Sunday, November 15, 2009


I am attracted to anything ethnic. Garments, trinkets, musical instruments, baskets, hairstyles, makeup... For me, these--not designer shoes, clothes, perfume, jewelry, etc.-- are the closest to what can be called my fancy.

I still have bamboo flutes and other native instruments that I've collected since my teens. The nose flute and mouth harp are my favourite. When Kontra-Gapi, an ethnic music and dance ensemble at the University of the Philippines, was just being started by Edru Abraham in 1989, I was excited to join along with several college students. But because I was already working at that time, married with two babies, and taking graduate studies on the side, I quit after a few practices.

I also collected some malongs, or tubular skirts, from my field work or my father's trips to Palawan or Mindanao. I wore them at home quite a lot those days. Here, I used them mostly for display at cultural events until I wore them again during my trip in Sierra Leone last summer. Speaking of Sierra Leone, I was attracted to the native skirts women wore on the streets, at home or in the farm. I brought home a couple of couple of those bright African wraparounds.

I think this cloth is made from pina (pineapple).

I liked ethnic bags, trays and baskets too. Unfortunately, most were too bulky to bring to Canada when we moved here. I was only able to bring the smaller items. These, and some other things we bought afterward, are now part of our home decor that has a touch of ethnic. Just a touch. Hubby doesn't want to overdo it.

Hey, that's my basket!

My affinity to the ethnic goes beyond things. When I learned about Philippine tribes in Social Studies in elementary or high school, I used to imagine how it was to be part of an ethnic tribe. I fantasized about being a T'boli girl wearing colourful trinkets and thick makeup. Or an Igorota, especially after watching the movie of the same title starring Christopher de Leon. I wished I were playing the role of Nora Aunor.

How would I look in this?

Even years later, I imagined living in the mountains, carrying baskets on my head or a child on my back, walking barefoot on trails, harvesting rice on terraces...

I used to hear family say that my maternal grandmother, whose ancestors came from the island of Mindoro, might actually have Mangyan blood, which could explain her dark skin. My grandmother was tall, dark and had lovely deep-set eyes. I would be proud to have Mangyan ancestry even if city folks sort of think less of native peoples.

The only thing that snapped me out of my tribal imaginings was the reality that living in remote areas could mean living without a normal city toilet. I'm okay to fetch water, but I may not last without a commode, sorry...

But I am not completely detached from the ethnic. I love ethnic people. My current job connects me with tribes in Africa, Latin America and the Philippines. What I do at my desk is impacting people groups in the Congo, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Nigeria, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay, and a host of other countries.

Occasionally, I still want to wear something ethnic, and I don't mean just Filipino.

"I want to look exotic," I thought aloud one day. Ethnic-exotic, not dancer-exotic.

"Mom, you are in Canada. You ARE exotic!" one of my boys quickly pointed out.

Why, of course! Here Canada, I am as ethnic as pork adobo or fresh lumpia. In fact, I belong to what is called "visible minority". My face alone has ethnic written all over it.

I'm exotic!

(Photos above were conceptualized and art-directed by hubby for Shell's calendar. They are stylized, rather than real ethnic look).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Makeover, again

(part 2 of 2)

"So Mom, how's your makeover going?" Gino asked me about a week ago.

"Well, it's still going. I just haven't decided on my haircut. And I'm running out of clothes," I replied. "I don't know how long I can sustain this."

"Wear a mini-skirt, black stockings and high heels," he said.

I didn't say I wanted an extreme makeover. Just a makeover.

"I already did that. Well, it's not really very high heels..." And it's not a mini. Just above-the-knee skirt.

My boys sometimes give me unsolicited fashion advice, but hardly ever when I ask for it. As Markus once said, "Like I care, Mom."

Not too long ago, I did an inventory of the clothes in my closet and dresser. I don't have a lot of clothes, but I realized that with a little mixing and matching, and some accessorizing, they're good enough. I just need to be creative with what I have. Besides, I have so many mostly unused trinkets from my mother.

But I'd like some new clothes too.

"Pwede ba kong bumili ng damit? (Can I buy clothes?)" I asked my husband. It's not that I need to ask his permission, but if I want a makeover, maybe he should know what I'm up to.

"Yup!" he answered.

"Palagi? (Always?)" I was baiting.

"Yup!" he said again. He knows me well enough not to fear letting me loose in a department store. He knows stores are more likely to go bankrupt than I am to become shop-oholic.

It's not that I don't like shopping. It's just harder to shop when you are the one budgeting and holding the purse strings and looking after the bills and stuff. I want to make sure that I get the most for the dollar. So I take a looong time browsing the racks, which exhausts myself and anyone who shops with me, until I finally leave the store with barely anything. Or with nothing.

It is easier to shop when my husband is with me. "Just get it," he'd say. I often need that extra push.

Recently I asked him to buy me something from H&M store near his workplace in Vancouver. "Can you get me a black hat? Not the beret. You already got me that. Get me one with a lid," I told him.

Like always, he was quick to say yes.

"Really? My wish is your command?" I acted surprised. I knew he wouldn't say no.

The other night he came home with my hat, and a few items for himself. Smart guy!

"Do you know how much this hat costs?... $10!" he exclaimed.

"$10??! That's expensive!" I exclaimed. He gave me a puzzled look. I quickly picked up that we were exclaiming for the opposite reasons. "...Or is that cheap??" I gave him the puzzled look.

"If you want a makeover, first you have to makeover your budget," he said.

Admittedly, for me anything that is not on sale or on the clearance rack is expensive. Which is why I like Ross. I get nice clothes on its clearance racks, good enough for my so-called makeover.

"Lerryblossoms, what happened to you?" a close friend finally asked me after noticing my mix-and-match several days in a row. She's used to seeing this Plain Jane wearing the same o' same o' for years, and not this above-the-knee skirt, black stockings, not-so-high heels, trinkets and all.

Nothing happened to me. Just trying to be more creative with what I already have and what I can afford.

(from an ad designed and illustrated by hubby)