‘face value’ (UPDATED)

Imagine this.

I am sitting on a plane from Sydney to Manila aboard Philippine Airlines on row C, an aisle seat beside the window seat. The woman across the aisle on my right is looking at me from time to time. She is clearly a kababayan who has been away for sometime. The few occasions I hear her talking to the Aussie man beside her, I learn she is a factory worker and she has a Luzon accent. It is also her second plane ride in 8 years. I try not to establish eye contact. I am tired and very much just want to be lost in my own thoughts and concerns. Throughout the trip home, I notice she is looking and wanting to talk. An hour away from Manila, after the last meal is served, she finally musters the guts to open a conversation;

Woman: Kilala kita eh..

Me: (smiles at her)

Woman: Ikaw ba si….

Me: (bigger smile.. as in ‘the jig is out’. Oo, ako yun. Bistado na).

Woman: Sabi ko na nga ba eh. Ikaw si…Ikaw nga. Oo. Di ba ikaw si..si…ikaw si FANNY SERRANO, di ba?

Me: (Eyes wide-open as in shock). ANO? (I am flabbergasted and speechless and I am staring at her with really dilated eyes).

Woman: (Very excited now and feeling she hit bullseye). Di talaga nagbago ang mukha mo. Ganoon pa rin. Pati boses mo.. Sabi ko na nga ba eh ikaw si Fanny.

Me: (Incredilousl and with what must have been an expression of shock or at least great curiosity. I ask matter-of-factly.) Bakit? Mukha ba akong bading?

After awhile, I catch myself in a chuckle as the ridiculousness of the situation sinks in.

‘Palagay ko, napagkamalan mo ako sa ibang tao. Ako si Jim Paredes ng APO!’

Woman: ‘Aaaaaahhhhhh…OO NGA! (Without batting an eyelash and REALLY exzcited now) Talagang di ka nagbago. Ganoon ka pa rin. Idol ka ng mommy ko. Meron akong cassette niyo sa Melbourne. Paborito ko nga yung ‘nakapagtataka’ eh.. blah blah blah!’

Jim Paredes????????? Huh?????

Meanwhile, I can hear Lydia and Tabby (daughter of Betta nd Butch, APO’s management who was traveling with us)who overheard everything suppressing their laughter at the comically pathetic situation I am in.

Bwahaha! Such are the perils of having ‘face value’. Being recognizable definitely has its perks but it can also have its rude surprises. I have been mistaken for other people, some famous, some not. Thank God I had the ability to laugh at it even after being on a plane for almost 7 hours.

Many times, ‘face value’ means getting a nice table in a restaurant, or being upgraded when traveling, or getting extra courtesies in hotels, government offices, and when dealing with people in almost all situations. One time, it even got my friend out of a traffic violation with an MMDA officer. When the policeman saw me inside the car, he was almost apologetic as he addressed me as ‘bosing’ and ‘idol’. He then advised me in an ever so friendly way to get my driver friend to renew his license ASAP. All this with hardly a word from me.

It does not always work though. I admit I almost always try to use ‘face value’ every time I enter a subdivision and am asked to leave my license. Most of the time, I am actually ‘exempted’ from it but the times I am not, I still try to give my best recognizable smile and when it still does not work, well, I end up leaving my license! %&#@$*!!

The truth of the matter though is, I enjoy being recognized most when I am doing APO stuff—performing, or being in public with my two friends. Most of the time, I am quite happy just being anonymous. I know some of you may not buy this but, believe me, fame isn’t what it’s cut out to be. It can get tiring hearing your name whispered as you pass by rows of aisles in department stores. Celebs are not always ready and up to being famous 24 hours a day although the public seems to assume we are , or at least we must!. People can be pushy, demanding and forever engaging celebs as excited, loud fans, and that’s OK when you are in the mood for it. It’s fun when you are ‘on’, as we call it in our business. When we are not, when we just want quiet, peace and non-engagement, we are mistaken for being aloof, masungit, mayabang, etc.. But as they say, all this is supposed to go with the territory. Luckily, I can be ‘on’ easily and sincerely enjoy being with people 95% of the time.

During my trip to Sydney last week, I was dumbfounded to discover that I was almost ‘completely anonymous’ with regards to showing proof of who I was. In fact, more than anonymity, I had a case of ‘non-identity’. We were filling up applications to rent our future home and I had to produce evidence of employment, an Aussie driver’s license, a local credit card a utilities statement which of course I did not have. I tried to explain that I had just come in to settle but it was no-go. In the end, a good friend had to sign the contract for me.

I must admit this left me quite intimidated. I will most definitely need an identity with roots in Aus if I am to function in this society. Thus, I will need to show income, get a credit card, and become an entity here ASAP to make life easier for all of us. I have been reviewing the NSW licensing test and let me tell you, it is tough. Almost every other day, I take the practice test on the internet so that I can work on being able to drive as soon as possible. But just as I am intimidated, I am quite excited and challenged by it.

No special treatment. I will do things on my own just like everyone else. I will be an average suburban bloke chasing after a job in Sydney and starting from scratch. That can also be refreshing! But deep down, I know that life will probably not be anywhere near cold and merciless down under. Not by a long shot. This early, I have met kababayans who have willingly offered help for all sorts of things to get us started. Friends have offered us mattresses, a car seat for Ananda, and many other stuff as gestures of hospitality and welcome. And that is a wonderful thing for which I am grateful. Thank God we Pinoys are the way we are.

* * *

For those of you who have been asking when APO will be performing in Manila, here it is:

Don’t I resemble Billy Crystal here?


March 11
SM Cinema 3
Pasig Metro manila
8:30 PM Saturday

Tickets at 600P. 800P. 1200P. Reserved seats.

This is most likely our final show before I leave. We wanted a big one but alas, it’s been too hectic to plan while traveling. It takes a few months to get an ULTRA or Araneta going. Besides, Araneta is booked solid with foreign acts this year.

We leave again in a few days for Canada to do Valentine concerts. See you on March 11. Yes, it will have a live band and will be fun, fun fun!!

Yes, it’s true..

Sorry for the long hiatus. I was in Aus for two weeks. It’s no secret we are moving, thanks to my kids who have been bannering it on their blogs for months now. Here’s the story from my point of view.

I wasn’t going write about this until I was ready. I am ready now.

I first thought of migrating a few months after ERAP had won. Even if I did not vote for him, I was (in hindsight) naively hopeful that he would be a leader that would prove his detractors wrong. As it turned out, I was among the many who were so disgusted and disappointed with how things had turned out. I saw no hope for the next six years then.

It was at that time that I applied for Australian migration and got it in 2001. At the time I applied, I felt it was a good time to not only sit Erap out but to pursue one of the things we had always wanted to do—spend part of our lives living abroad. The decision to move was/is as much about personal growth as it was/is about the disappointment with how the country was being run.

Before EDSA 1, we as a family actually had green cards which we surrendered in 1989. Believe it or not, we did so right after the deadliest coup by military adventurists and so never got to push through our migration to the US. We had made our choice to stay put here. It was also our statement then, and the statement was that we were staying to defend the gains of our newly democratized country from the military predators. We were staking our lives and our children’s to show our belief and support for our new democracy. I believed then as I do now that sometimes, one must do things even if others think it’s crazy. I remember going to the US embassy and surrendering our green cards two days after the coup. The immigration officer was flabbergasted as to why we were doing it when so many desired to have the chance to live there.

But in 2001, we felt it was the time to take the option of migrating again. To our great delight, we were promptly approved to migrate to Australia. We had a 5 year window to push through with it and the opportunity expires this 2006. We wanted to leave immediately. I was tired and had no enthusiasm for any political activism. I felt a deep let-down then which lasts to this day. It dawned on me that we as a people apparently had not learned anything important even after EDSA1, and were squandering our opportunities for real change. Politics aside, I also wanted to do new things, like pursue studies or just have a different milieu to wake up to and engage. Maiba lang.

But then, other things happened which delayed our move. There was EDSA 2 which kind of gave me second thoughts about leaving. But as things turned out, hope for change was very short-lived.

Even more important events where happening in our personal lives. On the home front, my mother-in-law had been found to have cancer and she passed away in just a few months. Lydia, her nurse and companion took care of her till the end. In the aftermath, Lydia herself contracted breast cancer which again forced us to delay our move indefinitely. We thought it best to get her treated here amidst the healing company of her friends and loved ones until she had recovered. And if all this was not enough, Lydia’s father died last year also of cancer.

Now that all of that seems to be over, we can resume with our plans.

So, why Australia? I’ve always enjoyed my trips there. More importantly, it is because we would like to give our kids a chance to live independently (financially and in all ways), in a society that is stable, equitable, fair and safe. As a parent, I always think about what my kids’ future will be and constantly worry about their safety. Australia might be a good starting place for them. It is kind to immigrants—free education, medical benefits, social services, etc. and is still a decent place. I am a believer in encouraging my kids to be independent and this is a good place with great opportunity for them to be on their own. If they wish to return later on to the Philippines, then that will be their choice entirely. Just as Lydia and I chose to give up the chance to live in the US before, it will be their turn to independently and freely make their own choices.

As for Lydia and I, we are doing this while we are still young, crazy and strong enough to start anew. Will we live there for the rest of our lives? No! We are too ‘hopelessly Pinoy’ to completely uproot from this country and society. We are not even selling our house. We will most likely end up splitting the time between Sydney and Manila.

I am looking forward to doing things I have not done in the next year or so. It would be good to study, maybe pursue a masters’ degree, or do other jobs I have not done. Whatever lies in store, I am saying ‘yes’. One has to do crazy things now and then. It will be an adventure.

Am I disgusted with the way things are? Yes, absolutely, just like everyone else. Am I abandoning the Philippines? An emphatic ‘No’! It might be good to experience living in another society even for a while. Many Filipinos I admire–Rizal, Luna, Ninoy, etc.– had lived part of their lives abroad. I have met many OFWs while performing with APO in the US, Canada, Europe, Middle East, NZ and Aus and I wish to also have that experience of living in societies which are more functional.

I am lucky to have friends like Danny, Boboy, Betta and Butch of APO and management who have made it easy by being supportive. APO is truly a free society. We have always been encouraging of each other’s plans to grow in the directions we have chosen through the years. Will it be the end of APO? No! From Aus, I will be joining them on tours abroad, and in big shows in Manila just as we have been doing for the past few years but on a more limited basis. The main difference is that I will not be available for regular TV appearances and small shows.

I know my deciding to leave has caused some concern among some of my other friends. If my decision has caused you some sadness, I’m sorry, but people have to do what they have to do. Call it a sabbatical. I could use a break for now. Maybe it’s my Jungian call to adventure! Maybe it’s about mid-lifing. There are other aspects of me wishing to find expression somewhere and in ways I have not tried. I would like to do all this while I still have the strength, enthusiasm and the lust for life to gamble with fate.

Hopefully I can come back revived. I am quite sure that given the way things are here, I will be coming back to a place that will be largely unchanged. But the difference is, I will come back with fresher eyes and a rejuvenated spirit to see its many blessings once more, and once again have the enthusiasm to work to move things forward.



dreamin’ in 2006

It’s the new year. Time to rethink things. Or at least just let imagination play. Robert Kennedy once said, ‘some people see things as they are and ask why? I dream of things that aren’t and say, why not?!’ The world is a fantastic place. You never know how things can turn out.

Makeovers, turnarounds, transformations, conversions, u-turns– whatever you want to call them are fascinating stories. Consider that Nokia used to be a paper company about 15 years ago. Then they acquired a small electronic outfit and soon enough, they had become the largest phone makers in the world.

Try to imagine something so radical happening here in the Philippines. Don’t be too sure it can’t. Remember, not too long ago, we had a drinking, gambling, womanizing actor as President. Now we have a dwarf. And yet, the peso now is considered Asia’s best performing currency. Who would have thought?

In the Philippine setting, what transformational scenarios would really blow you away? Can Nokia’s feat be duplicated here? How about these ‘what ifs’? Forget reality for awhile. Dreamy harp music, come in and let loose imagination:

‘What if’ scenario 1

Malabanan, the sanitizers of our pozzos or home septic tanks decides to fold up. They are sick of their stinking (literally) family business which they have been tending to forever. They decide to get into something new. Something different and fresh.

After a long consultation, the decide on an entirely new enterprise.

Bottled water!

Come to think of it, I read in some newspaper somewhere that Singapore is now converting human urine into drinking water, so this may not be so earth shaking after all. Well, maybe Malabanan can make it ‘flavored’!

* * *

‘What if’ scenario 2

National Orthopedic Hospital opens a chain of Bulalo restaurants. (O sige, luma na yan!).

‘What if’ scenario 3

Doctor Garma MD, a QC doctor who sends chills up and down the spine of many a young Filipino boys with his ‘summertime tule’(cirumcision) specials every year decides on a new tact to make the campaign friendlier and more hip.

He renames it, ‘Boyz to Men’! (Thanks to my friend Rene Cruz who suggested this.)

‘What if’ scenario 4

bright solution to terrorism

Manila, being a major city and the capital of a nation allied with the US is gripped by fears of terrorism. The World Pyrotechnic Olympics which the country has been hosting successfully for the past two years is pressured to take measures to insure the safety of the participants and the thousands of watchers. Thus the organizers decide to hold the fireworks competitions in the daytime for added safety.

(picture shows Australia’s winning fireworks

‘What if’ scenario 5: We may someday rule the world

The year is 2020. There are, according to UN projections in 2005, now 40 million Filipinos abroad. We have become the yayas, cooks, nurses, PTs (physical therapists), doctors, maids, engineers, software makers, etc.. of every first world country. Since we are so malambing, charming and dependable, we successfully insinuate ourselves not only into the businesses but into the very fabric of life everywhere, especially of the rich and powerful. We raise their children and take over many of the work they used to do. It is not surprising therefore to see children of Emirs, kings, the royals and the rich in every corner of the world speaking a smattering of Filipino dialects like ‘sosmaryosep’, ending their sentences in ‘eh!’, shouting ‘ay’ when surprised, pointing with their lips when giving directions and loving pinakbet. We have become the power behind the throne.

We are of course, not the only race that have successfully done so. There are the Indians, Sri-Lankans, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Indonesians and the Thais who have done the same although we are the top in the field. If we were in OPEC, we would be the Saudis with the biggest reserves and best ‘imports’ to the world.

And that is exactly what happens. We notice how the first world has become so soft and lazy. They don’t even know how to increase their population anymore and so must depend more and more on Filipinos and other third world peoples to run their countries. As early as 2000, Filipinos began trickling in and taking positions in governments. In 2020, the world wakes up to the reality that we are all over.

We wizen up and being the natural leaders we are, we lead all the rest of the ‘service nationalities’ and form an OPEC of sorts. Pretty soon, we have become a power to reckon with. We begin to flex our muscles. We warn the banks with the collective action of Filipina nurses threatening to withold all anesthesia in first world hospitals if the Philippine debt is not pardoned. Filipina maids do not do laundry or clean the villas of diplomats everywhere if WTO does not rescind onerous ‘agreements’. All appointments with physical therapists everywhere are canceled indefinitely unless Pilipino becomes every nation’s official second language.

Call center operators hang up phones for days leaving Americans frantically reading poorly written manuals of gadgets they had bought. There is confusion until the US accedes to demands and gives up its nuclear arsenal. These are just some of the things we do to change the balance of power in the world.

In thirty years, the Philippines has at last become a first world country. And like all first world countries, there are extremely few Filipinos left in the Philippines! And then…

Oops! Who turned off the dreamy harp music?

* * *

Back to reality muna: onli in da pilipins

I don’t know if you read the papers today about Ninoy Aquino’s jailed killer who was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate. The killer was drunk and brandishing a pistol and a knife inside the maximum security detention center. Hello????

I can almost hear the official response. ‘We will look into how this happened.’ Why do I feel so reassured?

OK. Gising na and go back to work!