“Indonesian???” asked a local who looked at me with a confused look in his own face.
“No,” I would smile.
“Philippine!” And he laughed, as if he won the lottery. This guessing game is one of the few constants on my trips around Southeast Asia.
“Kyaw!” he exclaimed. It was my turn to look confused.
“Hekyaw!” he tried once again and then punched the air.
“Ya-ya-ya!” Hearing the word Pacquiao is one of the few constants on my trips around Southeast Asia. Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao single-handedly held the image of the Philippines. I did hear Manila and Benigno Aquino III once or twice.
Nobody heard about Cebu.
In the simplest way possible, I tried to explain why I dislike the man. Explaining the complex figure behind the famous boxer to an Indonesian taxi driver who could only process popular addresses was beyond my linguistic ability. This, on top of bridging the language gap itself.
From “I do not like him. He is all over the place. Do you know he is an absentee politician too?” to “Politician. Bad. Olweys absent. Singeer. Aktor. Basketball player. Ooool ober. Boxing? Not only.”
My disjointed English is butchered further in trying my best to explain why some Filipinos dislike him.
And often I get, “Sorry, no speak English.”
And I would just slump at the back seat. Pouting.
Two days before Valentine’s Day, I attended a poetry reading organized by Tinta, a literary organization at school who is involved and invested in making poetry fashionable in Cebu once again, especially to their fellow millenials.
One poem that captured me was Jae’s “Sayal.” Jae is a small woman, but her poem speaks volume. Allow me to share her balak (a Cebuano word for poem) here with a rough translation.
Kaniadto, dili ko ganahan magsayal
Kay lagi hasol. Mag-utaw pa
Unyag bisag magsapaw na og shorts,
Kinahanglan gihapong manapo.
Apan kadtong nagka-classmates ta
Nausab akong panglantaw
sa pagsul-ob og sayal
Kay sa sayal, dili makit-an ang mga suwat
nga gitagoan ko alang kanimo
Dili mahibaw-an nga gisulod ko na diay
sa sapaw nga shorts ang duha ka sandwiches
alang kanatong duha
Ug labaw sa tanan, dili kinahanglang manapo
ang gibati tang gugma sa usag-usa
tungod sa sayal nga gisul-ob natong duha
Back then, I hated wearing a skirt,
it was tedious. It has to be ironed
then despite wearing shorts,
I must gather my skirt’s hems
But when we became classmates
my view on wearing a skirt
With the skirt, the letters I hid
For you could not be seen
Nobody would know I snuck
two sandwiches in the shorts’ pockets
for the two of us
And most importantly, our love
for each other does not have to be covered
because we are both wearing skirts
My rough translation is errrr rough and lousy, and I could not find an English word equivalent to panapo: a Cebuano verb specifically refers to the gathering of a skirt’s or dress’ hems to cover private parts.
But the success of the balak lies in the last line. It is the perfect punch that made the previous lines fresh and new. It is the perfect punch that Manny Pacquiao, who said homosexuals were worse than animals, may not appreciate. It is a little poem with a serious aim. It is a little poem that punched me. That punched me hard in the gut.
A day before the Valentine’s Day, I upstreamed Budlaan river, frolicked at Kabang Falls, and trekked to Sirao Peak with the very people who introduced the outdoors to me. It was a sunny day, and towards sundown, as I inched towards the peak, a rainbow appeared on the horizon. Seeing it was surprising. And timely.
I thought of the double rainbow T and I saw in Malapascua: I with Jesrel, a gay poet friend, in Bounty Beach; he by Dolce Vita.
I thought of my gay friends, some of the most creative humans I have come to know, who would sometimes post poems on love, empty rooms, and their fathers’ belt on Facebook
How did they celebrate their love or lovers’ day? Should the thought arrive earlier, I would have written a feature on their ways of celebrating Valentine’s. It would have been a lovelier entry than Ten Philippines Destinations for Couples or Solo Travelers, which admittedly made with heteronormative, I mean, heterosexual, I mean, straight people in mind.
Here in Cebu, we have a poetry reading in Handuraw every month organized by Tinta, a group of young writers. Some of the members come with gender-neutral-pronouns such as they, their, and them.
They write. They write what bothers them. They are not afraid to share their thoughts in a room full of listeners and spectators. They have organized this literary feast for a year now, every month without fail, on top of being busy scholars and running a literary org.
Their words are their voices. They wanted to be heard.
Jae’s poem is a love story: love hidden underneath the skirt, love that has to be hidden because our society is filled with Manny Pacquiaos, ready to punch you for being different.