Feb 23, 2011

Why do Filipinos use "F" and why do they confuse their "fees" and "epps"?

Dear Filipino,

Why is "Filipino" spelled with an "F" when there is not even an "F" in the Pilipino alphabet? And why do many Filipinos pronounce their F's as P's?

Rene Astudillo

Dear Rene,
The Filipino admiring St. Stephen's
Basilica with his daughter.

For several days in the last week, I was with my wife (and the kids as well) in Budapest, Hungary to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary.  But it was a special trip for my wife and I for two other reasons: The country was the 26th we've visited (we are aiming for 50 before age 50) and the city proved to be a traveler's must-see -- i.e., it has lots of fantastic sights and a history so colorful I wish we had a real historian as a local guide.

But ask my two kids (one is almost 8 and the other is 5 1/2) what stuck to them the most about the trip and you'll likely get a version of this: "Wow! The Hungarian language uses lots of Z's!" 

And it's true -- the letter "Z" is indeed everywhere in Budapest, from the street signs to the ads to the names of places and things (and also, apparently, in lots of Hungarian verbs).  That's because, of the 44 letters in the "greater" Hungarian alphabet (which is really an extension of the Latin language even though it's used to write the Hungarian language which is a member of the Finno-Ugric language family), 4 have the "Z" as an integral part (a glyph) of the particular letter -- i.e., Dz, Dzs, Sz and Zs -- on top of the stand-alone Z.  (In orthography, the Hungarian letters Dz, Sz and Zs are called digraphs while the letter Dzs is called a trigraph. )

The bus lane in Budapest which prompted The Filipino's
son to ponder the question: "If bus is spelled as busz in
Hungarian, how do you spell chess in Hungarian?"
I placed the word greater in quotation marks because the Hungarian alphabet also includes the letters Q, W, X and Y which are only found in words considered foreign to Hungarians.  In other words, there is what's referred to as a "smaller" Hungarian alphabet which contains only 40 letters.

Like the Hungarians, the Japanese has an orthography which uses a comparable, albeit more complex, way of writing their language.  I'm talking here of course of the three Japanese writing systems: Kanji, which is actually composed of traditional Chinese characters which have Japanese translations; the Hiragana which is used to write Japanese words not covered by Kanji; and the Katakana which is used primarily for transcription of foreign language, loan words, as well as technical and scientific terms.

Ooppss!  Somebody forgot the Z!
By now, you're probably thinking: "Arigatō for all these info, but what the 'epp' are you talking about and how is this intro even related to my question?"

Well, allow me to explain further. 

I don't know about you, but when it comes to understanding my Filipino-ness, it has been my experience that I just understand things better when I look for explanation outside the Philippines, and, though difficult sometimes, search for clues and parallels beyond my very Filipino frame of mind.

For instance, the very premise of your question is that the "Pilipino alphabet" does not have "F" in it.  But the premise is only correct if you're approaching it from a perspective which uses pre-Hispanic phonemes as basis.  In other words, we don't have the "F" if you're thinking of the "smaller" Filipino alphabet which had only 20 "letters" -- i.e., the old "Abakada" as created by Lope K. Santos in 1940 which he supposedly patterned after the Baybayin despite the fact that the latter is actually technically a syllabary, not an alphabet, and in any case is written very differently from Latin-based alphabets.

But as a matter of fact, like the Hungarians, we also have had a "greater" alphabet, which at various times had either 28, 29, 31 or 32 letters because we were using the Spanish orthography which had digraphs like the Ch, Ll and Rr and because we were also using all the letters in the English orthography following the take-over of the Americans as our new colonizers.  And actually, we could easily have had more if, like the Hungarians, we considered the vowels which use diacritical marks like the acute, the grave and the circumflex as separate letters.  And it would actually have made sense because we pronounce vowels very, very differently depending on the words used.  For instance, the "o" in guro (Tagalog for "teacher") should be written with the circumflex (as in gurô) because it is pronounced very differently from the "o" in siguro (etymologically Spanish but is now also the Tagalog word for "maybe"). 

In any case, the understandable confusion around our alphabet finally stopped in 1987 when we adopted what is now known as the "Modern Filipino Alphabet."  This alphabet is made up of 28 letters and includes the entire 26-letter set of the Basic Modern Latin alphabet, the Tagalog digraph Ng, and the letter Ñ which was bequeathed to us by the Spaniards.

And speaking of the Spaniards, the word "Filipino" is itself -- it should come as no surprise -- actually Spanish ("efe" is one of the 27 letters in the Spanish alfabeto).  The term, derived from the name given to the country by our Spanish colonizers to honor their king, was originally used to refer to Spaniards born in the Philippines (also called the insulares) and to distinguish them from Spaniards born in Europe (the peninsulares).  However, according to historian Ambeth Ocampo, our national hero José Rizal appropriated it for all of us and was the first to call the indigenous inhabitants of the islands Filipinos.  Thus, because of Rizal, the term Filipino began to be widely used to refer to the natives by the end of the 19th century.

But if the country is called the Philippines, why are we not called Philippinos instead?  According to Daniel Engber of Slate:
The Philippines have only been called the Philippines (with a "Ph") since the United States bought the country from Spain around the turn of the 20th century, after the Spanish-American War. Under Spanish colonial rule -- which extended back to the 16th century -- the country had been called "Las Islas Filipinas," after King Felipe II. For Americans, Felipe was Phillip, so Las Filipinas became the Philippines. While the name of the country changed, the name of the nationality did not. Those who lived in the renamed Philippines were still called Filipinos.
But where did the word "Pilipino" come from?  Engber further explains that:
The term "Pilipino" derives from the convoluted story of how the Philippines got its national language. There was no official, native language under Spanish and American control. Those living on the islands could be divided into as many as 120 different groups, each with its own way of talking [175 actually, according to Ethnologue]. The desire to create a mother tongue increased when the United States pulled out of the country and the Philippines became a commonwealth in the 1930s. A national institute was given the task of making one of the native languages official.
In 1936, this institute, the Institute of National Language, selected Tagalog as the basis of the national language but incorporated elements of the country's other native languages.  The Abakada alphabet created by Santos in 1940 was also officially adopted to "indigenize" the writing system.  However, because of the almost 400 years of combined Spanish and American influence, the newly adopted alphabet was seen as inadequate and impractical because many consonants used regularly by locals were missing in the Abakada. 

Moreover, because speakers of the other Philippine languages were upset and felt marginalized, the government saw it fit to rename the national language into "Pilipino" instead in 1959.  But why "Pilipino" and not "Filipino"?  As already alluded to above and further expounded on by Engber:
The developers of the mother tongue looked back to the alphabet that was used before the Spaniards took over (and in the early years of Spanish rule). The native script, called "Baybayin," had fewer than two dozen letters and didn't include the sound for "F." Though the letter "F" had been incorporated into the language during the centuries of Spanish influence, the country's post-colonial leadership chose to return to the original alphabet. [NOTE: Here, I think Engber also made the mistake of thinking Baybayin is an alphabet rather than a syllabary.]  Foreign words that used "non-native" sounds were respelled to fit the Baybayin-based alphabet. C's became K's, X's turned into SK's, and the letter F became a P. [NOTE: This is akin to the Japanese way of transcribing foreign words using Katakana.]  Filipinos who spoke Tagalog became Pilipinos who spoke Pilipino.

The debate over the national language continued for decades. A constitution written in the early 1970s (drawn up as Ferdinand Marcos instituted an eight-year stretch of martial law) promised to create a new national language called "Filipino." The next constitution, from 1987, made the change official, designating Filipino -- which uses a larger alphabet and incorporates foreign sounds -- as the national language. With the letter "F" restored, presumably those who speak the national language are now, once again, Filipinos.
Now, onto your other question: Why do many Filipinos confuse their F's and P's? 

Indeed, many of us do and I know for a fact that this "pronunciation confusion" has also been a source of jokes, to say the least.  Worse, it has also been a source of prejudice and disdainful elitism.  I've personally seen it many times that Filipinos with a more Americanized way of speaking English go way beyond teasing and look down with an unwarranted sense of superiority upon those who speak the language with a "Filipino accent."

And for many of us who grew up in the provinces, the teasing and the condescension cause, at the very least, a lot of hurt "peelings." ;-)  In fact, for the typical provinciano, speaking English with a strong Filipino accent can be costly because it can mean less career opportunities and even alienation in an environment (say, a top school or a business organization) which prizes fluency in spoken English. 

And when you think about it, it's really quite unfair considering, for provincianos like myself, English is really our third language. After all, we have our provincial language as our first and native tongue, and then we are forced to learn Tagalog and English too!  Now, compare us to the elitist folks who come mostly from Manila and who only needed to master English as a foreign language, and I say, if anything, we're supposed to be the ones "peeling" superior here, right?

But to go back to the crux of the topic, what's the real reason behind this Philippine phonological confusion involving the pronunciation of "F"? Well, it's simple really: Because, quite literally, our native Filipino tongues are still generally Malayo-Polynesian even if we've already adopted a more expansive alphabet as a country, even if we've undergone almost 400 years of colonization.  So, if you're a typical provinciano who, as I've said earlier, has had to learn not only the local language (most likely Malayo-Polynesian) but also Tagalog (definitely Malayo-Polynesian), your tongue -- in fact, your entire vocal tract -- is just not naturally hard-wired for words with the "F" phoneme (or for that matter, the "V" phoneme).  So unless you're exposed to English regularly (i.e., you're from a rich Filipino family or you were educated in top schools), or you are, say, an Ibaloi from Northern Luzon whose indigenous language contains the "F" phoneme, it's really not that easy to pick up the phonetic ability to pronounce "F" properly.

The vocal tract and places of articulation.
(Source: Wikipedia.)
And in fairness, pronouncing foreign words is really not easy for almost everyone, especially if the sound that needs to be produced is non-existent or has no comparables in one's native language.  That's why for the Anglicized ear, the French can't seem to pronounce "H" quite properly and the Germans and the Dutch appear to mistake "V" for "W" quite regularly when these people speak English.  That's also why the Brits can't quite produce the rolling "R" perfected by the Spaniards.  That's why learning to read Scandinavian languages is easier than learning to speak them because they use a lot of glottal stops and what-not.  That's why the Arabs, whose words are pronounced more throatily, will find learning a language like Vietnamese or Chinese, which are very nasal, very, very difficult.  That's why the Japanese, who don't really use "L" and "V" in their language, will pronounce "I love you" as "I rob you"!

Personally, I always have fun making my Western friends try to pronounce the word "ngayon" (Tagalog for "now") because it uses the digraph "ng" which is a velar nasal, a type of consonantal phoneme which most Westerners, try as they might, just seem unable to make.  Unfazed, they would try pronouncing the word many times and I would usually end up laughing even though I try not to.  Fortunately, my friends know I'm just having fun.  And to write it in Hungarian, I think they know I'm really juszt amuszed by their szilly attemptsz which yield nothing but erroneousz szoundsz.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Feb 15, 2011

Why are elevators so challenging to Filipinos and are Filipinos really more discourteous?

Dear Filipino,

I'm from the States but I have been living in the PI for almost six years now. I'm married to a wonderful Filipina woman, adopted her two daughters from a previous marriage, and a year ago we had our first daughter together. I've run a few businesses/offices here with 40+ staff. I've gotten used to the corrupt MMDA guys; to the horrible snarl of traffic on EDSA; to the general driving populace's apparent inability to pick a lane to drive in or pay attention to when a stoplight turns green; to mentally translating "out of stock sir" to properly mean "we have never had it and likely never will". This background is to show I'm generally more familiar with the culture here than a "fresh-off-the-boat" expat or a tourist

But there is one thing that I simply cannot get used to and cannot understand the root cause of the phenomenon: It seems a large percentage of the population simply cannot understand the simple concept of an elevator. Why?

Why do people think it's a bright idea to push both the up and the down button at the same time? Why do people think it's a good idea to get on an elevator travelling in the opposite direction they want to go? Why do people get on an elevator without bothering to take note of the direction it is heading and then after travelling a few floors burst out with the inevitable "AY!" and get flustered as they realize they're heading the wrong way or just as often when they realize they've missed their floor because they didn't bother to push the button to indicate the floor they wanted to go to?

I've asked friends. I've asked people who engage in this strange elevator behavior. Most of the responses center around fear of "overload". I can't think of a better way to put this: that's just moronic. By causing the elevator to make unnecessary stops, they reduce the efficiency of the system which causes longer waits which causes more "overload". Is it like the sleeping at the stoplight phenomenon where folks just aren't in a hurry to get wherever they're going so they don't really care what direction they're heading? I've often heard from less politically correct expats that elevators are too new a concept for people "fresh from the provinces" and they shouldn't be expected to understand their use. Ignoring the racist overtones of that explanation, it still doesn't make sense. Even if one has never seen an elevator before, one certainly can grasp the meaning of an up and a down arrow. So again, I don't get it.

It's taken quite a while for me to get over the vast difference between here and my home culture in the importance of common courtesy. Holding the door for someone or thanking someone that does the same for you, letting someone get over in traffic when they signal they want make a lane change, properly waiting your turn in line while making sure not to block all foot/vehicle traffic, generally being aware of the people around you and behaving in such a way as to not only avoid interfering with them but additionally being aware of any opportunity in which you can lend a helping hand. These are all things I was raised to do. All things that were impressed upon me as important to being a good person. I get that this is not the case here. Fine, it's a different culture.

With all that said, I can't see how a culture that's known worldwide as being so friendly and caring can condone this elevator behavior. My previous employment was on the top (33rd floor) of a building. The 23rd floor has a huge call center. Every day my staff was unable to get on the elevator to go down for lunch because every time the door opened it was packed full with people from the 23rd floor. We're talking about hundreds of people a day riding 10 floors in the wrong direction and forcing everyone 10 floors above them to miss the elevator because they couldn't wait their turn. ARRGGGHH!

I've spent almost six years trying to figure this out and honestly I'm just as stuck on this issue as I was the day I landed here. Please, can you shed some light on why this happens and perhaps some suggestions on how to deal with it? Someday if I ever have the funds, I intend to produce a 2 minute video on how to properly use an elevator and air it on ABS-CBN. But I refuse to do it until my Tagalog is good enough that I do not have to use any English. Airing a commercial about how to use an elevator already sounds like a self-righteous/racist expat. Hopefully if I can do it in Tagalog, a few people will get past that and actually listen to the message.

Marc Womack
Consultant for Traffic, Outsourced Labor, Hosting & More!

Dear Marc,

If your question were just a straightforward logic question on elevator use, it would be fairly simple to answer. Why? Because it is not quite as “moronic” as you put it; in fact, there is some twisted “genius” behind pressing both buttons – which means, I’m sorry to break the news, the 23rd floor folks in your previous building had probably outsmarted you to some extent.

You see, in a typical modern office building which has a bank of elevators, system programmers consider “interfloor,” “up peak,” “down peak,” and “lunch time” traffic patterns to maximize the elevators’ utility. While “interfloor” traffic is important if, say, there’s a major tenant occupying multiple floors, most systems really address “up peak” traffic by making elevator cars wait by the lobby during certain times (e.g., around 8am) to provide faster service to passengers arriving at the building , and “down peak” traffic by sending elevator cars towards the highest floor to await hall calls placed by passengers wishing to leave the building (e.g., around 5pm).

The “lunch time” mode is a two-way traffic pattern found somewhere between “up peak” and “down peak.” That’s why if you press both the up and down buttons, you increase your chances of getting an elevator to stop by your floor because you get to summon the closest elevator car or catch the one in-transit on the way up or on the way down, whichever is closer.

To illustrate, let’s say you want to go down and you press both buttons. If an elevator on the way down stops by your floor and it has room for you, then you ride; if there’s no room for you, you wait for the next one. But if an elevator on the way up stops by your floor, you may still decide to ride it if it’s empty because you can typically override the system to travel to the opposite direction (most possible if there’s no one above you who summoned the same elevator), or if it’s not empty and you don’t mind travelling up a few floors instead of waiting.

This partially explains why the 23rd floor folks probably thought it would, overall, save them time to go up 10 floors rather than miss an opportunity of getting a ride. They would rather lose time going up 10 floors than wait for a car with enough room for them, or walk 23 flights down.

I’m sure there were instances, of course, when it was an honest-to-goodness mistake on the part of the elevator riders which account for the “round-trip,” or maybe their outright impatience. But I would wager that the main reason is time: i.e., “saving time” is very important to these folks because they are on the clock and every minute is important.

You see, with the shortage of decent jobs in the Philippines, ordinary workers do not really enjoy a lot of rights, and especially in call centers, they are monitored like robots. So if it’s lunch time, off they go lest they miss their lunch, which is not only a time for eating but also a chance to socialize with their friends and co-workers as well. And they won’t let elevators get in the way.

But in a way, the elevator behavior you have observed is actually very similar to the driving culture in Manila. People are only concerned about their personal time, not the societal time. So drivers don’t hesitate to squeeze into lanes where they shouldn’t be, make turns without regard to traffic lights, or stop in the middle of the road without regard to the other motorists behind them.

Is this type of behavior selfish? Sure it is, and I’m not going to defend it. [In fact, let me tell folks engaged in this kind of behavior who are reading this post: PLS. STOP!] But off the top of my head, I will discuss three reasons why this type of behavior festers in Metro Manila. (Although you may observe similar behavior in the provinces, I submit it would be to a much lesser extent.)

One major reason is Metro Manila is just way too crowded. The metro region -- which covers the City of Manila and 15 other cities (Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Pasay, Pasig, Parañaque, Quezon City, San Juan, Taguig, Valenzuela) plus the municipality of Pateros – has an estimated population of some 20.8 million as of end-2010. By my calculations, this translates to a population density of 32,345 per square kilometer. Compare this to NY City’s 10,194; Chicago’s 4,923 and Los Angeles’ 3,041. Can you imagine what will happen to these major US cities if they had population densities similar to Metro Manila’s?

A second reason is that the systems in place are not only inadequate, they are also overwhelmed. You can have traffic lights and all, but if there are way too much cars on the road, traffic will still be monstrous.

Applying this in your elevator scenario, a building developer and/or building manager should take into account the building tenants, the density of occupancy per floor, and the schedule of lunch breaks, when programming elevator systems. In fact, a building-wide meeting to address these types of concerns is not a bad idea. Because an employee’s one-hour break can easily be eaten by long lines which impact productivity and encourage rule-breaking, when I was working for a multi-floor tenant of a big commercial building, we had to stagger lunch breaks to address the traffic not only on elevators but also at the cafeteria.

A third reason is the systems’ lack of incentivizing and penalizing mechanisms. By this, I mean the equal and consistent application of rule-enforcement mechanisms. This is why I applaud P-Noy’s “No wang-wang” rule, even if I think he needs to use the wang-wang for his own safety. Applied in the elevator situation, there should be no “special elevator” for the exclusive use of a handful if the building’s configuration didn’t originally plan for it, if these “special passengers” have no compelling reason to be accorded special treatment, and most especially if they’re not paying for the privilege.

I said I was going to enumerate three reasons and I did. But did you notice that not once did I touch on culture?

Why is that?

Because I think the elevator behavior you mentioned is not Filipino culture per se! And this is why, even though I really appreciate your sincere intent to understand, I have to push back a bit against your contentions, both the express and the implied, because I think you also unfairly contextualized your question by bringing up other issues, especially when you said that there is a “vast difference” between your “home culture” and the Filipino culture with regards to “common courtesy.” You also quite impertinently alluded to “all things [you were] raised to do” and “impressed upon [you] as important to being a good person,” which you claim to “get that this is not the case” in the Philippines because “it's a different culture.”

That paragraph saddened me, but because I can understand to a certain extent where you're coming from, I will not dwell too much on your implied assertions in this blogpost. But I will say this: If it were purely Filipino culture that’s to blame, don't you think this type of behavior would persist even in the States where almost 5 million of us now reside? But it doesn’t, does it -- whether anecdotally or otherwise? Why? Because where systems work, where laws are enforced, and where people are treated equitably, Filipinos behave just fine.  So it's not about culture.

In fact, I would argue our native Filipino culture is much more “courteous” than the culture in the US. Truth be told, I was treated rather much more discourteously as a tourist in New York than anywhere else except London where I was beaten up by four thuggish teenagers who wanted my wallet and my bag!

But how can I convince you? Because it’s difficult to devise the metrics for “courteousness” and because there's not a lot of data on this, I think a reasonable metric to use is the rate of criminality among our peoples. I mean, you can’t really call someone courteous if he’s trying to mug or kill you, right?

So let’s look at those figures.

According to the 2000 US Census, 3.04% of males ages 18-39 are incarcerated in the US. But if you parse the figures, you will discover that incarceration rates increase sharply if you compare the foreign-born immigrants’ figures to US-born figures.

For instance, the incarceration rate among foreign-born Non-Hispanic Whites is only 0.57% but this figure increases to 1.71% among their US-born. For the Non-Hispanic Blacks, the rate increases almost five-fold from 2.47% of their foreign-born to 11.61% of their US-born; for Mexicans, the rate increases more than eightfold from 0.70% of their foreign-born to 5.9% of their US-born; among the Vietnamese, the increase is more than tenfold, from 0.46% of their foreign-born to 5.6% among their US-born. And for Filipinos? The rate is 0.38% of their foreign-born to 1.22% of their US-born.

Overall, the incarceration figure is 0.86% of foreign-born and 3.51% of US-born. Clearly, something in the US culture is to blame for the rise in incarceration figures among the US-born sons of immigrants, don’t you think? (As a Filipino-American myself with US-born kids, I'm very concerned about this.)

Besides, I would also wager that “your” culture, though it may appear “courteous” at the superficial level, is actually much more aggressive. I mean, it should be obvious from a cursory parallel review of the histories of the West and the East, right? In the 20th century alone, Europe visited upon the world two world wars which killed millions. And let’s not even talk about the thousands of smaller Western wars and battles and imperialistic adventurism which transpired during and prior to that century which also decimated millions for the sake of resources. (And yet the Brits supposedly taught the world what it means to be a "gentleman"?)

Personally, I see the Filipino culture fighting tooth-and-nail against a culture of poverty which, because of its all-enveloping reach and depressing level of magnitude, is getting the better of the Filipinos oftentimes. This culture of poverty breeds distrust and ignorance especially among the folks at the bottom of the social pyramid; corruption and impunity among the folks at the top; and massive selfishness all throughout. It is evil, it is pernicious, and therefore it has to be fought and defeated.  (I refuse to believe our culture is the reason why the Philippines is poor, because, again, Filipinos in the US are in fact one of the most affluent minority groups.)

And this is why I think if you really want to help, you would be better-advised spending the money you’re saving for the two-minute commercial you’re planning to air on ABS-CBN about elevator use into something more productive - something that will really help the country fight against the culture of poverty. I mean, I personally think a funny commercial that drives home the point about elevator use is a great idea, but I really believe there are better uses for your money.

Like what? Well, you’re a consultant – you should be able to figure things out! But if you really insist on what I would recommend, well, why not help distribute books? Why not help the Books for the Barrios?

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Feb 11, 2011

Are there jobs in the Philippines for Westerners?

Dear Filipino,

I'm thinking of moving to the Philippines for a change of pace and scenery, but I'm concerned of course how I can survive there if I don't have a job.  I guess I have a little capital for a small business, but are there jobs there for foreigners like me?

Western Man

Dear Western,

Of course, there are jobs there for people like you!

But first, you have to learn a local language. Then, you can, for instance, start a taxi business in Isabela -- like what Jason and Tory tried to do:

Okay. I guess that didn't pan out very well for them. What about a jeepney business in Quezon City?

Or what about selling taho?

See, they made money!

Bottomline: You'll be fine -- so go and move East, man!

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Feb 8, 2011

Is it okay to express condolences by just posting a note on the bereaved's Facebook wall?

Dear Filipino,

If one wants to express his condolences to a friend, the bereaved family member of someone who just tragically passed away, is it okay to just leave a note on the friend's Facebook wall?


Dear MuQ,

Hell, no!  And most especially NOT if the Facebook profile picture that will be showing right next to your message looks remotely like any of the following: (a) smiling; (b) laughing; (c) pouting; (d) ridiculous-looking; (e) in love; (f) a cartoon character; (g) a comedian; (h) a pet; (i) a stupid quote; (j) a vacation picture; (k) any food; (1) any drink; (m) a sexy actress/actor; (n) a teen heartthrob; (o) a movie character...

The list goes on and on and on.  You get the drift?  You get the logic?

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

What is the recipe for the traditional Filipino street barbeque on a stick?

Dear Filipino,

I was in the Philippines in about 1976. Everywhere in the streets, there were people selling the most delicious beef or chicken barbeque on a stick. I want the recipe please. I've tried the recipes on the Internet and it just wasn't the same. I even asked  Filipinas going home to visit family to try to get the recipe but no success. As you can see, it's been 35 years and it's still on my mind. You are my last hope. I promise if you do, I'll tell everybody, "The Pinoy is JEFROXS."  LOL!

Rob Bob, AZ

Dear Rob,

You mean "Jeproks" as coined by Mike Hanopol? You mean "cool and smart"? Hey, actually I wouldn't mind being called Jeproks -- just don't call me "laki sa layaw"!  ;-)

Unfortunately, I don't have the recipe myself -- I was just a toddler in 1976. But I don't give up that easily if the label "Jeproks" is on the line.  So I reached out to The Man -- Ray Gingco of WokwithRay.net -- for help.  He's a great cook and 1976 is one of his favorite years because it's "the year of platform shoes and ultra wide bell bottoms."

Ray published a recipe last year for traditional street Pork BBQ on skewers, but he said the recipe can also be used for chicken and beef.  He suggests top sirloin for beef and chicken thighs for chicken.  I'm reproducing his recipe below for your benefit, but you may want to visit his website to really learn from The Master himself if you have other questions. 
Pork BBQ with Banana Ketchup Glazing
by Ray

This dish is very easy to prepare and best eaten with a concoction of vinegar and garlic dipping sauce. Some folks like to eat this delicious barbecue with pickled shredded papaya (AKA achara) on the side. During my high school days in the 70′s, I can still remember this dish being cooked and sold by street vendors right outside the gate of our school. Pork BBQ is always the best seller along with deep fried vegetable lumpia (eggrolls), and ukoy (shrimp fritters).

Here in the States, I always buy the meat from Asian Supermarkets because I can always ask the nice guy behind the meat counter to slice the pork to the right thickness. So, when I get home, all I have to do is cut the meat to correct width for threading. Of course I can slice the meat myself but if someone else can do it for me and it’s part of the price of the meat. . . why not? Always use pork butts because it’s more tender and it has the right amount of fats, which gives the BBQ the best flavor. By the way, in case you are wondering. . . Pork Butts is not actually the ass of the pig. Okay, I shouldn’t be saying ass here, oops my bad, I said it again. They call it butts because it is the butt end of the shoulder.


2 lbs Pork Butts
10-15 Bamboo Skewers
1/2 cup Soy Sauce
6 cloves Garlic – finely minced
3 tablespoon Lemon Juice
3/4 cup 7-Up or Sprite Soda
2 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
3 tablespoon Sugar
2 teaspoon Rice Wine or Dry Sherry
2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 cup Banana Ketchup for Glazing
2 tablespoon Vegetable Oil

Cooking Directions:

If you bought a whole pork butts, slice it by 1/4 inch thick then cut each slice about 1 inch wide strips.

In a large bowl, combine soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice, soda, Worcestershire, sugar, wine, and black pepper then mix them with a whisk.

Add the meat and mix thoroughly until well coated.

(Source: WokwithRay.net)
Transfer meat and the marinade in a Ziploc bag then refrigerate for about 4 hours.

Soak skewers in water for about 1 hour before using.

Thread meat on a skewers

Prepare basting sauce by combining Ketchup and oil then mix well with a whisk.

Set the barbecue grill to medium.

Grill the meat turning every minute so it won’t burn.

When meat is half-way cooked, start brushing the meat with ketchup mix on every turn.

Serve hot with rice or with BEER! (hehehe).

Serves 4 to 6.  Preparation time including marination: About 4 hours & 30 minutes.
Hope this works for you!

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Feb 5, 2011

What was Manila like in the 1930s during the American Commonwealth regime?

Dear Filipino,

I know you are feeling a bit under the weather, but do you know what the Philippines was like during the American Commonwealth period?

I'm not making life easier for you, am I?

Your fictive sidekick,

Dear MuQ,

Actually, you make my life much easier! Thanks, bro! 

You're right -- I'm really not feeling well at all, so I just want to leave you with a couple of short YouTube clips from that period.  Note that these clips were produced by Americans so the perspective is American.

Here's the first clip:

And here's the second:

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Feb 3, 2011

Why are Filipino nicknames repetitive and do Filipinos name private parts in a similar manner?

Dear Filipino,

Why do Pinoys love giving nicknames to their kids that repeat the same name/syllable (e.g., Dodo, Toto, Leklek, etc.).  Is it true that most of their private parts are named in a similar manner?  That is, in the examples given, you just change the vowels? LOL!

Boy B.

Dear Boy,

It’s true: Filipinos do love to give nicknames with syllables that repeat. I mean, who can deny it?  The sitting President himself sports one: Noynoy.  And the Vice President? Jojo.  And the Cabinet's Executive Secretary?  Also Jojo.

I personally grew up with neighborhood playmates, classmates and friends with nicknames like Penpen, Dandan, Denden, Dondon, Dindin, Lotlot, Lala, Nene, Bebe, Jonjon, Junjun, Tintin, Yanyan, Tingting, Toto, Katkat, Macmac, Maimai, Nognog, Ningning, Chichi, Baba, Bongbong, Bangbang, Bingbing, Bambam, Bimbim, Bumbum.

Then, there are those with Western-sounding double-initialed names: AA, BB, CC, DD, GG, JJ, MM, RR,TT.
(Source: SaintBarry.wordpress.com)
A little imperfectly repetitive, I know of Dodot, Dodong, Kakay, Kokoy, Dodoy, Totoy, Boboy, Nonoy, Popoy, Momoy.

Believe me, I can go on and on and on.

But what accounts for this, er, national tic? Are we suffering from some sort of collective palilalia, the pathological repetition or echoing of one's own spoken words?

The answer, actually, is found in linguistics.  And here below is my theory.

You see, almost all languages in the Philippines belong to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages, which is itself a member of the Austronesian clan. As such, our languages are agglutinative – i.e., we extensively glue words together to form new words.

We do it by joining what are called morphemes in linguistics.  Think of morpheme like you think of an atom: It is the smallest, irreducible component of a word that has its own semantic meaning, and a combination of several of these make a word. Wikipedia has this English example: The word "unbreakable" has three morphemes: "un-", a bound morpheme because it cannot stand alone; "break", a free morpheme because it can; and "-able", another bound morpheme. The morphemes "un-" and "-able" are called affixes: the former is a prefix, the latter is a suffix.

Generally, new words are said to be created using three methods: by affixation (i.e., by attaching affixes onto a root word); by composition (i.e., by forming a compound word); or by reduplication (i.e., the repetition of words or portions of words).

Occasionally referred to as cloning or doubling and found in a wide range of languages, reduplication may be full or partial; if the latter, it may be initial (i.e., prefixal), final (i.e., suffixal), or internal (i.e., infixal). It has many uses, but it is used primarily to indicate a different tense of the root verb; pluralize a noun; adjectivize a noun; adverbialize an adjective, noun or verb; accentuate or intensify an emotion; adopt a more expressive tone; speak figuratively; or express conceptual similarity.

Going back to Filipino nicknames, many of them are actually terms of endearment commonly used by parents in addressing their children. Bicolanos, for instance, use the generic loving terms “nonoy” (if male) and “nene” (if female) to address their babies, toddlers and young kids. But for many of these children, these common nouns stick and as their nicknames, become proper nouns, because to the dismay of some, they never outgrow them.

(Source: IlovehateAmerica.com)
Now, many Philippine terms for private parts indeed use reduplication.  But what I really find interesting is that our languages really don’t seem to have more “clinical-sounding” terms for them. Instead, we have terms that regular people completely avoid mentioning in polite conversation because they sound lewd, rude or linguistically belonging to someone uncouth, uneducated, lascivious, given to prurient thoughts, or otherwise, well, horny. 

And when we do find ourselves absolutely needing to, we use English, or if it really has to be in a Philippine language, we use all sorts of euphemisms or less threatening language – i.e., we “speak figuratively” and/or “express conceptual similarity” – hence, our use of linguistic reduplication.  That's why the scrotum becomes bola-bola instead of the rougher-sounding bayag; the penis is infantilized and gets called pitotoy instead of the more potent uten; the breasts become baby-ish, life-nurturing dede instead of the babe-ish, lust-conjuring dyoga; and vagina is turned less veteran-ish and gets called pekpek instead of the more experienced-sounding puki. (Interestingly enough, the Tagalog version of "The Vagina Monologues" was called "Usaping Puki".)

Personally, though, I do not know of any parent who would or did name his/her child after private parts (I know a couple of people nicknamed Dong but their well-meaning parents were surely after the onomatopoeic ring to it!).  But to get some inputs, I actually forwarded your question to my friend, EZ, who is also a lawyer (so I have no reason to doubt his truthfulness!) and who shared with me a funny story which he claims actually happened during a Little Miss Philippines contest on Eat Bulaga! in the late 1980s.

According to him, there was a contestant nicknamed Kengkeng. When one of the hosts, Vic Sotto, asked her why she was nicknamed Kengkeng, her answer on live TV was: "Kasi po, noong ipinanganak ako, ang taba-taba daw po ng aking pukengkeng!" 


Okay, here’s the deal: If you didn’t understand the joke because it’s in Tagalog, I’m so sorry but this is one occasion which I will not translate in English.  So this is a good reason for you to ask your Tagalog-speaking friend for a translation, or get to know one who is.  But make sure you show this blogpost first because if you ask it verbally without properly contextualizing the line, I can’t guarantee that you won’t get slapped in the face!

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Feb 2, 2011

Guess who is this week's "Good Mexican of the Week"?

Dear Filipino,

Hey, have you read The Mexican's latest column in New York's The Village Voice, Kansas' The Pitch, or Salt Lake's City Weekly, et cetera, yet?

Ecstatic for you,

Dear MuQ,

Yes, of course!  Ever since I learned about The Mexican's column, I've read it every week.  And every week, I also wonder how I can be as colorful, caustically witty, exciting and funny as my idol!  But you know, MuQ, I've long realized there's no way I can be like him -- the guy is just a genius at what he does!

And if you've forgotten, loyal readers of this blog will remind you that "Ask a Filipino!" got started because I was inspired by the men behind "Ask a Korean!" and "¡Ask a Mexican!", the "original."  But unlike The Korean and I who, aside from being lawyers, both blog anonymously, The Mexican is actually not anonymous.  In fact, not only is he not anonymous, he is quite famous.  His name is Gustavo Arellano, a syndicated professional columnist, who was featured in The New York Times in 2007 for unleashing "a torrent of criticism and attention, not to mention questions" about anything Mexican.

According to Wikipedia, Gustavo's column "now appears in 37 newspapers across the [United States] and has a weekly circulation of over 2 million."  Gustavo has also "won numerous awards for the column, including the 2006 and 2008 Best Non-Political Column in a large-circulation weekly from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, the 2007 Presidents Award from the Los Angeles Press Club and an Impacto Award from the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and a 2008 Latino Spirit award from the California Latino Legislative Caucus."

Every week, after answering a couple of questions from his readers, The Mexican has a section dedicated to praising the "Good Mexican(s) of the Week."  Well, as you've probably read, a week after I declared Ricardo Reyes (the Mexican "Pop-a-Shot King" who Philippine media mistook for a Fil-Am) as "Honorary Filipino" on this blog for beating NBA superstars at their game, my idol gave this blog his seal of approval and called me the "Good Mexican of the Week."  How cool is that!?!

(The Mexican's book.)
Here's his unbelievably generous shoutout
Is actually a Filipino, but we all know that those chinitos are the Mexicans of Asia (consult page 248 of my libro for further details). "Ask a Filipino" answers questions about his raza, from why the armpits of those little island people are so dark to why Filipinas are beautiful but Filipinos ugly, in an informative, hilarious, scandalous manner. Good read, and Mexican-approved! Read more Pinoy pendejadas at askthepinoy.blogspot.com.
So to The Mexican my idol, if you're reading this: Muchos graciasMaraming salamat!  And if we bump into each other one of these days, the lumpia is on me!

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.
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