1.10.2005

Proudly Filipino

I am preparing a small box of things to send to my writer friend (who was nice enough to teach me the basics of photography and give me a camera to get me started), just to give him an image of what my country is like. And I do mean a small box because I’m not of the rich kind. I made sure that he was not one of those foreigners who say “What!? You have doorknobs in the Philippines?!” Good grief. I choose my friends wisely. I don’t like having to explain that not all Filipinos wear loincloths and hold spears. But I have met some who thought that but that was years ago. Anyway, the internet has made the world smaller, people more alien to each other, but more aware of what’s happening in the other half of the world.

Back to my package. I decided to go to the Filipiniana section of the mall, to find some of the things there I might be able to send. There were plenty of possibilities, but I do have to stick to my “what-budget?”. The enchanting stuff I happen to like also happen to be the expensive ones, and that’s probably the reason why Filipinos own more China and Taiwan-made items than those “proudly Filipino”. But I am with hope and in a mood to explore.

I am quite impressed by the beauty of things Philippine made, nevertheless I doubt its usefulness in the western world. The first thing that caught my attention was this wooden statue that I remembered since childhood. It’s a figure of a naked, native man standing, with a barrel covering his lower body. If you slide the barrel up, something long springs into erection. Hehehe. The Filipino jack-in-the-box, shall we say. It used to make me laugh when I was a child. It still does. I’m sure my friend will find it funny, but I’m not sure his wife will so I left it where I found it. It amazed me, too, that there were several ashtrays with male organs attached. Its significance escapes me but tourists might have found it charming because they display so much of it in marble, wood and Pinatubo ash. What is it about fertility idols? Do we really believe that when exposed to reproductive organs, it will increase our ability to bear children?

Moving on, I saw baskets, of all kinds and colors. I loved the baskets but waved them off. They are quite bulky and will not be appreciated as much by the male specie. They also have these adorable jewelry and jewelry boxes made of shells, attractive stones and hand-woven materials, which will also be lost in the Mars section. I decided on a jeepney keychain. It’s light, easy to carry and carries a most common Filipino symbol. Jeepneys, to the untrained, are the primary mode of transportation in the Philippine soil, like mini-buses. It’s sad though that they don’t make jeepneys like they use to. I remember them in very bright colors with plenty of silver art decorated on each side, and different colored tassles waving in the wind celebrating wind and sky as the silver horses prance in the hood. The horses remind us of kalesas. Oh, those were glorious days! I found some hand-painted bamboo letter openers, paper-clips and wood magnets too. They are simple, artistic and pleasant. There was this stuffed tarsier. A Tarsier is the smallest monkey in the world, about the size of a thumb and can be found in the Philippines and Indonesia. But it looked too hideous to be cute, so I skipped that.

Towards the end of my exploring, I found something that all Filipinos can’t do without … the ultimate, ever useful, wooden back-scratcher. My late grandfathers each had one. My dad has two. Maybe it never occurred to our forefathers, that when one finds an itch in hard-to-reach places, one could always find the nearest door post or a nearby love one, and be relieved of the predicament. But in the tradition of Juan Tamad, everything must be on hand to make a person comfortable. Thus, we have our basic wooden back-scratcher, with pretty hand-painted designs. That’s the ingenuity of Filipinos for you. Adding a book by the late Nick Joaquin and some postcards, I’m off to find myself a jeepney to take me home.


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