Category: Culture


Not Of This Earth

It’s Christmas eve in my side of the world and after three decades of first knowing about it, what hasn’t changed is my ambivalence to it. I simply don’t understand the whys and origins of it other than Christmas was obviously mainly a Christian tradition. My friends had told me that it’s an eponymous celebration about the birth of Christ and therefore it’s a celebration of love and giving, et cetera, et cetera. How they defined it didn’t really help me much when people are just going to supposedly show the spirit of giving and loving during the holidays but completely forget about it when it’s over.

Most of my Christian friends thought there was something wrong with me for initially disliking Christmas, that I was a mean-spirited grinch. Of course the grinch doesn’t really exist, neither does Santa Claus. The inclusion of the latter into “Jesus Christ’s birthday” is mind-boggling. Not to mention all the other pagan symbols it adopted; so-called holy priests assimilating paganism from the heretics they punished. If I were a business woman I’d probably go all gung-ho about making people believe the essence of Christmas, but maybe secretly won’t practice what I would preach about it. 

I do believe in Cycles, though – cycles and seasons we do karmic work with. If Christmas is popular with the majority of people in this planet, it may be a necessary step to the evolution ladder. 

I’ve been watching mostly Bollywood movies lately and by accident saw the Abhishek-Aishwarya interview on Oprah. Some viewers of the YouTube video voiced out their opinions about Oprah’s lack of research regarding the extended family environment in most Asian cultures. Aishwarya admitted in the interview that marriage entailed her moving in with Abhishek and his family under the same roof. Oprah appeared surprised that this was the case for the said couple. For a second, I admit, I kind of looked surprised that Oprah didn’t appear to know that this was a normal thing in Asia.

My younger sister (I’m the eldest of three) and her partner haven’t formally tied the knot but they already have a six-year-old daughter. It’s not that they don’t ever want to, rather it’s because the wedding expenses go beyond what they can afford. While family ties are very much given importance in our culture, I also feel at other times it can be a bane to forsake one’s independence for the sake of the family. I spent long years in the past away from my family and that period was followed by less travel and more time being in my hometown that I could seriously implode from being so distressed by my family’s problems.

I do believe the articles I’ve read before about the middle sibling being so needy and an attention-seeker and how the couple’s latent psychological issues or differences they cannot accept find their manifestations in the middle child. My younger sister is the only sibling who repeated my mother’s history (had a child “unexpectedly” and not financially capable to raise a family), something which they may not openly acknowledge.

I sense and observe this like I’m the unluckiest stranger in the world, if it were to  be believed that we don’t choose our parents and siblings before we agreed to reincarnate in the present lifetime. This is why every single day, every single year I grow ever more grateful that I did not walk the same path they have. Without self-examination, we don’t get out of the group karma or family karma and evolve. Independence is a big deal for a 7 like me.

However, I also believe that time binds us in one situation until we’re ready to take on another challenge. My only complaint is that I may also have had a hand on this time drag. And I’ve been itching to plant my feet somewhere else other than my hometown. I was very young when I was aware my greater chances of evolving would not happen here. I just need to CHOOSE.

We judge too quickly sometimes.

That is the observation I made upon crossing the street to try to catch a public transportation on the other side. I was at the mall to buy some stuff and when I left the premises, I joined the other pedestrians also waiting for their turn to cross. Other pedestrians had walked ahead the lane but a white automobile stood out on the street like a sore thumb because its driver was speeding like there’s no tomorrow and prompted the second batch of pedestrians to wait. Upon closer look I saw it was a white BMW. I heard the girl beside me telling her boy companion that what they’ve witnessed is one living proof of how the rich can afford to be arrogant even on the streets.

I don’t know the driver of the white BMW, I don’t know why he or she was speeding at the time but it struck me how others can pass on judgment rather too quickly. There could be many reasons why he or she was speeding, that’s why I do not agree with the girl’s statement. My initial thought was he or she was probably in a hurry to catch his or her appointment. I did not ever think that the BMW driver was driving too fast because he or she wanted to show off his or her car. Whatever the reason was, the BMW owner did not violate traffic rules – he or she was coming from the other lane which saw the green light lit up. It just so happened there were lesser cars coming in on our side from that lane.

In group conversations with her friends, the girl’s observation may be harmless and may even spin off a new joke about the great divide between the rich and the poorer class. Still the thoughts that we instantly come up with can later form our behavior and usually they start with seemingly harmless generalizations. We may get too comfortable to form generalizations based on few facts and speculations and then we judge too quickly.

We all know that we can change our thoughts or nip negative ones in the bud – that’s how our subconscious programming develops. We must learn to be mindful of the thoughts we engender.

Last night I wrote about some homonyms shared by the Bahasa Malaysia language and the Visayan dialect which I grew up with. What actually spurred the idea to write that article was two amusing pictures I took back in Malaysia.

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It was my first time to deposit a check via an automated check deposit machine when I encountered this. The process to deposit a check involved filling out the required information on the blanks in the envelope where the check would be enclosed and dropping it on the designated hole in the machine. I tried to stifle a laugh when I saw the blank field for Contact Number and its Bahasa Malaysia translation because in the vernacular “talipon” is an infantile speech form of the word “telephone”. Only the Visayan-speaking people could relate to my amusement on this one.

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I encountered this poster in the first floor of 1 Utama in Bandar Utama. 1 Utama is a mall I frequented on weekends, it was where I would watch movies, do a bit of groceries and meet a few friends for jalan-jalan. I found the tarp offensive at first glance because of the word “yawa”. The latter is a swear word in my vernacular, it’s tantamount to the infamous English expletive “f**k” but literally it means “the devil”.

In contrast to the negative nuance of the word in my dialect, YAWA is an acronym for a non-government organization promoting environmental awareness to young citizens in Malaysia. It stands for Yayasan Anak Warisan Alam or Natural Heritage Children’s Foundation in its English equivalent. You can check out a brief background of the website here:www.hati.my/children/yayasan-anak-warisan-alam-yawa/

Nothing is indeed what it seems especially with words and languages.

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When I accepted a contract for a job post in Malaysia in 2007, I was only sure of one thing about the country – Bahasa Malaysia is being spoken in the progressive Islamic country. It was my first time to be out of the country and it was a headache trying to get past the language barrier.

I grew up in Cagayan de Oro City and learned to speak the Visayan dialect first before other languages – Tagalog or Filipino, English and later Spanish. Some words in some dialects have Malay origins so it was not surprising to see some similarities. Here are some basic words I first learned in Bahasa Malaysia which share homonyms in my dialect:

1. Selamat vs Salamat

– Selamat in Bahasa Malaysia can either refer to “be safe” or “welcome” depending on which words follow it. You will be greeted by “Selamat Datang”, which means “Welcome”, upon arrival in the award-winning Kuala Lumpur International Airport and LCCT-KLIA. Even “datang” sounds like Tagalog’s “dating” or “arrival” in English. Go figure.

Salamat in Filipino basically means “Thanks” or “Thank you”. Make sure you don’t mistake Selamat for Thank You as Malaysians have a different word for the latter – it’s Terima Kasih.

2. Jalan-jalan

– During my first month in Malaysia, the word “jalan-jalan” kept popping up in questions from my former officemates who were curious what I would do on weekends. It simply means going out or going anywhere, be it a short stroll or malling or whatever. Jalan means street so it’s common to see “Jalan Telawi” or “Jalan BK 7” etc in street signs. This has a similarity to the vernacular word “dalan”, which means street. The only difference is we don’t say “dalan-dalan” when referring to activities such as malling or gallivanting.

3. Sikit-sikit

– “Sikit-sikit” in Bahasa Malaysia is just like “muy poco” in Spanish. Malaysian cab drivers would instantly know from my stammer that I wasn’t one of them and they would get a kick out of asking me, “Do you understand Malay?” to which I would then sheepishly reply with, “Sikit-sikit”. On the other hand, “sikit-sikit” in Visayan means “too close”.

4. Sama-sama

– In Malay language, it is courteous to reply “Sama-sama” when someone tells you “Terima Kasih” (“Thank You”). In Tagalog, it takes on a different connotation alluding to unity or accomplishing goals as one unified group.

5. Undang-undang

– “Undang-undang” in Malay means “laws” or “regulations”, but “undang” in Visayan means “stop”.

It’s obvious it was a very common occurrence throughout history that some words got lost in translation. This pretty much explains why some words from the same origin slowly lose their meaning as they get assimilated to a different dialect or language.

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