived around 10,000 years ago. The term “negrito” is a Spanish diminutive which means “little black person,” but seems to be widely accepted in the country. There are over thirty ethnic groups in the Philippines which are grouped as “Negritos” sharing similar characteristics and cultures. They were mostly hunter gatherers but some also practiced agriculture.

The second settlers were the Austronesians. They theory called them “Indones,” believing that they came from Indonesia. They arrived around 4,000 years ago and formed their own different groups as well as alliances with different populations of Negritos.

The third to land and settle in the archipelago were the “Malays” around 900 CE. They mostly inhabited the southern part of the country while the Indones settled through most of the archipelago. Now I remember having some trouble differentiating Indones and Malays when I was first introduced to the concept. In my young mind, I thought they were too similar.

This theory is Beyer’s Wave Migration Theory, but I remember it being taught only as “wave migration.” I’m not sure how strong the archaeological evidence is for this theory, but I think people believed it mainly due to the credibility H. Otley Beyer, the founder of the Anthropology Department of the University of the Philippines; that and the Filipinos’ commonality with their neighbors. Filipinos certainly share a lot of physical and cultural similarities with Malaysians and Indonesians. Malaysian and Indonesian can even sound like Tagalog or other Philippine languages sometimes. Heck, during my trip to Bali, I was confused for a local a couple of times.

I think what is more widely accepted as plausible these days is the Out-of-Taiwan theory. Archaeologist Peter Bellwood suggested that Austronesian peoples originated from the island of Taiwan, and from there, migrated across Southeast Asia, East Africa, and the Pacific. It began around 6,500 BC and continued until 3,500 BC. What’s interesting about this theory is that while the Austronesian people spread to different islands across the world, in Taiwan itself, the Indigenous or Austronesian people only account for 2% of the people, with 97% of the population being ethnic Han Taiwanese.

The theory is supported by linguistic, archaeological, cultural, and genetic evidence. According to the theory, Austronesian settlers arrived in the Philippines from Taiwan around 2200 BC. Once there, they assimilated with the Negritos who arrived earlier. Arriving in Luzon, they spread southwest towards Borneo, Indonesia, and Malaysia. They even spread much further east to Madagascar at around 500 CE. They spread southwards to New Guinea all the way to New Zealand, arriving there by around 1200 CE. They spread east all the way towards Easter Island and Hawaii by around 900 CE. The Austronesian people share similar cultural characteristics, technologies, and took with them similar domesticated plants and animals.

Instead of the Philippines being a receptacle of different waves of settlers, after the Negritos settled, the archipelago basically became a launching port for the Austronesian expansion. The previous “wave migration” theory was wrong and had it the other way around. The Austronesian people originated from Taiwan and spread from the Philippine archipelago. The Out-of-Taiwan theory connects Filipino ancestry with Malaysians, Indonesians, as well as Melanesians and Polynesians. Which again, might explain why I was once confused for a local native the last time I was in Hawaii.

Now, I didn’t really learn about the Out-of-Taiwan theory until a Taiwanese classmate taught me about the existence of an Aboriginal population in Taiwan. I didn’t know they existed. And really, who could blame me since they’re only 2% of the population. But it wasn’t until I dove deep into the subject did I come to learn about the Out-of-Taiwan theory. Now maybe I’m old and I’m showing it by my knowledge of the curriculum I was taught when I was young, but I wonder if young Filipinos these days are still taught the “wave theory.” I mean, if it wasn’t for a chance encounter and a random conversation about aboriginal population, I wouldn’t even have know about the Out-of-Taiwan theory and the scope of the Austronesian expansion.

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The Long Reach of Catholicism

I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to Catholic school, served in church, sang in a choir, and went to church twice a week. I have nothing against religion or the religious, and when I’m confronted by my wife who is furiously anti-religion and she tells me about different churches and religions’ many contradictions, abuses, etc. I tell her that it’s not about what the church takes from me or how it “lies” to me, it’s how my religion personally brings me peace of mind. So yes, even now as a Catholic that doesn’t regularly go to church, I have nothing but good things to say about how the Catholic Church has affected me as a person. The bible is indeed a good source of hope and wisdom, and there have been many dark times when it pulled me out of despair.

I believe I am not alone in being this way. In the Philippines, the effect of the Roman Catholic church is even deeper. Though there is a separation of church and state, the church holds a strong influence on Filipinos even if they’re not religious. It takes over their relationships, their calendar, almost everything. Growing up in the Philippines, I got lucky enough to be accepted in a special school with science-focused curriculum. Students were drilled with advanced sciences, mathematics, and oddly enough “values education,” a subject which had very heavy religious components. The church is simply everywhere in the country, even in a school of science! It’s almost as if without religion, one runs the risk of having no moral values, and thus the church and being religious is so necessary. (I imagine if my school back then didn’t have a bit of religion, it would be accused of raising little heathens.)

Once again, let’s look at politics in the country. It is not uncommon for sexual issues to be at the forefront during elections. Often, it is the candidate with the support of the church that wins out in the elections, be it local or federal. On a trip to the Philippines a few years ago, I was surprised to learn it was coincidentally a few weeks into the election campaign season. One of the main topics being debated was the legality of contraception. It was 2011 and people were still debating whether women should have access to birth control pills. In country that is overpopulated with around 20% living in poverty, one would think access to birth control pills would at least help the country economically by allowing families to plan their futures, especially since abortion is still strictly illegal in the country. So yeah, it was election season and due to strong religious sentiments, the use of contraceptives was a hot debate.

But that’s not the worst of it. There was also a debate against the use of condoms in the country during my visit. Again, that was 2011. Fast forward to 2017, and the country is still debating the use of condoms, with the president openly advocating forgoing its use. In 2017, the HIV rate in the Philippines started to soar.

Being a religious country, there is a strong patriarchal culture in society. There are deeply defined roles for family members and genders. Stepping outside of these norms can be dicey. Outside of being fodder for laughter and curiosity, being gay is still considered a sin. Future presidential candidate Manny Pacquiao even compared homosexuality to degeneracy lower than animals. That’s boxer and current senator Manny Pacquiao letting his religious views lost the support of the roughly 11% LGBTQ in the Philippines. And again with its strong gender and family roles, divorce is still considered taboo in the country. The Vatican and the Philippines are the only two sovereign states that still won’t allow couples to divorce. Annulment is allowed in the country instead, but it is prohibitively expensive, can take a long time to resolve, and still results in negative stigma after the separation.

Of course, those are just a couple of issues where the church’s heavy hand is felt by Filipinos. The church acts like the moral center of Filipinos, dipping its toes on even non-religious issues as drug use, media.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m exclusively harping about the negative effects of the Roman Catholic Church on Filipinos, but the church does fuel a lot of the conservatism that holds the country back. Now, going back to what I was thankful for about the religion is the personal peace it offers (as opposed to the external conflicts it can fuel, but let’s talk about that some other time). Having religion growing up, I was grateful of having that sense of hope, or a the sense that a personal divine observer is out there looking out for me. Now this might sound fantastical, but living in a country that has struggles with crime and poverty, then me moving to Canada at a young age, and then dealing with the pressures of being a young adult, religion gave me hope that somehow, someway, things will always be fine. I didn’t have as hard a life as other Filipinos in comparison both abroad and at home had, so I could only imagine how much more solace they found through religion.

Personally, one thing I noticed that Filipino families are often so willing to do is to forgive. Now what do I mean by that? You know how many families often have that one bad seed? Or maybe that one argument that tears the family apart? Maybe it’s just me, but I think Filipinos are more often willing to forgive and welcome back their prodigal sons than most people. I’ve seen/experienced it a couple of times. However, I’ve seen people from other nationalities cut off family members over some ancient squabble. This is all anecdotal, of course, but it’s not uncommon for me to hear someone in Korea say that they are no longer in contact with a relative due to a past wrongdoing. With Filipinos however, one could have a long resume of sins and still be welcome to every Christmas dinner (though that person will be gossiped about afterwards). So yes, forgives, for better or for worse, has been ingrained by the church in the Philippine psyche.

Looking at all of it from the most utilitarian point of view, what does the Roman Catholic church promise? Life on earth is temporary and the afterlife is eternal. Everyone you lost in life will be reunited with you once again in the afterlife. You have God watching over you 24/7, and any challenge or setback you face is something that you can overcome because it is part of his plan. God loves you for what you are. God will protect you from your enemies and provide for your needs. God will forgive you for all of your sins as long as you ask for forgiveness. Imagine being a citizen of a recently conquered nation, someone who experienced tragedy, or simply someone in need of hope, doesn’t all of these promises sound too good not to accept? No wonder the Roman Catholic Church tagged along with Spanish colonialism. People having religion also helps to survive not only through a series of colonial regimes in the past, in modern times, it also helps getting out of bed easier in the face of long tiring and challenging day, be it due to poverty or simply just the redundancy of everyday life.

The New Testament itself mirrors many of the ideals Filipinos see in themselves, especially when one looks at the country’s national anthem, Lupang Hinirang (The Land that was Chosen): their sense of uniqueness, the value of hard work towards reaching a goal, the duty for self-sacrifice. The Church has a tradition of having a “chosen one” be it Jesus Christ or the many saints and martyrs. Filipinos have a sense of being unique, and in a way being chosen for a better future amidst its much wealthier neighbors. Now, I’m sure this is the same for many other countries as well, but this is made so much evident in the national anthem’s lyrics: The Pearl of the Orient… The Land that was Chosen… A country can’t get any more special than being “the land that was chosen,” a land whose populace would be happier and more prosperous if it weren’t for invaders. Then the song talks about oppression and rising above it much like Jesus did. And as for the duty of self-sacrifice, Land of the sun of glory and passion, the skies are alive in thy presence. Our joy is when someone comes to oppress thee, is to die for you. Compare this national anthem’s lyrics to Oh, Canada. The Canadian anthem entrusts God to protect the country and its citizens promise to stand on guard for the nation, not to joyfully die.

In closing, if I was to offer a travelers guide to anyone being around Filipinos, due to religious influence, chances are you could expect a bit of conservatism, Catholic guilt due to people’s upbringing, some judgmental attitude behind closed doors, and a patriarchal attitude regarding the nuclear family. Oh and there’s hope. There’s a lot of hoping and praying.

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Love the people, hate the politics

In 2016, the Hillary Clinton campaign made several key mistakes, but probably it’s biggest mistake was underestimating the power of populism. Look at Hillary Clinton’s whole life. She is clearly a brilliant woman who has devoted herself to politics. The one smear that her opponents often attacked her with was arguably a Christian virtue: she forgave her husband and stuck with her marriage. So with all of the experience and expertise under the hood of the Clinton campaign, they can’t help but get lulled into hubris as they looked at Donald Trump, a reality show blowhard whose demeanor fits more with pro wrestling than with the halls of government.

The thing is, pro wrestling is incredibly popular. Aside from WWE, many wrestling companies have sprouted and the masses are just eating them up. WWE is making so much money creating low-brow drama and their biggest stars are so popular that they are venturing out into Hollywood. And thus, 2016 officially started the pro-wrestlification of politics. Populists started speaking the language of the people, and by language of the people, I mean the lowest common denominator. And instead of being insulted, Trump’s supporters saw it as vindication. They found a leader who talked like them and can be crass like them, despite his elite lifestyle. Trump created a fictitious character: a multi-billionaire that is anti-elite and is willing to hang out with the masses. A great lie. A great electable lie.

All of this is nothing new in the Philippines. Every time I look at Philippine politics, it depresses me to see how people elect their leaders. Let’s look at the 13th President of the Philippines, Joseph Estrada. Wikipedia defines him as a politician, a former actor (an action star often playing parts defending the downtrodden), and a kleptocrat. A kleptocrat, like it’s an occupation. For the unfamiliar, Estrada was impeached for receiving payoffs, being involved in illegal gambling activity (jueteng), and having secret bank accounts. Along with former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos, he is among the most infamous Filipino politicians due to corruption. He was removed from office and was the first Filipino president to be put in trial and found guilty of plunder. After seven years of detention, he was granted executive clemency and released in 2007.

Most countries who finds their leader corrupt and guilty of plunder would often not hear from that leader anymore. But not the Philippines. In 2013, Estrada became the mayor of Manila, the nation’s capital. People love a redemption arc, but more than that, Filipino voters love their celebrities. Despite what parents teach their children, voters seem to value fame over education and actual experience in governance. Estrada’s image as an action star fighting for the downtrodden outshone his record of kleptocracy. This love for celebrity as well as love for familiar political dynasties is something that the Philippines could never shake itself away from. Estrada was a college dropout. The current mayor of Manila who has presidential aspirations was also an actor and only has non-degree programs under his educational belt. Manny Pacquiao, an internationally famous boxer turned politician got a certificate course before serving the public. He now plans to run for president as well. Just think about it. The highest post in the land to a man with a certificate course. I don’t want to sound like a political gatekeeper, but I like my leaders to at least have a bit of education before taking on key roles in the government that affect people’s lives. Fame and being able to be “down with the people” is good for selling movie tickets, or in Pacquaio’s case, Pay-Per-View, but it doesn’t make good leaders.

When Trump was elected in the United States, it was proclaimed as “the death of expertise.” You don’t need expertise or education to be put in office. This has been true in the Philippines for a long time.

The 16th president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, got elected using his tough guy image, crass language, and common man charisma. He admitted to shooting people and encouraged tough on crime policies, and the voters saw him as an action star. Being the first president from Mindanao, instead of the more prosperous major island of the Philippines, Luzon, not only did he promise to be tough on criminals, particularly drug dealers, he also committed to switching to a Federalist form of government, distributing wealth throughout the country more equally instead of just focusing development on the nation’s capital. He painted an almost movie-esque redemption arc for the country’s future: a leader from the nation’s poorer islands transforming the country for the better and shooting the bad guys while he’s at it.

He made good on his first promise. His war on drugs resulted in extra-judicial killings of suspected drug dealers and users. Despite being condemned by the UN, he proudly claimed it a success and declared that crime is down due to his policies. The promise of a more prosperous country under a Federalist system however was long forgotten. The war on drugs and talking tough proved to be far easier to do than doing the un-sexy chore of actually governing. Half of the infrastructure projects he proposed are still in the proposal stage, his economic policies have middling results, and despite his tough talks against criminals, when it comes to countries like China, he often succumbs to their threats, much to the disappointment of his supporters.

Sadly, all of this is not going to change anytime soon. Celebrities will continue to graduate as leaders in the Philippines. Being a populist will always win elections, and what better way to connect with voters than to be someone they’ve been watching on television for years? Some have basically been campaigning for a decade outside of the regular election season. Of course, one can also be successful by being a member of a long-running political dynasty in the Philippines; be a Marcos, an Aquino, a Roxas, etc. But that’s another can of political worms.

Elections in the country are like fiestas. Candidates make spectacles along with their campaign speeches, be it some singing, dancing, or even just the act of shaking people’s hands. Being that close to a celebrity makes a mark on people’s minds and translates to votes. Candidates are not judged by their merits in terms of politics, they are judged by their charisma and how they can mesmerize voters. This is why I’m very skeptical of the Philippine’s future in terms of politics. It’s only natural for it to be marred by a history of corruption. Why wouldn’t it be? People keep electing candidates based on charisma.

Filipinos deserve better. I just hope they realize this each time there is an election.

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Let’s Eat.

As a Filipino-Canadian in living in South Korea, I used to catch the eye of other Filipinos, especially in my old neighborhood where many Filipino expats among other foreign nationals live. Foreigners sense each others’ presence; it’s just a thing among foreigners in South Korea and I’m sure everywhere else. It happens among different races as long as they’re non-native. The thing is, and it’s a bad habit, no matter how innocent the curiosity is, when it comes to some Filipinos, it comes off as them looking at me suspiciously, almost menacingly, and it make me uncomfortable. Perhaps the stares can sometimes be too long. This uncomfortable stare is one of the things that made my wife feel uncomfortable when we were traveling in the Philippines a few years ago. She felt like someone is always observing her or us. Let’s all try to be subtle, people.

But the thing is, once you get beyond that, the minute you get a little familiar with Filipinos, then it’s almost like you have an instant extended family. While I was living in my old neighborhood, now and then I’d hear “hoy, kabayan! (Hey, fellow countryman!)” or even better, “Kain na tayo. (Let’s eat!)”

Being invited to eat or share a meal by strangers is something I find quite unique and I don’t normally hear this from strangers of other nationality. Say you pass by someone you are sorta familiar with and they happen to be Japanese, Korean, or whatever nationality, do they invite you to join them? I think this might be a Filipino thing.

More than once, I’ve been offered to join Filipinos as I pass by while they are eating. This could be in a Filipino store or a restaurant. A couple of times in a Filipino store I happen to frequent, the owner insisted on me having his packed dinner because he was sure it was a dish I miss eating or he was insistent that I should try his wife’s cooking. I ended up bringing them home and enjoying them each time. I don’t even remember us introducing ourselves to one another. All he knows is that I most likely have a Filipino background due to my frequency in his establishment (and that I looked really hungry?).

The closest I can compare this to is when Koreans ask, “Bap mokosoyo? (Have you eaten?)” It is a common expression with roots going back to years of wartime poverty and starvation. As a Confucian society, Koreans generally have community-centered ethos, and this is reflected in the expression inquiring about their neighbors’ well-being and whether they’ve had anything to eat for the day.

Times are tough, have you had anything to eat? If not, here, have some food.

South Korea has a long history of being invaded by the Chinese and being under the rule of Imperial Japan. There’s been repeated times of struggle, starvation, and injustice under foreigner conquerors. The same is true with the Philippines. It was the Spanish colony for hundreds of years, then the country was ruled by the Japanese, then by the United States. Frequently poor throughout history, the simple pleasure of having a meal, sharing it with a countryman is akin to ensuring the survival of one’s neighbor, of one’s own family.

So when I’m shopping at a Filipino store in Seoul (or any city overseas) and I see the owner bringing some food in to eat and they politely offer, “Sir, kain na muna tayo. (Sir, let’s eat first.)” It brings to mind the same history of wartime poverty, starvation, and shared perseverance the Koreans and Filipinos went through. I’m sure there must be similar sentiments regarding food among other nationalities other than Koreans and Filipinos, but from my experience, I’ve only seen it among the two.

Sharing a meal to bring two parties closer together is universal. From kings of old age, to modern dignitaries; from families during holidays; and even simple dates among couples; it is one of the most basic ways to bond with one another. But from my experience, with Filipinos, there is eagerness to share and to bond simply by being Filipino, even to mere acquaintances.

“You’re Filipino. I’m Filipino. We’re both in a foreign country. How about sharing a meal?”

Around 20 percent of the Philippine population live below the poverty line. More than fifty percent of Filipino households struggle with food insecurity according to a 2019 estimate. This, along with the frequency of natural disasters, could suddenly turn a middle-class family to one that is struggling with food. The act of sharing what little food people have is a communal reaction to poverty or at least to the ever-present looming threat of food insecurity. Perhaps it is an act of Christian kindness (even if the offer is insincere or just made in an attempt at being polite) while the offerer is still capable of being generous. Who knows when food will be scarce? Might as well be kind and generous given the opportunity.

I didn’t grow up in a rich environment. And foolish as it may be, I’ve seen family members come into money for a short while and instead of saving it or investing it in something more productive, the initial instinct was to share the sudden windfall, to be generous while they still can. The money never lasted of course, but there was a tendency to be generous in an almost haphazard “you only live once,” sort of way. And who can blame them for thinking so? So many people are financially starving. The chance to be generous to others, to spread goodwill, or in some cases, return goodwill, might never come again.

Filipinos can often be accused of crab mentality. See crabs, when put in a bucket, don’t need to have a lid to prevent them from escaping. The crabs will pull down on one another and thus make escaping futile. Filipinos sometimes put down others who are more successful or people who are about to be more successful than they are. It’s ugly. But whenever I hear “kabayan” or “kain na tayo” from complete strangers, I hear the complete opposite of crab mentality. I hear people rooting for me. I hear people checking to see if I have eaten and whether I would share a meal with them. Life is hard, let’s work through it together. Here, have a meal.

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Filipinos

Read a 2014 article about the effect of antidepressants on creativity. It’s about a study at the Max Planck Institute. Apparently, the flatness of mood, which is a great alternative to depression, can also be seen as “emotional blunting” which hurts creativity, especially for artists who work best in response to internal turmoil. Another article I read talks about an artist who found it difficult to write after a period of being on antidepressants. Now, I’m not sure if I’m experiencing a bit of this, but I’ve experienced a couple of periods of artist’s block and I don’t know whether to attribute it to medication, the lack of stimulus due to the pandemic, or just natural artist’s block. I seriously hope the antidepressants are affecting my creativity because given the choice of coping tools, I’d rather have art than medication.

One possible effect discovered by the study coining “emotional blunting” is that antidepressants negatively affected feelings of affection towards partners, especially among male participants in the study. Perhaps men are more prone to “emotional blunting” than women. Or to put it simply, women just care more than men, so much so, that their love emotions are more resistant to drugs. So yeah, antidepressants may cause less creativity and love… but hey, less depression and suicidal thoughts. If true, what a dilemma!

My sister proposed a writing project regarding Filipinos and the immigrant experience. It could be a book, a collection of essays, whatever. We’re just in the process of throwing ideas at the moment. I think it’s a good idea, especially with her being a mother of a couple of gen Z kids who might be disconnected from their heritage or would need some guidance regarding the culture of their parents. Admittedly, many of my entries regarding the Philippines, or perhaps even Korea, tend to be very critical. This is not coming from a negative spirit. This is coming from someone who wants things to improve. So yeah, perhaps in the coming months, I’ll be writing more about the immigrant experience instead of much else. Some ideas that come to mind include:

-“Kain na tayo.” The willingness of strangers to share their meals.

-Love the people, hate the politics. Why Filipinos will never vote themselves to prosperity.

-The long reach of Catholicism

-Filipinos and regionalism

-Spanish colonialism and its effects

-Filipino heroes and non-heroes; Juan Luna is a despicable scoundrel.

-The Out-of-Taiwan theory, and what the heck are we?

-The Overseas Filipino Worker

-No, Dave Chappelle, you are wrong about Filipino women overseas.

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Actual Art

Despite the new surge of covid cases around the world, it’s a great time for art lovers in Seoul, and thankfully, I’m not talking about NFTs.

First off, there’s a great exhibition of around 200 pieces by Matisse on display. I remember spending a month studying his works in art history and finally seeing them in Minneapolis and Chicago. ‘La Danse’ is a favorite and I’ve seen it influence many artists. I even tried to do a poor version of it myself. Despite being a giant in the arts, I always feel like he’s unjustly overshadowed by Picasso and other artists. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think everyone has seen a work by Matisse but only a few could name him as the artist.

Dali’s works are also being exhibited and I’ve seen his advertisements for his exhibitions everywhere. Maybe his famous looks are more famous than his works because they’ve been using his face with that ridiculous mustache to in the posters, which I guess is as he intended. He kinda became just as a famous as a celebrity as much as his art (a celebrity Picasso hated due to Dali’s support of Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator). His ridiculous imagery has inspired me through the years, and as someone who makes Dada-esque imagery, I can’t help but admire him. However, I kinda resented his celebrity persona and being one of the early “zany” artists. I think ever since him, many artists try too hard to look, dress, and act funny. Can’t we all just be normal? Just as trying to fit in can be tiring, being unconventional can be stressful as well.

Speaking of celebrity artists, Andy Warhol’s works are also on display, but I feel like his works are always on display in the city. Him, Picasso, and Klimt.

Lichtenstein’s works can also be seen in the city and is probably the one I’m most exited about. I’ve seen his works before, but apparently they’re showing a significantly large collection of his works. Seeing the blown up comic book pages in person is so much more impactful than just seeing it on screen. Another artist with a large number of works being shown is Chagall, but honestly, I don’t know much about Chagall. I find it interesting that on of the impressionist’s works (‘Over the Town’) just happens to look like the poster for a movie I’ve been hunting down and wanting to see, Roy Andersson’s ‘About Endlessness.’

Oh and speaking of Dadaism, a bunch of Surrealist works are on display at the Seoul Art Museum for three more months. It features works by Duchamp, Man Ray, Magritte, and other artists.

Anyway, it’s a good time to look at art once the covid situation calms down and I get boosted. I’m already scheduled for a shot in a couple of weeks and it seems that the recent covid surge in Seoul is finally starting to get under control, especially since tighter protocols have been reinstated.

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