Saturday, September 29, 2007

Impulse Buyer of Fruit

My second installment of my fellowship landed yesterday. Last Friday, my cousin and I were talking about incomes here in the Philippines, and apparently the money I get for my stipend would be something equivalent to a VP or other mid-level exec here. By my calculations, and with the help of Social Weather Stations and Ned Roberto, my monthly income partially qualifies me for classes A and B.

Of course, the ABCDE system works on the quality and construction of your house, as well as the presence of various household appliances. Since I'm only living in my aunt's apartment, I don't technically own any of these appliances, but she's got all that you'd need and some you probably won't (a water optimizer? A magnetic couch?). But as Ned Roberto suggests, ABCDE might indicate classes of consumers, but not their purchasing patterns per se. So, Dr. Ned, where am I?
Let's see about today. Today, I sat around in my underwear until about 6pm, talking to Fred about Vox stuff and looking up Asian-American films on wikipedia. I finally got enough energy to take a shower and go to the mall and trade in a jacket I bought yesterday for a larger size. Now, I think I swore awhile back that I'd never buy a jacket while I was here. Well, it looks like I'll have to accept discommendation or something. After that, I went downstairs and ate a gyro and falafel that were actually pretty good, as was the tzatliki. I ran into my cousin Michelle and her family, then decided to see what kind of purchases I would make, and thus tell me what class I might be in.

Turns out, I didn't buy anything. I'm still on the hunt for a pair of jeans that I can pass off for "work" situations, along with some sort of blazer, with the idea that those two things might be cheaper in the Philippines. Well, the problem is mostly that nothing fits me right here. So with nothing interesting me, I was heading out when I reminded myself to get some chips to go with the salsa I bought yesterday. I really wanted blue corn chips like I could get back at home, but sadly, there were none. So, giving up that idea, I tried shopping for anything else I might need.

The first thing that came to mind was fruit. I bought some longan bananas (I believe they're called, not those cavendish bananas that we have back at home), then some mad tiny Valencia oranges, and then it all went downhill -- I started buying whatever fruit came to mind. I bought four mangoes, I bought a pack of green grapes, and a container of strawberries (which is like buying caviar here). Then I thought, "shit, these would go great with corn flakes," and so I bought corn flakes.

At the checkout stand, I picked up a copy of Rogue Magazine (a suggestion of Cecile's. This site is the closest I could come to a link and I thought, "only a nerd would have thought to title the article like this"). I payed with my card and it caused some problems for the card reader, but I waited long enough for the checkout lady to tell everyone behind me to go to another line (great.)

Anyway, I am an impulse buyer of fruit. It is because I like fruit. And let me say, I think fruit transcends class. Well, not eating it, but liking it. And, if this is any indication of my class, I'm wearing that jacket I bought in an airconditioned room, eating a bowl of corn flakes with strawberries and mangoes in soy milk, all of which I payed for with a debit card from an account based overseas. To me, that sounds kinda lame. Shouldn't I be reading my Rogue Magazine at Starbucks, hoping to hit on female Ateneo Law students who've convinced their parents to rent them Rockwell apartments? We could talk about Quark Henares, talk about shoping for pants, how to eat fruits, then go back to her place to listen to some local indie all while she leans into my new jacket and tells me how soft it is, and then I could compliment her about one or many of her physical features.

Or I could sit here and blog about how much I love fruit and how to apply social science to the everyday, which, if you know me already, is probably what I'd be happy doing anyway. In the final analysis, it turns out I'm still "Class N" or "Nerd."

(Photo credit to Cecile. That's me on the floor of Cuisine last Monday)

Friday, September 28, 2007


My data collection has been going pretty rapidly with my two research assistants helping me out. I've been able to follow up leads (or rather, have them follow up leads) on citations and generate lists of new books and articles to check out, giving me time to actually read them instead of hunting them down with library bureaucrats playing bureaucrat games with me. Still, Faiva and I will still do some sleuthing at Ateneo and Jeofrey and I went to Social Weather Stations and gave their librarian the best time she's had in a while.

Still, I'm out there doing some hunting. Recently (as in today and yesterday), I've been leaving UP to head to AIM - the Asian Institute of Management -- here in Makati. I have a weird family relationship with AIM -- my uncle Mario I think got a degree from there and my dad's parent company donated a building to AIM (which consequently houses their main offices). The few times I've been there have been relaxed affairs, in a relative sense (meeting, memorial mass), so I didn't expect too much trouble visiting their bookstore to buy a couple books.

Well, here's where the fun started for me. Yesterday, I saunter up to the main entrance where I'm asked to surrender an ID (typical), then fill out a form declaring my intention and intended location (Ok...), and then have that form signed by someone to confirm I completed my task (whaaat?). I also kept asking to go to the bookstore, but at AIM there is no bookstore, it is a library. Well, because I roll with the punches before they become absurd King Hippo punches, I did that whole deal and got a book at the Visa (tm) Library.

Today, Jeofrey gave me a book to read that had a few citations that led me back to AIM. So, round two, I met with the guards, did the dance, went to the Visa (tm) Library, and found out a few... let's call them "blocking mechanisms" were in place. First, they quizzed me on who I was. As an outside researcher, I do not have access to the library proper -- to get access requires a letter of reference from your main school's librarian. "As it's hard to get a letter from the States..." the dude I was talking to (I think) commiserated. In addition, the research fee would be PhP150. Note that the UP fee is I believe 80 and Ateneo is 100, without any of this silly shit.

Second, they tried to help me out and we did a library search for the articles I wanted. Of course, nothing came up on the computer. I showed him the citations that clearly stated that AIM had published them, so he made me wait while he talked to the main librarian, who, by the way, was hidden upstairs in Visa (tm) Library heaven. When the dude came down, he reiterated that the articles were written by Ned Roberto and that they are case studies, but since they are case studies, (1) AIM cannot sell them to me, and (2) only faculty members at AIM can browse them. First of all, what the fuck kind of library has documents that only its faculty can browse? Second of all, what the FUCK kind of library has documents that only its faculty can browse?

So the recourse they gave me was to call secretary of Ned Roberto. Fine. So they called the secretary for me, but no one answered. "No one is answering sir," the dude said. Fine. So, instead of giving me the number to call in the future, they sent me to the front desk so I could inquire about the number from them. The front desk people were much more helpful -- apparently everyone was at a party, but I could call on Monday. They gave me the trunkline number and her extension.

Anyway, this all made it very clear to me which is the really exclusive school, especially if they're unwilling to share their research with their own students; that's just crazy. Ateneo, for all its not being LaSalle, is clearly more interested in fostering academic knowledge.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Looking for the Middle Class in Me (or on me)

Cecile finally came back to Manila and if you were to measure my trip by the number of times I went "out," I'd have only spent three or so days here.

I met up with Cecile and her cousin Rafa at Cuisine in "The Fort" at about 10. We chatted for a bit, drank a bit, met a bunch of Cecile's friends, were joined by a couple more of her cousins, then went next door to Embassy to see Pedicab. Pedicab was pretty neat -- your indie, techy-pop, Devo-kitsch (as Rafa pointed out) band. They didn't have half their members, though, because two were in China doing something else (clearly), and there seemed to be a little bit of rhythmic miscommunication between the singer, the drummer, and the synth player, and a few spots where the songs noticeably (to me) slowed down, or failed to definitively end. From what lyrics I could recall I quite enjoyed "let's go kill the DJ together/I'll use my lazer/You use your synthesizer."

Afterwards, we went back next door to Cuisine where we managed to get the best table in the house -- the second floor, looking straight into the entrance and down into the rest of the bar below. I promised Cecile I'd wear an ironic t-shirt for the occasion, and so armed with my "Middle Class" t-shirt, I went down into the bar and Cecile took a few shots of me from our vantage point. I promise I'll post here once she puts them up on Flickr or Facebook.

The t-shirt is not only funny because it's the best idea I've had since March, but because Cuisine on a Monday night (and probably most nights) is the hangout of the "TWEs" as Cecile called them, the Third World Elite: mostly kids in their mid-20s, "working" for the family business or who are gainfully employed but not because they have to be,"models" or "designers" all of whom can afford to take a Monday night to blow a Tuesday morning. Cuisine is also famous for being Ferdinand Marcos' grandson's favorite hangout (he was there), and not unrelatedly, a fun place to watch for celebrity fights (he wasn't in one this time). We only caught part of one fight, and a pretty lame one at that -- some guy started punching another dude then ran out of the club. I did manage, however, to catch a glimpse of the Philippine version of Ivanka Trump (or so Cecile says she's trying to become). She spent most of her time standing up and barely dancing. Also lame.

What did I learn? First, this is where the attractive rich girls are, since they're not and never have been in my building nor in the mall next to me. Second, no one there was jologs since (1) access to Cuisine/Embassy is limited for Jeepneys, requiring you to take a taxi or a private vehicle, and, according to Cecile (2) because if there were jologs there, they'd feel uncomfortable. Relatedly, at Cusine/Embassy, being baduy is "in" since you can pass it off as kitsch (something a jolog could not do). And furthermore, being disaffected (ironically or actually) is "in" as Cecile kept suggesting I could wear a barong. I did see a dude wearing two pieces of a three-piece suit; that was kinda cool. Finally, I should avoid Thursday (Hip-Hop) nights since it attracts skanky girls, though I would submit to two young ladies last night that they should consider wearing pants rather than the world's shortest dress or an oversized t-shirt. All in all, I would describe the crowd as such: RISD kids that have cleaned up a bit.

Afterwards, we went to Makati to have some sobering-up Japanese food and talked politics for a bit. I got home I think at around 3:30, very buzzed and drank as much water as I could before going to bed. I got up at around ten, I think, feeling like a million bucks, which experience has taught me meant that I was going to have a hangover in a few hours unless I drank more water and went back to sleep. So I did. I finally got up at 11:45 having totally wasted Tuesday morning, but made up for it by buying lip balm, nail clippers, and leave-"on" conditioner, then leafing through the archives at the Lopez Museum until 4:30.*

All this makes me think of a footnoted comment that Brian Owensby made in his book White Collar about middle-class political apathy in mid-20th century Brazil. Perhaps, as he suggested, we should throw the C. Wright Mills invective on the flaky middle-class out, and assume the possibility that not all life teleologically links up to politics, and that political action is rare and the mundane is, by definition, the typical. This, of course, doesn't absolve me from being lazy, but it does suggest why people at EDSA and EDSA 2 treated both, honestly, like picnic parties.

*They had archived a mask of Ninoy Aquino from one of the rallies in 1983/84. I almost put it on and ran around the library.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Family Avails of My Blog

So my cousin-in-law Joel told me today he enjoyed the communist karaoke post from a few weeks ago, bringing into sharp relief the fact that this blog has now gained an audience beyond ex-girlfriends, facebook stalkers and Patrick Davila. My aunts and my stepmom have been telling me how they've been entertained by my antics (as described here) and my one aunt insisted I blog about her travails packing for her trip to Europe (for the record, there were many travails).

I leave you with this: even nuns read this blog.

In the Philippines, the Americans left behind English, basketball, and the world's least transparent democracy. While the last two things are weird enough as they are, Philippine English has been, to say the least, ticklishly frustrating for me. As we all know, English, as it's travelled around the world and been left behind as colonial baggage, has taken different forms, its content changed, its cadences, its pronunciations, etc. But coming from the greatest, and only non-accented state in the Union -- Northern California -- my sensitive ears are hella annoyed with some of the phrases here. And I say that in the most pretentious and imperialistic way possible.

Here, people use some of the most unnecessarily ornate constructions for things that, let's say, back home in the States, we could get across with an impersonal sentence fragment. Since I'm making gross generalizations, allow me to provide an emblematic example that will serve to prove my point by distracting you (humorously) from more intelligent arguments. In fact, besides listening to TV commercials emphasizing what I consider the "wrong" part of the phrase and thus convincing me not to watch the show (I'm looking at you, 2nd Avenue), there is only one, tiny aspect of Philippine English that annoys the fuck out of me: the verb "to avail", specifically the verb phrase "to avail oneself of something."

"To avail oneself of something" needs a whole lot of shit to get it work, which makes it a really horrible way of saying "you can (get)." First of all, to conjugate the bastard, you often have to use a proper noun or pronoun first, then change the "oneself" to match ("you can avail yourself"). That's already too many words, verging on hella words, if you ask me. To save yourself, you can just eschew the "oneself" and just go straight to what you'd be availing yourself of (e.g. "you can avail of a free drink"). Why not just say, "get a free drink" or even "free drink with purchase"?

Second, "to avail yourself" of something implies that its going towards satisfying some sort of strategic need. If I availed myself of a napkin, then ostensibly it's because I wanted to do something with it, like wipe my mouth, or even my ass, which might suggest some special circumstance in which a napkin was necessary versus, let's say, tissue paper.

Thirdly, "avail yourself" gives the impression that the person offering is at your mercy. Unless I'm being ironically deferential, I will never avail anyone of anything of mine. In fact, I want nothing more than to not avail of anything here in the Philippines, but I have no choice as I have to avail myself of everything.

Finally, why the fuck would anyone "avail oneself" of such mundane things as are captured in the Philippine usage of "to avail oneself"? Do you need to declare with such grandiosity that you can take advantage of an opportunity like a discount on a chicken sandwich or a free drink? Did the cashier know I was walking through a desert filled with steaks? While you can avail yourself of a presidential pardon, you can also avail yourself of a parking spot, making both pretty much the same, all other things equal.

And perhaps that's my point: if you can avail of things great and small, then what's the difference? How 'bout we just avail ourselves of miracles and just get the drinks for free? Or maybe we could avail ourselves of some well-placed escape routes as we recount -- with understatement -- how we avoided the approaching zombies? Or, I could just go and find people offering free things and declare "I would like to avail myself of your offer, sir!" I would feel stupid.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Of Burgis, Conyos, Jologs, and Bakyas

Fieldwork is almost like your first year of grad school: first you think you're on to something, and then you feel like you haven't figured anything out at all. I say "almost" because I'm You know me and this blog: rarely do I declare my victory over my imagined foes (exception), so you know this post is about me feeling like I'm stuck in the Manila traffic of classes and classification systems.

Cases in points (can you pluralize that shit?): "Burgis," "Conyos," "Jologs," and the "Bakya Crowd." As you can tell, none of those words is spelled "middle class." In fact, there's not even the letter "m" in that bunch, and no, an upside-down "w" in "crowd" does not count. The question, of course, is which one of these thingies "middle class" and if something is "burgis" or "jolog" can it still be "middle class"?

"Burgis" is an interesting one. According to this book, it's the middle class plus the upper class, who are both the villains and the saviors of Philippine history. They have been at once the educated class, the ruling elite, and the pretty boys and girls who bought Wrangler jeans when those were in (c. 1980). Doing some research on the term today produced some interesting results -- back in 1981, controvertial director Lino Brocka (he directed a film called "Kontrabertyal") brought forth the comedy "Burgis" starring then-teen heartthrob Gabby Concepcion (former husband of Sharon Cuneta). The plot involved Gabby Concepcion spending a lot of time shirtless as he navigated the always-laugh inducing world of higher education as a metaphor for the class divide. Two magazines targeting the young and upwardly-mobile reviewed "Burgis" -- the far more materialistic Parade loved it (Parade also taught its readers how to pronounce perfume brands in an earlier issue), the critical Who said it oversimplified class conflicts (as it advertised a Renault as the car for "the man who's moving up"). Either way, it would start a trend in filmmaking to take a social descriptor and turn it into a movie...

If you're being nitpicky, then "konyo" would describe the top of that burgis segment (what some people call the "AB Crowd" which requires its own post to explain). Like "mamon" and "puto," the Spaniard would find the term pretty hilarious since it's a catchall insult in many parts of the Spanish-speaking world ("mamon" being "boobs" and "puto" being a male whore). But konyos here are argued to be those folks who never ended up mingling with the natives when they came over from Spain, and as such, somehow manage to stay blonde after 500 years. A less restrictive definition suggests the konyo is reproduced in Manila's elite schools where people speak "Konyo English" or "Colegiala English," I guess the equivalent of our valley girl speak. Sadly, because my mother went to the archetypical konyo school -- Assumption -- not only is my tagalog limited to things dealing with the house, but my verb conjugations are all colegiala ("make linis your room!") and the interjection "eh". Of course, I don't speak "deep" konyo (which you can see ironic examples of here and here). Thankfully for me, no one ever uses this term for politics, so at best, konyo's a quick sentence and then it's handled. Personally, I'm quite disappointed with the konyos: living in my aunt's swanky apartment and hanging out at the mall, I've yet to see an attractive konyo woman, though that one old lady I almost hit on at that wake counts, I guess.

Next up are the jologs and the bakya crowd. "Bakya" is a wooden shoe, a clog that apparently was the standard footwear in the first half of the 20th century. According to this column, the term turned into a social distinction in the 60s when...

Movie-going in the 1950s and 1960s was determined by social class--the moneyed and the educated middle class watched movies in English in air-conditioned comfort, while the lowly classes who loved local films contented themselves with stuffy rundown facilities. As they made their way noisily up and down the wooden steps, the moviegoers' wooden sandals (bakya) created quite a racket, leading National Artist for Film Lamberto Avellana to thank the "bakya class" for providing a market for his films.

Thus was born "bakya" as a descriptor for all things or people in poor or lacking in taste. The thing is, the term "bakya" and "jolog" pretty much describe the same type of person, except that your parents would probably say "bakya" and you (assuming you're not that old) would say "jolog." "Jolog" has a somewhat undefined etymology, but this dude had too much time on his hands and wrote a wikipedia paper on the "jolog." "Jolog" it seems, parallels our "trailer trash" or "white trash" descriptor -- it seems (in the blogosphere at least) to describe particular tastes in music (your mainstream testosterone rock and rap) and styles of dress commensurate with said musical preferences (rock, rap). Jolog seems to have more of a "wannabe" connotation than bakya which might mean something is simply of the masses. Of course, I have to see the film "Jologs" which celebrated the jolog apparently, and perhaps its sligtly more gay (but not really) counterpart "Metlogs" (metrosexual jologs).

So where the fuck does "middle class" go? I guess that's the tack I should take: it's political, it's scientific, and it's a vague recollection of democracy and revolution. It's not nearly as fun, as any of those above terms, sadly.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Communist Karaoke

Recently, the Communist Party of the Philippines exiled chairman Jose Maria (JoMa) Sison was arrested in Utrecht, the Netherlands for ordering the killings of two former associates. JoMa is an interesting Communist leader in that he advocates for Protracted People's War in the countryside and for the analysis of the Philippines as "semi-feudal," but with the fax machine as his weapon of choice -- in 1992 he split his party with a fax message calling for "rectification," or as I call it a "faxtification."

Well you can add "karaoke machine" to that: JoMa's got an album. A few, actually. He sings his poetry, some revolutionary songs, and that's fine: he did win an Asian Spirit award or something back in '86 for his work. But the best part is that he sings some "popular songs" and by "popular" I don't mean proletariat (per se). Scroll down to the bottom of that page and you can hear him try his hand at "Besame Mucho," "Memories," and of course, "Mao's Way," all of which are destined to make it to a Magic Sing in the countryside real soon.