It’s now

The blog has a new name.

Originally, the blog was based on “Breakfast at Noon”, a regular column (OK, my editors then thought I was really stretching the definition of “regular”) which first came out in early 1998 when Cebu Daily News first saw print.  In 2004, the column moved to SunStar Cebu and ran until 2005, when I had to stop writing and start running.

Recently, I found out that sometime in 2006, an American author published a book with the title “Breakfast at Noon” and had taken the domain  To avoid confusion, this blog is now known as

Which is just as well, since the original meaning behind the title 14 years ago has been lost. Nobody my age really wakes up at noon anymore, even if we wanted to.  Age is an alarm clock and it doesn’t have a snooze button.

That toy

I don’t usually do this, but my last column elicited quite a response from readers that I feel I have to acknowledge some of them here.

And I hope you won’t begrudge me this chance columnists sometimes grab, in recognition of their readers’ efforts, in aid of deadline-beating, and with not an inconsiderable dose of self-congratulation.

It was just about a toy made in China, really, and the English instructions (also made in China) that came with it. A good number of readers recognized the great wall I ran into, trying to divine what the accompanying “literature” meant.

Norman Catabug, whose letter found its way to the TalkBack section of this paper, recounted a similar experience he had last year, getting lost in the instructions while installing a Chinese-made smoke alarm. He has since installed it, but wonders, to this day, whether it would work.

Norman, I’m optimistic that it will, and I am told that prayers help. But what I’m more worried about, really, is whether your Chinese-made gadget will give off the international signal for a smoke alarm, or whether its innovative manufacturers have decided to make it talk, and shout a warning instead. Because how would you respond to: “Vaporous system of small particles! Carbonaceous matter emerging! Possible to conflagrate organic material!”?

Brigitte Novabos wanted to “roll on the floor” in laughter reading the column, and remembered her mother buying a Chinese-made toy a few years back, that came with accompanying “literature”. On the package, was written, in a bit of self-advertisement: “Amused! Intersting! Elicitation your wisdom!”

Maybe we should stop calling it literature, because some countries apparently take the word seriously. It’s not enough to call a toy “fun” or “exciting” or “educational”. No, that’s too prosaic to be called literature. It has to be “amused”, “intersting” and “elicitation your wisdom.”

John Kupsch, Technical Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute, of the Good Housekeeping Magazine published by Hearst Publications, found the column “hilarious”. But he hastened to add: “Other than the large comedic value, there could be something here to discuss with our readers.” He meant, of course, readers of Good Housekeeping Magazine. And so, he asked: “Is it possible to send details of the product, e.g., manufacturer, .jpeg or picture of packaging or product?”

So I did. And so to Mengkay, and all the others who were wondering whether I wrote about an actual toy or was just making things up as I usually do, I will upload a picture of the toy and the packaging to my new (and I emphasize “new”) blog, which you can visit at

Menchu Ponce, from North Hills, California, swore she “rolled with laughter”, literally, and had to be restrained by her daughter, who worried that the neighbors might call the police. She wrote that it was “comforting to know that the Filipino sense of humor is still alive, in the midst of the crisis confronting the country.”

Of course it’s alive, Menchu. Why do you think we keep importing toys from China?

Security check

On recent trips, I’ve noticed how airport scanners are taking their jobs more and more seriously.

On my last trip, this scanner in Manila actually stopped my bag, ordered it opened for inspected, then scanned again and opened again. He was looking for a “round, metal thing” which he seemed to have seen on his screen.

“What’s that round, metal object in your bag?” he asked, looking at the frozen picture on the monitor.

“I don’t know.” I honestly did not.

That’s when he ordered the second scanning, then the second opening, after which he asked: “What’s that round, metal object in your bag?”

“I don’t know.” I still didn’t.

So he let me go. Maybe he figured that a terrorist would have a more elaborate answer to the question “What’s that round, metal object in your bag?” and that I obviously wasn’t smart enough to be a terrorist.

And maybe he could sense that I was blushing not because I was about to get caught, but because I pack terribly and my underwear always seem to find their way to the top of the heap. That’s the reason I find those x-ray machines terrifying. My stomach turns at the thought of scanners snickering behind my back, making judgments about the kind of person that I am.

I told my wife this, hoping she’d do the packing herself. All she said was that I was so paranoid I should consider a job as an airport scanner.

And have you noticed how, in Manila, their metal detectors are gender-sensitive? There’s one for males and another one for females. I once mistakenly walked through the one for females and the crack security men ordered me to go back and walk through the other one. (The metal detectors looked identical.)

“Why?” I asked. “I just walked through and the alarm didn’t go off. Is it possible that it would on the other side?”

They looked at me with humorless eyes. “Airport policy.”

Which, as a response, was quite disappointing. I sort of expected them to prove that the female body had a higher metal content than the male body. I wanted them to scoff at my ignorance about gender sensitivity vis-à-vis ferromagnetic fields.

But they were curt, and I had to walk through the other metal detector. The alarm didn’t go off. But only because the metal detectors were not sensitive to electric currents emitted by sarcasm and gloating.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad airport security people are taking their jobs more seriously. I was pleasantly surprised that scanners were actually looking at the monitors more closely now, unlike before, when they looked like they were itching for a remote control to change the channels.

My last trip was a week ago. I’ve unpacked my bag, turned it inside out a hundred times, and my wife is beginning to give me funny looks. She wouldn’t understand. I’m scheduled to fly back to Manila next week and I’m sure the first thing that conscientious scanner would ask me after I’d cleared security would be: “Well, sir, what was that round, metal object in your bag the last time?”

And I still don’t know.

SunStar Cebu
4 August 2005

Don’t ask

I never thought that my eight-month old daughter, who has all of two front teeth (both lower), would soon find reason to gnash them, albeit against her upper gum. But it seems Karmina Constantino has that effect, even on infants.

“Isn’t this a rather early stage to be developing such strong feelings, child?” I asked her, and proceeded, without delay, to e-mail ANC, telling the network about this phenomenon, and how it might consider issuing a parental advisory regarding its morning news anchor.

I didn’t realize what my daughter’s problem was with Karmina Constantino until I had finished writing the long e-mail, sent it, left my computer, resumed my position in front of the TV set, and saw that Karmina Constantino was still finishing the question she had started when I left her.

My baby was frowning, in a way that said, hey, this woman was taxing her admittedly short attention span.

And everybody else’s, it would seem, including her guests’. In that particular interview,
former UP President Dodong Nemenzo, a renowned thinker of quite complicated thoughts, proved no match to the standard Karmina Constantino question. “The question is too complicated,” he curtly replied.

So she began again, on a long and arduous journey.

What is the standard Karmina Constantino question? Let me put it this way: “What is the standard Karmina Constantino question?” is not a standard Karmina Constantino question. It is too direct to the point. It fails to take the interviewee on the extended excursion that Karmina Constantino apparently believes it is her duty to take them.

Let me put it another way: I am actually glad my daughter is frowning. Because while I dreaded the day when I would be asked “Why is the sky blue?” that was before Karmina Constantino.

Now, I’m having nightmares about being asked: “Father, why (and by ‘why’ it is presupposed that I am asking a question and I expect an answer) is this matter (and here, I use ‘matter’ loosely, to include not just ‘matter’ in the scientific sense but also concepts) we call ‘sky’ — which admittedly is a non-scientific concept but nevertheless suffices for purposes of identification – blue?”

I would, of course, have to clear my throat. “…And before you answer that, Father, I hope you realize that by ‘blue’ I mean a specific spectral color discernable on a chromaticity diagram, excluding other senses of ‘blue’ that have evolved metaphorically in the course of time.”

There ought to be a rule prohibiting talk show hosts from asking a question they can’t tackle in a standard high school sentence-diagramming exam.

But there’s hope. I don’t know if it was because of my e-mail, but it seems that Karmina Constantino has realized that her questions are too long and too complicated that she has come up with a solution. No, her questions are still long and complicated. But now, at least, when she asks a guest a question, she suggests an answer.

SunStar Cebu
28 July 2005

In dire pre-need

When people ask me if there’s a bright spot in this whole debacle involving educational plans, I readily tell them there is. And it is this: At least, the calls have stopped.

I think I speak for newlyweds and couples under 40 all over the country when I say that since the pre-need companies College Assurance Plan (CAP) and Pacific Plans went belly up, there has been relative peace and quiet. The phones have stopped ringing about a “business opportunity” involving “the future of your children.”

And we’re loving it.

It had become quite a challenge avoiding those pre-need agents. They’re usually friends or relatives (or friends of friends or relatives, and their relatives and friends), and they’re the first to know about a recent birth, a pregnancy or – the earlier birds among them, at least – a wedding.

“Congratulations and Best Wishes. You might be interested in a business opportunity involving the future of that zygote that’s likely to develop tonight, if it has not already.”

And it’s usually tricky trying to talk your way out of it. You try to tell them you don’t really need an educational plan right now, you’re practicing birth control, say. But then they give you this condescending smile, this shaking of the head, as if to say they heard that before, from people who thought they didn’t need any, and look what diploma mills their children are attending now.

And if you ever made the mistake of bringing your baby to the mall, that’s pre-need hell. “Oh, what a cute baby! How old is she, five, six months?” You know, of course, that your friend isn’t really interested to know what developmental stage your daughter is in, or the peculiar parenting challenges that come with it. In his or her head (or at least in that clear book he or she is carrying), there’s an actuarially determined equivalent in premiums, in pesos and centavos.

It had gotten so bad that I had this retort in my head if I smelled a pre-need agent’s ulterior motive in asking my child’s age. “She’s on her sixth month. And I’m glad, because she’s developing sensory-motor skills already. And she’s getting so good at it that I’m thinking of sending her to vocational school after high school.”

I wonder what happened to these pre-need firms. Of the 91 that the Securities and Exchange Commission registered since 1978, half had ceased operations by 2002. Maybe they were too focused on the “pre-need” part of their business that they altogether forgot that – post-need – they would have to pay up.

What do they tell plan holders? “Well, it was a plan. And, as you know, in life, plans don’t always…”?

Or: “Well, you learned your lesson. You can’t say it wasn’t a very educational plan.”

And what about the owners and officers of these pre-need companies? Do they go to hell? Or are they covered by some pre-need memorial plan that guarantees to get them straight to heaven?

SunStar Cebu
5 May 2005


Why do I feel like I was the only one jumping for joy when news came of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s election to the papacy?

Considering the outpouring of sentiment that followed John Paul II’s death, I would say the reception was rather tepid. This puzzled me, because I was in tears when Pope Benedict XVI emerged from the Vatican balcony. Ecce homo, I said: Behold the man who has just given me back the life I thought I had lost forever.

“You are speaking in Latin again.” This would be the wife. She had, for days, laughed at what she called my “paranoid fear of being the next pope.”

I had patiently explained to her that under the rules of the papacy, any “baptized Catholic man, who is not a heretic, in schism or notorious for simony” was qualified to be elected pope and that, at least three times in the past, laymen had assumed the office: Benedict VIII (1012-24); John XIX (1024-32); and Benedict IX (1032-44; 1045; 1047-48).

“What happens then if I did get elected?” I asked. “I don’t think I can take you or my children with me to the Vatican.”

But she had laughed. There she was, about to lose her husband to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and she was laughing.

“The last layman pope was elected 958 years ago,” she said. “They’re going to undo close to 1000 years of history for you? And for what? Just to make you attend mass?”

For days following the death of John Paul II, there were signs everywhere, pointing to the possibility that I was the chosen one. My wife, for instance, asked me why I had a second name, and wasn’t made a “Junior”.

“I was named after John XXIII…” I said, my voice trailing off, my eyes widening as I looked at her, beseeching her once again to allay my fears of losing her for the sake of the Holy Mother The Church.

She just laughed. I was dragging so heavily on my cigarette that she said: “I can’t even breathe in here with all this smoke.”

“White smoke…” I said, my eyes still wide.

Then April 15 came. I had labored to meet the deadline for filing taxes, knowing that Richard Gomez was being prosecuted for failing to. They’re going after tall, dark and handsome men, I said, and by some logic that my mother (and my mother only) would understand, I just knew that I was next.

“I wish I didn’t have to pay taxes,” I told my wife.

“I know,” my wife said. “With what you earn, you won’t be anywhere near contributing to solving the budget deficit.”

I wish I were tax-exempt, I said. “I would be if I were part of the clergy…” My eyes were the widest she’d ever seen it.

But Pope Benedict XVI is here at last. I celebrated with what was left of my money, after taxes. My two daughters were there, horsing around, and I just knew what was on their minds.

“Habemus Papa,” they seemed to be saying. Yes, my dear girls, you’ll have to deal with Vatican’s loss for the rest of your lives.

SunStar Cebu
28 April 2005

Filipinos rise up

Filipinos are among the world’s earliest risers. Which confirms the suspicion I’ve held for so long that I was born in the wrong country.

The research firm AC Nielsen a month ago released the survey results that officially alienated me from at least two-thirds of my countrymen. Sixty-nine percent of Filipinos wake up before 7 a.m., the survey said, a respectable third to Indonesia (91 percent) and Vietnam (88 percent).

The results were carried in front-page stories of the major national broadsheets. I know, because on that particular day, someone who belonged to the 69 percent strategically spread the broadsheets on the floor when I got out of bed.

It was a bit disorienting, such that instead of the usual “Good Morning”, I kissed her and said: “What’s the margin of error?”

Later accounts have it that I slogged to the bathroom mumbling “methodology”. I was offered coffee and I thanked her by giving her a lecture on “sampling error, non-coverage error, non-response error and measurement error”.

It didn’t work. She said something about whether I knew the difference between the snooze button on my alarm clock and the TV remote control; that maybe I should stop thinking that waking up is just a “commercial interruption” between dreams.

AC Nielsen ruined what seemed to be a plausible cultural reason for waking up late. Now we’re not just lazy; we’re actually un-Filipino. Yes, the Filipino can, so why can’t you?

I’ve worked with alarm clocks all my life. I’ve tried the old ones, the ones that involved actual bells and hammers, but that didn’t work. The distressing noise teaches your body, in Pavlovian fashion, to compensate. Your body clock actually tells you to wake up just moments before it actually rings, so that you can preempt it and go back to sleep.

By the time those electronic alarm clocks started coming into fashion, I was pretty much a hopeless case. The low sound it emitted I actually found hypnotic.

Then the snooze button came. Great. Alarm clocks that are open to negotiations.

So I’m thinking of giving up on alarm clocks, I told her.

“More like the alarm clocks gave up on you.”

A few weeks after that survey came out, came another survey by the Asian Development Bank which showed that the Philippines had the second most corrupt government in the world.

Not only that. The top three early rising countries – Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam — were also the top three most corrupt. When you’re running out of arguments, you see connections everywhere.

So it was my turn to spread national broadsheets on the floor. “So you see,” I told her, “maybe this waking up early business is bad for the country.”

And I glided through the air triumphantly, as if to say – the early birds do get the most worms.

SunStar Cebu
7 April 2005

Go figure

You tend to rethink your attitude towards alcohol when you wake up and there are black-and-white figures and patterns plastered all over your room, like a hangover rendered on paper, in high-contrast graphics.

“What the…” you whisper, and you stop there, because right above you there’s a checkered flag signaling you to finish whatever it was you were starting.

What’s this all about? Why has this room been invaded by diagrams?

Call it paranoid, you think, but maybe this is the wife communicating symbolically, conveying in visual metaphors where words had apparently failed. Some kind of marital sign language.

That initial suspicion is fed when you see that on the wall to your side of the bed, there are concentric circles with a dot right in the middle. Like a dartboard with a bullseye.

What am I on target for this time?

Let’s see. On your closet is a figure resembling piano keys, white and black. What could she possibly be saying? Notes? Tune? Perhaps you’ve been needing some tuning lately? Chords? Harmony?

You open your closet and in that jumble of articles of clothing, you see that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean she’s not really going after you. Maybe your wife is making a point about harmony.

This is not good. To your left you see a drawing consisting of two dots and a curve, making up a smiling face. Hey, maybe it isn’t that bad. But it’s part of a three-part series. Beside it, a pattern that looks like a thatched roof. And, to its side, a figure of the setting sun.

Smile. Roof. Sunset. In your mind, there are subtitles: “I’ll be happy if you make it a point to be home by sunset”.

You bury your face in your hands, your shoulders hunched. Bad husband. And while you’re in this state of dejection, the door opens and your wife calls out: “Hey, did you see the patterns I printed out for the baby?”

“Prints…? Baby…?”

“Yes,” she frowns. “Those prints. They stimulate the mind. Create synapses responsible for learning.”

“Synapses…” you say blankly.

“Yes,” your wife says, “especially for math. And it increases concentration skills.”

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that? I wasn’t paying attention.”

“And they calm the baby when she’s bored.”

“Calm? But this dartboard here nearly knocked me out of my senses!”

“They’re supposed to enhance curiosity in infants.”

“Well, it certainly did arouse my curiosity.”

“It’s good for the baby.”

“But I thought they were for me.”

No, she says. It’s too late for that. You’re sort of a hopeless case. Your mother should have printed out these drawings before you turned three.

SunStar Cebu
17 March 2005

There’s the rub

I would say the Conde Nast Traveler citation was not at all undeserved.

I have not read the citation itself, but I figure that if Cebu was chosen one of the ten best destinations in Asia, it had to be because of our malls.

It doesn’t matter which one. Either of the two major ones will prove the point. You feel it at once: this friendliness; this feeling of being welcome, the moment you walk in.

Actually, just before.

“Good morning, Ma’am/Sir,” the security guard sings. (I guess in these days of blurring genders, it has become necessary to say both “Ma’am” and “Sir” in the same breath. Mercifully, they still omit pronouncing the “slash”.)

How nice. But then security guards hardly stop at obligatory pleasantries. It isn’t enough to welcome you. They feel it their duty to make you feel at home.

And so – words not being enough – they proceed to stretch out their arms, as if to say “Hey, it’s good to have you back”, encircling the middle region of your body, both palms inching closer until they rest on the sometimes non-existent boundary between your hips and your waist.

“Welcome to Ayala Center,” the man in blue says, rubbing your sides to make sure you fully appreciate this supreme gesture of intimacy.

And so awed are you that, if it weren’t for the long queue of people pushing you beyond this zone of friendship, past that table of understanding on which rest handheld radio transceivers and log books, you might have stopped to reciprocate, if only to say: “I’m not sure I got your first name, but say hello to the wife and kids.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into a mall with my head turned back to the security guard, trying to recall that forgotten place and time when he and I became brothers.

I’ve been telling my friends about this wonderful experience at the malls and I’ve been struck by the cynicism that usually greets me. “That’s for security,” they invariably say. They say this with an incredulous look on their faces. “They’re checking if you have a gun tucked to your side.”

How cynical. How sadly it trivializes the tremendous significance of the hip rub.

And it’s not that believable either. I figure if it were for security, how easy it would be – in those few moments it takes for the security guard to stretch out his arms and rest both his palms on your hips – to grab the gun holstered to his own hip. Faster than he could say, “Welcome to SM City Cebu”.

So let’s not be cynical. Let’s take hip rub for what it is, and return the warm and friendly gesture.

I do. These days, when I walk into a mall and the security guard does his thing, I throw my arms up and say: “I know, I’ve grown maybe one or two inches since the last time.” You never call me. Let’s do lunch.

SunStar Cebu
27 January 2005

My last confession was. . .

And then you hesitate. Should you tell the truth? But what would the priest say if he learned that the last time you confessed, it was over Vivian Velez? In her prime?

Or maybe you should lie a bit, and then after the priest gives you the go-ahead to recite your sins, you include “I lied, Father”? Would your confession be valid? Is this within the intent of the Council of Trent?

If there’s one sacrament Catholics dread most, it is confession. It’s that “face time” with the priest, you see. It’s embarrassing. It’s so… analog. We have come to embrace the virtual anonymity of the digital world, and here you have to say your passwords out loud.

I remember that a few years ago, somebody suggested confessions by fax. List your sins and transmit them to your priest’s fax machine, and receive penance on yours. Reconciliation and redemption at a baud rate of 9600 bits per second.

Of course the proposal was quickly shot down by the Vatican. It tends to be absolutist on the matter of absolution. You need a personal interview to get a tourist visa to the United States, why shouldn’t you need one to get a green card to heaven?

You’d think that was the last of it, but someone came up with the idea of an ACM. The automated confession machine. If you don’t believe me, look it up on the Internet. And why should I lie? I’m the one who’d have to get some “face time” with some priest if I did.

The ACM is set so low you’ll have to kneel to confess before it. Then you key in your PIN, I guess. What kind of automated confession machine wouldn’t require you to key in your PIN? You don’t want the wrong people to mess with your permanent record in heaven.

Then the machine deftly guides you from one step to the next. Press “venial” or “mortal”. In the “venial” sub-menu, I guess there must be a listing there of minor offenses to choose from. The “mortal” sub-menu has options consisting of the Seven Deadly Sins and the Ten Commandments. You just key in your choices.

At the end of the transaction, the screen flashes your penance. I’m sure it would offer the option: “Would you like a printed receipt?” Then you go home. Forgiven.

If the idea hasn’t been shot down already, I’m sure it will be soon. But you can’t help thinking of the advantages. For one, as concepts go, the computer’s binary logic blends perfectly with the good/evil, black/white dichotomies of our creed.

And it does away with a lot of the arbitrariness that comes with penance. No more: “What? You only got 3 Hail Mary’s? I got 5! How much does it cost to get impure thoughts nowadays?”

The ACM can keep a record of recurring sins, and give you more Our Father’s for repeated offenses. And the Church can set some sort of a credit limit for mortal sins so that incorrigible sinners could have their accounts closed when they draw against an insufficient balance.

Then maybe their ACM cards can be captured so that they’ll have to apply for new ones once they’ve reestablished their credit.

And you can’t lie about the date of your last confession.

Hey. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

SunStar Cebu
13 January 2005

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