Death in a Chinoy (Filipino-Chinese) Family

Death in the Family 
By Walter Ang
Oct. 29, 2003
Philippine Daily Inquirer

I was all of 13 years old. I was juggling the twin hurdles of puberty and high school --my body was growing faster than my skin and I was barely a month into my freshman year -- when I'm woken by my aunt one morning, her face full of sadness. Then I hear the news that pulls the rug from under my feet, and I begin a long arduous fall.

My mother had died. The hours and days (and years even) that came after was an unreal blur. First things first, I had to have my head shaved. It's a custom followed by Chinoys since you can't have your hair cut for 40 days. I'm not sure if you're supposed to get a haircut for practical reasons because you can't get it cut again for sometime, or if the act in itself is some sort of prescribed tradition. Someone accompanied my two brothers and me to the barbershop and minutes later, the manicure ladies were murmuring hushed tones of "Kawawa naman sila." while my hair fell in clumps to the floor.

When we arrive at the funeral parlor, we're greeted by requisite banners with Chinese characters bearing messages of condolence strung across the hall. People who are already there don't know how quite to look at us. The smell of incense smoke, wilting flowers, and the sweat and perfumes of visitors combined into a heady, sickly sweet mixture in the air. My head spun.

The next few days were filled with so many people coming and going, gingerly offering their soft condolences, pronouncing the word only we Pinoys can: "kondolens." I began to revile the word and the saccharine tone with which it was delivered!

My siblings and I went to a Catholic school and they sent over a priest to say mass. My mother had turned into a Born Again Chrisitan before she died and her group sent over a pastor or whatever they're called. My relatives, of course, had Chinese monks and nuns come over as well to chat and pray. All I could think of back then was thank heavens they didn't all come on the same day! I don't know if it's okay to think of funny things when someone has just died. I suppose it's one of the mind's defense mechanisms.

Sometimes I recall the internment day filled with clouds, sometimes I remember how hot the sun was, I'm not sure what it really was anymore. I do remember how my sister almost wasn't allowed to attend. She was born on the year of the monkey, and apparently, for that particular day people born under certain birth animals weren't allowed to join in things like burials. If there's one thing I've learned about Chinese customs there is always a loophole. They simply had my sister turn her back to the funeral procession at the gates of the cemetery. Problem solved.

I had never seen nor hear so many people crying, but there was something that I saw that was more surreal that that. Someone had been hired to videotape the ceremony! No one had told me about it and part of me wanted to strangle the guy. I don't know if videotaping funerals still happens now, but it's still one of the craziest things I'd ever seen in my entire life. Eons from now, if for some reason the archives of the National Geographic Channel's documentaries on death are ever destroyed, archeologists who need to study funeral rituals of Chinoys can come to my house and dig that tape up.

After they slid in my mother's coffin into its concrete niche, they started burning paper effigies of a house, a car, and other representations of worldly pleasures. This was to ensure my mom would have all these things in the afterlife. Then, being the eldest child, I was tasked to hold my mom's portrait in my scrawny arms and was whisked away into a car. I was made to sit in front, my family at the back. We were promptly driven off to a Chinese temple, leaving everyone behind.

I had stored these memories in the closets of my mind, but they rattled noisily again when I recently took a historical and architectural walking tour of the La Loma, Chinese and North cemeteries. During the tour, which I wrote about in detail for the November issue of MTV INK (shameless plug!), our tour guide had recounted some Chinese burial customs that made me think back.

I remembered wondering how my siblings and cousins and I -- our generation, would handle things when the time came for us to deal with our other loved ones' deaths. No one explains things like death rituals and customs to you. I impishly thought that one day maybe I could write a manual of sorts and earn a lot of money. A Chinoy Book of the Dead, so to speak. No first draft as of yet.

Despite the lighter moments that I recall, I also remember how deeply overwhelming everything was. How angry, lost, sad, scared and frightened I felt, sometimes sliding from one emotion to the other, sometimes straddling all together at the same time. How irritating it was to have all these strangers intrude on such a personal tragedy, telling you what to do and what not to do. Not being able to just grieve in your own space and in on your own terms.

Years went by and I eventually learned about the value of ritualized grieving and the five steps of dealing with trauma. I began to slowly appreciate what I had to go through, the cudgels of academic and logical thought easing the confused heart. I also learned to appreciate how time erodes the hard edges of painful memories into fuzzy mute images, so that one no longer has to remember with clarity and vividness whenever one thinks back.

REVIEW: Ballet Philippines' "Carmina Burana," choreography by Alice Reyes

Horror music, live! 
By Walter Ang
Oct. 29, 2003
Philippine Daily Inquirer

All I know about classical music, I heard from the cartoons that I watched growing up. I know all the music aficionados out there are now cringing and beating their breasts in frustration. Don't worry, at least I know how to pronounce Chopin. Smile.

Also, thanks to Ballet Philippines' production of "Icons," I now know the title of a certain piece of music often used in horror and suspense films, usually in apocalyptic scenes where humankind perishes in a huge fireball. This piece of music was most recently used in the opening scene of MTV's "Jackass: The Movie."

"Icons" went onstage at the Main Theater of the CCP and featured the Philippine Madrigal Singers and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. The first act was filled with lighthearted song and dance with the Madrigals singing three songs and the dancers performing two pieces with the orchestra.

Tony Fabella's choreography of "Bahay Kubo Atbp." was at turns funny and solemn, but always celebratory in tone. It was a great counterpoint to what the audience was to see in the second act: Alice Reyes' choreography of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."

As the curtains went up, it was a breathtaking and awesome sight that greeted the audience. Rows of choral singers in black robes and yarmulkes flanked the stage as guest conductor Maestro Eugene Castillo raised his baton. The stage revealed towering rock formations with the ballet dancers in formation, veiled with smoke emerging from a central cauldron.

When the music began as the singers hit the first note and the dancers executed their first gesture, you could actually hear gasps from the audience. I was absolutely enthralled. It was a powerful moment that showed how such enduring yet fleeting beauty could be created within the confines of a stage.

Delicious shivers went down my spine as I recognized the music as something I had always heard on TV or in the movies, but never in real life before. It was amazing to hear it for the first time with a full chorus and orchestra. Whenever those kettle drums and cymbals went off together, it was rousing good fun that made my heart quicken.

This time around, Ballet Philippines was able to pull off a successful assembly of collaborators. National Artist for Set Design Salvador Bernal's set, imposing rock formations against a striking backdrop of diagonal lines, elicited a refrain of wows from the ladies seated behind me. Production supervisor Santiago Galvero's expert rendering of the textures resulted in a simple yet ominous piece.

Castillo was every bit the conductor of my animation memories, with long hair that flapped as he vigorously coaxed and guided the music out of his orchestra and the chorus of singers that included the San Beda College Chorale, University of the East Chorale, Our Lady of Fatima University Chorale, Asian Youth Singing Ambassadors, soprano Maria Katrina Saporsantos, and baritone Ramone Acoymo (alternating with Noel Azcona). The cute factor was supplied by the Kilyawan Boys Choir filling the box seats in their schoolboy glory.

The text of the music was taken from the poems of 13th century wandering students of England, France and Germany known as the Goliards. It's interesting and hilarious to note that the Goliards were known more for their shenanigans and tomfoolery like getting drunk, gambling, and rioting.

The music, voices, text and set laid the groundwork for the dancing. Dark and brooding choreography started the piece, but as the movements progressed, it also showcased intimate, graceful scenes, as well as some definitely Bacchanalian displays of eroticism and a finale filled with hope and renewal. Lighting designer Jonjon Villareal's simple colors and subtle light changes effectively complemented and heightened the emotions onstage.

Re-stager Ida Beltran-Lucilla must have certainly had her hands full resurrecting the dance steps that were first performed way back in 1974, eons before I was even born. Her efforts were not for naught, the dancers filled the theater with their massive energy and graceful legwork. Of note was Kris-Belle Paclibar. This young lady who played the title role in last month's Darna imbued so much anguish and torment into her role that it was almost painful to watch.

Making performance art in Manila

Performance What? 
By Walter Ang
October 2003 issue
MTV INK Magazine

Like a virgin The first time I ever saw performance art was via a documentary on Yoko Ono. The TV screen flickered with black and white images of her seated in the middle of a room while, horrors of horrors, people from the audience armed with scissors snipped away at her kimono!

Like a virgin ? live! Later that year, I got to catch a performance art festival in Penguin Café, Malate. Intrigued by what I had seen on TV, I wasn't going to let the real thing pass me by!

Just some of what I saw: Two shirtless guys, one slumped over the other, crawling all over the place ? on the floor, tabletops, the bar.

A guy who washed people's feet with a basin of beer.

And the weirdest one of all, a guy who put his hands in his pants and either 1) pretended to spank the monkey or 2) really spanked the monkey.

The friend I had Tom Sawyered into going with me and I fancied ourselves adventurous and open minded. We tried to see the art in performance art. We really did. We liked some of the stuff we saw. The rest just made us either laugh or roll our eyeballs. But it was loads of fun, and that's what counts.

Party Crashing While drinking free wine (and making pa-sosi) at a party I'd crashed, I'm introduced to this man with large, round eyes and an intense stare. Turns out he organized the performance art show I'd seen years back. "So what is performance art exactly?" I ask. He answers me indirectly by telling me stories of performance art that he has seen, but not giving an articulated dictionary definition. I stare into my glass and wonder if I'd had enough to drink for the night.

How party crashing makes you part of an event you didn't even know about Toreador ringtone goes off. "Hello?" I say into my cellphone. "Hi Walter! This is Mor'o!" Slight pause as I searched my memory banks. Ah yes, Yuan Mor'o, the performance art artist who I met last year! "I have something exciting to tell you. Let's meet."

So we meet and I find out I've already been included in the official list of performers for the 3rd Philippine International Performance Art Festival (PIPAF) dubbed "LAKARAN 2003." Why do I feel like my life is a sitcom?

Although I felt honored and excited (and important and glamorous and artistic), I asked, "Why me?" Mor'o answered, "Why not?" This is the part where I heard the canned laughter, like I was a character on "Will and Grace." He went on to explain that he included a line up of performers from different disciplines, writers included.

I'd done theater work, so I wasn't nervous about performing in front of a crowd. But I was coming from a totally different milieu and I wanted to clarify what it was exactly that I had to do. So I asked again, "What is performance art exactly?"

This time he tells me what it means by negating other performing arts forms. "It's not theater, it's not spoken poetry, it's not dance. We use props, but we don't call them props. We can talk, but we don't use a script." He concluded with a flourish, "Just do what is in your heart and be true to yourself!"

Okay. I can dig being true to myself. "So I'm scheduled for one performance, right?" I asked. "Two!" Mor'o smiled with glee. Now I really know my life is a sitcom! Groan.

A few hours before the opening performance Tonight, all 40 or so artists from several countries will be performing at the festival opening at the Kanlungan ng Sining in Luneta Park. It is humid and I am stuck in traffic!

Have thought long and hard about what to perform. The thing with performance art is that you either pick up on the performance's Very Deep Thought (as travel guide "Fodor's Up Close New York City" calls it) or all you see is a bunch of wackos who look like they've taken crazy pills. In short, you either see the art, or all you see is ka- fuck-you-han (pronounced "kapakyuhan" for full effect.)

But as Oscar Wilde puts it, art is in the eye of the beholder (a.k.a. the audience), or something to that effect. He says it so much more eloquently in the prologue of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," check it out on the internet.

Opening night Just some of what I saw: 3 guys and a girl tied together by packaging tape. (And no, there is no nudity nor leather straps!) The guy on one end screamed into a radio, the guy on the other end passed out polvoron wrapped in cellophane to the audience.

A Thai artist spread stuff from his backpack (notebook, water bottle, pens, etc.) on the ground, wore a raincoat, then walked around and around and around his seat repeatedly saying, "I'm so tired." Then he sat down, drank water from his bottle, and put the stuff back in his bag.

And the funniest one: A guy who made the audience hold up strips of tissue paper over his head while he attempted to step on two soda cans. After he squished the cans, he cut the strips by tried by burning them with a lighter. However, the first strip didn't stop burning and prompted the crowd to give out a collective gasp of fear. The guy had to stomp out the mini-fire he'd made.

What I did: I cut a hole in a 8.5 by 11.5 piece of bond paper that was big enough for bodies to go through. Neat huh?!

Like a virgin ? no more! A few nights later, Penguin Café is filled to the rafters with a motley crew of colorful characters. How exciting to be doing a piece of performance art in the same place where I first saw it live!

I chatted with the other performers while waiting for my turn. I found out that most of them where visual artists (painters, sculptors, etc.) with a peppering of theater actors and ballet dancers. We shared beer and stories of our backgrounds. Some artists brought along their families, some had friends in the audience.

It was fun evening full of people who wanted to share their art and, well, their Very Deep Thought. I did a variation of my piece for the opening night, hoping that the Very Deep Thought of my piece would be well conveyed. If not, I just hoped the audience had fun. Afterwards, I promptly melted into the crowd and partied the night away.