In My Own Words - Ron Centeno

a collection of thoughts and my own words

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The Word is Greed

Written by Ron Centeno

If there is one word that spells economic disaster, that would be – GREED.

As early as the beginning of the 20th century, an English author named H. G. Wells wrote, “America is still, by virtue of its great Puritan tradition and in the older sense of the word, an intensely moral land. Most lusts here are strongly curbed, by public opinion, by training and tradition. But the lust of acquisition has not been curbed but glorified.” It cannot be further from the truth that the casual explanation is that Americans worship wealth based on greed.

Let me take you back to the economic scene in the 1910s. A business reporter for the New York Times and later the editor of Business Week named Elliot V. Bell recounted, “J. P. Morgan was far from being the richest man of his time. His estate was valued at about one-tenth of Andrew Carnegie’s, one-twelfth of John D. Rockefeller’s. Yet Morgan’s control of the U. S. economy is unlikely to be matched. When Congress investigated the Morgan Bank in 1912, it discovered that the assets controlled by ‘the octopus,’ as the bank was called by critics, totaled $25 billion – more than five times the budget of the federal government.”

It is of no coincidence that the same kind of greed only possessed perhaps by different personalities, has wrought havoc in the autumn of 1929 and the succeeding years of the country’s economic meltdown. Recall that the great crash of that year is notable of economic events that ushered the most momentous economic occurrence in the history of the United States known as the Great Depression. Since then, America has no shortage of economic turmoil cast upon by the people whose propensity for profit is simply insatiable.

Fast forward, today’s economic pundits equate the same word to our country’s economic woes. No less than Mr. Obama chastised Wall Street executives for taking fat bonuses at a time when financial system has run out of breath. “That is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful”, Obama said.

But how much in dollars does the Obama administration is in disgust? A whopping $18.4billion bonus payouts, according to the New York comptroller. Such huge amount may sound totally outrageous, if not outright insane, to the ordinary taxpayers, who in the hindsight, would pick up the tab.

Let me rub some salt to your wound, if I may, to confirm the deranged justification of these American CEOs for their fat payouts to sustain their wild spending. Call it vanity but I still insist to be greed. I am referring to the renovation done to the office of the former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain. Last year, the vane CEO spent $1.2 million to fix up his office, including $35,115 on a commode, and $1,405 for trash bin!

Recall as well how the auto executives learned that lavish spending was totally unacceptable under today’s economic set up when they flew in private jets to Washington while seeking bailout. This prompted Citigroup to cancel a plan to buy $50 million executive jet because Obama does not believe it was “the best use of money” by companies receiving taxpayer assistance. Indeed, during the time of austerity, an act of fancy borne out of greed such as this is totally reprehensible and insensible. It must stop, in toto.


What a Friday Night (Part III)

Written by Ron Centeno

( Continuation of "What A Friday Night - Part II" )

Off from the Chevy’s Bar and Resto, Ces and I hit the road towards Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan. Needless to say, the park was once a potter’s field (a graveyard for the poor) from 1823 to 1840, when thousands of bodies were moved to Ward’s Island. Moreover, the park had been taken over by drug dealers, prostitutes, and the homeless during the 1970’s. Hence, nicknamed “Needle Park”. But those were the things of the past.

The Bryant Park Ces and I spent an evening with was in complete contrast to its previous reputation. Its sprawling grassy landscape was now home to music aficionados eager to watch the summer events. The lawn of Bryant Park, surrounded by cafes, could easily hold several hundred people on a given day.

And on that torrid and lovely evening, the New York Symphony Orchestra was scheduled to perform. Ces and I couldn’t get any better than that. And because it was free, the excitement was twofold. After we struggled our way in, Ces and I settled ourselves onto the folding chairs next to each other. Beethoven’s and Mozart’s were played. Each number was followed by the bellowing of ‘bravos’ from the crowd. My attention, however, was far-removed from those eternal classic tunes. It was the conductor who caught my attention. I was struck by the swinging of his baton and the gyration of his hips. He was Charlie Chaplin without the hat.

Not too long, the day turned into the night. Spotlights illuminated the stage, casting back somber rays toward the audience. An hour later, the orchestra took its break. Ces and I stood, strolled, and then walked aimlessly into the crowd. The lawn was now packed. Soon, we vanished into the applauding spectators. When the orchestra reemerged onto the stage, I was blown away by its next piece. It was “Hey Jude”, done originally by the Beatles. And then there were more Beatles’. The crowd was now on its feet and so did we.

Standing next to each other, I threw my hands around her shoulders. Hers run to my waist. Oblivious to those around us, I dipped a quick kiss on her cheek. She didn’t seem to mind it. I waited another minute and launched another one. This time it lingered quite a bit almost reaching her lips. “Not too fast, brother”, she said. Embarrassed, I put my assault on hold. The crowd were now excited as “Charlie Chaplin” oscillates his stick to the tune of “Come Together”.

Her hand grounded steadily on my waist. Mine, too, was on her waist now but not steadily. Her low-waist pants were so low I could feel the warmth of her skin. It was smooth as silk. I applied a little pressure as I ran my fingers around it. Then she looked me in the eye and asked, “Are you alright?” “Yes”, I said with muted desire.

Long after the orchestra was gone and a handful of people left, Ces and I opted to stay. Behind the wall and underneath those trees, we stood and talked. Then we talked some more. Slowly, I lifted my hands, grasped her face, and drew her close to me. She was motionless. Her eyes were now close. With all my might, I locked my lips into hers. She returned the favor with equal potency. I could feel her hands wandering through my back. And so did I. “We need a room”, I whispered. Before she could utter a word, I have already summoned a cab. “73rd and Roosevelt”, I said to the man behind the wheel. “Yes. Suhventy thurd and Rushvelt, Sir”, came the reply from our Pakistani driver. WANT TO READ THE PART IV?


What A Friday Night ( Part ll )

Written by Ron Centeno

( Here's the sequel to "What A Friday Night" )

Many more phone calls were made and returned. Each night, the topic would shift from general to a more particular to a rather personal one. At times, it was casual, then contemplative, and so on.

Exactly a week later, Ces and I agreed to take our nightly marathon phone sessions out. She suggested Manhattan.

Barely three weeks now in New York, the farthest point I have managed to reach myself alone was some three blocks away from my rented apartment in Queens, New York. Delighted to see her again, I jumped to my feet in concession. “Sure! Manhattan”, I said.

Down the subway station on 74th and Roosevelt, I hurried to the stairs and figured out how to get to Manhattan. People were frantic to catch their trains for work. Men bound for Wall Street wore black suits despite the soggy weather condition. Girls clad in minis or shorts would assault the train doors.Their nickel-tanned legs exposed to the delight of the feasting perverts. Novelty folk singers braved the heat for some bucks. And because it was summer, our collective body heat and the suffocating enclosures of the subway station made me sweat profusely. Actually, it was more of my dreaded thought of riding the train alone and the fact that I have never been to Manhattan myself was the précised reason.

On board the train, I waited for 42nd Time Square Station to appear outside the train window. Many stops gone by until the train finally came to a halt at Times Square. I was debating myself if I were on the right track. Ces made reference to those familiar streets in passing when she decided to meet me at Barnes and Noble bookstore.

Aroused by the thought of seeing her for the second time since we’ve first met, I avoided protestation over where we should meet. I gallantly accepted Manhattan in spite of it all. Ces has called New York her home for a good reasonable years now and the thought of having an unofficial tour guide was twice the fun.

Inside the bookstore, my mind was racing full throttle. I was rehearsing my “hi’s” and “hello’s”. I grabbed some art books but not necessarily reading them. Haltingly, I would wonder what inspired da Vinci to paint his Mona Lisa and recalled my visit to Musee du Louvre in Paris where the painting hung in despicable power. Rumor has it that Mona Lisa is da Vinci himself disguised as woman. Many believe the master himself is gay. Hell! I could care less.

From Mona Lisa to Marilyn Monroe, Ces was nowhere in sight fifteen minutes later. My fear was building up when my cell phone rang. “Where are you?”, Ces asked me inquisitively. “I’m here at Barnes. Groundfloor…art section.”, I said triumphantly. “How come I don’t see you?”, she said in return. Then she continued, “Are you on 42nd and Broadway”?

I hurried to the door and alas! No. I told her I am in front of this and at the back of that. “You are eight long blocks away”, she said gravely. I knew I was bad at directions - and this one was a testament to that claim.

“Stay right where you are. Wait for me until I get there”, she said. I obliged like a footsoldier to his general. I felt so sorry for her and wanted to bury my face in between Hitler’s and Osama bin Laden’s biographical books. It’s just cruel to even think about these two loathsome characters in the annals of world history, but their appropriateness fit the penalty of my offense of letting Ces walk the distance.

After having to say I’m sorry, I wanted to disappear completely. But she was gracious enough to accept my mile-long apology. She was reassuring. All the more, I was enthralled to her. And with a snap of fingers, she motioned me to hit the door. I followed suit. And all I remembered was the cover page of that voluminous book on John, Paul, George, and Ringo, crossing the pedestrian lane in Liverpool.

Our first stop was Chevy’s - a Mexican bar/restaurant not too far from Barnes. It was half-empty at 3:00 pm. We settled ourselves onto a tall table designed to be narrow enough for two people. It was my choice, of course. I was glad it didn’t matter to her. In half an hour, I drained two glasses of margaritas and dug some tacos and taquitos from my platter. She emptied a bottle of water all at once before she even managed to fork a tiny bit of guacamole. It must be the walking, I thought.

In the next one hour, I annihilated the conversation. She began by asking me to define economics from the point of view of an MBA student. Inspired and thirst for her attention, I began my lecture on how Alexander Hamilton transformed the agricultural America that was ferociously defended by Thomas Jefferson into a manufacturing society. My last topic for that day was the inception of Starbucks from its origin in Seattle, Washington to the Forbidden City of China. When I finally asked for the check, I was already holding her hands in disbelief. PART III IS COMING UP...


Obama's Somber Beginning

Written by Ron Centeno

When President Barack Obama took the stand to deliver his inaugural speech, the crowd anticipated a dash of hope amid all the woes at hand. The expectation, however, came out a little less than expected. The new leader of the world’s prosperous nation was under no illusion that a quick fix in the country’s economic debacle is in the offing. The somber notes he delivered in that icy platform of the Capitol Hills was evidenced by a handful of roars from the sea of humanity that trooped to the historic occasion.

Recall that the president recognized the U. S. economy to be badly weakened. Apparently, such recognition was done in the hope that his incoming administration shall be given the much needed running room to figure out the enormity of the economic damages left behind by his predecessor.

Note, however, that across America, people are sympathetic to Obama’s plea – which is a good thing - including Mark McKinnon, a former consultant for Senator John McCain. According to McKinnon, “People are going to give Obama more time than they would any other new president because they know he is dealing with unprecedented challenges.” True enough, Obama declared that, “the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily in a short span of time.” With that, the country loaned Obama some time, how much time, however, no one knows. Even his designated chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel “will not put time on it.”

To those in the know, two years or longer is their best estimate based on the running time of the country’s economic recession. According to David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, one way for the president to earn patience from the American public has something to do with tone. Plouffe’s observation was validated by the shift in Obama’s inaugural speech compared to his presidential campaign rhetoric.

Obama rationalized further that he was taking the office in challenging times, both domestic and foreign, including economic crisis equivalent to that of the Great Depression when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved into the White House. It is of no consequence that collectively the American people must adopt a more self-denying way of life with little room for “those who prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.”

In an effort to heed Obama’s call for change as a means to turn around the ill-fitted economy, the entire nation, Democrats or Republicans, is left without recourse but to give his administration a chance to prove itself. Hence, Obama’s supplication for the return to the so-called traditional American virtues of hard work, fair play, tolerance and sacrifice for the common good is not a difficult proposition.

He urged that “starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” This urging is a testament to the fact that there are massive jobs to be done to reaffirm the greatness of the country. Again, this is another way of reminding the American people that the tasks ahead require considerable time.

It was evident that those in the crowd and elsewhere whose expectations run high but met with a plea to collectively tackle the “raging storm” must come into terms that, indeed, there is no quick fix to match the enormity of woes before them.

(Photo By: BL1961 on Flickr)


Should I Dread To Write?

Written by Ron Centeno

When I came to America twelve years ago, I could barely write a paragraph, much less, an essay. I needed to find a job quickly and landed into some odd ones that did not require writing at all. So what the heck?

From downtown Los Angeles where I worked to Pasadena where lived, I had to commute using the Metro Bus. One of my last remaining stops would be in front of Border’s bookstore along Lake Avenue. Alone in my rented room, I had to while away my time at the store until 11:00 p. m. That routine became a daily fixture.

Inside the bookstore, I got hooked with books on American and World History, U. S. Government, U. S. Foreign Policy, World Economy, and all things about America and the rest of the world. Three years later, oozing with false confidence, I found myself seated in the political science classes at the California State University, Northridge. Eventually, I earned my B. A. degree leading to International Relations as my concentration. The following year, I went to University of Maryland, University College to earn my MBA degree in Management.

Throughout those years, writing has been an integral part of my daily existence. For the most part, however, the early part in particular, I dreaded the thought of having to write about anything. I recalled the last time I grabbed a pen to write some sentences were a decade earlier prior to my initial stint at Northridge. Without recourse, I had to force myself into it only to satisfy the college writing requirement. There was no turning back, I thought - and the agony was simply irreversible.

I had to work at night and go to school during the day. The bus became a convenient mode for my reading. For more than an hour trip from home to work, the bus became an extension of my study room. Short of English vocabularies, a dictionary became my constant companion. Having to memorize as many words as I could was not enough, however. Putting those words into correct form was daunting. The newspaper editorials were my most invaluable resources that helped me reach my academic goal.

I do not claim that I have perfected the art of writing. That’s absurd to even imagine. And I am far from being one. To this date I tussle with the complexities on how to write correctly. One the one hand, the need for constant practice might perhaps work wonders to at least provide some necessary betterment.

Today, I can insist with enough fortitude that my long trepidation in writing is now put to rest. Well, not totally. But unlike my earlier semesters at Northridge, I no longer dread to write.


Jueteng: Why it's so appealing

Written by Ron Centeno

In the U.S., baseball is the country’s long-time favorite pastime that dates back in the 1860’s. In the ensuing years following The Great Depression of the 1930’s, many financially grief-stricken Americans found themselves at the ball parks to find solace in playing or watching the ball game. Since its inception, the likes of the legendary hitters such as Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson became iconic by raising the popularity of the game. Relative to this increased popularity, game attendance followed by radio and television viewership later in years, have dramatically surged, enriching the league’s players.

In recent years, baseball’s great sluggers including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, all accused of steroid-abuse scandal of the mid-2000’s, have pushed the limit for the very fat salary offered by the team franchises. In turn, they have been put under pressure to break previous home run records and ultimately break the law in the process. Notwithstanding, baseball is America’s game, because for the most part, it is about tradition that connects the old and future generations at a time when different adversities divide them.

Elsewhere, the game of soccer is South and Central Americas’ all-time favorite. There is nothing more evident than the so-called Football War of 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras to prove such point. El Salvador is a small country with high population growth and a severely limited amount of available land. In contrast, Honduras is a larger country with a smaller population and a less-developed economy. By 1969, about 300,000 El Salvadorans had crossed over the border and squatted in the sparsely populated Honduras. The illegal incursion of the El Salvadorans had become a nationalistic sore point for Honduras.

To make up for his tarnished reputation, Honduran President Oswaldo Lopez Arellano (1963 – 71) revived a dormant agrarian reform law as a pretext to expel the El Salvadoran squatters from the country. The tale of the displaced refugees painted an ugly picture in El Salvador’s dailies and airwaves. In retaliation, when a soccer match was held in El Salvador, the Honduran team members were vilified and harassed by the Salvadoran fans. The ensuing event brought unintended or otherwise consequence called the Football War and as many as 2,000 people, mainly civilians, were killed in the action.

In the Philippines, their pastime is a uniquely different kind of game called jueteng. The game is an illegal numbers betting played by rich and poor alike. The mechanics of the game is to select a combination of two numbers between 1 and 37. Despite the high odds or 1/666 to be exact, the lucrative payout is nowhere difficult to resist which raises its mass appeal in all corners of the country. The game depends largely on the large number of wagers and there is no limit to the amount of the bets.

While the legion of wagers is bountiful, those who run the game have become extremely rich by sucking the hard-earned income from the poor. On the average, a mayor of one municipality who benefits from the game, earns a whopping P50,000 each draw. If my elementary mathematics serves me right, a mayor’s take home is about P150,000 given the three draws each day. One would wonder how much the country’s president gets a single day.

The exact amount is hard to determine. One thing is sure, however. In 2001, Erap Estrada was removed from office when Governor Chavit Singson, a known gambling lord in northern Luzon, blew his whistle and accused the former president of jueteng payoffs. Following their testimonies in the Senate, Estrada’s cobrador who turned state-witnesses, graphically described how they would unload sacks of money into Erap’s presence. In 2005,Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s relatives were likewise alleged to have received payoffs from jueteng operators.

What makes this game appealing to the very grassroots of the Philippine society?

Interestingly enough, the game of jueteng evokes the folkloric notions of good and bad luck. Wagers associate their dreams to the numbers from a combination of symbolic premonitions. For instance, if a bettor dreamed of his bald neighbor to have been shot dead with 45 caliber, and bald being represented by number 70 and 45 caliber being 45, the combination of 70 and 45 would be his notional winning numbers. The ability or inability to interpret such supernatural powers is perceived to influence forces of nature. Or so it seemed.

It is no coincidence that out of the three draws, morning, noon, and evening, the morning draw commands the most number of bets. The evening draw comes in second after the bettor took his siesta at noon.

The other reason for its apparent appeal is that the cobrador literally knocks at bettor’s door to solicit bets. This saves the bettor the time to travel to retail stores compared to say, lotto or other form of legalized gambling. A one peso bet translates into a prize-money of around four hundred to one thousand pesos. Winnings are then delivered straight to the bettor by the same cobrador.

The game’s rule of engagement evokes simplicity. Bettors do not have to sign any written contracts. The transaction between the bettor and the cobrador is done through informal negotiations. Despite the lack of any formalities, a relationship that is built on trust, provides security for the bettors.

Given the mass appeal of jueteng, it is no surprise that Filipinos from all walks of life, either tricycle drivers or parish priests, tambays or school teachers, mayors or the presidents of the country, have become part and parcel of what is now a cultural menace that would surely survive all the generations to come.


What A Friday Night ( A True Story )

Written by Ron Centeno

Barely two weeks since I arrived in New York, I thought it was a good idea to get acquinted nearby. The temperature was registered at 65 degrees. It was a lovely young evening, indeed, and the whole stretch of Roosevelt Avenue and 69th Street was littered with people from all walks of life. Cabs were plying around in all directions. There were beep-beeps everywhere, a familiar noise in cities of New York. Pedestrians continued to defy the stop signs and crossed the streets anyway at anytime they wanted to. The neon lights were visibly well lit. And within the short radius of this area in Queens, New York, a line of Filipino restaurants provided live music, karaoke, and dancing till the wee hours of the night.

In front of Perlas ng Silangan Restaurant, one of the busiest hang-outs for most Filipinos on a weekend, a familiar sound went off from a street peddler - “Baluuuuuut!” (Balut is a fertilized duck egg). I wasted no time and approached the balut vendor and inquired, “Kumusta na ho ang benta?” (How's the business going?). “Okay naman” (It's okay.), he said mildly – quite the opposite from the way he sounded off one second earlier. Quickly, he opened the basket. “Ilan?” (How many?), he asked, referring to the balut. Frankly, I had no intention of buying one because I couldn’t stand the sight of that tiny “sisiw” inside its shell. “Pasensiya na ho, di ako kumakain ng balut – magtatanong lang sana ako”. (I'm so sorry, I don't really eat balut - I just want to ask you something). His enthusiasm quickly vanished and tried to remain accommodating, anyway. “Ano hong meron sa loob”, I asked him, referring to what is inside the Perlas restaurant. “There’s a live music at maraming pulutan (plenty of appetizer)and the people are there to enjoy the music”, he said politely. “Maraming salamat” (Thank's a lot), I said with a flash of smile and headed to the door. Before I could reach the main entrance, the same familiar sound went off again...”Baluuuuuuuuuuuuuut”.

Inside, the waitress approached me and led me to a table two feet away from the speakers. Not exactly where I wanted to be. I asked the waitress if I could have the table next to the wall located at the other end. It would not only give me a better view of the band but would give me a chance to figure out the young lovely woman seated three tables afar. Soon, I found myself in a seat every guy would hope to earn.

The music was blustering and the “kalderetang kambing” (goat stew) was close to being exotic. Not bad, I said to myself. Soon, my eyes were glued to a lovely woman fifteen feet away. I was hoping she would look back. Songs were sung - many of them. Two hours later, I was still hoping she would look back. Finally, my hopes ran out. Loser! I said to myself. With a sigh of desperation, I asked for the check. It was not meant to be, I thought.

I was ready to find my way out until the last song caught my attention. Engrossed with the song, I stayed and found myself seated right across the woman I was dying to meet. It was a perfect spot, I thought. What seemed so wrong was the thought that she was one with the group of two men and women. They must be couples.

Finally, I walked out the door and found the same balut vendor. “Okay ba?” (Is it okay?), he asked. I said, “hindi” (no). I did not bother to say why. When I turned my back, I saw one of the two men who were with the woman inside. "My name is Ron", I said and shook his hand. "Mine is Rey", he said. "You must be very lucky to have with you and the other guy the two beautiful women I’ve seen tonight", I said with envy. Soon, the two women followed out from the door and headed to where Rey and I were standing. “This is Nilde, my wife”, Rey said. “And this is Ces, a friend of ours”, he continued. Dumbfounded, I shook both their hands. In seconds, the other guy came out and looked me in the eye. Uh uh, I thought to myself. "My name is Vince, what's yours?", he blurted. "Ron", I murmured in reply. He then stepped back and spoke with the balut vendor. "Don't worry Ron, Vince is gay", Rey said matter-of-factly. Rey continued, "Come on, keep us company. We usually have a round of coffee at Cafe Lalo in Manhattan. Are you in?". I was completely befuddled. I don’t drink coffee but what the heck. In no time, I found myself next to Ces at the rear seat of Rey's Cadillac, Escalade. Suddenly, I was in cloud nine.

At Cafe Lalo, the three of them had coffee. I guess they wanted to sober up. I wanted the opposite. Hence, I had three shots of Tequila. I wanted my dream long enough when I hit my bed and the spirit of that Mexican liquor would do just that. In less than half an hour, I downed three shutters of it. My mind was racing having not used to drinking the stuff. "We're close to even now", Rey said, after he he had eight shots of Tequila at Perlas ng Silangan restaurant. Minutes later, I quickly headed to the bathroom and threw up. No one knew, of course. And when all was said and done, they drove me back to Roosevelt Avenue where I lived.

On our way home, I had weird thoughts. I was wishing the car would break down. Or the stop lights would falter. Or perhaps we'd get lost somewhere. Anything that would stop us from reaching my place while I'm seated next to Ces would be most welcome. It didn't happen. Rey's driving was smooth as silk. No thanks for his black coffee. Finally, the Escalade was pulled over.

It was time to bid our goodbyes. Mustering all my courage, I lightly held Ces' hand and planted not one but two kisses on her cheeks. "Goodnight", I whispered. "I'Il call you tonight", I continued. "You can't, you dont have my number, yet". She reached a napkin and scribbled her number. I got home without remembering what time it was. All I remembered was, both Ces and I were talking on the phone till the sun went up.( MORE ON "WHAT A FRIDAY NIGHT - PART II" ).


The Other Sison Girl

Written by Ron Centeno

By all account, Ces is an amazing woman (Pls refer to my other blogs why). But Ces is just half of the whole. Equally amazing is a woman named Ting, her sister. Let me tell you why.

On two separate occasions, Ting and I had some quick conversations over the phone and online chatting. Both of which were similarly disarming and maligning, at least on my part. Her point of contention is the thought that my propensity for Ces is kind of run-of-the-mill. Put in another word, I am not good enough for her sister.

It was apparent how much Ting would protect her elder sister at all cost. Over at the other line, she was quite menacing. Immediately, she was on the attack mode. It was never pleasant at all. I felt humiliated and defenseless. Her whole idea is for me to prove her wrong only to confirm the worthiness of my good intentions for her sister - a tactic worth emulating in a war of wit.

Despite her knock-out-punch grandiloquent, I was determined to meet her in person. Armed to her teeth, she graciously accepted my request. It was totally unexpected. My prior assumption was that she would flatly rebuff my asking her.

Hence, in December of 2007 when I visited Manila for a holiday, I met Ting for the first time. The venue was the Glorieta Mall. Yes, the same mall where the scene of explosion claimed the lives of a number of unsuspecting shoppers. I must admit I was fidgety. No, not with the bomb threat but with Ting herself – a walking dynamite, so-to-speak.

That December afternoon was supposed to be a little breezy but my body temperature seemed to defy human nature. I felt my palms were a little sweaty giving me some sort of consoling effect in case she won’t bother to shake my hands. Indeed, she did not. I arrived five minutes late. She probably hated to wait, I thought to myself. I was hoping that was the real reason she avoided a handshake. I asked her where to go. She signaled me the way and strode toward an Italian restaurant.

Evidently, Ting is a person of substance and form. She is smart, direct and deliberate with her words. She’s a standout and captivating. However, she hates sweet talks and takes flatteries as offense. I’m glad I was briefed earlier before we’ve met. Otherwise I could have uttered the many superlatives that would match her looks. It was tempting, I must admit.

As soon as we were ushered in and settled ourselves onto the seats in that Italian restaurant, she blurted out why was she there in the first place. I didn’t know the answer and dismissed the question. Immediately, my eyes were transfixed at the knife she was holding on her right hand and the fork on the other. I was wondering why she had to grab them first instead of the menu. Momentarily, she looked at me in the eyes and asked if I were alright. With all my mustered pretentions, I said yes.

The pasta was absolutely delectable. A complete contrast over at the topic Ting and I predicted to discuss during the entire time we were dining. She was vehement in her position that I lacked the ingredients of sustaining a well-grounded relationship with her sister. In turn, I was intransigent in negating her claim. She was hell-bent on it and so was I.

The dinner was over in less than an hour but it seemed like forever. Soon, we hit the door and bid goodbye. Just like almost an hour ago when we first met, there was no handshake. In minutes, Ting disappeared along the bustling crowd of the Glorieta Mall.


Slumdog Millionaire: A must see.

Written by Ron Centeno

When we talk about great movies, we oftentimes refer to those that are hugely budgeted with elaborate sets, high-tech production, and ridiculously high-paid Hollywood actors. In the movie Slumdog Millionaire, this is not the case.

The movie was filmed in India with barely known Bollywood actors in the lead. One example is Dev Patel who played the lead role, Jamal Malik. Patel earned the part out of his unassuming looks. His cinematic features pale in comparison to the generally hunky and hero-like Bollywood stars. Nevertheless, Patel is a cast member of a British television ensemble drama Skin prior to this movie. The other is Freida Pinto who played the role of Latika, Jamal’s love interest. Pinto had not starred in a feature film before. She is a commercial model by profession.

One can only guess that while the movie’s projected cost was $15 million, an award-winning movie with a small budget such as this defies the conventional wisdom in the movie industry. To its credit, the film pulled down four coveted 2009 Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture – Drama; Best Director – Motion Picture – Danny Boyle; Best Screenplay – Simon Beaufoy; and Best Original Score – A. R. Rahman.

Slumdog Millionaire is based on a novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup and is put into a script by Simon Beaufoy. The backdrop used for the scenes is nothing but redolently panoramic landscape that captures the real-thing-slum in the heart of Mumbai. The filthiness inside this shanty town is enough to turn the viewers’ stomach upside down. The grossness surrounding the squatter commune creates an impression of a third-world India prior to country’s ascent to one of the world’s fastest rising economies next to China.

The movie’s plot is typical to countries where minorities, in this case the Muslims in a predominantly Hindus, are treated heavy-handedly. Children of Islamic descent who hail from the shanties bear the brunt of India’s discriminating authorities.
Jamal Malik, a former street child from Mumbai had the displeasure of being a contestant in Kaun Banega Crorepati, an Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Armed without education, he stunned the show’s million avid viewers by making it to the final question worth twenty million ruppies. As such, Prem Kumar, the host of the show suspected Jamal of cheating which resulted in a police interrogation. Under custody, Jamal detailed an explanation of how he knew the answers that walked us through to the chronological events of his sorry-life in the slum areas.

The ensuing scenes from beginning to end of the movie were masterfully directed by Danny Boyle. The film is simply riveting which hoisted Simon Beaufoy to earn the coveted award in scriptwriting. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film four stars, stating that it is, “a breathless, exciting story, heartbreaking and exhilarating”. Todd McCarthy of Variety, praises the script as “intricate and cleverly structured”. Finally, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times describes the film as a “Hollywood-style romantic melodrama that delivers major studio satisfactions in an ultra-modern way”.

Indeed, Slumdog Millionaire is a movie that might bring the executives of the giant film outfits into the drawing board to focus more on the script rather than the big budget to earn critical acclaim.