Rich woman, poor woman

Rich Woman, Poor Woman
By Danton Remoto
Posted at 02/26/2011 1:14 AM | Updated as of 02/26/2011 7:22 PM

I was in high school when the great Armida Siguion Reyna portrayed the role of a lifetime – the wealthy woman who was the tormentor of the atsay (housemaid) played by, who else, but by the iconic Nora Aunor. Tita Midz was in her element, kicking the housemaid down the stairs and then using the atsay’s face to wipe the floor clean.

It was only a fortnight ago when I was surfing from channel to channel when I saw Gretchen Barretto playing a rich woman who attends a party. Loud and calling attention to herself (the role, not the actress), she brandished a piece of jewelry for all her similarly wealthy friends to ohhh and ahhh after.

Between these two poles – a time-frame of 30 years – lies our stereotypes of the rich, and the way movies and television portray them. All to a person, the rich are seen as ruthless, corrupt and number-one violators of human rights, whether in the hacienda, the factory, or the mansion in the gated village. Aside from being loud and boisterous, they are portrayed as crass members of the nouveaux riche (new rich).

And what are the stereotypes of the poor? They are always seen as short, dark-skinned and clumsy whether with their kitchen or bedside manners. Those inclined to sociology or cultural studies will go on a limb and see this as a throwback to the colonial regime, when the Spanish and the mestizos (the ancestors of today’s rich Filipinos) humiliated servants and flogged the indios who couldn’t pay their taxes.

But we are now in the 21st century, and what has changed in the landscape of class relations?

Well, the few rich Spanish mestizos are still there, but now the rich Chinoys (Chinese Filipinos) now outnumber them all. Just look at the society pages, especially the spread every Sunday. Not only do they monopolize the retail trade, as they have done for centuries, they are now into condominiums and property development – into land! Land used to be the main source of wealth of the Spanish mestizos, but now it has been parceled into small spaces for condominiums that cater to the new middle class.

And who are these new middle classes? The OFWs, for one. I have only seen a few films dealing with the OFWs that showed the complexity of their experience. Melodrama aside, I am sure the talented Filipino filmmakers can do something more? Dubai, Milan, Caregiver and In My Life are good starting points, but they’re so few. Where are the rest?

A new job in a new land with decent salaries is enough to open the eyes of Filipinos abroad to the possibility of hope. With two jobs, or even three, they save and slave for hours not to make ends meet, for now they do, but to earn enough for the small business back home, or the new vehicle for Totoy, or why not, that condo at Rockwell!

I am amused no end by stories of their new neighbors coming from my friends who live in the enclaves of the rich. In this ritzy cluster of condominiums, every Sunday the swimming pool is filled with tenants and visiting relatives of OFWs who have bought not one, but even two, units there. In their sandos and long shorts, they gleefully jump into the blue, sparkling waters, seemingly thumbing their noses at the old and not-so-old rich in their midst.

Or this family that bought a medium-sized house in a gated village, which forthwith proceeded to paint the bamboo paneling of the walls a hot pink. Like the former MMDA hotshot Bayani Fernando, they must have thought pink is the color of good health, as in the pink of health!

Or in humid Currimao, Ilocos Norte, where I stayed at Dr. Joven Cuanang’s lovely Sitio Remedios, my jaws dropped when I saw Mediterranean villas in the middle of rice fields! Who owns these yellow-painted villas, and why amidst the rice stalks? Well, they are owned by Ilocanas who now live in Italy and have saved enough to demolish the nipa hut and build a mansion with colors enough to stun the sun.

The OFW dream is the great equalizer, the phenomenon that will level the playing field in a country where the senoras use the faces of their housemaids to clean the floor, and where the so-called rich blabber about the size and hue of their Mikimoto pearls.

Let me end with a true story I got from the head of PR and advertising of a big agency in Kuala Lumpur. I was a research scholar there five years ago, and one of my Malaysian friends asked me if I knew __________ (name of Filipino actress). Not personally, I said, why do you ask?

It turned out that our actress landed a plum modeling job in KL to endorse a shampoo or soap, I don’t remember now. Upon arriving at the beautiful KL airport, she was dismayed to find out that she would only take a Toyota Altis from the airport to the hotel.

“Where’s my service BMW? Or my Benz?” she asked, her eyes widening, and said she would never set foot inside the “mere” Altis, even if it was new.

I just told my friend, “Well, perhaps, she thought she was still playing the role of a rich woman in the Philippines, stereotype and all. Or maybe,” I added, I’m sure with a wicked gleam in my eye, “she’s just showing you how nouveaux riche she really is.”

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The passages of love

By Danton Remoto
Philippine Star
February 14, 2011

It’s Valentine’s Day and I know many singles who like to mingle, and they’re now frantically looking for a partner they can display on D-Day. Some of them ask me what gifts would turn on their potential lovers. Junk chocolates and roses, I tell them wryly, and give a book to your object of affection.

I recommend The Spirit of Loving for this most ilusyonada of days. The book is a compilation of reflections on love and relationships by writers, psycho-therapists, and spiritual teachers. Emily Hilburn Sell edited this book, which comes from the imprint of Shambala, which has a long backlist of lovely spiritual titles.

I like this book because it isn’t a silly compendium of words that you could find in a typical greeting card. It has philosophers like Plato and Martin Buber, novelists like Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf, even writers who were once called pornographers, like Anais Nin, D.H. Lawrence, and James Joyce.

And it has the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who sets the tone for the collection with these words: “For one human being to love another human being, that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.”

For love, indeed, is not just a welter of feelings, or a rush of desire. When the fires have cooled down and only the embers remain, what then? There should be a deep attachment to the other, while at the same time an expansion of the self. There should be deeper intimacy, but beyond all these, there should be spiritual growth between the lovers.

Listen to Plato: “Love seems to me . . . A divinity the most beautiful and the best of all, and the author to all others of the excellencies with which his own nature is endowed. Nor can I restrain the poetic enthusiasm which takes possession of my discourse, and bids me declare that Love is the divinity who creates peace among men and calm upon the sea, the windless silence of storms, repose and sleep in sadness, and fills our vacant hearts with overflowing sympathy. He gathers us together in such social meetings as we now delight to celebrate, our guardian and our guide in dances, and sacrifices, and feast.”

From solitude to the soul — this seems to be the direction that love takes. When you love another person, one world ends, and another one begins. “Driven by the forces of love,” writes the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.” Or as an early Greek myth puts it: “Eros, the god of love, emerged to create the earth. Before, all was silent, bare, and motionless. Now all was life, joy, and motion.”

But face it: love isn’t easy. As M. Scott Peck wrote in the now-iconic book The Road Less Travelled: “Love is not effortless. On the contrary, love is effortful.” When you are in love, you seem to have been trapped in a moist pit of melancholy. All your days begin and end with thoughts of the beloved. You only spin around the galaxy of him or her whom you love. The Dominican scholar Meister Eckhart said: “And so, too, I speak of love: he who is held by it is held by the strongest of bonds, yet the stress is pleasant. Moreover, he can sweetly bear all that happens to him. When one has found this bond, he looks for no other.”

Yes, but how does one survive the valleys and hills of relationships? One way is to look at love the way the Zen practitioners would: as a moment to be savored to its fullest. If you have loved once, you have loved forever. As Rollo May said: “To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive — to grief, sorrow, and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before.”

I know some people whose eyebrows would rise three inches up their Botoxed foreheads when I begin talking about love and intimacy in non-sexual terms. Well, let me confound them further by saying that I believe in the mystic’s view that “the divine is the only satisfying lover, the only true soul mate.”

But who said that soul mates can’t have fun, too? Havelock Ellis puts it best for me: “Lovers in their play — when they have been liberated from the traditions that bound them to the trivial or the gross conception of play in love — are thus moving amongst the highest human activities, like of the body and the soul. They are passing to each other the sacramental chalice of that wine which imparts the deepest form of joy that men and women know. They are subtly weaving the invisible cord that bind husband and wife (or lovers) to each other together more truly and more firmly than the priest of any church. And in the end — as may or may not be — they attain the climax of free and complete union, then their human play has become one with that divine play of creation in which old poets fabled that, out of the dust of the ground and in his own image, some God of Chaos created man.”

In short, he parallels lovers’ glorious climax to the divine creation of the first man. Hmmmm. Let me end these passages of love with brief words from Rilke like the quick, clear strokes of calligraphy: “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect, and touch, and greet each other.”