Chapter 18: Change of Heart, Change of Wedding Theme

Blogging backlog! Anyway, lately I’ve been trying to give the book theme some thought and I’ve started to realize that I think I’d like to go for something more personal.

Apart from that, book themes have been done quite a number of times already. Well, really, it’s just my being vain and wanting to be unique and furthermore, I’ll admit, my being KSP (kulang sa pansin = wanting for attention) that is at work here. Being the baby in the family must have to do with that in part so I guess marrying someone who is the eldest in his should balance out the brattiness.

So I talked to Mark about the idea of changing themes and we was definitely okay with it. While thinking of ideas, I thought first about our personality as individuals: crazy, mental, nutcases. Alright, maybe a little short of being childish—no, childlike! At 28 and 36 years old, I would like to believe that we still have this innocence, this naiveté in certain aspects of our life. I guess any couple, regardless of their age and life experience is, at the start of their marriage, at some level of innocence, having been freshly thrust into this new state of being wherein it’s not just about you anymore but you with your partner.

Anyway, so the words “young at heart” comes to mind and though that sounds uber cheesy to me, I like the idea that amidst the dark, pessimistic concerns of adulthood, we should still try to embrace  the positive qualities that we find in children–sheer joy, optimism and even brute honesty and shallowness. Life is hard enough. I suppose we should just lighten up.

From there, Mark and I thought of the things we liked as kids. There are commonalities but they don’t seem to be normal childhood things. For one, we both made our toys copulate. Yes, we did and for that matter, I guess we weren’t really that innocent as kids. I still remember the grin on my face as I received a Barbie Family set–obviously you would have to act out the way the “family” came about.

So I suggested other more common childhood things, particularly the circus/carnival. Who didn’t love the circus!? Images of street magicians, freak shows, cotton candy machines and acrobats immediately come to mind.

“Parang kiddie party yon,” Mark retorted. I admit that there are lots of kiddie parties that have circus themes with fire eaters and clowns.

“Yes, but think a more adult circus,” I replied. “More Criss Angel Mindfreak then Boyoyong clown,” I continued, referring to that famous trio of clowns who were a fixture in the local kiddie parties we both attended in the late 80s to early 0s.”More Carnivale!” I added, remembering the HBO series I used to obsess on back in 2004. “More Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” I further suggest, referring to one of my favorite movies of the past 2 years.

So for now, we’re trying to come up with a sort of surreal carnival wedding with friendly freaks, mind-bending magicians, and maybe a clown or two to entertain the kids and the kids-at-heart.

Carnival Wedding inspirations:

For fonts (in say, invitations and programs), something vintagey like Carnivale.

For the look of performers (magicians, host, etc.), something sort of gothic like that infamous masquerade ball in Labyrinth, another personal favorite.

For the program, something like the traveling show in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus–very raw and rough on the edges but entertaining.


For other decorative elements, the fun, freaky quality of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland, which Mark and I both love.


Published in: on December 29, 2010 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 17: Finding Home

As we get closer to the wedding which is now a year and a month away, I have found myself losing interest in it. I have not been thinking much about the accessories I will pair with the simple white strapless dress I picked for the big day; whether the journal souvenirs will be yellow or cream or its pages lined or un-lined; not contemplating on which book-themed dishes to consider for the menu or whether the chocolate cake will come in a single or double tier. Not even the church requirements, previously a source of anxiety for me, bother me nowadays.

What is getting me excited (and anxious) is the beginning of house-hunting for me and Mark.

Soon, we'll be playing house for real.

For the past two weeks I have been poring over listings for real estate, both for rent and for sale. Although we have considered rent, we came to the conclusion that if we’re going to put out money anyway we may as well invest in property that we can earn passive income from later on.

The first two units we looked at in the Barrio Kapitolyo area of Pasig City–a very accessible area, my own brother and his family lives in this flood-free area which is very close to the Ortigas Center–wasn’t really worth it, in retrospect. At 28 square meters and 55 square meters and Php2.2 million and Php4.4 million respectively, these semi-furnished units, complete with a state-of-the-art security door, seemed attractive at first. I guess souped-up model units have that natural effect.

The second set of units we checked out is another Pasig development, but unlike Kapitolyo, this brand-new cluster of condominiums is located deeper into the suburbs. Unfortunately, on our way for the scheduled viewing with the agent on a wet Saturday afternoon, our car got hit and scratched by an already beat-up taxi, which shows just how “careful” the driver is. It was the first time ever I got hit by another vehicle and I was not even moving, which resulted to a sour mood for the rest of the afternoon. Thankfully, we ended up with a scratch while the cab received another dent to add to its collection of more dents and a broken, taped-up light. After 15 minutes, we continued our drive to the condo, through a long, heavily-trafficked road. I immediately thought, after getting used to living in areas that only took me 5-10 minutes to get to EDSA, the main highway,  I didn’t want to drive this far on my way home every day! Moreover, I got turned off by the unfriendly locals who would sometimes act as if they didn’t hear us when we tried to get help with directions. I hadn’t gotten to the development yet but I felt more than 50% decided that I disliked this neighborhood.

When we finally arrived at our destination, welcomed by the Asian-inspired exteriors, I felt a little relieved. The agent was a very accommodating lady who waited for us even as we were an hour late due to traffic (and the dratted taxi). The units, at 42sqm, 49sqm, 71sqm and 83sqm, where a little larger than the first condominium we checked out. The price was also fair enough, however I realized that more than just prize and location, we needed more space, as Mark and I both treat out current homes as offices as well (he uses his bedroom as a working area while I have a work desk in mine).

On that same day, Mark and I spoke to my brother who resides in Kapitolyo and he warned us that the condo we just viewed is surrounded by a flood-prone area. So much for those claims in real estate classified ads, ensuring buyers that their Php2.8 million investment won’t get affected by rising water levels, if not in the unit itself but on the immediate areas encircling it. With that, I decided that option 2 wasn’t even going to make it to my short list.

In the aftermath of the Ondoy floods of 2009, locations has become an even more significant factor in choosing where to live in Metro Manila. This concept house is designed to rise with flood levels and go back when the water recedes.

Furthermore, my parents suggested that we look at foreclosed property listings from banks. Any money saved from buying a brand new unit can go to other things like repairs for a fixer-upper or renovating of a new-old place.

And so the house-hunting continues…

But it was just a few months ago when Mark and I originally considered living in my parents’ condo during our first year of marriage in order to have more time to save money for a unit. Again, I have come to realize that there is a lot of emotional and physical space needed when starting a new life together.  Moving into a new place also stands for the cutting of the umbilical cord from our respective families–not that it’s a bad thing to live with them.

In the Filipino culture, it is not uncommon for extended families to live with the parents, and Tsi-noy (Chinese Filipino) families even traditionally require newlyweds to initially live with the husband’s family. However, personally, distance is something that I have been craving for some time now, both personal distance as well as enough breadth in order to build a new life under our own roof with our own rules. I suppose being the youngest member of my family, not to mention the only girl in a brood that includes four boys, has a lot to do with it, as this makes me the natural recipient of surely well-meaning, “protective behavior .” To a degree though, because sooner or later, little girls must grow up and learn to fend for themselves and that is something I am continuing to learn to do at nearly 28 years old.

For one, I am still learning the real estate process. Ironically, I come from a family that is involved in the industry: my mom is a consultant who gives advice to investors and my dad is in the architecture and construction business. On occasion, he would get involved in the real estate side of the family business by helping with the paperwork. A lot of the jargon that I have been hearing these past two decades of my life–authority to sell, special power of attorney, transfer of title, contract to sell, etc, etc–have been ringing in my ears like bees. I wish I didn’t have to deal with all this paperwork, because the looming unfamiliarity with the process makes me feel less confident. I wish I could have someone, like say, a lawyer, guide me through all the details so I don’t worry about getting gypped. The only thing I know for sure is how to figure out if a piece of property is worth it based on how much it costs per square meter and how prime or accessible it is.

It is this very corporate nature of real estate that makes the idea of buying property still feel like something that “our parents do” but the marriage process, with all its preparations and planning for the day after the big day, reminds me that yes, we are already at the age of responsibility. We are already doing what our parents have done. While I may sometimes wish to be young and responsibility-free again, I can’t honestly say that my teens were much more fun and carefree because I embrace the independence I have as an adult. I prefer it, in fact. Although, I must repeat, that I will always be seen as the little girl in the family therefore I need to be “shielded” from the harsh,unfair world.

But  that’s also how our angsty, young selves tend to see our lives. Back when we were teens, we found it harsh and unfair to be subjected to the rules, the dos and don’ts, the “be home by 1am” curfews and “no boys in the bedroom” mandate. As we got older, for as long as we still live under our parents’ roof and even though they may have become less strict with us, there are still regulations to abide by–and we find it harsh and unfair because we’re not “kids” anymore, we say. Even as we break free from our parents’ grip and go on to have jobs, start businesses and pay taxes, we still find it harsh and unfair to have to deal with the bureaucratic realm of enterprise and government.

But you know what, despite these, I still feel glad to have come to this part of my young life. Marriage and its many emotional challenges, work and the daily task of pleasing the clients, a real estate investment and its monthly amortizations, all takes its toll on us, but the reward of independence and the opportunity to train ourselves to become survivors in a yes, harsh and unfair world, is much greater.

That’s why we need a warm place to come home to, to break free from the corporate toil of an adult existence. Then we can become like children again, following our own crazy rules in a house we can call our own.

Published in: on November 15, 2010 at 5:34 am  Comments (1)  
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Chapter 16: Marriage and Security

I will never forget this blog entry by one of my former officemates, Therese, on her engagement to her husband, Brian:

She tells him: “Magpakasal na kaya tayo? [Why don’t we get married already?]”

Sige. Wala tayong pera ha. [Sure. We don’t have money, okay.]

Okey lang. We’ll never have enough money anyway. [That’s okay. We’ll never have enough money anyway].”

Most engagement stories are the culmination of having spent enough time together to call your relationship secure. In the emotional sense, this is the point wherein you feel comfortable enough with each other after having weathered your own set of trials and tribulations in addition to becoming familiar with the less attractive bits like, such as say, the smell of each other’s fart. Of course, engaged individuals are expected to have a steady income or business by the time they put a ring on it.

Purely financial? What does security mean most engaged couples?

Therese and Brian’s engagement story stood out because their’s is a situation that Mark and I can relate to most and moreover, they earned my thumbs up of what an engagement should also be about–not just being in a comfortable place but entering the challenge of married life together.

When Mark and I first entertained the idea of tying the knot, it was in 2007 and we were two years into the relationship.

Magpakasal kaya tayo next year,” over a dinner of anchovy and garlic pasta from the Old Spaghetti House in Katipinan Avenue. I think the fact that we couldn’t care less about garlic breath is one indication of our increasing security with each other.

Sige! [Sure!]” Mark replied as though agreeing to a random game of Rock,Paper, Scissors. Of course we never took that plan seriously enough back then; not until we made it official in January 2009. But as the months rolled by, I realized that I couldn’t ignore the financial side any longer and that a marriage isn’t just a game of Bahay-Bahayan [House]. It wasn’t that we were taking our work for granted but we had to definitely strive towards having an income that was sustainable; one that could pay for more than just dinner-and-movie dates. Unfortunately one of my worst habits is procrastinating. I can be a good planner but I don’t always follow through. I’d like to believe that not all plans are feasible for various reasons like a lack of budget, but when things remain unrealized then something ought to be wrong with the way I manage my goals.

Getting engaged was probably one of the best things to happen to me in the past year and it also came at the right time: 2009 was my last year of working full time with my former employer and 2010 not only gave me more opportunities do freelance work, which in my case is more financially rewarding but it gave me time to finally begin my own marketing communications business called Root and Vine, which started operations in August. Even better, I feel lucky that without even trying to look for clients, two opportunities were presented to me–on the same month (and this is precisely the reason why I haven’t been able to blog much).

I was reluctant at first to work with these potential clients particularly because I still hadn’t completed my business registration, although I was about 90% done by the time I touched based with them. All papers, documents and permits will be accomplished by the first week of September but I decided to just go ahead and do business. However, the exhilaration of having one’s own company and beginning operations soon gave way to a new sense of nervousness that  I hadn’t felt since I started working in advertising. Now I have to think about profit, unique selling propositions and managing clients first hand. As a copywriter, I may have interfaced with clients as well, but I was more concentrated on creatives. As a former coordinator for campaign-related events, I also interacted  with suppliers in addition to clients but I was not on top of the project. Now, I have the responsibility of heading an entire campaign and holding the client’s hand.

It’s a tougher job but I feel more ready than ever. Moreover, there’s a lot of humility that comes with it. When you start a business, you don’t necessarily have “no boss to answer to” or “have your own time” as most people would like to believe of entrepreneurship. The truth is you become answerable to more people: clients, companies, consumers, suppliers. Your schedule becomes busier and more than ever, there is a need to brush up on your time management skills. Working with my former office mates is also a challenge. I don’t want to think that I’m much better than them because we’ve been in the industry for around the same amount of time and the reason why I invited them to work with me is because they have their own unique area of expertise in this business–a skills set that fills the void of my own areas for improvement. However, at the same time I need to maintain a take charge attitude. I suppose I’m more people-oriented that way.

At the root of it all, I personally believe that starting a business isn’t just there to make me feel like I’m ready for marriage. It becomes more than that.

Saving up for a wedding will just be the first of many financial endeavors that one will go through.

Entrepreneurship fulfills other things by providing me with an opportunity to service people. Advertising may be seen as a materialistic, somewhat shameless industry and I must admit that at several times, my colleagues and I have taken a step back to reflect on how our work tends to be all about the bottom line: making a sale. Of course we can’t get away from that because making money is all about sustaining lives and growing businesses. However, I realized that more than that, we must challenge the bottomline. As communications practitioners, we must consciously consider consumer education as a vital part of responsible advertising. A good place to start  is by being educated consumers ourselves. I’m not just talking about buying things, but the way we buy into ideas. During a workshop in my previous job, I learned that everyday, we are exposed to an average of 3,000 communication messages. Do we allow ourselves to absorb everything without passing these through a critical sieve? Do we outrightly purchase something just because it’s “hip n’  trendy” or do we take a step back and figure out if it’s something we need? Do we immediately agree with what we read in the papers and see on TV? When there is a more holistic way of approaching business–one that considers both profit and relationships with stakeholders and consumers– then I believe we have a more solid foundation for running an enterprise, which is crucial in the midst of an ever-changing socio-economic sphere. Even natural occurrences may affect business on the grand scale, as illustrated by the Ondoy floods of October 2009.  Simply put, business isn’t 100% secure and several challenges will challenge the way we run our organizations and threaten our relationships with stakeholders and consumers.

I also believe that our idea of security in a marriage or preparedness must also be challenged.  Marriage isn’t a “settling down” but it is entering into a new challenge and a lifetime that will be in constant flux.

The business of marriage is all about weathering new challenges together.

I know that people would like to see marriage as more than just a contract but I see a lot of parallelisms between it and an entrepreneurship. Both are all about nourishing relationships we have with people: our spouse, boss, assistant. Both are all about growth, whether its in our annual net profits or in our expanding household. Both are all about weathering the storm, in sickness and in health, in recession and progression.

In business as in marriage, security is all about embracing the challenges.

Published in: on September 6, 2010 at 11:35 am  Comments (3)  
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Chapter 15: A Place to Celebrate

For the past two to three months, together with my fiancee, Mark and my bridesmaids, Cha and Maruja, we conducted a series of initial occular visits to potential wedding reception venues. Lately, the usual marriage musings haven’t been occupying my thoughts and I’ve been thinking a lot about the big day from a more logistical perspective, particularly because I hope to reserve a venue before we reach the 12-month pre-wedding prep mark. However, the very process of even remotely considering a venue had to meet my limiting demands.

“I don’t want a hotel, tent or any venue that has the word ‘venue’ in its name,” I told my friends and family. I explained to them that  I wanted an event that would be creative and memorable: the de rigueur ballroom, where hundreds of other couples had their photo-op just wouldn’t do. Although, the idea of a nice hotel room did enter my head for the main reason that I would have to worry less about logistics.

Eh di, dapat matapilok ka! Siguradong, maalala ka nila! [You should trip on your wedding day, so they’ll surely remember you],” one of my brothers suggested. He does have a bizarre point: crazy antics, flashy gimmicks and small accidents will help etch your big day in one’s memory.

But why do I worry so much about being remembered? Is it the bunso [youngest child] syndrome at play here, hence I want to be constantly noticed and to do so I must really make an impression on people? Besides, people don’t actually forget about their relative’s or close friend’s wedding day. I’ve talked about before in this post, and I still believe that our innate competitiveness, our ego, plus our desire to wow our guests, thereby resulting to laying bare our best (and insecure) selves, are all to blame.

In the meantime, I’d like to put these visits into good use  (not to mention making the travel expense worth it) by sharing with you some of the venues we’ve checked out, especially if you’re also scouting for a place to celebrate your own big days.

Please note that the rates I mention below may or may not be inclusive of other fees such as reservation, electricity, VAT etc. Hence, it’s best to call up the venue coordinators directly for complete information.


THE NATIONAL MUSEUM

Address: Padre Burgos Street, Manila

Venue Rental Rates: P100,000 – P200,000, depending on chosen venue. But these are not official rates, meaning it’s based on what our occular guide “remembered” at the moment.

Contact Information: (632) 527-0278 (632) or 527-1215, http://www.nationalmuseum.gov.ph

When I think of creative venues, I think of libaries and museums. While researching possible places in the metro, I came across a Carlos Celdran article promoting the National Museum of the Philippines. Renovated by architect Lor Calma, the museum has refurbished interiors that are worthy of a revisit, since those Grade School field trips some may eons ago.

The museum is comprised of two buildings. Receptions are allowed in the Museum of the Filipino People (this is NOT the building that houses Juan Luna’s infamous painting Spolarium), which boasts of 3 venues for rent:

The Courtyard

The Courtyard at the Museum of the Filipino People.

 

The Courtyard is a large atrium that can accommodate 500 guests. Apart from being located in the National Museum of the Filipino People, it’s not aesthetically unique: the fresh, green grass, shady trees and cobblestones dominate the square, which is ideal for your requisite garden wedding. However, it also requires rather deep pockets at P180,000 to P200,000 for rent alone.

The Marble Room

A Regine Velasquez concert and Miss Earth fashion show have taken place in the grand hallway of the Marble Room.

The Marble Room is probably my favorite of the National Museum reception venues. High ceilings, imposing doors and a marble floor characterizes the hall, which can house around 150 guests.

The Marble Room boasts of high ceilings, marble floors and large doors.

 

I wouldn’t mind throwing a party at this venue but at P100,000 for rent, it’s still too expensive.

The Manila-Acapulco Room 

At the other end of this function hall is a wall of Spanish era flowers on exhibit.

I don’t remember if this function room did have an actual name but I called it such because outside of the rather bland space you can see above, there is a wall exhibit of actual, preserved flowers that were brought into the country during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade.

Actual flora--dried, pressed and preserved.

At P100,000 for rent, I still don’t find it enticing enough to get this room, despite the exhibit built into it.

On  my way out of the museum I told my contact, “Miss, dapat babaan niyo yung rent niyo, para ma-encourage ang mga tao mag-reception dito [You should bring your rates down so that people will be encouraged to hold their receptions here.”

To which she replies: “Actually, ma’am, dini-discourage po sya, kaya mataas [Actually, it’s discouraged to have wedding parties here that’s why we have high prices].”

That surprised me, I thought. We live in a society that is criticized for our lack of support for the arts and culture. A Filipino wedding is typically large because of our equally large families. Hence, encouraging the public to have their receptions at places like the National Museum would be a great place to help people rediscover their heritage. Personally, I would market such venues to the wedding industry. I would even throw in a museum tour to go with the rental package but that’s just me.

On the same day that I visited the National Museum, I dropped by the Ayala Museum. Unfortunately, they do not allow wedding receptions at all, which was too bad because the venue is very accessible and I love the modern interiors of its lobby. With that, I gave up any hope in having a reception set in a museum.

THE MANILA HOTEL

Address: One Rizal Park 0913 Manila, Philippines

Venue Rental Rates: Wedding packages start at P187,867.50 for 150 guests. 

Contact Info: Banquet Sales Office, (632) 527-0011, (632) 270-1277

The Champagne Room

Manila is known for its bevy of historical sites and the Manila Hotel, having once housed General Douglas MacArthur (his former home is now the MacArthur suite) during the war years, is one of the city’s icons. Through writing  a series of hotel advertorials for a magazine, I discovered that they recently renovated all 500 or so rooms, which piqued by interest in finding out what this classic Filipiniana landmark had to offer.

Manila socialites and social dignitaries held parties at the Champagne room during the early 20th century.

The hotel’s banquet sales team was a very pleasant group of hassle-free folks. Polished, well-dressed and equipped with seamless English, they gave us an unhurried walk-in ocular of three venues: first up, the Champagne Room. 

The Champagne Room is by far, the prettiest venue I’ve seen. A wrought iron entrance welcomes guests and opens up to a romantic carpeted space, decorated with vintage, hand-blown lamps, warm lighting, large doors that lead to a peripheral anteroom with marble floors and floral, buttercup yellow chairs. My best friend (and maid-of-honor) Cha remembers how this historical room was also dubbed the “Jane Austen room” and  it really feels like walking into the past, when Manila Bay was cleaner, the peso-dollar rate was almost 1:1 and local society was dressed to the nines. If you’ve seen a picture of women walking the daylit streets of 1960s Cubao in their little black dresses and handbags, you’ll know what I mean.

With its beautiful, antique interiors, this reception venue doesn't need much event styling, but it does require a large budget.

But as soon as we walked into the Champagne Room, one of the guides uttered: “This can be rented at a minimum rate of P700,000 for 150 guests.”

“That’s a brand-new car!” I replied. If I include tax plus other charges, I would be the new owner of a 2010 Honda Jazz or City.

“This room has been preserved,” explained the guide. “The way it looks now is the way it has always looked.” I must say they did a good job of maintaining the romantic, vintage elements.

Between partying pre-war, high society style or driving a a 2010, gunmetal Honda, I thought neither option is worth my P700,000. Then again, I don’t even have P700,000 to spend on a single day!

Intricate, champagne lamps like this one lends distinct character.

If  I had an unlimited budget, I would definitely rent this room and let the hotel take care of the rest while I sleep away the next year and a half leading to December 2011. However, anything that comes close to a million pesos is automatically out of the question and Cha and I left the room with nothing but Champagne-colored dreams of a period style party.

The Pool Area

The new poolside of the Manila Hotel.

Next stop was the newly-renovated poolside area, which is a great alternative to the usual ballroom and features an updated modern design and lots of outdoor furniture of the woven, on-trend sort.

Beside the pool is the spa and gym. The 2nd floor deck can also be used for the reception tables and chairs. But beyond this sleek outdoor set-up, we were greeted by the less-than inviting smell of Manila Bay.

Th unfortunate thing about Manila Hotel is that it is located beside the more uhm, pungent area, where large ships are docked beside the rocky, murky waters.

Above the spa, a 2nd floor open deck may also be used for the reception.

“Aren’t you concerned about this?” I asked the staff, while looking into the depressing view of what was once Manila bay in its pristine heyday, juxtaposed against the hotel’s sleek poolside deck and modern furniture.

“Management is working on it,” they replied with a genuine grimace. Ah. The essential press release answer.

The Maynila Ballroom 

A grand staircase leads up the Maynila Ballroom, opening into a theater style function room that's best for very large guest lists.

The Maynila Ballroom represents everything I associate with a late 80s early 90s bongga [extravagant] wedding. Moreover it reminds me of my lone attempt at modeling: during that era, I wore floral petticoat dresses for a CDO fashion show (remember the Cubao mall that was known for its puppet shows?) in this very space. Coming back to the same ballroom in a white dress doesn’t sound so enticing though because:

1. The room is too big. It can hold 500 guests and would dwarf my ideal party of 150, and;

2. Our theme isn’t Moulin Rouge.

However, to the point of the 2nd reason raised, Cha and I both agreed that if your event theme is say, Broadway, Cirque de Soleil, the Flying Graysons or The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus then this ballroom isn’t so bad. It’s designed like a theater and the stage is large enough for vignette performances, which I personally believe would make for a pretty unique party. If I had an unlimited budget, I’d probably get some real theater actors to sing my personal favorites from The Phantom of the Opera.

I don’t remember how much this room costs exactly, but it was upwards of P300,000 (note: I’m also not sure if this is inclusive of food or not).

LE SOUFFLE: TOP OF THE CITI

Address: 34th Floor, Citibank Tower, 8741 Paseo de Roxas, Makati 

Venue Rental Rates: minimum spend of P180,000 inclusive of VAT 

Contact Info: (632) 758-5810, topoftheciti@gmail.com

During our ocular, Cha, Maruja and I opted to dine out. The 34th floor view is as breathtaking as it is vertigo-inducing.

The idea of a rooftop city wedding has always interested me. The combination of a great view, gourmet food and the chic interiors of Le Souffle: Top of the Citi fit the bill. During initial research on this venue, a lot of reviews mentioned how Le Souffle was an intimidating albeit romantic venue. Mark nor I are not romantic people but I particularly liked the idea that this restaurant was intimidating! 

Makati by Night: The view from the Top of the Citi.

Upon entering the 34th floor, guests are greeted by a decidedly modern space that spreads across horizontally. On the other side of the main restaurant is the Japanese sushi bar. There are two verandas but dining and wedding receptions are allowed in only one side. According to the coordinator, the other end is too windy.

On a regular day, the food will set you back at around P500-P1,000 a head depending on how much you order but my friends, Cha and Maruja, and I decided on an alugbati salad, mushroom in filo pastry and seafood risotto. All of us loved the salad, which was tossed together with prosciutto and  arugula. I particularly appreciated its grassy, earthy flavor  since I’m a fan of raw vegetables especially uncooked sprouts and leaves; the Mushroom appetizer was fine and the addition of a bed of salad, with its acidity, balanced the nuttiness and umay factor of the dish (I ordered it to compare to another version in another French restaurant across town, which I personally prefer for the latter’s flavorful gravy). Finally, the Risotto didn’t sit well with Maruja, who thought it tasted too Chinese, like chop suey, but Cha and I liked the dish which used brown rice instead of the usual long-grain.

The dimly-lit, sleek interiors of Le Souffle.

For wedding receptions, Le Souffle requires a minimum spend of P180,000 inclusive of VAT. The restaurant may also lend you linens in keeping with your color scheme as well as a platform for your main program. Ingress-wise, Le Souffle affords wedding coordinators the luxury of preparing the entire day since the venue is closed on weekends, hence receptions are likewise allowed only on weekends. However, expect your bill to go considerably high because of drinks, which is not factored into the menu and is charged on a per person basis. Drinks that are brought in will likewise incur steep corkages.

KASALIKASAN

Address:  De Jesus Oval, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

Venue Rental Rates: P35,000 for 12 hours 

Contact Info: (632) 818-3601 local 3201 

Blink and you'll miss it: Kasalikasan is Global City's own secret garden.

Kasalikasan is one of those venues that in my opinion, looks much different in actuality as compared to its pictures. The garden was much smaller than I expected. Yet the size of this outdoor gathering place is just enough for 200. Nestled in a easy-to-miss spot in Bonifacio Global City, amidst the business district’s condominium row, Kasalikasan is an amphitheater-style space with a circular floor area. 

The amphitheater steps are covered in grass and moss.

During late afternoons, the perfectly-groomed neighborhood dogs are walked by their “nannies” around the area. Inside Kasalikasan, trees lend extra shade and coolness to the space and serves as a counterpoint to the crimson brick tiles. Rain should not be a problem because the Bonifacio Art Foundation (BAFI), which manages the venue, only allows dry season bookings, from December through April.

Behind Kasalikasan are Global City's upper crust row of condominiums.

Its small size, organic character and overall tranquility–loud bands are not allowed, which is a bummer, since Mark and I are bent on having live entertainment for the guests–makes the venue great for intimate gatherings of the less rowdy sort: the idea of loud, inebriated guests don’t quite mix with the wholesome earthiness of Kasalikasan. 

TOP SHELF AT FULLY BOOKED 

Address:  Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

Venue Rental Rates: P45,000.00

Contact Info:  (632) 858-7000

A bookstore seems like the perfect setting for a book-themed wedding and Fully Booked’s Top Shelf, a function room at the 5-floor store in Global City, can certainly deliver a creative, on-spot venue. 

A grainy, camera phone shot of Top Shelf at Fully Booked.

However, when I visited Top Shelf with Mark, my fiancee did not feel convinced, even though I personally liked it. The floor itself is fairly plain and will require some degree of event styling. Top Shelf has an unusual T-shape, white walls, grey tiles and a small verandah with a view of the busy stores of Bonifacio High Street as well as the Serendra condominiums on the other side.

A small balcony where guests can take a breather while waiting for the party to start. On the other hand, they can always shop for books during the cocktail hour.

For a  top floor venue, the view isn’t anything special and has nothing on Le Souffle’s 34th floor city-lit spectacle; but knowing that your reception is taking place amidst four floors full of books offers interest, not to mention, easy escape activities for bored guests or restless kids who would like to check out the children’s section. 

KAPITAN MOY

Address:  J. Rizal Street, Marikina City (across Our Lady of the Abandoned Church)

Venue Rental Rates: P15,000.00

Contact Info: (632) 646-2360 ; http://www.marikina.gov.ph/pages/kapitan.html

Classic, colonial-era elements makes Kapitan Moy fit or a Filipiniana wedding.

Marikina City is the bastion of shoemaking in the Philippines and at the residence of Don Laureano “Kapitan Moy” Guevarra, the city’s first pair of shoes were created in 1887 at the mezannine of the former ilustrado‘s [nobleman] bahay-na-bato [stone house].

The spacious interiors of this historic ancestral home was at different times a residence, school, American tribunal and headquarters of the Japanese occupation.

Mark truly fell in love with the antique, Filipiniana elements–classic chandeliers, polished wood floors, capiz windows, embroidered curtains–of Kapitan Moy; and it will certainly be loved by the wedding photographer’s camera.The large structure is perfectly maintained and can host a party of up to 500 people. 

The historic structure is located along a row of colonial homes.

I was also impressed by its Old World architecture and historicity but I wish it was more accessible. Our church will be in Greenhills, San Juan and although Marikina isn’t necessarily far from the ceremony venue, it will take a few directions, a map and a little travel time to get there. Moreover, parking poses a big problem because the narrow streets offer limited space. On top of that, the wedding will take place on a Sunday and churchgoers across the street will be our main competition for parking. However, Kapitan Moy is several hundred thousands of pesos more affordable than the Champagne Room, even though both places have their roots in Philippine upper-class society.

At the end of the day, the venue that Mark and I chooses will have to satisfy everybody. However, wedding-related decisions are one of the most difficult because there are several parties to please. I may have been exposed to the events industry but I’d have to admit it’s nothing like proposing potential venues to corporate clients. Finding a place to celebrate is a journey that we’re still traversing and hopefully we’ll find that halfway point where we can be pleased with our choice as much as the rest of the family and our friends will be.

Chapter 14: A Room of One’s Own

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” said my Creative Writing professor, Neil C. Garcia. Sir Neil, who Mark and I share as a common teacher at the University of the Philippines, always had an insightful and unique way of looking at things. Moreover, his statement was one of the most relevant observations on marriage that I had come across with in years, and one of the few that actually validated my own ideals. 

Our professor spoke of a necessary yet potentially useful degree of separation within marriage.  Traditional ideals dictate that marriage is all about the union, of becoming one, of merging together as man and wife but for my own twisted reasons, these matters disturbed me somehow. I have always felt like a single girl at heart and there are several creature comforts of bachelorette-dom that I can’t come to terms with letting go of: things as simple as sleeping alone on a queen-sized bed (I have never felt 100% comfortable about having other people beside me. I hog space–enough said); saving up for my own studio without worrying about incorporating somebody else’s taste or having to live with that person’s habits (I am seriously obsessive-compulsive); or the more complicated matter of sharing last names or putting a hypen on mine (Yet why doesn’t the husband hyphen his own name?). This makes me wonder how such a “selfish” individual like myself can make peace with marriage. 

Ideally (and unconventionally), Mark and I would want to have our own personal spaces.

 

We are always told to compromise yet personally I don’t completely agree with this popular piece of advice. I’m sure a lot of people would beg to differ, stating that marriage should be about meeting halfway at a place where two individuals can be happy. Before eyebrows are raised, I would like to say that, my personal idea of compromise is allowing the other person to be him or her self, living a life that allows the other to be a proper, supportive partner in marriage while being an individual with his or her own interests. It is about providing a space for the other which allows for growth, both as a couple and as individuals.

“Love is still possible,” Sir Neil continued. “It is not about trying to change the other.” He continued by giving suggestions on living plans. “Build a house,” he advised. “With a room for each one…and your own bathrooms!” Oh, how I appreciated this suggestion as it echoed my own “wish” to Mark a few years ago.

“I need to have my own room,” I told him back then. “I have to have my own space.” The great thing about my fiancee is how he happily obliged and personally agreed with such a set-up.

“Okay yun [That’s a good suggestion],” he said, “Paminsan-minsan, puwede kitang ligawan uli. [I can attempt to ‘court’ you again and again].” I envision that idea of separate rooms as more than just a literal place where we can express our unique selves but also as a device to help maintain the passion in a relationship.

I once read in a women’s magazine that after some time, a couple’s love life fizzles because of too much familiarity. In other words, we’ve settled into a spot that has become too comfortable and just too easy. Maybe that’s why quickies in dangerous places are so alluring. Then again, it’s precisely these novel and adventurous activities themselves that rekindle the butterflies-in-the-stomach feelings of new love. The article goes on to suggest ditching the usual dinner-and-movie combo for more creative dates. As a result, the rush and excitement from doing activities we don’t routinely do will mimic those feelings we first felt. 

Even Mark and I are guilty of falling into a rut. We meet after work, go to dinner then check out the movies. Movies have always been a failsafe activity since we enjoy analyzing films right after. But this mind exercise, although great for developing a critical eye, has become the norm. Sometimes, we welcome the idea of watching a gig (as a date activity, so night-outs with a big group of friends don’t count, as  far as I’m concerned) but in our 5 years together, we’ve probably seen less than 10, which is strange because Mark used to be in a signed band himself and was deeply immersed in the local music scene. Nowadays, whether it’s because of age or our increasing preference for less stimulating (read: loud bars) activities, we almost never watch gigs (not even bands of our own friends, which is a shame) just because we are satisfied enough with drinking coffee while reading magazines. Yes, go ahead and call us spoilsports.

 

Routine, like brushing your teeth together every 7am, offers the comfort of normalcy but surprises keep things interesting.

 

Seriously though, Mark and I have started to address our own issues of over-familiarity. It’s ironic. We expect our relationships, and later, marriages, to provide us with a sense of stability and normalcy, yet normalcy itself still tends to lose its luster. It’s ironic how we demand convenience and comfort when too much can have the reverse effect.

“Nagsawa lang sila sa isa’t isa [They just got tired of each other]” is a common explanation for long-standing relationships that abruptly end to the surprise of the community. “Weren’t they so happy together? What went wrong?” people ask. Could it be that what went wrong was the now-exes did not have enough mystery, complexity, perhaps danger or periodic distances during their time as a couple? Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say; but likewise, it heightens the effect of your partner’s pheromones. In other words, when you don’t see each other 24/7, you feel crazier for each other.

In order to better understand the normalcy bane, let’s take a look at the relationships of girls. Such unions seem to be even more successful then romantic unions. Sometimes, friendships fall out, but generally girlfriends stick together. Why? Is it because girls maintain a lifetime physical distance. In other words, we don’t get tired literally of one another’s faces. Is it because our innate, subconscious competitiveness imbibes an element of tension that keeps things interesting, for as long as we don’t end up in a catfight and appropriate that sense of competition to challenge ourselves to do better? Is it because girls are constantly finding new things to try, whether it’s as mundane as copying the latest catwalk make-up in a fashion spread or gushing on a new Hollywood crush? I’m not a relationship expert, but maybe there’s something about female relationships that can help us with our own romantic relationships with the opposite sex.

Secondly, maybe we can take a look at literature as an example. When I was in the first year of my master’s course and had to take up a pre-requisite subject in literary theory, I had to do a report on Russian Formalism. I don’t remember most of the details in that report but what stuck with me was the concept of Defamiliarization or Ostranenie, which was popularized by the Russian Formalists. Essentially it is a technique for making common things appear unfamaliar. Ostranenie literally means “to make strange.” One example was the use of a horse’s point of view in  Leo Tolstoy’s Kholstomer. When I think of how I can apply this to spicing up a boring love life, I am immediately reminded of an episode from one paranormal TV show (in the same vein as The Twilight Zone), wherein a man’s wife–literally and figuratively–changes into a different woman everyday, shifting from a leather-clad, whip-wielding dominatrix to a Stepford-type wife who wouldn’t be out of place in a 1950s nuclear family. Hmm, maybe role playing games for couples do help.

Maybe, we should even consider taking relationship cues from Cosplayers. 

Cosplayers constantly dress up in different gaming characters. Outside of the gaming convention, I think role-playing is also great for couples.

 

Yes, I may have always dreamt of separate rooms but I would have to admit that it could cost more as well, especially if this compels us to get a home with more bedrooms, and it displaces say, a potential home office or study. But without having to resort to strictly having a room of one’s own, I believe that the lesson is this: A marriage brings you together because you not only complement each other but you have  a partner with which to explore the novel things that life has to offer; that which keeps life itself interesting and inspiring enough for us to keep discovering a world that is not so familiar after all.

Chapter 13: Handmade Weddings versus Packaged Parties

The past weeks has been extremely hectic for me because of an ongoing transition into a place of greater professional responsibility–not to mention the stress-related diseases that came with it–so for today at least, I’ve decided not to blog about something more complex than event planning for a wedding. Well, I haven’t actually started on any real wedding planning yet–as in conducting occulars and quoting suppliers. Nineteen months is still more than enough time for me but then again I have a history of being a procrastinator.

However, at this point I’ve been exploring what’s currently out there, from venues to chair rentals to photographers–window shopping if you may and this initial exploration has been partly spurred by my mom and brothers prodding me on about my supplier choices. 

Some of these suppliers were hotels offering all-in-one packages. It is something I didn’t consider at the beginning of the engagement because hotels are a popular choice for Filipino wedding receptions so I never took time to look at what they offered. Now, I admit that they can be pretty practical, everything is included from the food to the wedding cake, the hotel room to the centerpieces. Moreover, hotel food almost always pleases guests. As far as my current research goes, the cheapest package I found at a fairly good business hotel in the Ortigas CBD was at P140,000 for 150 people–all in! That’s roughly $3,100 at today’s exchange rate of P44-P46. I’ve actually attended a party at one of the modern function rooms of this particular venue and I did like the food (I particularly remember the carrot and ginger soup best) and the view. In the 5 to 7 -star hotel range, the cheapest offer I found was at P188,000 for 150 guests as well. 

A Hotel wedding comes complete with a can-do staff, leaving you lesser things to do.

Not bad, I thought. This whole packaged deal makes DIY seem a little less attractive. I initially wanted to do a combination of DIY and supplied services but the trade off is almost every detail has to be paid additional attention to. However on the other hand, the thought of a hotel reception felt so boring to me. It’s the party equivalent of an overproduced album or an excessively Photoshopped picture. We lose some of that rawness that gives a personal event character.

So I’ve decided to come up with this list of the pros and cons of putting the party together by hand versus packaging your wedding:

Labor of Love: The DIY route.

The Pros

A DIY wedding requires some craftiness and an extra dose of creativity. Once handmade items are involved, the maker places some level of artistic pride on his or her creation. This not only gives the wedding greater personal value because of the specially-customized pieces but it also gives it a greater level of uniqueness. As a result, the party will stand out more, guests will remember those extra-special details and most importantly, a sense of community is established by the collective efforts put together by friends and family, which is always a great way to begin one’s married life.

DIY Weddings provide opportunities for two families to work together and bond in the process.

 

DIY can also help bring wedding costs down by significant amounts. Naturally, a traditional wedding supplier, especially bigger, more established companies, will charge more because of their credibility and overhead  (their office is in Makati not Divisoria). By creating your own items such as a  handmade veil or a hand-packed candy jar souvenir, you save on thousands of pesos that can go instead to longer-term investments such as the downpayment for your first house or the maternity costs for your first baby.

The Cons

DIY takes time and yes…talent. If someone with a false sense of artistry attempts to come up with a hand-tied bridal bouquet and ends up creating just a tied-up bunch of messy blooms, it will be harder to be upfront with your in-house supplier and both of you might just end up with hurt feelings.

Extremely busy individuals in particularly high-stress work environments might feel hassled by doing the DIY route. Between your 16-hour shoot and the next 16-hour shoot, when do you find time to buy 20  individual flower vases in different  yet complementary designs while following your red and aqua palette and budget of P100 and below? I know that weddings happen once but life and work doesn’t stop during the planning process.

Recommendations

* Assign DIY tasks to natural talents in your bridal party or family. Lucky you if you have  a sister who’s great with makeup to do you big day look or a cousin who’s an art director to design your invitations. If someone insists on creating your paper mobiles and you know for a fact that this individual can’t create paper boats to save his or her life, then ask the decorating committee head to gently guide your eager beaver and to assign simpler tasks to him or her such as painting the wire wreaths white for the mobiles. I personally believe that managing situations like these are better than completely shunning relatives. 

* If you can’t do a 100% handmade wedding–don’t force it. We don’t want to be purists here so be honest with yourself and think about which aspects you would rather assign to a professional supplier. For me this would be the harder-to-manage details such as a buffet for 150 and the centerpieces. For other people it may be the photography or the entertainment. 

* Don’t be overwhelmed by Bridal magazines. Magazines will flood you with various looks, color schemes, wedding themes and supplier advertisements. Don’t feel overwhelmed or compelled to immediately book 80% of them. Read these magazines to gain inspiration and to know your supplier options but at the same time, be aware of what you want aesthetically and budget-wise, otherwise you might get too excited and end up over-spending when you don’t need to. Secondly, don’t depend on bridal magazines, which tend to be pricier as with anything that has the word bridal attached to it (include any white dress in a bridal line and watch the prices go up). As far as I’m concerned, bridal magazines are best for researching gown styles, which is also the reason why I am guilty of having a large stack beside me to feed my fashion fixation. There are other alternative sources such as that gift wrap with the cool blue and red paisley print, a butterfly with vibrant shades of lavender and yellow, the coral colors of a sunset sky or even that sparkly bottle of glittery nail polish! The next step is to write down the colors, motifs, even the films and artworks that you and your fiancee like. Moreover, magazines–and i’ll throw in bridal fairs as well–are not the only source of advice for planning a wedding. Seek advice and recommendations from organizers, married friends and the internet for wedding blogs. Do your research based on actual experiences and this will make the DIY process less stressful.

Do your research: Bridal Magazines are more concerned with selling you a product. Instead, seek further advice and gather tips from organizers, married friends and even on online forums and blogs.

 

For more online DIY inspiration, I recommend visiting the blog, 2000 dollar budget wedding

For ideas on creative wedding themes, head to Rock N’ Roll Bride.

For reviews on Philippine wedding venues, visit http://venues.multiply.com, a particularly helpful site by a local events organizer. 

Finally, look through Etsy, an online store for unique handmade designs (I recommend the wedding accessories page) that you can probably reproduce yourself on a smaller budget.

Polished to Perfection: The Packaged Wedding

The Pros

A packaged wedding is the polar opposite of the 100% DIY wedding. Whether you get a venue with an in-house caterer or a hotel, you won’t have to worry much about putting together the individual details such as renting chairs and tents from a separate source or getting your cake from another baker. That means your planning will involve less grind work, less travel expenses and less headaches. In my personal experience of working with a luxury hotel for an event three years ago, I was absolutely impressed by how accommodating the staff was even in high pressure situations.

The Cons

On the aesthetic level, if you’re as anal as me in terms of trying to organize an alternative wedding, then I think one based on a template package won’t be as helpful in achieving this. For one, you will be using the same space, chairs and tables that other couples have used. Hence, you will need to make an extra effort at customizing your celebration and working closely with your venue coordinator to achieving this. 

Recommendations

* Know your priorities and determine your weaknesses. Depending on whether you or your fiancee will be on top of the wedding planning, I recommend going the packaged route if one of you has: 1. a highly-stressful day job, 2. night shift work, 3. little patience with details. Maybe you’re saying, we only get married once! We should make this a priority despite how busy we are! Yes, I do agree with you however I personally believe that planning a party that will last a couple of hours is really just one aspect of your married life. I would like to think that there are practical, economically-related matters matters such as working and saving for the beginning of your life together, that need to be taken care of as well in the months (or in my case, years) leading to your betrothal. I also recognize that not everybody is in the business of event organizing and would have little patience for the tasks involved. As with running a business, if a particular area is not your expertise, get someone to fill in those gaps. Whether you want to hire a coordinator or designate a family member who is accustomed to throwing parties, by all means, do so.

* Don’t get too comfortable. Sure, the hotel is taking care of everything but don’t forget to involve yourself. The couple still has to be on top of things. This will help you prevent any unpleasant surprises on the big day. At the same time, you must be able to assert what you desire because at the end of the day, a wedding is still a personal occasion.

* Note your guest list. In my opinion, packaging it is more practical in the context of large weddings involving 200 guests or more. In the Filipino culture, family ties are so close and the families themselves so large that it’s fairly difficult to keep one’s guest list to a minimum. In fact 150 guests is considered a small wedding in this country whereas in the West, it’s more common to have celebrations with less than a hundred. If I could have just 50 guests at my own, I would by all means, completely prepare it myself with my friends and family. 

Consider how many guests you're expecting when deciding on how to implement your wedding.

 

Whether you choose to go completely DIY or to package everything, everything boils down to this: Know what you want, be aware of your limitations and don’t feel compelled to follow everything that you read or hear about.

Extremist individuals from both the DIY camp and the professionally-supplied camp tend to put down the other side with a passion. For example, one local photography ad had copy that encouraged couples to hire a pro or regret bad images for the rest of your life. On the other hand, the DIY group frowns upon the commercialism of the wedding industry. I don’t completely agree with neither side because practically, I would like to have the uniqueness and community-building of the former and the convenience and physical quality of the latter.

Most importantly, I believe that what matters most is getting ready to take the next step of living your days after the party ends and the responsibilities and challenges of marriage takes over. Amidst all the fuss about planning for one big day, a wedding is really just the beginning of something greater.

Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Chapter 12: Struggling to Stand Out

I think the biggest perk of having a 3-year engagement–with 20 months to go–is I have more than enough time to make my wedding as unique as I want it to be.

However, the problem with stubborn bride-to-bes like myself is I don’t feel excited by say more than 50% of local suppliers. From a marketing point-of-view, sometimes I can’t figure out what makes them stand out. I picked up my first bridal magazine early in 2009 and upon looking through pages upon pages of the usual tiffany chairs, the typical white dress on a mannequin shot, the standard  gold wedding band sets, I felt creatively un-inspired. 

A mass wedding in Melbourne where one big day is shared among many. Photo credits: http://paul-in-thought.blogspot.com

 

Before further stressing myself out with suppliers and the nitty-gritty of planning, Mark and I decided on a theme that would serve as the nucleus for all our creative inputs and obsessions. We eventually decided on books and the central image of a  classic writer’s room came to mind. I dreamt of antique typewriters, coffee tables, hard-bound journals, bookmarks, library cards, shelves, quills and paper. I envisioned a romantic, vintage setting, a departure from the wired world of e-books and avatars. 

The vintage elements in this picture of actress, Kiera Knightley partly inspired the book theme idea.

 

With a concept in mind, I felt more focused. It was easier to choose suppliers from there. However, the Philippine Wedding Industry is a cookie-cutter business that caters mostly to one type of celebration: the traditional Pinoy wedding that begins with a Roman Catholic ceremony followed by a reception attended by hundreds of guests at a standard built-for-formal-functions venue, usually a hotel ballroom, tent, restaurant or events place (really anything that has the word “event” attached to its name). Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve attended a lot of weddings at these traditional venues and yes, they were fun, the food was great, I enjoyed the company and at the end of the day, what matters is the couple is happy and aching from all their satisfied grins. But when it comes to my own celebration, I want to throw a party that will truly stand out and be remembered. 

Hmm, sometimes I think that this is really just my ego talking, indirectly saying “I wanna outdo you all with the party of the century!”

Honestly, just as much as we would adore someone’s roast calf stand,  we also can’t help but criticize the color combinations (“It’s so 75th anniversary!”). Admit it, at one point or another we’ve panned someone’s wedding choices, thinking that if we could do it ourselves, we’d pair yellow with gunmetal (instead of gold) or choose a more central venue by contrast to that “ridiculously pricey resort.” Personally, I enjoy nitpicking dress styles that look like 80s pieces displaced in time and event photos that instigate some degree of embarrassment by simply looking at it. 

I am not exempted from such criticisms.As early as now, even without having started some real wedding planning and supplier booking, I’ve already heard a few criticisms about my preferences, from considering a back-up tent to favoring a buffet over a sit-down dinner. Someone will always believe that he or she could do things better and we ourselves are guilty.

But as much as we want to help our friends and relatives with their wedding choices, why do we likewise want to (subconsciously) outdo them when it comes to our own partis? Does wedding-planning bring out a natural competition wherein family members’ respective celebrations indirectly compete for the benchmark of kick-ass nuptials? Do weddings, as such personal expressions of the couple, pressure the bride and groom to assert their capacities in other words, nag-pa-pa-impress in the negative sense (trying hard to impress)?

You could argue that not all couples are all about flaunting their assets (or their gourmet taste) at their weddings. You are right; but the bottomline is this: we all want to impress our guests by giving them the best party possible. Naturally, our benchmark for the “best party possible” is other weddings we’ve been to. We compare and contrast, pick out the details we liked best (“I loved Jack and Jill’s green tea cake! Must ask them to recommend their baker!”) and isolate the ones that appalled us (Mental note: Don’t book that P100,000 venue with the awful ladies room).

The problem with wanting to impress is that sometimes it can bring out our personal insecurities. When insecurities are involved, the void left by one’s lack of self-esteem is filled with brand name wedding gowns, chichi registries, godparents in high places (sans the actual parent-like bonds) and a dozen chilled bottles of Dom Perignon 1992. 

Can an over-abundance of lace and frills make up for a severe lack of personality?

 

It would be dishonest for me to say that I have not used my wedding choices to make up for my own insecurities and weaknesses. I can’t dance up a storm like the cool party people so I’ll forego the traditional wedding dance for something edgier like a first song, wherein I will play the drums (an instrument I started learning at 14). I’ll also forego the after-dinner dancing to prevent making a fool of myself and revealing my un-coolness.

Now that I think about it, choosing a book theme with its artful, literary  motifs even reminds me of my own frustrations as a copywriter and as a student of creative writing. Working in the agency, I’ve had doubts about my ability to think of “award-winning concepts” so to speak. Although I always felt inclined towards creative endeavors back in school, upon entering the industry I discovered a lot of highly-talented individuals with international accolades under their belt to boot. On the other hand, I continue to be hunted by my lack of an identity and lack of literary knowledge as a student. I have been guilty of not having read the canon of local literature. I have been guilty of not being able to answer the question “What do you write?” when the answers are press releases and event scripts instead of the more respectable magical realism or speculative fiction. Still, I chose books because reading and writing have been meaningful to me in even more positive ways: books have helped me deal with my depression, inspired me to have entrepreneurial dreams and helped me get away from the stresses of my work life and step into imagined worlds of magic, luxury and even dystopia; writing has helped me deal with my complex emotions, allowed me think better and yes, it simply brings me joy whether I’m talking about my thoughts on marriage or a school paper for Rizal class–I really do love it even if I get criticized sometimes. And maybe this is the kind of attitude I need to bring into preparing not only for a wedding but for marriage itself; questions marks will be raised and not everyone will be pleased with our choices, but we’re doing this because despite all the difficulties of making that next big step in one’s life, the decision to marry brings satisfaction, assurance and an egotistical sense of feeling uhm wanted.

Reading and writing is a staple in both Mark's and my daily life.

 

One of the most interesting parts of a wedding magazine isn’t actually the page on modern party favors list or the article that showcases “50 bouquets you’ll love!” It’s the features on real-life couples and how their weddings have become personal reflections of their lives. 

Maybe, in spite of ourselves and the little green-eyed monsters that inhabit our less-than-perfect psyches, the challenge of planning a wedding that will stand out is to not lose ourselves in the celebration and to remind ourselves of the more positive bits. By this, I mean, how can we make guests identify the couple’s personal stamp on every element, from the food to the favors? If we were a brand, how do we keep the wedding in line with what we represent as a couple and as individuals?

I’m sure that we will continue to envision our weddings in relation to past gatherings. Whether we’re throwing a grand celebration for 700 or an intimate backyard barbecue for 30, the goal is to create an experience that will not lose the essence of who we are.

***

 

Here is my wish list of wedding elements! Some of these will forever remain wishes because their impossible prices will just kick off my married life in debt.

If anyone knows suppliers for some of the items here,  please leave a message. I would really appreciate it!

1. Wooden Chairs 

Tiffany chairs are  de rigueur for weddings. However, I would love to have something in wood or a combination of wood and metal. Unfortunately, I haven’t discovered (or I’m not looking hard enough?) a rental that offers something like the following:

 

Maid-of-honor, Cha suggested these lovely Thonet chairs--but where to get them?

 

Batibot chairs are commonly found in cafes. Being a cat-lover, I couldn't help but notice this quirky version with a furry feline printed on the seat. Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thephilosopher

 

2. Tubogas Wedding Band

 

The Tubogas ring is characterized by its serpetine shape and exorbitant price tag.

 

I’ve always been in love with the Tubogas jewelry line, that almost every time I find myself at the Bvlgari counter I try on the watch version–a serpentine gem that costs at least P300,000 and has graced the wrist of Elizabeth Taylor. The wedding band is $6,000 for the set–that’s already more than the budget I have in mind for the entire wedding itself!

3. Courtyard at the Ayala Triangle Park 

Ever since this lovely park opened late in 2009, I started eyeing it as a potential wedding venue. When my first choice, the Filipinas Heritage Library, which is located at the perimeter in the park went out of the question because the nearby parking lot is closed on Sundays (and our date is on a Sunday), I immediately scoured the park and found this courtyard located behind Tower One.

The Courtyard of Ayala Triangle Park at 5pm. The park was formerly an unkempt urban forest before Ayala Land spruced up the unused lot. Today, the park is peopled with joggers and commuters.

 

However, I didn’t know if this area even allows weddings and if it did, it may possibly cost a lot given the size of the area. But you’ll never know until you ask so without further delay, I approached the security guards of Tower One, where the Ayala offices occupy the top floors. I was given a name and a number of the supposed park coordinator but after four days of calling, I got no reply. *sighs*

The park view facing Tower One.

 

4. Photography by MangoRed

MangoRed is a group of photographer brothers who are known for their unique documentation style. Every album they create is a like a narrative. They capture all the important details and unique nuances of the wedding setting. They showcase the guests and the couple in their element, laughing and playing rather than frozen in rehearsed smiles.

 

Weddings just seem more interesting and loose their cheese factor when viewed through the lens of MangoRed's photographers. Photo: http://www.mangored.com

 

However, I also find their prices pretty high too and booking them would bring my budget up by about 25%. Yet, I’m wary about getting the more traditional photographers who in my opinion, don’t bring something new to the (coffee) table and is an even bigger waste of money.

I love photography with a narrative quality. Anything else that is the equivalent of a cheesy romance novel will be dropped like a hot potato.

 

After discussing this with my maid-of-honor, we both agreed that I could lower my costs for other things (except food and alcohol!), and a parent even encouraged me to just go ahead and get them since the folks are pitching in. I started feeling giddy but likewise,  guilty and nervous about booking MangoRed because I can’t get that figure out of my head.

***

 

Finally, even with a theme, the sheer number of wedding options can be pretty overwhelming and once you start coming up with a wish list, it can get pretty frustrating especially when something is out of budget. While most wedding magazines aren’t really that helpful except for browsing dresses, the one and only publication that I recommend is Real Simple Weddings.

I always buy my magazines second hand. My copy of Real Simple Weddings 2009 was purchased for P250 at Just-In, a back issue stand in Promenade Mall, Greenhills.

 

Published annually, Real Simple Weddings is everything I’ve ever wanted in a magazine: very little ads (in fact the only ads in the 2009 edition were of Crate and Barrel), tasteful promotions, lots of features on every type of wedding (no discriminations between casual barbecues and traditional fetes), practical etiquette advice, and in-depth chapters on planning (not just Top 10 tips!) which is really helpful since not everybody does events for a living and it would be nice to save funds that would otherwise go to a professional coordinator’s fees. Besides, I think getting involved in the wedding planning is a great exercise in management for both bride and groom.

Chapter 11: When Families Tie the Knot

We all know that marriage is more than a contract between two individuals. When people marry, they likewise marry into each other’s family. I mentioned in a previous post that Mark and I plan to do a civil marriage only, but our plans have changed since his family officially met ours: we are now doing a Roman Catholic wedding. On a personal level, coming not that decision was not easy. The hours leading to our pamamanhikan was filled with arguments between the two of us about doing a traditional ceremony. His side would love to see or union being blessed “in the eyes of God” and while I was privy at first, those apprehensions had less to do with my not wanting to meet their requests as it was my own criticisms of a traditional Christian union.

You and me against the world: Over-romanticizing your union isolates the other family members who also play roles in a marriage.

 

To begin with, I admit that I am such a stubborn bride-to-be and much of that stubbornness stems from my deep-seated distrust in an institution that has subjected women to its patriarchal nature. From the traditional gender roles it espouses to the symbolism of the veil–its placement on the man’s shoulder and a woman’s head signifies how we are property of our husbands. From the adoption of the husband’s name (men never hyphen their names with their wives) to the giving away of the woman by her parents, which evolved from brides representing payment to another family. If the payment doesn’t happen to be pretty, there’s no refund or exchange policy!

Sometimes, I can’t help but feel anxious about having to consent with this tradition.In my head, initial images of walking down the aisle did not portray me as the smiling, blushing bride but of a grieving one, pulling at her hair at having to succumb to the Church’s prescriptions for an ideal marriage.

Should making peace with a traditional marriage result in a personal hell of inner conflict?

 

“But you’re not getting married to a traditional man!” replied Mark, to my anti-institution angst. My fiancee felt that getting married in the boundaries of Catholicism shouldn’t dictate the way we will live our lives afterwards.

“We can create our own rules, our own culture of marriage,” he assured me. 

Mark’s advice was the silver lining in this whole business of getting hitched. It also helped that his brother and sister-in-law informed us that it is possible to customize your Catholic church rites, thank God.

I know that in spite my feelings, at the end of the day, I would have to agree to it anyway for the sake of the family’s happiness and of course to show our respect for this union that we share with them. This willingness to integrate in peace is something that I’ve had to learn throughout the years; something that I had to initially struggle with. 

In this day and age, the emancipation of contemporary Filipino women has allowed us to embraced Individualism. Through the decades, we have earned more rights, we are better educated, we are beginning to earn more respect in society. I wouldn’t say we’ve completely made it but it would be wrong to not acknowledge that women are earning better places in the socio-economic and cultural spheres. As a result, we are marrying at a later age, usually developing our careers first before settling down. Some of us are even opting to keep our family names and becoming more active in supporting our families financially. 

I am a big fan of this individualist approach to womanhood but unfortunately, my Individualism has worked against me in the realm of relationships, not just with Mark but with his and my family. It even resulted to a two-year clinical depression coupled with various anxiety attacks, a problem that my psychiatrist and counsellor called “adjustment.” 

Depression placed me in a state of misunderstood isolation.

 

Because I refuse to be subjected to male-female double standards, I was bold enough to spend time alone in a room with Mark under the roofs of our parents’ homes. Because I have so much pride in myself and my achievements, I reeled in hysteria at being compared to my the fiancee’s ex (something that I would often instigate myself in order to assert my being, my individuality). Because of all my individualist ego-tripping, I failed to acknowledge the crucial connections that intertwined with our relationship; and with those connections came an entire cast of characters: family members each with a unique lens with which to perceive our bond. 

Months of counselling and several packs of Zoloft later, I slowly started to understand that being a relationship with someone presents the challenge of balancing your individualism and your ability to relate with the family of your significant other, especially among Pinoy families, wherein the links between parents, children and well into the first and second degree relatives can be so intimate. It really is an ongoing exercise in diplomacy. For Filipino couples, the challenge is to be able to appeal to the sensibilities of those who are crucial to our lives, from the young and liberal-minded to the more traditional seniors. 

That said, I recommend the following list of social tactics, inspired by my own observations of individuals from the PR and advertising industries, which have to deal with the daily social juggle of clients from all walks of life, corporate cultures and political beliefs. However, always combine these tactics with a genuine charm and natural interest in the family, because ass-kissing will eventually backfire on you.

#1 Give Gifts

The simplest way to please a crowd (or the media ) is to give gifts. It’s a simple gesture that needs little explaining–great for the socially-timid! Whenever I attend a press event, for as long as we have a small token and a well-stocked buffet awaiting us, we will feel taken cared of and even better, we won’t feel invisible. Family members need to feel acknowledged. During dinners or lunches, offer to bring dessert or wine. When overseas-based relatives come home, welcome them with a gift. You don’t have to spend much or flaunt your gourmet taste. As the old adage goes, it’s the thought that counts.

Marriage is an agreement to make peace not war.

 

#2 Acknowledge Achievement

Older family members have much to be proud of. At their age, they have achieved much professionally and personally like building businesses or raising excellent children. When agencies  pitch to clients, apart from presenting the creative concept and answering all their burning questions on marketing and budgets, we also inquire about the success of their enterprise, comment on the beautifully-designed offices and cite how their products/services has benefitted us somehow (“Oh, my six-year-old loves your Banana-Walnut Breakfast Cereal!”) . Likewise, ask your future in laws about their pursuits: that joint venture that your fiancee talked proudly about, the European tour they recently embarked on, the ongoing renovation of their living room. However, be mindful of forcing your own taste into these acknowledgements. Unless they ask for your opinion, there’s no need to say that you dislike the celadon paint with floral appliques in their kitchen.

#3 Project Likeability

You won’t always be in a good mood but when you’re constantly frowning, scowling and dead-paning. People will relegate you to the Emotional Vampire category. Again, agencies try their best to put on a smile even after pulling an all-nighter or amidst the mounting stress of a bug event. What’s that you say? It’s hard to pretend you’re in a good mood when you’re not?

Of course it is and no one is asking you to keep all that emotion in but expressing feels should be done at the right place and time. For example. you don’t need to express anger to an employee in full sight of everybody. Instead, you take that person aside, express your discontentment then offer solutions afterwards. You likewise don’t need to express your passionate stirrings in front of your parents. 

In social situations, Filipino families do take notice of a non-family member who looks like she/he would rather be somewhere else. Maybe you don’t but learn how to relate to them: say your hellos, ask them how they’re doing, share in the meal. If you want to go, ask permission to leave, thank the host then make a gracious getaway.  

Smile and mean it.

 

#4 Listen to Opinions

It has been popularly said that a lot of discontentment arises from the fact that we judge people’s opinions in relation to our own set of values.  Even more drama results when we begin arguments on politics and religion but we  can’t expect the family of our significant other to be either left, right or in between. Personally, this is the trickiest thing for me to deal with and once people  begin speaking their minds on such polarizing topics like sexual orientation, political parties and reproductive health, it’s easy to touch nerves. This is the very reason why I had to struggle with accepting a traditional wedding–it conflicted with my own feelings about the Roman Catholic rite.

The simplest way to deal with something I don’t agree with is to let it in one ear and out the other. Once an exchange in points of view is made, someone will somehow tell you you’re wrong. It’s easy to just shrug it off and say that that’s just the way you see things but try to keep the anger under control. Sometimes, it’s possible to engage in a debate but try to separate intellectual argument from raw emotion. Difficult of course but it’s a fact of life that not everybody will be on your side. What people believe in will always stem from deep-seated value that are hard to change.  Still, there will be individuals who will agree with you, now that’s the the proper venue to vent your disagreements with other ideas. 

Marrying into another family is a non-negotiable reality of wedded life. Through the complex web of characters that one will be dealing with, the goal is to not lose yourself.

Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 11:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 10: The Filipino Dream

It’s ironic that in the past, I would often complain to my fiancee, Mark, that his erratic work hours (as a sound engineer) will take its toll on his health when I myself agree to working in nearly the same set-up, as a copywriter and more recently,as an accounts person, on a retainer basis.

As freelancers, although we recognize the benefits, there’s also a downside to working on a first come first served basis: we can’t predict what our days and weeks will be like. Apart from that, we have lean months and we have more abundant seasons, and during the latter, the work can get pretty overwhelming and the deadlines, unforgiving. For me, this usually comes during the first and last quarters of the year.

Not Enough Time: Freelancers like Mark and I can't always set aside time for non-work related matters outside of our already flaky schedules.

 

Since December 2009  till April 2010, I have been taking on a number of projects that had me working even on weekends and well through the night until the early morning hours. 

The past few weeks were even more tiring. On top of work deadlines, there were a lot of family gatherings to attend, since Mark’s relatives from the US, including his mom, were in town for his brother’s wedding last April 10 as well as our pamamanhikan (a Filipino tradition wherein the man’s family formally asks for a woman’s hand in marriage) last April 13. During the pamamanhikan, I was already sick with what I believed to be a common cold but after 5 days of pill-popping and several doses of Vitamin C, I was nowhere close to getting better. As we urban-living folks usually are–reactive rather than proactive–I went to the doctor only when things got worse.

“You have pneumonitis,” explained Dr. Aquino, as he showed me my x-rays. Dr. Aquino is a chest diseases expert who like me, preferred to work at night with clinic hours beginning at 6pm. In other words, he was the perfect doctor for me.

“It’s starting pneumonia. Your chest x-rays show that you’re getting there,” he continued while pointing out to some ghostly white marks in the region of my chest: the result of months of toiling odd hours has come back to haunt me in the form of a looming disease.

“What causes it?” I asked. I never actually knew what pneumonia was, something that I would later discover as an inflammation of the lungs.

“It’s caused by overfatigue, dehydration and the heat wave. When you’re too tired, your body’s immunity goes down,” he replied as he drew up a long list of antibiotics, decongestants, antitussives, other un-pronounceable drugs on his notepad. Apart from the pneumonitis, Dr. Aquino also pointed out that I had mild asthma. I was sent home to stay there for an entire week,  forbidden to attend Spanish class, which I already missed for a total of 3 sessions, or do any work in the coming days.

It may be uncomfortable to be releasing phlegm all day but the doctor’s orders sounded like music to my ears. Now, all I have to do is stay in bed, read my books and take the drugs after every breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was as if disease was the ultimate savior from all the work that caused it in the first place.

I have overfatigue to thank for giving me the opportunity to rest from...overfatigue.

 

Ironically, I couldn’t get my to-do list out of my head and realized just how hard it is to disengage myself from the daily grind. I  must cancel my meeting for Monday morning. I must tell the web designer to get in touch directly with the clients regarding the images he need. I have to tell the studio that I will be indisposed for a week. I need to photocopy Spanish notes. I must. I must. I must!

While all this was happening, Mark and I also got into an argument about what we wanted out of our future professional lives. Having recognized the health risks of 24-hour, sometimes 48-hour, shooting days and after almost a decade of doing film-related work, Mark was getting emotionally, mentally and physically tired of his job and wanted to move into the 9-to-5 realm, away from the schizophrenic, flaky world of Philippine cinema–an option he had also discussed with his own shrink.

“I need  time to do the things I want to,” he told me. “Like going back to my music.”

It’s ironic. We always expect a freelance set-up to be more accommodating to non-work activities yet in some cases, its unpredictability leaves little flexibility for recreation. You never know when an instant deadline will knock off your plans to go to Batangas for the weekend.

Mark, who has always loved writing and performing folk music, has not done that for several years. Hence, he began entertaining a possible career shift, alongside being a weekend businessman, since the two of us plan to start an enterprise focused on production and marketing communications. Moreover, since he had all this equipment, not to mention contacts in the production industry, his gadgets would comprise additional capital for the company. 

This was the good news. I totally agreed with his brave plans to reinvent his professional life, but I got edgy when he mentioned this: “I’m thinking of going back to school again. Take up Library Science. You know, just in case I get an opportunity to work for the UN.”

Mark’s mom has been enjoying a satisfying career as a librarian at the UN headquarters in New York and this means, when she retires, Mark or his brother can possibly apply for the same position. It’s a fairly specialized job hence a library science degree would be especially helpful.

Now, it may sound like a great opportunity. I’m sure it is but what worried me wasn’t the nature of the work per se or the chance to work in New York City, the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” as Alicia Keys would sing. It was the prospect that this sort of move for my future husband would mean, we would have to relocate to the First World together or endure a long-distance relationship, which in my book, will never work out. 

The thought made me feel even sicker to my antibiotic-saturated stomach and the reason is this. I grew up in a culture that has a high regard for entrepreneurship and nation-building. I was influenced to treat employment as a time to build skills and a network, which I would later use for a personal venture. Immigration is one of those things I vowed never to do because quite honestly, I fear discrimination (yes, even in liberal New York).I  also feel disheartened by the thought of leaving a familiar place, where most of my family and best friends are. As a city with a high cost of living, moving to New York would mean my monthly overhead would cost much more than here in Manila. Sure, the wages are higher too, but to my mind, an ideal set-up is to earn well enough from a business and to have low overhead so that we can save more. Above all, I fear that I might have to go back to being an employee. 

A long-distance relationship challenges you to develop the skill of turning each other on with just your voice or YM chat.

 

These statements aren’t meant to put down people with dreams of going to their personal Canaan. My own best friend loves New York so much–her sister practices there as a doctor–and the thought of studying and working in the Big Apple did enter her mind. Mark and I have several friends and relatives who have started their lives all over again by migrating to the US. My own brother and his family is in the process of moving to Canada. I am merely saying that it is my personal choice to remain here because my dream is to have  an enterprise (or ideally, even a series of businesses) that will help me fulfill an economically-rewarding life while having the opportunity to provide work for other people. I still believe this country to be great in spite its shortcomings and failings; and the best part is, because the cost of living is low, I have better chances of saving my finances so I can travel more and hopefully, see the world, for another dream of mine is to become a seasoned tourist.

Yet in the meantime, this is not my reality–yet.

The truth is I have been overworked by several projects and because the economy is not performing as well as in past years, my usual rates have been cut down by clients more often than not. In this country, if you’re not a tycoon, a real-estate mogul or a trust fund baby, you better be able to multitask in order to earn fair enough to pay the monthly bills. However, sometimes what you give up in exchange is a healthy state of body and state of mind. 

Even if I do start a business, I will still be affected by other forms of uncertainty like economy and the socio-political atmosphere.

Knowing this, maybe it is better for me to just drop everything and yes, move to the first world, where I can build  a stable career at a stable institution, away from the corruption, pollution and the occupational hazards of the Third World. Yet, the other side of me says, No! Don’t give up yet on that dream! If all else fails, only then, will we move out of the contry.

It’s sad just thinking about all this: that your country is just Plan A or Plan B; to know that what our nation has failed to give us–a stable, peaceful and healthy life–has easily weakened its boundaries and made it easier, even more attractive, for us to move past those ragile borders and into the lands we clearly see in the horizon: the First World, flowing freely with milk and honey.

It’s even sadder to know that even though Filipinos may go to other countries, not all of them will have golden opportunities to work at the best companies in the world’s most flourishing nations. There is a sector of economically-disadvantaged individuals–mostly women–who are working as domestic helpers in places like Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia.

According to the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project, Filipino migration has a “female face.” In 2006, 1,083,538 documented Overseas Filipino Workers were deployed to more than 190 destinations. Of these, 60% were women. Several of these domestic helpers become victims of maltreatment, nonpayment, underpayment, contract substitution, long and unforgiving working hours and sexual abuse. The may also become the unfortunate targets of shady and illegal “placement firms” which they depended on in the first place to find work. How heartbreaking it must be to find out that you were not in trustworthy hands!

Famous cases include Sarah Balabagan, whose controversial life as a Domestic Helper in the United Arab Emirates involved the murder of an employer who allegedly raped her, Flor Contemplacion, who was sentenced to death by hanging in Singapore and more recently, the mysterious “Melissa” whose rape by her employer was captured on phone by a fellow OFW. 

The tragic story of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipino domestic helper, was translated to the big screen in a biopic starring Nora Aunor.

 

In 2006, these overseas workers generated $10.7 billion in remittances to their families, boosting economy and earning them the title of “unsung heroes.” However, oftentimes the decision to work in a foreign land–with the well-meaning goal of providing for their own families–comes with the cost of their health, sanity, happiness and sometimes, their very lives.

In my own family, we have a relative who has experienced the isolating life of working as a domestic helper in a country that I will not disclose.

“I was lucky to have very nice employers,” she told me in Filipino, during one of our conversations, during her first few weeks back in the Philippines. “But it’s not typical for these people to feed their helpers. You have to buy your own food and food there is so expensive!” Filipinos being the way they are, love to eat and the Pinoy homeowner usually share their meals with the house helpers. 

She recounts days of intense hunger after working from sun up to way past sun down. She remembers several moments of homesickness yet finding solace in her fellow Filipinas. She is likewise grateful to have had “very nice” employers, by contrast to other unfortunate women she knew, who were thrown into jail for crimes that they have not been proven to have committed against their employers. 

When I hear stories like this, it makes me wonder, what is the Filipino Dream? If it is a dream at all, why does it tend to sound more like a nightmare.

Certainly, a lot of our hardest decisions are based on a desire and a need to support our families for we are a family-centered people; and our large weddings and full houses are just a few examples to support that. We are very dependent on each other, from parents to first degree cousins and beyond. What we are not is the independent American who leaves home at 18 to find a job; yet, we are willing to leave behind our homeland, to live amongst the fiercely independent Americans, Australians and Europeans out of sheer love for our spouses, sons, daughters, parents! That is why it isn’t easy. Being family-centered, once we stretch the physical spaces that bound us together, we are left with a large void that we try to fill with several long-distance calls and lengthy emails. Mark is one of those who saw this option as an attractive one, because in the long run, he wants to support me and our future children–if all else doesn’t work out.

For all its challenges, we are still willing to cut the umbilical cord that binds us to our motherland. Maybe we are becoming just like our Caucasian counterparts, independent and ready to say goodbye to one’s parents to seek a sovereign land of opportunity…but not entirely, because, sometimes, we choose to bring the entire family with us as we migrate. 

It's the ultimate migration-or-death story when Moses led the Israelites out of their difficult lives in Egypt. Once they reach the Promised Land though, they begin a sinful life of excess and idol-worship.

 

Having said all this, I wonder why am I so concerned. I’m not the most nationalistic person I know. I don’t read as much Filipino literature as I should, which is a shame because I enrolled myself in the state university five years ago to study writing. I don’t have the best Filipino vocabulary and often find myself the laughing stock of friends and family who marvel at questions like “What’s puntod?” said in my colegiala accent, a manner of speaking that is native to Catholic School girls who mix English with Tagalog so well that each language loses its identity. 

I believe that I could be an even prouder Filipino. I am not even a brave one, like my contemporaries who will go to such lengths as moving to other countries with entire families in tow, and beginning their own rewarding careers in the big cities of the world. Sometimes, I think I even envy them when I hear stories about how progressive and clean their country of migration is compared to poor, filthy, stinky Metro Manila and her many shanties, bumpy roads and street beggars.

Filipinos like me are probably the reason why we don’t have a clear sense of who we are as a people. We love the Western world so much with its movie stars, its luxuries and personally, its large network of Sephora make-up stores (What no Sephora in Manila? How backward!).

But maybe by contrast, that is what we are. We are defined by our hybrid quality as a bilingual people; our hybrid culture which combines Malay, Spanish and American influences, due of course to centuries of occupation, colonization and I’m sure a fascination will tall, white, sharp-nosed people; and finally our constant movement through the continents. 

Maybe that is why the Filipino dream can exist anywhere in this world. It is that physical, emotional and mental space where we build our careers, grow our families and fulfill our dreams–whether we choose to work in a big, busy mega city or run a quiet livelihood here in the country.

But this very mode of existence, as people of the world, presents an even greater challenge and that is the challenge to protect the Filipino well-being, wherever  the Filipino may be on the planet. Somehow, we have to be each other’s doctors, nurses, shrinks and counsellors, guarding the overall health and well-being of our fellow men and women–from the financial to the spiritual.

If we choose to become local entrepreneurs, let’s prioritize the needs of our employees such as health benefits, opportunities to grow, fair wages, a safe working environment and the occasional night out with lots of cold beer, hot gossip and sizzling sisig. Let us also find ways to put the Filipino name on the global map by producing local products and services that are world-class. There are already a number of businesspeople doing this. For starters, visit Greenbelt 5 in Makati and check out the designer row as well as the furniture places at the top floor. In particular, there is this one Pampanga-based enterprise that creates vintage-inspired, travel-themed furniture that is just too lovely to pass!

Arnel Papa, who has a store in Greenbelt 5, is one of my favorite local designers. For 20 years, he has been exporting his creations to the US and Europe, joining the ranks of other globally-recognized designers like Bea Valdes and Tina Maristela-Ocampo (of Celestina). I guess, getting featured in the pages of Vogue automatically counts as world recognition.

 

If we decide to be employees or freelancers, let’s do ourselves a favor and try, just try not to work exclusively for the money. Yes, it may be seen as a means to an end, and yes, good financial health is still something we ought to aim for (after all it is about making a living!) but I think it is also our duty to ourselves to find some degree of satisfaction in what we do, then from there, we will be motivated enough to be proactive and productive individuals who will be indispensable to our respective industries. Other than that, and this is something I’ve had to learn the hard way, let’s keep our health and well-being in check–the same goes for business owners! 

If we choose to migrate, I believe the same principles must apply. I may not be a migrant myself but if I were one, I think that if you’re going to live and work in another country, you better do something you will be passionate about. While in that country–whether temporarily or permanently–I think that we should also be accountable for the well-being of our fellow citizens (who can understand them better than we do) but at the same time, we should also learn to embrace the people in the country we have chosen. After all, they welcomed us, gave us jobs and a place in their society. Don’t you think that makes them worthy of our gratefulness, at the very least? Besides, integration is one thing that we Pinoys are so good at and that is one skill that would certainly help in making migration feel a little less strange and its foreign faces a little more familiar.

Life and work is hard enough. The question is: how do we create a sense of community through the highs and lows?

How do create a sense of community that will keep us strong during high times and low times?

Finally, wherever we are, let’s be aware of those spaces where the health and happiness of the Filipino worker is threatened. Everything begins by listening to their needs, no matter how close or far-flung they may be. No, I don’t think you even have to be a social worker or a radical to do this. The simple Pinoy can begin with his or her own sphere of influence. It’s as simple as taking an over-stressed co-worker to a relaxing day at a spa or volunteering a little of your time or resources to a cause or a charity you believe in–and there are so many of them out there! It is never to late to find one that is close to your heart, whether it’s something as universal as basic human rights or something more concentrated like education for special children, youth entrepreneurship or environmental awareness, cancer or cleft palate. No one cause is more important than the other. The truth is there are just too many issues to deal with, we may as well spread out our energies and do our part. The world is already a harsh place to live in. Let’s not make it even harder by creating a war of advocacies.

That is because everything we do is connected to each other and all our aspirations are interwoven into one big dream that is shared by every Filipino. Though we may not know the people beyond our 3rd degree of consanguinity, our family extends to those unfamiliar faces no matter how far. Every act of awareness as well as every choice to remain ignorant affects the health and happiness of a people.

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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Chapter 9: Stealing Beauty

“Your nose is too big for your face,” Dr. Fernandez commented after using a Mongol pencil to measure my nose in relation to the rest of my features. He was my parents’ skin doctor but was also a cosmetic surgeon whose clientele were mostly matronly women twice (or more) my age getting breast jobs, face and eye lift. “But the rest is in proportion,” he added. A breath of relief, I thought–at least there was still something positive to say about my God-given assets.

For the longest time, I had been known as “Ilong” to my closest friends from Assumption, who got a kick out of joking how my brains were located above my septum or how I had bad hearing because my sense of smell was too dominant, even though the constant ringing in my ears is due to drumming since I was 14. However, they were not the only ones who made a fuss of my big nose.

In the movie, Penelope, the title character (played by Christina Ricci) is cursed with a snout for a nose. In order to find a husband, her mother sets her up with high-society bachelors, who each converses with her behind a mirror, in the hope of finding a mate who will love Penelope for her intelligence and charm.

 

I was 21 years old when my mom suggested (for the nth time) that I consider getting it reduced. Being part-Spanish, my mom had a nicely-shaped nose and always attributed my “flaw” to my Dad’s side of the family. The Darios are known for their big noses and dark skin. But throughout the years, I declined the offer to get a rhinoplasty: my big nose had actually become my signature. Hey, Barbara Streisand didn’t get her own prominent nose fixed!

But when Dr. Fernandez explained that his style of sculpting noses was to make it a more ideal version of what the patient already has, then I felt more convinced. “People should be able to look at you and think you got a new haircut,” he explained. True enough, my schoolmates could not point out what had changed until I revealed that I had gone through a cosmetic procedure.

“Let me know if you want to push through with this,” he said. Less than one week later I was on the operating room table of the Makati Medical Center, getting my first surgery, fully-awake and scared as hell.

However, six years later, I wonder if going under the knife would have affected Mark’s initial attraction to me; so I asked him last week: “If I still had my big nose, would you still like me?” 

Di ko rin masasabi. [I wouldn’t know.]” He answered with a mischievous grin.

I wanted to slap him across his face and break his own nose. Yet somehow, this remark has managed to disturb me and make me wonder: did interfering with my looks affect my marriageability on a superficial level? Which leads to another question, “Do I deserve this or am I just  a big phony?”

Left: My ID picture pre-cosmetic surgery. This was taken around 2000. Right: My nose today. This is also how I look without make-up.

 

We all know that physical attraction plays a role in getting people together. Girls have it easier though. We slap on make-up, pluck our eye brows, get stylish haircuts and have more fashion options than the boys. How is plastic surgery supposed to be different from regularly applying shimmery peach blush to highlight your cheekbones?

Some people will argue by saying that we should never mess with what nature has given us; that when it comes to love, your mate should appreciate you for who you are; that our insecurities with our bodies are the result of media’s influence. Yada Yada yada.

Nowadays, who is truly 100% natural?

A few years ago, I read a book called Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff, a medical psychologist at Harvard. Etcoff debunks the entire media-as-dictator-of-beauty-standards and examines physical attraction from an evolutionary point-of-view. Men like fair skin, big hips and small waists because these are all signs of nubility. Even more intriguing, Etcoff conducted studies among isolated tribal peoples who have never been exposed to mass media and asked them to rate faces perceived as beautiful in western cultures–the results were consistent. In another study, mothers–although they will never admit if–tend to take better care of babies who are “more attractive” then their other siblings. It’s a refreshing and eye-opening examination of why we are drawn to individuals with chiseled faces and hot booties. Physical looks is not so much about culture as it is about the survival of the human race. 

"He looks just like my ex-husband," remarked one of the senior women in the home for the aged where Benjamin Button--born with a strange condition that makes him age backwards--was lovingly raised by his adoptive mom.

Defying the rules of evolution and beauty, Benjamin Button, who is born with a condition that makes him age backwards, is lovingly cared for by his adoptive mother.

 

So, maybe the act of agreeing to having my nose nipped, tucked and sewn for two hours an unconscious attempt to ensure the survival of my genes?

The life instinct has resulted to a billion-dollar industry dominated by fashion, beauty and cosmetic surgery. Nowadays, there’s nothing you can’t fix, whether temporarily through a lip-plumping gloss that coats your pucker in light acids, or permanently, such as “vaginal rejuvenation,” a type of surgery that essentially promises to return you to your virgin state, several babes later. Looking younger–pointed by Etcoff as another important factor in race survival, which encourages the caring instinct of individuals towards people with childlike features–is as easy as getting shots of Botox in between your eyebrows or having a Brazilian wax, revealing you pre-puberty self below that 20-year old forest of pubic hairs. There really is something behind that line that I’ve heard Mark say several times: “Parang masarap siyang alagaan [It would be nice to take care of her] .” What’s a couple of thousands, not to mention a little procedural pain, in the greater scheme of race survival? It’s not impossible to steal a little bit of that youthful glow in order to make ourselves remain attractive to the opposite sex.

I may not be 30 yet, but wrinkles are starting to become a problem as I begin noticing very small lines beneath the corners of my eyes. Lately, my beauty regimen has started to include products with the word “anti-ageing.”

That’s when I realized that I will not forever be the young, 21-year old girl, who Mark met in 2004. 

Remarking on the abundance of cosmetic options at our disposal, a family friend commented that in this day and age, if you're ugly, it's your fault.

 

“What would you do if you meet a cute 21-year old when I’m already wrinkled and full of stretch marks from having kids?” I asked Mark.

“I’ll just look,” he said, “but I won’t touch.” The good thing is, both of us have a clear understanding that it is in our nature to admire other people. For the past 5 years, we have been very open about acknowledging other people’s beauty to each other.

“You will always be that ‘young girl’ to me,” he added–and I believe in the sincerity of his words. Still, the reality stands: I will not be able to cling to my youth forever, nor will Mark. Both of us will grow old. Yet I still believe that with this commitment to each other–plus a little help from my bikini waxer and a bottle of Elizabeth Arden Prevage–our survival in this crazy world will be ensured.

– Punky