Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Set Apart, or Treated Differently?

I saw it in Athens, over at Piraeus port, a sign that was as striking as it was incongruous … a sign in both English – and – hold on to your seat – in Tagalog! The sign says: “Please do not take away chairs from here.” But that was not all. Below was a Tagalog translation of the same thing in big, bold letters: “Sa Tagalog: Bawal alisin at ilipat ang mga silyang ito!” Hmmm …

This morning as I was boarding a flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul en route to San Francisco, over the Northwest counter, another sign reminded me of what I saw in Athens: For Manila flights only! Apparently, there are check-in counters and there are check –in counters … some for the regular guys and one for Filipinos! Hmmm …

A friend from Dubai once told me something similar. A sign in some of the shops at Dubai airport said once in English and in Tagalog: “Shoplifters will be prosecuted.” Translation in Tagalog right below it said: “Bawal magnakaw dito.” Hmmm …
My friend jokingly told me. Well, that sign is placed there for other nationalities, not me.

Four years ago, I was invited to do the invocation at the Philippine Independence Day celebrations at Marriott Hotel in downtown Washington, DC. I was privileged to have been seated together with former consuls who worked for some time in Manila, and other personages who had business to do with Filipino Americans. One of them asked me at some point: Father, could you please tell me which among the many groups who claim to speak for Filipino Americans we need to deal with directly? I could not give a ready answer. For around me were a multiplicity of groups all with fancy names each one of them representing a group, a cause, a party, and a convocation!

Fast forward to Jerusalem … over at Renaissance Hotel, the first day we were there, there were not too many signs other than what told people where to go, in what section of the restaurant to go to, depending on which group one belonged. The next day, a sign was placed conspicuously at the buffet table: “Please do not take food out of the restaurant.“ Hmmm … Of course, there were Filipinos checked in at the hotel, and that, of course, included me. Whoever took food out of the restaurant should be easy guess work for you. And your guess will most likely be not too far off the mark.

Back track to Madrid’s Barajas international airport. We were just walking off the tube towards the arrival area. The plane was full of mostly Caucasian travellers. Who do you think would the guardia civil stop on his tracks and to check on his passport? Well, it was me. I did not take offense, but surely, you would agree with me that there is something about being Filipino that would sometimes make you at least suspect we are being profiled. No one else was stopped on his tracks but me.

When we had to navigate our way to the new, huge, and sprawling airport terminal to get to where our flight back to Washington-Dulles international airport was, at the security check, what do you think would the airline staff at the gate would do, but to thumb through my passport and pass his fingers through the US visa page as if to check whether my visa was genuine or not?

Are we set apart, distinguished, renowned, or are we being treated differently? Your guess is as good as mine.

The Rising Fuel Costs and the Falling Standard of Living in America

The trip that took me from the third world, to the new world and to the old world and back to the third world in less than a month’s time has taught me some precious insights. In the US, big wholesale shops like Costco, Sam’s club and others have begun controlling the number of bags of rice they can allow people to buy, something that never happened before. Apart from the obvious fact that prices have risen drastically, supply is carefully monitored. There are unverified media reports that a number of business people are hoarding the rice, too!. So what else is new? Many Chinese businessmen in the Philippines, including Chinese tourists in the country have been at it before original sin was discovered!

But despite the rising costs of fuel, America’s love affair with the automobile has not gotten any less intense. The world famous freeways and expressways and turnpikes (and a whole lot of other fancy names for the same thing) that made America the trendsetter all over the world are all getting clogged, like they do in all parts of the world. Slow moving traffic is no longer the monopoly of third world countries. At the capital beltway, I-495, rush hour traffic could be a bore. The same is true in the beltway around Baltimore, the I-695, with some very young and very impatient drivers learning to do the swerving technique that Filipino drivers have long been famous for. And let us not speak about LA!

I write this blog piece aboard a Northwest flight from the Midwest, en route to SFO. The more than four hours trip from O’Hare to Minneapolis/St. Paul and on to San Francisco is devoid of any meal that once upon a time was the hallmark of all US airlines. No … each one buys snacks or meals for oneself. All they give now is a drink. People allergic to peanuts can at least rejoice. No more signs of peanuts in the air. No tiny pretzels, no nothing! The trans-Pacific flight from Tokyo to SFO and back can boast of the barest minimum to keep body and soul together. You won’t die of starvation, but you won’t alight from the plane satisfied either. Almost all airlines seem to have become very creative in making more money to offset for the rising prices of oil which accounts for more than 40% of the airlines' operating costs.

The experience of Europe and Israel was another eye opener. Americans and the rest of the world whose currency is pegged to the dollar now feel poorer as compared to the Europeans. The buying power of the dollar has fallen. Whilst officially the exchange rate is something like 1.6 something for every Euro, the reality in Europe is far different. In effect, every Euro now almost costs two dollars! That means that a simple essential lunch that in America would cost people no more than 10 dollars, could amount to something like 16 dollars or more, especially in Israel. There, our guide was boasting that the NIS (the New Israeli shekel) is among the top 15 strongest currencies in the world. Well, I believe them. But after our stay there, where we were literally forced to eat and buy where they wanted us to, I did not have to wonder why their economy is damn good. It almost seemed like we were being fleeced every step along the way, including the use of toilets for minor necessities that would set you back by 50 cents or a dollar in some places.

Grace, Gift, and Gratitude

Pilgrimages are a Christian long standing tradition. Back in the day, they used to walk and go through rough uncharted – even dangerous – territory. That, indeed, is the root word of pilgrim – the name of this blog – per agrum. It means exactly that – to go through the fields – for a deeper reason and purpose. This pilgrimage on my 25th has been a grace-filled event. It is so primarily because it is gift … given to me and made possible by friends who believe in the gift of priesthood, and the ministry it can offer them. Whilst I shelled out something, what they spent for me towers higher than what I eventually could contribute.

This blog entry, like my first issue of Pilgrim Pathways, is for them. I acknowledge this singular grace from God, as part and parcel of the graciousness that God has always shown me, and has been showing me since I got ordained 25 years ago. I acknowledge this as gift, along with so many other gifts I have received and continue to receive, albeit unworthily. I am filled with gratitude. I end with something I heard so often in Greece – a word that all of my readers should very easily understand: Eucharisto. Eucharisto. Eucharisto.

NW 675, June 3, 2008
37,000 feet above sea level

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