Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Getting Conned and Being Kind

Today, I overheard a conversation about loaned money that finally got repaid, and the wise advice that we should only lend money that we could afford to lose. I thought about a time when we did lend money, but only after we took precautions that we would get paid. Or so we thought!

One day, John received a call from a Singaporean, whom we didn’t know, who said that he needed help. He named a few photographers whom we knew, and said, for some reason, he could not contact any of them. (This was in pre-cellphone days). He said he and his Filipina wife were shopping for clothes and toys for their children when his clutch bag – which contained his wallet and passport – was snatched. He just needed a small cash loan –that his brother in Singapore would repay. It didn’t seem small to me, but he explained that he didn’t have a credit card and had to pay the small hotel where they were staying. He also needed to pay cash at the embassy so he could apply for a new passport.

To put this narrative in the right perspective, let me tell a background story when John came home amazed and impressed with the honesty of Singaporeans. John was in Singapore and had left his camera in a public bus. When he realized that he had left one camera (he was carrying one, and left behind one), he went back to the bus stop, and tried to wait for the same bus. He recalled that the driver was Indian, and he remembered the bus number. He waited. (Thankfully, Singapore is a small city, without Manila’s horrendous traffic problems). The bus came, but with a different driver. He boarded the bus but his camera was not on the seat – last row – where he left it. He inquired with the new driver, who told him that he should go to the bus terminal. So, he did. As they were nearing the bus terminal, John saw the Indian driver and ran after him. John was relieved to hear that the bus driver had surrendered his camera to the bus dispatcher. John said he not only got back his camera, but also got to memorize every bus that passed in front of his, now favorite, bus stop.

Fast-forward to the day of this mysterious phone call. With this experience in mind, John was ready to jump in and come to the rescue of this man, especially since he’s Singaporean. He wanted to somehow “return the favor.”  But he allowed a little bit of caution, at my prodding, when this man promised that his brother in Singapore would repay the loan. John asked him to just ask his brother to give the money to our friend (a photo equipment supplier). That would be more convenient than sending money to the Philippines. John would call to verify if our friend had received the money from this man’s brother. If he did, then John would give this man the money that he was asking for.   

Our friend agreed to wait for the man’s brother to deliver money to him after the weekend.  When John called him that Monday, he gave John the go-signal to give our mystery man some money.

John asked me if I wanted to do a good deed, and when I said yes, he sent me on an errand to buy clothes and toys for this man’s little boys. He told me that I could give them to him at dinner that night, as he had invited him and his wife to dinner at Alda’s, a small Italian restaurant in Ermita.

 John lent him the money, I gave him and his wife the gifts for their children, we treated them to dinner, and we all had a pleasant time, although I did observe that she was mostly quiet.

After a few days, we heard from other photographer-friends that they had been victimized by this scammer. Hopeful that we were spared from having been duped by the precautions we took, we called our friend in Singapore to confirm that he had, indeed, received payment before giving us the go-signal to give the man our money.  Ruefully, he told us that the man’s brother never came! He apologized and narrated his own experience of losing his wallet and passport while on a train in Italy. He said that he was sorry that he sympathized with his compatriot whom he thought was in a similar situation in the Philippines.

We could not blame our friend – after all, we were just asking him the favor of helping ensure that we would have an honest transaction.  

We didn’t know where to find this man so that we could confront him, until a few weeks later, when John saw a newspaper article about a Singaporean swindler. It was him! He was being detained at a prison in Manila.

John rushed to go there. Without me. He said he added his testimony to an apparently long list of others whom this man had victimized. I was proud of him for doing his civic duty.

John’s story had a postscript.

He said he saw the man’s wife on the steps outside the jail. He pulled out a five-hundred-peso bill from his wallet, handed it to her, while solicitously admonishing her, “This is for you. Go get something to eat. Don’t give this to him.” And he repeated, “This is for you.”

I couldn’t believe what I just heard! How could he give her money – after what they did to us? Didn’t he think they were into these scams together?  At the very least, she must have known what her husband was doing! We had dinner together and she neither said a word nor dropped a hint.

But I paused and stopped, and in a complete turnaround, instead of being incredulous, I looked at him with great admiration for his kind gesture to this poor woman. Indeed, she might have been in cahoots with her scam-scheming husband, but I wondered, if John’s kindness touched her enough to help her turn away from, possibly, a life of crime?

I’ll never know, but I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Stars and Skype

Long distance relationships are difficult, but nowadays, technology makes it somewhat bearable. Cellphones and computers allow friends, families or lovers to chat and see each other at any time of day or night, and in the privacy of their own rooms, or even cars (Just don’t drive and text).  And while we pay for Internet or cellphone service, connecting to another anywhere in the globe is actually free with Facetime, Viber, Hangout or Skype.

In the early 1970’s, when John was courting me (in those days, men courted women and we never said  “when WE were courting …”), John’s mother considered me a bad influence because I was encouraging him to work as a photographer, which meant that he was not paying attention to the family business. To separate us, she sent him off to Iloilo to stay with his sister. Now, in those days, there was no Internet, email or Skype, there were no cellphones or even pagers, and public coin-operated phones were just for local calls. Long distance calls could be done if one had a landline at home (we didn't) or would have to be done at the telephone company's premises.  Mailed letters took a long time, so any messages that needed to be rushed were sent by telegrams. 

My family was poor and we did not have a phone at home. If John wanted to call me, he would have to call my aunt’s house, which was next door, and wait for someone, usually my aunt’s maid or houseboy (then called servants) to call me and for me to rush to my aunt’s house. With cousins practically eavesdropping, there was no chance for John and I to say sweet nothings to each other. Besides, in those days, telephones had party-lines, meaning, two phone owners, usually neighbors, took turns in using one phone line. As a matter of phone courtesy, when one lifts the handset and hears someone talking, that person must put the phone down gently, and wait. If you’re the one using the phone, sometimes, it meant hearing that handset being lifted and put down over and over again, and when the other party becomes impatient, they say “Hello, party line, puede ba ako naman (may I have my turn?)  There was no way to stay on the phone a long time to make “telebabad” (staying too long on the phone).  

It was too embarrassing to use my aunt’s phone to call long distance, so for calls that I would have to initiate, I would go to the Philippine Long Distance Company office in Port Area, near the foot of Jones Bridge (two jeepney rides or approximately five kilometers from Paranaque, where I lived).  There were booths there, and callers were guaranteed not only soundproofed privacy, but also no party lines waiting on the wing for me to finish my call. But long distance calls were expensive, and I did not have the money to make such calls. 

Before he left for Iloilo, and anticipating the difficulty of keeping in touch, John agreed to my romantic suggestion to connect somehow by gazing at the sky and looking at a row of three stars (Orion’s belt) at the same time every night at exactly 7:00PM. We had no cellphones or Internet, it is true, but what we had was a direct connection, soul-to-soul through the stars, it was private, and it was free. Who needs Skype?

John eventually came back to Manila. We set up Adphoto, got married, and raised our own children. We’re still together, so obviously the stars worked. Once in a while, through the more than 40 years since the 1970’s, when John and I look up at darker provincial skies (disappointingly, Metro Manila no longer offers a clear view of the night sky), we give thanks that when we did not have Skype, we had the stars. 

Learning Language

It’s funny how very young children pick up words and expressions - from the people they have around them, as well as from videos they watch.

My younger granddaughter (just turned two last month) was insisting on getting something from me. An iPad, I think. Her demands were accompanied by appropriate authoritative facial expression and body posture - stumping her tiny foot on the floor like a little empress, and with a stern voice, demanding, “I want my iPad!!!” Her mother reminded her to say “Please” and in a split second, and in complete reversal, she not only said “please,” but also softened her tone and volume to what her mother calls “butterfly voice.” She looked at me with a pleading expression on her face, and asked in a very gentle, slow and hard-to-refuse voice,  “L-o-l-a, may I p-l-e-a-s-e have my iPad?  P-l-e-a-s-e, L-o-l-a?”  

On another occasion, she was trying to use expressions that she had picked up from her and her sister’s favorite movie, Frozen.

“Go away!” she told me, in the same tone and manner that the movie’s Princess Elsa did, when she tried to keep her sister, Princess Anna, away.  I thought she was cute, and just laughed but didn’t go away.

“Hmmm,” she must have thought, “that didn’t work.”

She tried “Get out!” I was not sure if that was in the movie, but I was impressed that she was trying other ways of giving the same message, so I laughed again but I still didn’t go away.

“Go…” and she groped for other words. I waited. “Go…” Oops, it looks like she has run out of words with the same meaning. “Go…,” she paused, and then, triumphantly, she commanded…

“Go home!”

She and I both knew that she was scraping the bottom for the right words, and straying from the original movie dialogue. We looked at each other, and we both laughed.

Super cute two-year old! Did I mention that she’s my granddaughter?

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


Why? Why? Why? There’s a time in a child’s life when the search for answers begins with the big question, “Why?” Just this week, my granddaughter, Gaby, who is turning three this month, asked, “Why?” Her mother, my daughter Kathy, was intrigued, and asked her, “Why what?” “Why is London Bridge falling down?”

Gaby’s “why” story made me smile, as it made me recall the first time I, as a mother, faced the challenge of a child’s unending “whys.” 

I remember when my eldest daughter, Ching Ching, started asking “why?” She wasn’t quite three years old, and she had just come from swimming lessons at the Metropolitan Club. I told her that she needed to change into dry clothes, and she asked, “Why?” At first I thought that she just didn’t want to do it, and maybe I was being given the infamous “terrible two” treatment.

Not wanting to just order her to change into dry clothes, or to ask her Yaya to change her clothes, with or without her consent, I knelt down so we could be face-to-face as I attempted to give an explanation – that she might get sick if she kept her wet bathing suit on.  But that answer led to another “why?” And, followed by another “why?” and another, and another, until I got stumped with the question, and could no longer give her any answers.

It was a thought-provoking stage in her young life, and I genuinely wanted to be able to provide answers, or at the very least, encourage her curiosity to flourish. Since I did not want to discourage her from asking questions, including the interminable “whys?” I searched in my head for reasons why things happen –so I could answer my two-year-old - whether from experience or personal knowledge, or at times, just from what seem like logic.   

Her questions also provided an opportunity to encourage her to look into books for answers. (Now, they can Google). But somehow, at her tender age, my daughter must have thought of me as the eternal font from whence all answers flowed, and the moment when she realized that I was an ordinary mortal, whose brains did not have the capacity for all human knowledge, came one day. When the long string of “Why’s” ended with an unanswered “why,” I would say, “Let’s look that up. Maybe the encyclopedia can give us the answer.”  Maybe, I had made that offer to check the books a little too frequently, and one day, she looked at me, with a disappointed look in her face, and asked, “why” – again, that big question, “why do we have to look that up in books? Why, (Hmmm, that “why” has a different ring to it), don’t you know anything?”

Humbly and truthfully, I confessed, “Sorry, but I don’t know everything.” But instead of reproaching me, she just asked,