Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mike Pangilinan

Bárûng Kapampángan And The Lighter Side  of the President’s Visit

January-February 2014

One day, I received an FB message from the creative and editorial director of Jeepney Press, Dennis Sun, asking me “Do you want to meet the President of the Philippines with the Jeepney Press people?” I said, “Sure, why not. Count me in.” Good thing I brought my traditional Bárûng Kapampángan for this occasion.

Unfortunately, when I said “Yes,” I did not know that the president’s visit coincided with our international linguistics workshop and that I had three paper deadlines for that week. Hectic! My major concern on that day was, how am I supposed to wear a traditional Kapampángan bárû on a cold day in Tokyo?! Naturally, our traditional bárû made of thin delicate húsî textile is made only for hot tropical climates like our islands back home. Like an old samurai warrior, I just said “Gaman (â‰ñù)” and proudly marched through the cold streets of Tokyo wearing traditional Bárûng Kapampángan without a jacket on. A jacket would have ruined the fine creases and delicate folds of my bárû. “What on earth is a Bárûng Kapampángan?” asked a neighbor. “Is it not the same as the Barong Tagalog?” A Bárûng Kapampángan is like the Barong Tagalog with more elaborate embroidery and without the funny looking Western collar. It is also held at the waist with a sash called babát.

So, I finally made it to the Odakyu line wearing my tropical Bárûng Kapampángan. I wanted to make sure that I rode the right train and so looked at the names of the stations written in Kanji above the door. Then I heard a kind voice say in English “It is two stops away.” Reassured, I sat down and met a kind Japanese okaasan smiling at me. The warmth of her smile was so comforting that it made me feel better wearing my traditional Bárûng Kapampángan in the chilly breeze of Tokyo. Her name was Komiyama Yoshiko. She came all the way from Sendai with Charity Sato to see the Philippine president. “Now I won’t get lost,” I told myself, beaming contentedly.
Once we got off at Sangubashi, Komiyama-okaasan was glad to guide us to our final destination: The National Olympics Memorial Youth Center at Yoyogi Park. Behind me, one female voice asked “Di ba nalalamigan si kúya? Barô lang ang suót niya.” Another jokingly answered “Di ah. Sa laki ba naman ng káha niyan lalamigin pa ba?” Hahaha! The wisecrack came from Jackie Murphy, another writer from Jeepney Press.

Needless to say, that was the first time I met anyone from Jeepney Press. Dennis Sun was back in Indûng Kapampángan to receive the very prestigious Most Outstanding Kapampangan Awards for Mass Media. So I was left in the care of his sister Irene Sun Kaneko who I was also to meet then for the first time. Irene is the publisher of Jeepney Press and therefore my boss. When she finally arrived, she was detained at the entrance by all the kababayan who came to greet her and take photos with her. Wow! I never realized Irene was such a celebrity! Finally I got to meet her and she introduced me to Jackie and to fellow Jeepney Press writer Rogelio Agustin.

More and more people arrived in their best bárô at sáya, from the simplest to the most elaborate, from the traditional to the most modern. I never realized the bárô and sáya could be so colorful!!! It was then that I realized each region and each ethnic group have their own style!

The mass was about national reconciliation. The celebrant would have made a perfect propagandist and apologist for the national government. The president finally arrives. The Philippine Ambassador to Japan assures him that the Filipinos of Japan support the efforts of the current administration. He also introduced Takayasu Akira   (çÇà¿ó∫) to the president who is a high ranking sumo wrestler and a  source of great pride for the Filipino Community. The Filipino community then donated to the Philippine Government a check worth one million yen from the proceeds of the Barrio Fiesta held in the previous month for the victims of typhoon Yolanda.

The president finally delivered his speech in Tagalog. It was a progress report regarding his administration’s effort to rehabilitate the Visayas from typhoon Yolanda and the earthquake that devastated Bohol the previous month. He did not blame anyone for the disasters. He only lamented that “patong patong ang problema” back home, both “natural” and “man made” and that “May bagong industriya sa Pilipinas” which is the “Industriya ng Kritiko”. “Di tayo pwedeng bumigay kahit napipikon ka na,” he assured us. He challenged his critics to take his place if they can do better. “Obligasyon ko ang mamuno,” he said, and told his critics, “Bahala na si Lord sa inyo.”

The president showed his human side by recalling his family’s poverty while in exile in Boston, of the cold winters they had to endure, of how the lowly kutchinta became for him a symbol of contentment, homesickness and longing. The president assured the Filipino community that his administration is committed to “build back better” for the Visayas and the rest of the country. He got a lot of applause from the community when he assured them that justice will be served and those who need to go to jail will be jailed. He commended the Filipino community for acting as bridges of a better and stronger relationship between the Philippines and Japan.

Finally came the highlight of the event ~ the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Merit to fellow Kapampangan, Dr. Ambeth Ocampo, a multi-awarded historian, academic, journalist, author and former director of the National Historical Institute (NHI) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and currently a visiting professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. I felt proud, happy and contented.

The chance to have a group photo with the president finally came. The future Miss International who was there too was scolded by someone in the crowd for taking selfies with the president. As people waited for their turn to be photographed with the president, they were serenaded by a group of Filipino talents based in Japan. Irene, our publisher, disappeared from our group, only to reappear holding a microphone! She was lively singing with the singers in colorful Filipiniana dress across the stage that was serenading the president and the cabinet. Wow! I am impressed. She knows how to enjoy life! On our way out, Irene was detained further by the never ending “hellos” and “goodbyes” from our kababayans who came from all across the home islands now scattered all over Japan. We simple folks have to wait for her outside the stadium in the cold Tokyo night till she finished with her last goodbye.

Finally, dinner! Irene decided to invite the writers and friends of Jeepney Press to the Filipino restaurant at Kabukicho in Shinjuku called Ihawan. Our friends who came with us were Dang Yoshitake and her dear friend Lucy who came all the way from Oita! Dang’s roots are from Iloilo and Pampanga, and therefore she has a discriminating taste with regards to food. Her friend Lucy is known to be a great cook. So most of us came to Ihawan for the first time to sample and tests its legendary cuisine. To my surprise, it is as if I have never left Angeles City! Ihawan turns out to be a vijuki bar that serves authentic dishes from back home. Irene ordered kare-kare and crispy pata. And yes, there were already a number of our kababayan pouring their hearts out at the vijuki, singing American songs. “What on earth is a vijuki,” you asked? “Ay Dodong, wala jud ka kasabot? Ang vijuki ug videoke parehas ra na. Inato nga pronunciation ra tong usa. Para Pinoy ba.”

As a Kapampangan, I am quite finicky and suspicious of a kári not cooked by my aunts in Magalang. They would often comment, “Ing kekatámu kári ya. Ing karéla kari-kari yá mû,” which translates as “Ours is kári. Theirs is just fake kári (kari-kari).” For a long time Kapampangan cooks called the non-Kapampangan version of the kári as kari-kari (Tagalog kare-kare) which means “fake kári”, since it doesn’t quite capture the authentic Kapampangan kári which is rich in ángé (turmeric), galapung (rice powder) and dildak a manî (toasted peanut paste). Somehow, it was the word kari-kari (kare-kare) that stuck in the peoples’ minds. Now, even young Kapampangan call their kári as kari-kari (kare-kare).

Going back to Ihawan’s kare-kare, I was totally impressed! It was delicious! I am sure my old aunts in Magalang would approve. The peanut sauce was rich, thick and creamy. Plus, the sweet and spicy shrimp paste we call baguk (bagoong) added tears to our eyes. The cook was an evil genius! There was total silence on the table. Everyone was focused on his or her kare-kare. Dang noticed this and said “Away muna tayo,” which means “Let us be enemies for now (not in speaking terms).” We all burst out laughing and so Jackie Murphy proceeded with her earthy (makamundo) jokes to liven the mood. Dang invited all of us to visit her in Oita. She said she can accommodate up to four people for a week in her home. Oita. Kyushu! Oita is just the next prefecture to Satsuma (Kagoshima) where my ancestors come from. I have always wanted to go there. I immediately grabbed my notebook and pen and asked Dang to write down her contact info. Irene and Jackie were surprised by my eagerness and joked that I was like a high school kid asking a girl to write on his slambook! Hahaha!

Finally the much awaited crispy pata came! All two orders were quickly massacred, not just because we were starving, but because it was truly delicious! The flavor of home! I really can’t believe I can eat crispy pata in Japan. Crispy and chewy! Jackie who still had a bowl of kare-kare kept chanting “Crispy na, creamy pa!” I cannot believe that the two orders of crispy pata were gone in less than 60 seconds! I decided to get the last piece but my fork slipped and clanged loudly on the glass table. I was so embarrassed. Since there was nothing left on the table, Jackie started out the vijuki challenge. Oh how I dreaded this moment! Call me a “kill joy” or even a “Hindi ka Pinoy,” but I do not really sing American or OPM songs on the dreaded vijuki. I never listened to them back home. I am not even familiar with them. During parties and family gatherings, I always leave the room when someone starts singing. I only sing when I am drunk, and none of the songs I sing are OPM or American songs. Jackie started singing. Irene’s song made everyone in the bar, dance on the floor. It was a lively American song, but forgive me if I can not name the band or title. Rogelio Agustin, who has been silent most of the time, surprised us with his great singing voice! Irene said it’s as if Martin Nievera himself came to Ihawan and graced us with his voice. OK, I know who Martin Nievera and Gary Valenciano are by reputation but I don’t know any of their songs. Like I said, I never listened to OPM or American songs back home. Then my time came. I sang my favourite Gunka (åRâÃ) or Japanese military song from the Great Pacific War entitled Rabaul Kouta(ÉâÉoÉEÉãè¨âS). That surely ruined everyone’s mood. Ihawan was like everyone’s home away from home, a place where Pinoys can temporarily be transported back home and forget Japan for a while. Somehow, I brought them back and with a thud since it wasn’t just any of the modern cute Japanese songs that I brought them back with but with a nationalistic Japanese military song at that.

I took that as a cue for me to go back to Tama and resume my work. I have three papers to finish and one more presentation. It was 10 in the evening. I worked until 2 a.m. I was a bit disappointed with the president’s speech but at least I got to meet a lot of nice and interesting people and got to enjoy their lively cheerful company. I had fun. I just hope everyone recovered after I bombed their vijuki challenge with my favourite Gunka. Cheers!

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