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10 posts from February 2010


the pictures are not enough




“I learned to play mahjongg in Japanese times. I was pregnant with your tita and your lolo was a prisoner of war. I couldn't stop thinking about him. I was crying and crying and crying. So they taught me to play mahjongg so I would stop worrying. I have been playing every since.”





I am thinking of houses. When you're a child you live in the back of the house and all its secrets are open to you. Whether it was my own house, my grandmothers', relatives' or friends' houses, as a child you go everywhere. The bedrooms, kitchens, the hidden places in the back where people are hanging laundry or cleaning fish or grating coconut in a messy shower of husks and white meat--it's all one. You run everywhere, see everything. But as you get older, things change: you become a guest, you spend more time in living rooms and less in kitchens and and gradually whole areas of the house close off.


Andy tried teaching her to use a computer once, but it didn't take.

"My computer is voice-activated," she would say. "I ring for my girl Rina and she writes down my message and types it into the computer for me!"

She had used a typewriter in her younger days but after the age of seventy or so she abandoned it for a yellow pad and pen. Her children told her, "Mama, you're regressing. Soon you'll be back to a chisel and a stone tablet."

I think she liked the quiet of the pen. When I would sleep over at her house I'd open the door to her bedroom in the middle of the night and find her sitting up in bed writing quietly, with just the soft sound of the cassette player and the scratching of the pen across the page.


the water tower



Manila Bay


possibly the last family meal we had together



"It's strange," Carl said, "But the clearest memories I have of my childhood all involve screaming and running away."


Storm Signals

Mornings in the rainy season, waking up to the sound of the loose branch of the bayabas tree knocking against the roof. Creeping out of my bedroom to find the house awash with wind. Somewhere outside there's the clink of pots and pans and the smell of coffee.

Mom and Dad are asleep still. I creep into the study and open the wooden cabinet that houses the radio. The unnatural greyness has settled into the house; the desk lamp barely casts a circle around me as I sit on the floor listening to static and men's voices on the radio.

There is a typhoon coming and I am waiting for the weather report and hoping that I don't have to go to school. Storm signal #1 is no good: only little kids in kindergarten get to stay home for that. Storm signal #2 is gold: grade school and high school are closed. Storm signal #3: that's when it gets a little frightening. That's when branches break and roofs groan and parts of the city start to flood.

Outside it's the grey and the swish of the trees and the branches scraping over the roof. The voices on the radio always sound distant, as if they're coming through a tunnel of darkness. They talk about the storm and where it's moving and they tell people to be careful. "Ingat ingat lang, mga kababayan." They are waiting for the secretary of education to make up her mind. Meanwhile some schools have made their own decisions and the announcer begins reading the lists of school closings: Xavier, Assumption, Ateneo, St. Scho... on and on, while I put on my uniform and my shoes and get my lunch out of the fridge and fidget on the couch, hoping. Until finally I hear the name I've been waiting for, and with the sigh I can take off my clothes and my shoes and crawl back into my warm bed and lie listening to the wind.