January 2004


Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

by Seamus Heaney (Ireland)
Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1995

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“You know Mog, I admire the Americans for their sense of patriotism, their puritan way of life, and their disregard for their own safety when they come across someone in trouble. I also love their hilarious sense of humour. It seems so natural to them.”

“But something changed all that, I suppose?”

“I have nothing against the people of America. It’s their government that I have a bone to grind with. Theirs may be a government for the people and by the people, but a thin line separates the two. Unfortunately, terrorists can’t tell the difference between a tank and the kitchen sink, and you see them going after the sink.”

“But, many Americans can’t distinguish when someone is attacking their government or attacking them as a people. It goes both ways and this arguing becomes very unfriendly.”

“True, Mog. You’ll find Americans defending America because they think they are personally being attacked. They may not agree with their own government, but they cannot see that it is their government all along that’s being chided, and not them as a people.”

“This is where the importance of letting your voice be heard comes in, Yaw. If the majority of those who go out and vote pick a nincompoop as leader, it reflects on the people in general. So if there is any attacking going on, the people are very involved. It is the people who have chosen their leaders in government. You cannot blame everything on the government.”

“But, if there were a victory for George W. Bush in the next election, both the Americans and the international community would be in serious peril.”

“And who should be blamed for that?”

“I’m lost, Yaw.”

“Where were you going, Mog?”

“Well, I left the house this morning, wanting to go to the library. While my mind went wandering, I was blindly following my feet turning left and right, going through what appeared to be shortcuts, and I was completely lost.”

“You know Mog, alot of people are lost, just like you.”

“What do you mean, Yaw? I hope you’re not talking about religious-lost like lambs looking for their Shepherd.”

“Good, Gad! Mog! Do I look like some babbling preacher?”

“Sorry, Yaw. Why am I lost?”

“Well, did you notice Mog, how some people who have a vague sense of national identity seem not to identify with their nation nor with their adopted country? They are different from one and the other, and they feel they don’t belong to either of them. They seem lost in both social settings.”

“Heavy, Yaw…”

“Take yourself, for example. You’re born in the Philippines, educated in America and of French citizenship. You are Filipino in your skin, American in your mind and French on paper. So if you want to know your way, just answer this: Do you know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been?”

Man is a political animal. His behaviour is associated with the social setting in which it occurs. How does a good man act? Morals cannot be reduced to a set of principles, but we can make generalisations of what it is to be good men. Neither does theology shape man’s behaviour, as religion is a mere conduit for a code of behaviour.

If the individual does not have idealism, the society won’t have it, and thus, the nation won’t have it. Idealism has to start with the individual at home and spread out from there.

The future of the nation depends on how children have been brought up to become leaders and to have principles in life. The good of the individual becomes the good of the community.

— views of Aristotle and Jaime Velayo Ongpin

“What are you moaning about, Mog?”

“She dumped me, Yaw. It’s the end of the world! I can’t live without her! I see her everywhere I go! I hear her voice in every song! I answer the phone expecting her hello! What am I going to do?”

“Gad! Mog! You sound like a cricket who has nothing else better to do but make noise and annoy people. It just wasn’t meant to be! There are other great women out there, Mog. All you have to do is look!”

“Hey, there’s Simona… I wonder if she’s thirsty. I think I’ll go ask her if she wants a lemonade with me. See you, Yaw!”

“You are a poet, Mog!”

The sixth sense is an unusual power of perception and intuition. People usually talk about the sixth sense in terms of communicating with the spirit world. I am sceptical about most things, and I really don’t know if I can believe that. A movie was made about the sixth sense, starring Bruce Willis and a kid who possessed it.

It is said that we are all born with the sixth sense. It is also said that we generally don’t go about developing it. But some do, for example, my mother.

During the last December holidays as we sat around the dinner table, Mother asked us if we recalled this incident or remembered that person. Then she would proceed to tell us stories to help us recollect. I’m telling you this because Mother has related other stories before, but she told us a story of an incident that I did recall and had wondered about.

When I was a teenager, which was about a hundred months or so ago, I had gone out into the driveway to get a breath of fresh air after several hours of hard studying. There was a white van parked across the street and a man stood in the ditch, looking at something at his feet. For several nights after that, cars would suddenly stall as they passed by our house.

So during this dinner last December, Mother asked us if we recalled an incident of a dead man found in the canal across the street where we used to live. I had choked on my food trying to reply, but she went on with her story before I could.

It was a love-triangle and the jealous man had stabbed his rival in the neck and dumped him in the ditch. For several nights, Mother said, cars stalled as they passed our street. So one night, she went out and told “him” (the dead man, of course), to just stop what he was doing so that people could get some sleep around here, and would he please go where he had to go and rest in peace.

The cars did stop stalling after that. Mother doesn’t seem to have the word “fear” in her vocabulary. Apparently, this must have begun at a very young age when you could think that “talking with certain people” was “natural.” She had seen the War as a child because Japanese officers had used my grandparents’ house as headquarters. She must have seen alot of other things, too.

Postscript: Some years ago, I was at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club for dinner and in front of the small bar along the wall, Mr. S was seated comfortably reading a book. He looked quite engrossed in his book and so I didn’t disturb him. A few days later, I mentioned to someone that I saw Mr. S at the Club. He told me that he had died some months before.

When I came home, I said in a loud voice: I have absolutely no interest in seeing you people! I am easily freaked out by these things! Please don’t show yourselves to me ever again! Don’t even think of tapping my shoulder on a dark and stormy night! I am liable to throttle you!

I hope they heard me.

“There’s a Japanese proverb, Mog, that dates back to the Edo period. I don’t remember exactly how it was worded, but it exhorts one to seize opportunity when it passes by. In old Japanese art, Opportunity is depicted as an old man running by.”

“Oh, I’ve seen that painting, Yaw. It’s a strange picture. Opportunity had long hair on the front of his head, but he was completely bald at the back. I wonder what this means…”

“Seize Opportunity by the hair as he runs in front of you before he shows his bald spot. I think that’s what it means, Mog.”

“There’s nothing on a bald spot that you can hold onto, is there, Yaw?”

“An opportunity missed is an opportunity lost, Mog. This year presents new opportunities. Let’s hope to make good use of them.”

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