Saturday, November 15, 2008

Philippine Normal University

For those who never been to Philippines, the land of eighty plus million people, of which a good ten percent works overseas and remit money on a regular basis that keeps the governments cash flow at surplus, and for those who have been or had traveled to Manila but chose to stay close to more touristic or business spots such as Greenbelt, Makati, Edsa and Forbes areas, strolling the high-end malls, smoking cigars at the Havana, sipping semi-authentic Mojitos and talking to locals as if they’ve seen and enjoyed all of Philippines; would not have known the Philippine Normal University, situated amongst the historic Walls of Intramuros, a vibrant, academically stimulant neighborhood, energized by young Filipinos who wants to build the next wave of skill supply overseas, who’s on the verge of re-taking the great Indian outsourcing market and threatening China with it’s power of English as the first language; if you’d consider Tagalog as just a living dialogue.

Although the name Philippine Normal University raises genuine concerns about the normalcy of the person who named this university, it certainly is not abnormal by the shape and form of it’s historic buildings, surroundings and the presence of companionship around it: the Letran, a college started in 1620, the Institutes of Technology that produces best engineers of the country, The Lyceum that showcases the hotel industry’s top notch customer oriented personnel and much more.

The pedi (short for paddle) cabs, a tricycle with an attached sidecar that could sit three people at twenty pesos each and bruised ribs, ferries students from the LRT to this abundance of academia, across the wide, unruly road of Roxas Boulevard, splashing muddy water from a morning’s rain. The SM Manila, a sprawling shopping center attracts everyone for lunch, little shopping and movie theatres that charge one fee for a whole day’s sitting, if you’d suffer repeats of a bad movie, in plastic covered red seats and lovers in embracing positions not wanting the lights to come on.

Even a stormy rainy evening bring sudden entrepreneurial ability to the crowded, flood filled path. Within the throng of people looking for cover emerge a hoard of little street children, carrying over sized umbrellas to help out the stranded, assist to hail a taxicab or to become an impromptu porter. The sudden storms and unannounced typhoons are a lifestyle here. There are no unhappy faces against the splash of Mother Nature. They smoke; chat, text and wait out the nature that they know will pass in an hour and to visit unannounced another day.

That is when I met Grace and Tom (names are changed to protect the innocence or in their word, ‘the guilt’) at a coffee shop where I seeded asylum, with an office colleague, to ward off the rains. The shop was packed with steamy lattes and cappuccinos, with opened laptops, books and an even a bible studier sipping vente mocha frap, no whip cream added. Tom took the effort to ask if they could share the table with me. I looked up and met Grace’s eyes, a shy smile running across a pretty half opened mouth, water dripping from her dark hair. Tom’s red shirt was all wet that he crossed his arms to warm up, I presumed.

“We are lovers”, they declared, after few minutes of keeping silence, focusing on coffees followed by semi-introductions, filmy handshakes and talks about weather. I couldn't think otherwise, so I nodded in agreement. Then it hit me: They both are female. Tom’s crossed arms didn’t actually used up to warm up the body. It in fact blocked her bodily features; nothing to write elaborately about because ‘he’ didn’t look like a ‘she’.

By now, Grace is looking down and frowning at Tom for declaring their secret to an unknown.

Now on a side note, please mind that I don’t have such charming personality for strangers to come and drop their sorrow and sometime happiness on me. But it has happened in the past, during my previous job, when I was the only man in a department of several mature women. So, I wasn’t entirely surprised at this rainy day confession.

Philippines is a very Catholic and conservative country where abortion and divorce is illegal except for in life threatening situations. Abusive relationships are annulled in court however, not declared ‘unmarried’ in the church. Even living-together situations are frowned at although it is non-factual common knowledge that it happens, again for the same reason and restrictions placed on legal marriages.

So, two women to become tangled in a romantic relationship can’t be publicly announced nor celebrated lavishly. As we all know by now, even the ultra liberal Californian population recently voted against gay marriages. The Canadians are still up for it however, the world normally don’t bother with social attitudes of ‘people up north’.

Grace and Tom appeared very friendly, normal couple with full blossomed love. I even noticed they were holding hands discreetly under the table. While Tom talked about discrimination against their relationship within their families and circle of friends, Grace avoided eye contact and probably felt embarrassed in front of the whole of ‘straight’ world.

Tom runs a cafeteria in a university - not the ‘Normal’ one that is the subject of this blog – which Grace attends and that’s how they met. To work against world’s - or the Filipino kind, according to them - perspective of their relationship, they have decided to live together over the past two years. While this decision also is very discreet, without the knowledge of their families, it according to them works well however, without a definite knowledge of the future.

And, that’s where my Canadian citizenry came into place. Having gathered that I am an adopted Canadian (how it happened is another story, another day) they were very curious about Canadian laws on gay marriage and whether the country would legally allows immigration of an unmarried gay couple. While I am neither lawyer nor a legal consultant to shed information on this subject, it did bring ethical questions about Canada’s immigration policies.

Presently Canada only allows married, straight couple to apply for residency as skilled or independent immigrants. There’s no clause that I know of for exceptions, unless the couple shows that they are persecuted for their beliefs in their own country, which we all know it’s tough to prove when you really can’t declare yourselves openly as gays, even to invite persecution.

So, Grace and Tom are in a dilemma.

For the record: I do not personally endorse nor against homo-sexism. It’s beyond my imagination to be one; no pun intended.

On another of my visit to this friendly city of Manila, I was privileged to be invited to Grace and Tom’s residence for dinner. They served lovely Puchero - a traditional meal-in-a-bowl soup that contains vegetable, sea food or meat and sometime rice or noodles -, grilled Lapu Lapu and an obvious supply of San-Miguel light. It was delightful company of two women of conflict, against the nature, against the normal sexuality, against the odds of building an acceptable family.

The abnormality in life is a judged opinion. Normalcy lives within and by your beliefs.

I made some factual errors in the initial post and now corrected. Thanks to my pal and Manila native Bles to observe & notify. Here's an interesting article on History of Manila and the author apparently runs alternative tours of the city:

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