Autumn in New York

Photo Credit: marcoverch Flickr via Compfight cc

My wife and I decided to spend our anniversary in New York City. It would be our first time there and we prepared heavy jackets and boots as our friends told us it would be quite chilly this time of the year. We had a vision of strolling through Central Park when the leaves would be in their autumn colors. We would sit on a bench munching our New York bagels while sipping hot coffee, enjoying the fresh cool air.

I knew something was wrong when I stepped out of the John F. Kennedy airport at midnight and the air was only mildly cool, like a rainy night in Davao City.

It turned out that we were experiencing what our host, Erik, explained as an “Indian Summer” which is a period of uncharacteristically warm weather during the fall season.

We had a number of unusual experiences, the first of which occurred even when we were still in the air and the flight attendant made a call for any doctor or medical practitioner on board that they needed assistance. We would later learn during our stopover in Vancouver that someone had passed away on board, and that someone turned out to be Filipino-Chinese business icon Washington Sycip.

Another unusual but very welcome and pleasant experience was being greeted by a familiar face as we were in the airport walkway going towards immigration. Charles and I were neighbors and best friends when we were 10. We would walk home from school together and explore abandoned or burned down houses in our neighborhood. He was now working as a supervisor in another airline but he knew we were flying in so he waited for us, then escorted us past the long lines and instead of waiting for what would have been an hour or more, we spent only around 15 minutes in immigration. I don’t get to experience VIP treatment often, but this was a welcome respite after a long and arduous flight.

Walking around the streets of Manhattan was an overload for the senses. We could smell hotdogs and chicken over rice cooking from the many hotdog and halal food stands in many street corners. Just like in the movies, people talked loudly on their cellphones with animated faces and expressions.

On Wall Street, amidst men in their business suits and women with fine jewelry and wide-eyed tourists like us, there were crazy people muttering to themselves or talking to their imaginary friends. There were beggars with cardboard signs saying, “Need help. Any amount will do,” or “Just diagnosed with lupus. Please help.” A more creative one lay on the sidewalk with a suit and a Donald Trump mask, and a sign that said “Mexican Wall Fund.” I donated to his fund and took a photo.

While we were riding the subway, an old man burst in and started talking in a loud voice, about how the Trump administration didn’t support veterans like him and then he walked through the train car with his hat held out asking for any amount. When he walked over to the next car, Charles remarked, “That guy has been here for 5 years. He was blaming Obama before.”

We had time to see a few sights — the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center Memorial, the Metropolitan Museum, the Statue of Liberty — and meet with friends and family  we haven’t seen in years, re-establishing bonds and friendships, and making new ones as well. We were able to watch some Broadway shows, which we both loved, and were absolutely amazed at the skill, dedication and talent of the performers.

We visited Central Park again, on the day we were leaving, but the leaves were still green and hadn’t been convinced to grace us with their majestic autumn colors. Never mind, my wife had a crepe and coffee while sitting on a bench, and I had a classic New York hotdog. It was a lovely time, made more pleasant by the warmth of friends and family.

 

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th.

That date doesn’t have as much impact as it did decades ago. I was around 7 years old when the first Friday the 13th movie came out and scared everyone out of their wits. I never saw any of the movies, only some trailers but they were enough to keep me away.

It didn’t help that one day, I saw my older sister watching a horror flick (I forgot what the title was — maybe Poltergeist), and there was this guy in an old house running from something. He was on the second floor and he tried escaping through a window. It was one of those big windows that opened up and down. He had gotten half of his body through the window when it suddenly slammed shut on his waist and continued pressing down until the poor screaming guy was cut in half. His upper body fell to the ground below where it continued to writhe in its death throes.

I would have nightmares of that scene many times after that.

I had a lot of fears as a child and the fear of the supernatural was one of them. Oh I’ve heard about demons in church but seeing on them enacted on TV was just horrifying. It didn’t help that my Sunday School teacher assured us that the devil and evil spirits were real.

That was my entry point into the world of superstition. My classmates would talk about Friday the 13th, both the movie, and the actual superstition — saying that we weren’t supposed to do anything risky on that day, which was a double-whammy because 13 was an unlucky number, and Jesus died on a Friday. So if you went swimming, for example, you risked drowning. If you climbed a tree, you risked falling. And if you got wounded, the bleeding wouldn’t stop, and so on and so forth.

From there, I heard about Filipino superstitions, like we weren’t supposed to pee on trees that surrounded the large fields of our schools, unless we said, “tabi-tabi po” (“excuse me” or “pardon me”). Otherwise the angry duwende (dwarves) living in that tree would afflict us with a scorching fever. We were supposed to hang cloves of garlic around the house to keep away the aswang — a mythical shapeshifting monster commonly used to scare children into obedience. “You better finish your food. You better behave, or the aswang will come and get you while you’re sleeping.”

The Chinese culture also has a lot of superstitious beliefs mostly coming from feng shui or geomancy. I was shielded from most of those because my father (a rare breed among Chinese) didn’t believe any of that stuff, claiming that his belief in Jesus Christ superseded all of those. I would learn of these superstitions later on and would marvel that many businessmen would pay huge sums to geomancers to give them advice on how to build or remodel their houses, offices, or stores in order to bring in more luck. I remember noticing a house in our old neighborhood one day because the gate and the roof were suddenly painted a garish red and there were 4 golden 8’s attached to the gatepost. My dad chuckled as we drove by and explained to me that was a product of feng shui.

I’m sure those brought a lot of luck (and cash) for the geomancer.

People take their beliefs very seriously. I know someone who won’t go into business with someone else whose Chinese zodiac sign clashes with his own. There are people who won’t open a store or live in a new house unless it has been blessed by a clergyman of whatever religion they profess. Taxi drivers touch the rosaries hanging from their rearview mirrors and mutter a prayer when they pass by a church.

These same people laugh at others’ superstition but would get deeply offended when you call their own beliefs as such. I know because I did too.

It took me a while to shed off my beliefs, like old tattered clothes. Now I have discarded most of them.

Friday the 13th? Bring it on.

 

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

The Boy Who Could Read

Photo Credit: Marta Maximovic Flickr via Compfight cc

A fellow teacher posted this story and I thought it was too good not to share:

A third grade boy had won a medal as the best reader in class. Puffed with pride, he boasted to the maid at home, “Let’s see if you can read as well as I can, Nora.” The good woman took the book, looked at it closely, and finally stammered, “Why, Billy, I don’t know how to read.”

Proud as a peacock, the little fellow ran into the living room and fairly shouted to his father, “Dad, Nora doesn’t know how to read and I – only eight years old – got a medal for reading. I wonder how she feels; looking at a book she cannot read.”

Without a word, his father went over to the bookshelf, took down a volume, and handed it to the boy, saying, “She feels like this.”

The book was in Spanish and Billy could not read a line of it. The boy never forgot that lesson. Whenever he feels like boasting, he reminds himself, “Remember, you can’t read Spanish.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak about writing to a senior high class in the school where I used to teach. I was delighted to find out that I would be sharing the stage with a former student of mine, and now principal of the school, and also former columnist of Sunstar Davao — Ms. Jocy So-Yeung.

Jocy talked about her experience in high school, how I made them write stories and poems and made them feel like their ideas had worth. She carried this feeling of “Hey, I’m a good writer,” with her to college where she was promptly shot down by her teacher who told her to take a remedial class in basic English composition.

It was the first time I heard that story, and it was a humbling experience for me, that my top student whom I considered mature and talented beyond her years, would be asked to take a remedial class. For a while I felt like that boy who couldn’t read Spanish.

During the Q & A section, students asked us questions and at the tail end of it, I ventured a question of my own to my former student — because I was really curious — and I asked, “In light of what you said about your experience, would it have been more beneficial if I had been a stricter teacher in the mold of your college professor?”

She answered that what I did for them was also crucial, because at that stage in their lives, they felt like a “loser’s batch” — that they weren’t worth anything and that the teachers and administration were against them. To be fair, she said, I did criticize and correct their writing but more importantly I gave them a voice and made them feel that their opinions mattered. I smiled as I remembered their batch, how I poured everything on them with the enthusiasm of a first-year teacher, before realizing that I was probably expecting or asking too much of this rowdy bunch of 16-year olds. I wanted to think that I was the greatest teacher they have ever had or will ever have.

It’s good to have one’s ego deflated from time to time.

Like the boy who couldn’t read Spanish, I have to remind myself that I am just one in a long line of influencers in my former students lives. Some may think that I did wonders for them, while to others, my class was just another boring blip in their existence.

And that’s perfectly fine.

 

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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