Journalism and Forgiveness

[Thanks to UST Journalism Professor Jeremaiah M. Opiniano for humoring me on the subject. Apologies to Jack the Scribbler for borrowing this warning: This entry contains 776 words of self-aggrandizement and may intervene in your more important tasks like updating Facebook status.]

A RUMOR prompted my return to Facebook.

Church of the Holy Sacrifice parish priest Raymond Joseph Arre
speaks about forgiveness. Video grab by Dennis Estopace.

For one, I wanted to dispel the rumor. For another, I wanted to be in the know if other rumors abound, whether or not these involved me or people in the Philippine media industry.

The tale of the tape goes that I disdain going on trips abroad that are purely junkets; that is, traveling to other countries wherein reporters are not required to submit stories. Supposedly, the sponsor is “generous” enough to spend shareholder money on journalists.

While that is true –that I prefer an overseas coverage that would be worth the trip as well as the substantial investment of the trip’s sponsor, I never declined an assignment, whether overseas or not, from my editors.

What I didn’t know was there was such a junket and someone may have tried to make me look bad to the company sponsoring the trip.

As I told a fellow reporter who told me about the rumor: I only learned there was a trip after I learned of the rumor. In addition, my editor-in-chief knew why I took a long vacation leave and, hence, could neither assign me to such a trip nor believe I will sneak under official lines for a junket.

There was one time I inadvertently forgot to tell my editor about an official overseas coverage. But that was just one time; one moment of recalcitrance.

Anyway, in this year’s rumor, someone apparently wanted to lend credibility to a 3-day junket for select reporters, at my expense.

I got pissed. A fellow reporter wants to f__k with me.

My anger, however, easily waned after recalling a good sermon by Church of the Holy Sacrifice parish priest Raymond Joseph Arre.

It was the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time and the eve of my vacation leave, when I listened to Rev. Fr. Arre share his views on forgiveness -a word that may be far from the vocabulary of some Filipino journalists.

Fr. Arre cited the story of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector in Jesus's time, who climbed a sycamore tree just to see the prophet.

According to the Gospel of St. Luke [Lk 19:1-10], Zacchaeus promised to give half of his possessions to the poor and “repay four times over” whatever he extorted from anyone.

Fr. Arre said Zacchaeus was already forgiven even before his lips uttered the words of penance.

I am a journalist, not a tax collector; extorted from, not an extortionist.

But sitting on a brown pew inside the church –yes, some journalists attend Eucharistic celebrations– I recalled having approached a fellow journalist who felt I did him wrong.

After a year of not speaking to each other, I called and asked him for help in a writing project that didn’t materialize. It could be considered my way of saying sorry; of asking for forgiveness. We have renewed our friendship since then.

Fr. Arre’s sermon brings me back to the rumor-monger who may think I am privileged to be given overseas assignments.

I can only ask forgiveness, if he or she feels deserving of such trips as I come across as someone disdainful of such “perks” enjoyed by business reporters.

I believe journalists should strive to have or develop such virtue of forgiveness; asking for and giving it.

I think if we have wronged the public because of factual error, or extorting news or amassing fortune and fame at their expense, we should be ready to ask forgiveness. I also think a government executive or public official who has shown remorse, resigned from office, and returned to the public institution the dignity it deserved, asked for forgiveness, we should report it as so.

Both instances, however, occur few and far between in these islands.

Maybe this is because media owners are wont to protect market share than strengthen the institution represented by journalism. Maybe this is because public officials have dragged institutions to the abyss with their obfuscation of what is decent and what is larceny.

Still, I know there are journalists out there who have a sense of decency to say sorry to the public as well as rein in giving forgiveness to those who have wronged and continue to do wrong to the public.

If there are fellow journalists who felt I have wronged them, please forgive me. You can have all the overseas assignments you want, especially those that are really junkets.

And I forgive you for thinking the contrary and for spreading rumors that I disdain junkets. While the latter is a personal choice, I always try to follow where my editors point me to.

That is called obedience; another Christian virtue requiring another lengthy entry.

Happiness is a Poem

[Here’s a poem from a book of rhymes and limericks that I read to my daughters Sunday night and was encoded by my eldest Monday. We all like it and hope you do, too.]

Mr. Nobody
Author Unknown

I know a funny little man,
As quiet as a mouse,
Who does the mischief that is done,
In everybody’s house!
There’s no one ever sees his face,
And yet we all agree
That every plate we break was cracked
By Mr. Nobody.

‘Tis he who always tears our books,
Who leaves the door ajar,
He pulls the buttons from our shirts,
And scatters pins afar;
That squeaking door will always squeak,
For, prithee, don’t you see,
We leave the oiling to be done
By Mr. Nobody.

He puts damp wood upon the fire,
That kettles cannot boil;
His are the feet that bring in mud,
And all the carpets soil.
The papers always are mislaid,
Who had laid them last but he?
There’s no one tosses them about
But Mr. Nobody.

The finger marks upon the door
By none of us are made;
We never leave the blinds unclosed,
To let the curtains fade.
The ink we never spill; the boots
That lying round you see
Are not our boots --- they all belong
To Mr. Nobody!

Late Afternoon After Pacquiao Fight

Photo below shows some Filipinos were in shopping malls like this one in Quezon City after the televised fight of boxer Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas.

Video grab by Dennis Estopace.

Ten Things That Help Me Sleep

Photo taken by Ani Laya M. Estopace, 6.

I WAS a walking dead when I woke up late morning.

My shoulders ached and my feet refused to shuttle me to the bathroom with half-open eyes and slow neurons. Since I was gifted with the insight of the three stooges, I immediately concluded lack of sleep was the culprit; except for the slow neurons -it’s natural.

I remembered two friends of mine had the same experience –lack of sleep, not being zombies: a professor in a Church-run school and a writer as prolific as yours truly (based on my unintelligible standards, of course).

Anyway, I wrote up this list to help me remember what to do and what to avoid so I can avoid these late morning realizations and go back to doing what I do best: sleeping.

[Caution: May contain contents inappropriate for my 14-year-old daughter and people like her who are smart enough to see beyond the couched seriousness, which are few and far between, of contents.]
[Disclaimer: No scientific evidence offered; sarcasm abundant. These forward-looking statements are based on the experience of the author and should be regarded as professional advice only by idiots.]

1. Engage in a physical release of body fluid. Ooops; for sensitive readers: it’s a three-letter word that starts with the letter S and ends with the letter X. It’s neither a contraction of the word saxophone nor the word “sucks,” although both are tools for satisfaction. Whether and however one does this, with the presence or absence of willing participant or participants, is the least of my concerns. But based on my limited knowledge of the subject, it works! Doesn’t it, dear? Heh.

2. Clean the house. Do the household chores if there’s nobody to do it to. But sweep the floor or scrub the toilet tiles with little noise as possible, especially if neighbours or housemates are already down the rabbit hole at 12 midnight.

3. Walk, or do some exercise. I’ve recommended this to my friend who teaches journalism and has been yawning almost every afternoon at the office. Since I live inside a university campus, walking outdoors is safe. I also get to see the place where somebody recently dumped a corpse as well as meet a group of young informal settlers (read: squatters) out to have fun in the unlit recesses of the tree-filled fields.

4. Read a boring material. If the requirements for the first item in this list are absent, especially the consenting partner, grab a book or material you’ve put off reading a century ago. Go for titles like “The intricate life of a mite trainer.” I also recommend reading notes to annual reports, disclaimers appended to financial statements, and end-user license agreements. I guarantee not finishing the second sentence.

5. Watch a boring movie. If you’re not fond of the intellectual exercise called reading (which makes me wonder how you got to this point so far), then try watching television to sleep. TV shows today are so helpful in deadening the mind and shocking the brain to a stoic state. I’ve done this while in hotels on an overseas business trip and after #s 1, 3, and 4 remained ineffective. Of course, expect to wake up either with a white noise in the middle of an eerie morning or a sky-rocketing electricity bill to shock you back to sleep.

6. File things. Maybe it’s time to arrange in chronological order the receipts you’ve stored in nook and crannies. Maybe it’s time to put in alphabetical order the calling cards you’ve amassed for the past decade. I’ve done this and remained effective in making me go from A to Zzzzz even before I reach B.

7. Soak in a tub or take a warm bath. I've done this in a hotel that had a bathroom with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. There was a satisfaction of looking at the landscape of Singapore at night while naked under water and suds. Also good as a prelude to #1 in this list, or after cleaning or filing. This is also an opportunity to clean using cotton buds almost every body orifice. I said, almost! But I won’t stop anybody getting a kick of sticking cotton buds in the nether regions, …yuck. I can’t even finish the previous sentence.

8. Paper works. Some fall to sleep after bringing an attaché case full of paperwork from the office; others, just the mere thought of extending slavery after eight hours of number crunching lulls them to stupor. There’s also origami, which I do, because there’s certain calmness in folding paper. Also, I’ve been recycling papers that have one side bare: cutting these into pocket-size pieces and, using superglue, make them into notepads.

9. Empty the mind. There’s nothing like freeing the mind from worries, especially when and where to reach the first item on this list, as a better sedative. Some count sheep; others count backwards from ten or until there’s nothing except blankness of thoughts. “It is a dimension that's as vast as space and as timeless as infinity”…nunininununini... I heard some politicians have perfected emptying the mind since there was nothing to take out from it in the first place.
10. Surf blog entries like this. Wow. If you reached this stage, you really need to see a sleep doctor since I never expected such boring entries like this can keep you up. However, the Internet is a sixth dimension of sorts that offers a lot of mind-numbing tools. However, I’d rather you get a life.

Many things -such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly- are done worst when we try hardest to do them.
to C.S. Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia”]

Urban utopia: Ho Chi Minh City’s proletarian perks have a surprising taste

[Blogger's Note: The President's speechwriter's twisted twits prompted me to post this story I wrote for BusinessMirror newspaper in October 21, 2007. It's about another city in Vietnam, which I visited when I was 38, but hope gives an overview of why wine and how men look piqued the speechwriter's interest rather than a country's rich culture.]

Vietnameses' daily life is never without motorcycles,
which they use to go around Ho Chi Minh City
as well as transport or sell products.
Photo by Dennis D. Estopace

HO CHI MINH CITY – Some Asian destinations offer no pretensions. This city is one of them.

Vietnam’s urban center, named honoring its communist leader, allows guests to seep into its transformation from a war-ravaged capital to a place where one can escape the trappings of bourgeoisie pettiness.

From the airplane’s nose dive to slice through white mist toward Tan Son Nhut International Airport to the bustling city streets, the tempo of changes clutching its ten million people is at once felt.

The whole city itself is hot, literally, with high humidity and temperatures hitting above 30. Figuratively, there’s the prominence of red and gold colors in almost every mid-rise building lining the road from the airport.

The airport itself is undergoing transformation to the chagrin of Filipino workers and tourists that pine for the opening of Terminal 3. Tan Son Nhut is a notch above the Philippines’s old international airport in the sense that is has horizontal escalators or “walk-alators,” says one Pinoy working for an oil exploration project here.

Airlines staff said Tan Son Nhut airport, which is undergoing renovation and expansion, would become wi-fi ready in the next three months. Hence, they are preparing a new computer system for check-in and boarding. PAL staff were flown here to train Vietnamese on the new system.

Outside, the whole city is pulsing with life. Just sit and sip one of the many home brewed coffee at several cafés dotting the road to feel its beat. Everywhere, and at any time of the day, two-wheel vehicles like scooters, bicycles, and motorcycles carom here and there on the streets. It seems every Vietnamese –whether in jeans, mini-skirts, and the traditional cheongsam– has somewhere to go to and things to do.

Most of the restaurants here offer a view of the road so guests can ponder the symmetry that weaves these vehicles.

Even steel rickshaw driver Tung couldn’t explain why there’re few if no motor vehicle accidents in the city.

One reason could be the language barrier. Most Vietnamese speak French as second language. In halting English, Tung says the Vietnamese know how to move quickly.

A Vietnamese woman in traditional Vietnamese garb
prepares to ride her motorbike
after buying fruits and flowers at Ben Thahn Market.
Photo by Dennis D. Estopace

“We survived American bombs; we survive driving,” the 40-year-old Tung says in front of Ben Thanh Market where he and other drivers of a rickshaw –a two-wheeled bucket seat welded in front of a bicycle– offer one-hour city tours for US$15 (VND242,460 at US$1=VND16,164).

Ben Thanh Market, to note, is one of the reasons why Ho Chi Minh is a must destination for shoppers.

Located on District 1 and a five-minute walk from Caravelle Hotel where Hewlett-Packard Co. billeted Asian journalists, Ben Thanh is the most central of Ho Chi Minh City's many huge indoor markets.

From the entrance across a horse-riding monument of Ho Chi Minh, the market is organized according to rows of products. The first street block-long stalls sell garments and textiles, the second row offer lacquerwares and handicrafts, then dried and cooked food, fruits, and flowers.

An hour before it closes at 6:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. in the Philippines), Ben Thahn remains packed with shoppers walking sideways along the aisles between stalls. The scent of linseed oil and dried shrimp mixes with human sweat and a bargain hunt, replacing the familiar smell of cordite and sulfur four decades ago.

Indeed, Ben Thanh is a utopia for shoppers not only because they could become instant millionaires for US$100 (VND1.6 million) but also because product prices could be haggled lower. A t-shirt hand-embroidered with Ho Chi Minh’s face could go for US$2.47 from the initial price of US$3.10 (VND50,000).

“What’s your price,” a vendor would say if a potential buyer asks then tries to move away. The negotiations go on until each reach their comfort zones. It’s best to go first to Ben Thahn just for a look-see and return for the actual purchase.

Fellow journalist Racquel devised an alternative to the must-carry calculator: a piece of paper. There she wrote tiered exchange rates, as in VND16,000= US$1=P44; VND65,000=US$4=P176; and, VND78,000=US$5=P220.

“The last one’s my pivot point,” Racquel said explaining that “anything higher than US$5 would be really spending.”

For the historian and the proletarian-spirited traveler, one notable must-go place here is the War Remnants Museum on Vo Van Tan Road. Opened to the public in 1975, the museum offers the reason what makes the Vietnamese tick. The eight permanent thematic exhibitions bare the numbing truth of the Vietnam War that began when the first American soldiers landed in Da Nang March 8, 1965.

Museum collections offer an in-your-face look at war: from methods of torture to the effects of 44 million liters of Agent Orange through photographs by 134 journalists, through sculptures, and actual ordinance.
A foreign tourist walks toward one of the cannons used by the Americans during their failed attempt to subjugate Vietnam and now is one of the collections at War Remnants Museum. Photo by Dennis D. Estopace

An empty stomach and open mind could help visitors suck in everything the museum offers. It is advisable to go to here before visiting the Co Chin Tunnels to experience how the Vietnamese survived the 14 million tons of explosives dropped from B-52 bombers during the war.

If you’re as slender or thin as the Vietnamese, drop into the pitch-dark tunnel some of which lead to several rooms underground where they cooked, slept, and kept as silent as moles during the war.

Above, travelers could fire an AK-47, the most powerful assault rifle invented by man and widely used by Vietnamese guerillas, for 250 dong (US$0.25) per bullet. Don’t bother hiding the bullet shell as souvenir; the tour guides would know how many are missing.

Packaged tours to the tunnels and the museum, excluding entrance fees, begin at US$4 per person (US$1=16,164 dong).

A two-day stay in this city is worth more for these reasons alone.

As the orange sky glows, the Asian visitor to these places could begin to dig deeper in his or her heart the pride of being non-Caucasian, living simply and loving a country.

This makes one wonder why so-called Filipino revolutionaries noisily promising to drive out the “white devils” –as Tung calls Americans– in Philippine political-economy passed off the warmth of Vietnam as refuge, opting for the stark cold weather of the The Netherlands.


How to go there: via PAL, which now flies daily, and Cebu Pacific, four times a week.

Where to stay: Caravelle Hotel is where 100 journalists from Asia-Pacific region were billeted. Located on Lam Son Square, District 1, Caravelle’s rooms begin at US$250 a night. Stay at the topmost floor (24th, smoking) to get a great view of the city. District 1, to note, is considered the commercial and business district with high-end stores like Dolce Gabanna and Louis Vuitton operating side by side local-brand shops.

Motorcycles form part of the Vietnamese’s daily life.
Photo by Dennis D. Estopace.

Where to eat: Lemon Grass, a block across Caravelle, is a four-storey restaurant offering mild-Vietnamese food, which is light on the use of lemon grass, a staple in Vietnamese cuisine. Try the soft-shell crab and, of course, the spring rolls. In 2007, there were two branches of Jollibee, one of which is near the museum at Nguyen Thi Minh Khai road. Also, check out the Mandarin restaurant on Ngo Van Nam Street and their eight-meal course.

How to move around: Taxis of the sedan and off-road types could be easily flagged but know ahead how much the fare would cost since some drivers charge double than what the meter shows. From the Caravelle to Ben Thahn, for example, the five-minute ride’s just under VND17,000 or US$1. Better yet, walk.

What to carry: Umbrella or hat, for protection against the sun or rain; cash; camera; street map; and, high alertness, especially when crossing streets.