Month: February 2010

Reclaiming Baybayin

For most of my life I envied the Thai, Chinese, Arabic, and the Japanese for having a system of writing to call their own. Those elaborate, graceful squiggles have the pull of the mysterious.

They are things that belong to the birth of world civilizations. Something that would mean that the local people “discovered” by colonizers were not the savage little monkeys that the conquistadores had gleefully described them to be.

For the longest time, I mourned that Filipinos have to be content with the a-b-c borrowed from the west. I was led to believe that the colonizers – Spain and the USA alike – were to be credited for my literacy.

I somehow got used to that piece of misinformation. It’s like wearing a pair of slippers two sizes too big – they’re awkward and cause one to stumble every so often. Nevertheless, it will do.

But as I was mulling over how Filipinos never really had any identity of our own, serendipity came knocking at the door.

Last night, my mother needed material on the general state of the Philippines before the Spaniards came in the 16th century. I buried myself in the online search for snippets of information that would be useful for her (she’s due for her dissertation defense by the third week of March).

Then I stumbled upon information that gave me goose bumps. We, as Filipinos, were not without our own writing system at all.

Yeah, well, maybe you’ll say that I ought to have known that. But, honestly, I was not conscious of it in the past. There was a day in grade school that a civics and culture teacher of mine droned about the pre-historic Filipinos having a system of writing known as alibata and that it was a crude form of writing. Then she proceeded to glorify the westerners’ contribution to the nation’s literacy rate in the “modern” age without elaborating further on something that could have instilled pride in her students that they are born in this archipelago.

So, there was already a system of writing employed by the people who inhabited the cluster of islands that the Spaniards would later name in honor of their monarch. The writing system was erroneously known as alibata. The information I came upon last night corrected so many misconceptions I had about my own heritage.

The system of writing of the island people is correctly called Baybayin (good ole Wiki gives the lowdown).

And here’s what gave me the goosebumps: Most men and women knew how to read and write in Baybayin and used this chiefly for communicating with each other. Not just an isolated case, but Spanish friars based in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao all had the same report: the natives know how to read and write in their own language.

In the west, writing was primarily used for proclaiming grandiose achievements of monarchs, of recording the wealth of a nation, of keeping track of infants sired by nobility. The friars criticized the way Filipinos carelessly used their writing system. The writing system – Baybayin – was “only” used it for communicating and writing poem. Que horror!

The rest was history. And in the present, here is one confused woman wondering about the non-identity of her nation who stumbled upon the information.

How did I react?

Well, I printed a chart of the Baybayin characters, read the generic instructions of how to write in Baybayin, and spent the rest of the evening learning to write and read as my ancestors did.

Writing (as well as reading) in Baybayin was like coming home from a very long and dusty journey. It’s like finally getting a pair of slippers in the right size, slipping them on and finding that they fit perfectly.

We Filipinos, we aren’t little brown monkeys. Here’s proof that we had been doing fine even before other nations “discovered” us.

In retrospect, why are we so beholden to those who conquered us and destroyed our true identity as a nation? Baybayin is proof that we had our own well-developed civilization that we can afford to use our system of writing merely for communication and snippets of poetry that catch our fancy.

I long for the day that the Filipinos would not disown their citizenship in favor of other nationalities. We were great before. We can be great again.


This is exactly how old I am

Sorry, can’t resist.

Been soaking in Facebook for half the day already, with the blind determination that I’m going to come across something useful eventually. I have already given up on harvesting virtual berries and milking pink cows. The withdrawal symptoms when I kicked the Farmville habit were excruciating. This time I’ve freed up a little over an hour to afford me the opportunity to explore a plethora of quizzes and feel-good psychoanalysis that the FB social networking site is much loved for.

Ten hours later yielded the result I got from a nifty app. Some may be averse to telling their exact age, but I find some comfort in knowing I’ve been here for a while.

As of writing, I’ve been living for 29 years, 2 months, and 72  days.

Converted to other measures of time:

My age in months – 350 months
My age in weeks – 1532 weeks
My age in days – 10728 days
My age in hours – 257472 hours
My age in minutes – 15448320 minutes
My age in seconds – 926899200 seconds
I’ve seen 8 leap years.

Not yet close to vintage, wouldn’t you say?

Now I’m on to another quiz that will determine which country I ought to have been born in.

Catch you later.

Of Self, Baking, And Breads

It was one of those typical workdays. I was whipping up a storm to catch up with deadlines. The work at hand is not as easy as my previous assignments. This time, it has to be Singapore taxation laws and immigration policies. And already, I am running late.

Another part of my mind – the domestic part of it – was already feverishly checking the contents of the refrigerator to see if I had enough supply of eatables because I had company coming over for dinner.

The cats were mewling for tiffin that I was cruel enough to delay for fifteen minutes in serving.

Then I got a call around midday from someone I did not expect, with a message that blew me off my zen. I will not go into the detail of the message but it was something that really stressed me out.

I knew I was stressed because I had been typing the same word and erasing it and then retyping until it has become an aerobic sequence – step down, and up, and down, and up, and…

I removed myself from the keyboard. This will not do. Deadline be danged.

I gave Their Majesties the delayed meal served up on a silver platter and decided to take a short walk to the pharmacy/convenience store two blocks away from home.

I do work from home these days, but that’s another story.

I reached the pharmacy without incident. The stress was starting to wear off but it was still palpable. I needed an outlet.

The domestic part of my mind began tugging at a nerve to catch my attention. Get Flour. Butter. Yogurt. Light bulb. Walk to the checkout counter. Let cashier ring up purchase. Pay up. Walk back home.

The cats were soaking up the sun’s afternoon rays when I got back. They glanced at me with disdain and decided to ignore me. They were already fed, after all. Their demands for the moment have been addressed so I was another useless minion until dinnertime.

Back inside, I ignored the computer’s silent accusation that I am a bad, bad  worker for not finishing the taxation articles.

I went straight to the kitchen and surveyed my purchases. The light bulb replaces the busted one in the kitchen. Did that.

Yogurt was for snack. Did that.

I had flour and butter as remainder. I have brown sugar in the cabinet, as well as cornstarch.

I had everything I need to make shortcake.

Time to release stress by kneading dough.

I’m no Martha Stewart or Julia Child but I felt peace returning once I began measuring out the ingredients for my shortcake.

After the dough was smooth enough, I wrapped it in plastic and popped it in the fridge for a spell. While I waited for the time until I could put it into the oven, I chatted with Lurchie over gmail about the day’s craziness.

I excused myself once to prepare my dough for the oven and returned to the computer to vent and pour out my woes. It’s nice to have friends, even if they are so far away.

Meanwhile, the shortcake was doing well and in a few moments the house smelled of fresh baking. Ah the advantages of working at home.

Then it was time to sign off from chat. I had to take what was baking out of the oven. Sliced those into squares, and just as I was cooling the ‘cakes, company arrived.

I sliced up celery, onions, carrots, and then shredded cabbages. I dumped this in the pot with pieces of chicken and a pinch of spices and salt. Poured water, allowed the entire thing to boil and then let it simmer. Chicken stew for main course.

Dinner conversation touched on topics as personal incomes, ultrasound, gynecologists, weight loss, who’s bedding who, and all other matters that comprise the stereotypical girl talk.

My guests and I demolished the shortcakes and most of the leftovers were promptly wrapped in paper napkins for take home.

The cats were asleep after their dinner.

After the guests left, I still wasn’t feeling sleepy so I switched on the computer and tried to have another go at the taxation policies of the city-state of Singapore. I munched on the last slice of the shortcake (calorie-bingeing) while I wrote.

I finished the whole thing after an hour and emailed it off to the person who needed it. It was two minutes past midnight. All in a day’s work.

Of Neighbors, Surprises, And Breads

So here I am. Sipping my morning instant java and trying very hard to empty my mind of agitating thoughts that I am very prone to having as of late.

Outside, someone called my name. It’s one of my neighbors.

This neighbor of mine is a rare gem. Always thoughtful and generous — presents during holidays and little unexpected somethings every once in a while.

This morning, she stood outside my fence, a shy smile on her face and a big white bowl cradled in her arms.

“I’ve brought you breakfast,” she said. I drew nearer.

She emptied the contents of the white bowl on my arms. A big hunk of homemade bread and a jar each of orange marmalade, cheese spread, and jam.

Manna from heaven. Totally unexpected.

My neighbor left with a wave and a smile after I gushed my thanks.

When I sampled the bread, it was moist and savory. It brought to mind the breads Jillian used to make.

Of Friends, Memories, And Breads

Jillian used to bake breads

This snippet of memory floated in as I woke up this morning.

I don’t know what prompted it to surface just before I could pad down to the kitchen and toast slices of rye bread to go with my instant coffee. But it’s there so I allowed the flashback to linger.

Yeah, Jillian did bake breads. She was so young then but there were already hints of the earthy and sensuous woman that she would become. Also, at that time, she was still on the family way; her baby will be brought to the world only five months later.

So there she was, the woman-child. It must have been scary for her to be in such state at such a young age… But all I saw was a calm, collected girl who looked at the world with smoky eyes that belied the roiling issues she faced as a young mother-to-be.

Maybe one of her motivations for baking breads was that she needed some additional source of income for her baby’s delivery. Or maybe she just liked baking and used the diversion to prevent herself from dwelling on her teen pregnancy.

The breads she made with her hands were infused with the instinct of the natural-born cook. There was love poured into her creations, I think.

She took orders and she delivered the breads to the homes of the customers, waddling as the baby quietly but determinedly grew inside her belly.

I was one such customer, and it was always like a holiday when our household had a Jillian-baked bread in the pantry. Those breads could be contenders to the ones people gush and drool over at Food Network.

Each time I buy bread from bakeries, I have exacting standards as to how those breads should suppose to taste and look like before I cart them off to the cash register. Unconsciously, I was comparing the store-brought breads to Jillian’s golden-brown, savory, and rich creations. Only a few ever came up to measure.

Here we are now, back to the present. I have gone downstairs and am already sipping my morning dose of instant coffee. I’ve decided to forgo the rye bread. It is too dry for my taste – eating it is like swallowing a mixture of sand and drill bits.


I wonder if Jillian still makes those breads.