Globalization, Sociology

THE POLITICAL AND CAPITALIST SIDE OF CHRISTMAS GIFT-GIVING

I originally wrote this for my Special Problems in Musicology (MuL 198) class. These are just some of my views on one of the most celebrated traditions during Christmas. Minor edits are done.

 

The Yuletide Season has come once again and some shopping malls have started holding pre-Christmas sale fairs to allow gift-givers to spend less without dampening their thoughtfulness. Some radio stations in the Philippines have already played some of the most popular Christmas originals, mostly by Jose Mari Chan. However, these manifestations during the “-ber” months only reflect the mercantilistic and capitalist side of preparation for Yuletide celebrations. It even reached the extent that people would forget the more spiritual context of celebrating Christmas. In relation to the issues of capitalism, this paper would discuss the problematic side of the people’s high obsession with exchanging gifts during Christmas.

The exchange of Christmas gifts, more known as the “Kris Kringle” or “Monito Monita,” is often done during Christmas parties held in schools, offices, and organizations. Preparations are often done, either weeks or days before by collecting all the names of the participants wherein each participant would randomly get a piece of paper which contained another participant’s name. He/she would not be allowed to reveal his/her recipient until the day of the party. As for the gifts, they may fall under a specific team (e.g., “Something shiny,” “something soft”). Sometimes, each participant would provide his/her “wish list” to guide the giver in shopping for the gift. Sometimes, there were no drawing of lots done so the gift exchange is sometimes done through Christmas stories with the words “LEFT” and “RIGHT,” which signify change of direction wherein the final recipients are revealed at the end of the story (del Rosario, n.d.).

The provision of these so-called “wish lists” is however problematic. The true spirit of Christmas has become more difficult, especially if theses lists contained expensive items, such as iPads, designer bags such as Louis Vuitton, DSLR cameras, laptops, etc. However, no matter how expensive or inexpensive the gift is, the thought is still more important. Price should not become a big deal in buying and giving gifts (Tenorio, 2015). But, not everyone is willing to give nor receive gifts, despite the presence of the person’s emotions (Tuazon, 2015). Some of the dangers in becoming too obsessed with exchanging gifts are the following: guilt for the part of the recipient and tendency to give back or the so-called “kaliwaan” (Tuazon,2015). The concept of “kaliwaan” deals with the notion that someone should give back whenever he/she receives something (Tuazon, 2015). In giving gifts, one should pay it forward, rather than pay someone back (Arada, 2015). Based from Marilyn Strathern’s analysis of Melanesian gift economies, she mentioned that gifts were objects which became an avenue in making relationships visible. In relation to the culture of “kaliwaan”, reciprocation used to be a divine concept but it later became materialistic, opportunistic, and consumerist, which slowly ingrained in Philippine culture that one is often pressured to give something (Tobias, 2015).

A person’s social status is likewise one of the things that rather made exchange of gifts, not limited to Christmas gifts a business. While the selection of godparents for weddings and baptism was initially meant for the child’s and/or couple’s spiritual growth, it has been based on social status and/or power (Tobias, 2015). Some would even go out of their way by choosing their bosses as one of the godparents for they knew that their bosses would either elevate their status symbol or help them financially over time (Tobias, 2015).

Since it has become unethical in the Philippine society not to give back, it has become a pressure to the Filipinos to give gifts which made gift-giving a business, rather than a social activity. The “utang na loob” culture has been exasperating this situation for the person is forced to give something best to the people they are grateful to, even if it meant spending beyond their means (Arada, 2015). It would be embarrassing for him/her not to do so for he/she would seem ungrateful in the eyes of the society. For instance,this was one of the reasons why giving gifts to any government official and/or employee. According to the R. A.  No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and Presidential Decree No. 46 (Giving of Gifts on any Occasion) of 1972, doing such practice for better favors and/or better treatment is punishable by law.

In the year 2007, security personnel of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) were warned by then-general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), Alfonso Cusi on greeting passengers “Merry Christmas,” which could equate to requests for either money solicitation. Small talks which could indirectly mean a request for something were likewise not allowed (Punongbayan, 2007). However, in the year 2016, it was clearly allowed for the NAIA personnel to greet passengers a “Merry Christmas” but without facing their palms up, as per MIAA general manager Ed Monreal. Monreal also warned in jest that those personnel caught soliciting gifts ‘might not see Christmas because they’ll be sent to the freezer and thawed by New Year’. The same warning also applied to the Bureau of Immigration and Bureau of Customs employees based in NAIA (Andrade, 2016).

Both politics and capitalism have affected the culture of gift-giving, especially during Christmas. It likewise had both good and bad effects. One of the positive effects of gift-giving is that the person’s relationship would be remembered through an emblem. However, price should not dictate the person’s significance to his/her recipient.

REFERENCES:

Andrade, Jeanette. “Airport staff told: OK to say Merry Christmas, but… Philippine Daily Inquirer. 26 November 2016. http://globalnation.inquirer.net/150122/airport-staff-told-ok-say-merry-christmas

Punongbayan, Michael. “No more merry Christmas at NAIA”. philstar Global. 17 October 2007. http://www.philstar.com/news-feature/21649/no-more-merry-christmas-naia

Quimbo, Rodrigo. “Anti-Corruption in the Philippines”. Conventus Law. 9 September 2016. http://www.conventuslaw.com/report/anti-corruption-in-the-philippines/

See, Aie. “The grace behind Filipino gift-giving”. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 25 December 2015. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/750039/the-grace-behind-filipino-gift-giving

Tenorio, Sherry. “Christmas Giving – Scrooge or Not?. illustradolife. 7 December 2015. http://www.illustradolife.com/christmas-giving-scrooge-not/

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Food, Geography, Globalization, Travel

The Microcosm of Foreign Cultures in the Metro

FILIPINO-CHINESE:

The Chinatown in downtown Manila has been dubbed as the oldest Chinatown in the world, due to the long trading history between the pre-colonial Filipinos and the Chinese. During my choral tour in Xiamen two years ago, we were told by the people from the Philippine Embassy that most of the Filipino-Chinese community in the Philippines had Fujian blood since the Fujian province is the nearest area to the Philippines, Northwestern part, to be specific.

Okay, enough of historical talk. Nowadays, the Manila Chinatown is frequently visited not only during the Chinese New Year. Netizens, specifically v-loggers (YouTubers who mostly do videos in reality TV show style), would troop there to do the so-called “Binondo Food Crawl” where they explore and review every restaurant in the area. Some of the frequently visited restaurants are Wai Ying (known for budget-friendly meals), New Toho Food Center (oldest restaurant in the Philippines, since the late 1800s), Sincerity (known for its fried chicken), Ongpin Mañosa, Estero (literally located near the creek), and many more. Hopia from either Eng Bee Tin or Ho-Land is one of the delicacies available in the area. For those wanting to try cooking one of the Chinese dishes at home, Arranque market at the corner of Recto and Teodora Alonzo St. has everything in store, from Sea Cucumbers to Chinese Cabbage to even various types of mushrooms such as Shiitake and Black Mushrooms.

JAPANESE:

While Japanese restaurants are widely located across the Metro, the most authentic ones are located in Little Tokyo, a small restaurant hub located in Makati. It has likewise became the main setting for the music video of Soapdish band’s 2006 song, “Tensionado”.

While Kikufuji and Seryna remain as the most popular restaurants in the complex, the Yamazaki grocery is known for its budget-friendly meals. Seikyo (formerly Choto Stop) is known for its budget-friendly grocery items with an average price of 88 pesos per item.

KOREAN:

In the early to mid-2000s, Tagalog-dubbed Korean dramas such as “Endless Love” (starred by Choi Ji Woo 최지우), “Lovers in Paris” (starred by Kim Jung Eun 김정은 and Lee Dong Gun 이동건), “Save The Last Dance for Me” (starred by Eugene 유진), and “Jewel in the Palace” started to be broadcast on Philippine television which later topped the TV ratings. Former 2NE1 member Sandara Park 박산다라 likewise dominated the Filipino talent search, “Star Circle Quest”. However, it was only in the late 2000s when Filipinos got to have a dose of Korean culture in Koreatowns established around the metro.

I first encountered Korean expatriates back in high school at St. Scholastica’s College. I noticed that they consistently excel in Math and Science. They likewise have stellar skills in piano playing which I have likewise encountered as a student in the UP College of Music.

Going back to Metro Manila’s Koreatowns, the one in Makati, specifically in the Barangay Poblacion area near Rockwell, is the most popular since most of the Korean restaurants are located there, such as Min Sok and Dong Won. Malate, which used to be the hub for Manila’s nightlife scene, has become another microcosm of Korean culture not only because of the existence of numerous restaurants (i.e. Chosun, Korean Village, Korean Palace, Makchang) and grocery stores. Most of the Korean expatriates are also studying in the nearby schools, especially in the De La Salle University and the University of the Philippines Manila.  Don Antonio Heights in Quezon City has likewise became a partially Korean community, due to the number of Korean residents. Some of my Korean classmates from the UP College of Music live there.

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Food, Globalization, Travel

Going Global with Food

A dish is always created differently, depending on the region or country. Not all dishes are created with the same set of ingredients. It depends on the availability of the ingredients in a particular region or country. In other words, cultural particularity is always present.

For instance, not all lechons are created equally here in the Philippines. Here in the metro, especially in La Loma, a district in Quezon City that comprised of various lechon sellers, lechon is always served with pork liver sauce (also known as sarsa. The brands available in supermarkets are Mang Tomas, Andok’s and Mother’s Best). However, the Negrenses and Cebuanos treat lechon differently. Instead of serving lechon with sarsa, they rather stuff the pig with herbs and spices, particularly lemongrass, onion chives, as well as Camel Soy Sauce, before roasting it. As for the Chinese, they season it with five-spice powder and other spices. Sometimes, there is a dish called lechon kawali which is prepared by either deep-frying the pork belly in a pan or using a turbo broiler. It is usually served with a concoction of soy sauce, vinegar, calamansi, crushed garlic, and chopped onions. Sometimes, chopped coriander or wansuy is added.

While most of the Western cultures cook steak in quite the same way like pan-frying and grilling, the Tagalogs treat it differently as bistekBistek Tagalog is prepared by slow-cooking the sirloin beef in a mixture of soy sauce and calamansi. It is usually topped with white onion rings.

Growing up in the Philippines, I often ate spaghetti, comprised of banana ketchup (plus points if UFC or Papa is used for the sauce), sweet-style spaghetti sauce (could be Clara Olé or Del Monte), Pure Foods hotdog slices, and ground pork. The dish is topped with processed cheese (could be Eden, Che-Vital or Ques-O). Up until now, I often have my Filipino spaghetti fix in Jollibee since they serve the best one so far. As for the Italian pasta dishes, I only got to appreciate them when I already reached college. Compared to the sweet spaghetti of the Filipinos, the Italian red sauce variety is more on tomatoes and herbs. The difference is also evident on carbonara. While the Filipino carbonara is comprised of all-purpose cream, evaporated milk, mushrooms, and bacon strips (similar to King Sue and Purefoods), the Italian carbonara is more on egg yolk emulsions and pancetta (pork belly bacon). One of the most popular Italian restaurants in the Philippines to taste these Italian pasta dishes is Bellini’s (owned by a pure Italian, Signor Roberto Bellini), located in Cubao X.

As for the instant noodles, it likewise depends on the culture. While the Korean Nong Shim’s Shin Ramyun is peppery in terms of spiciness, the Filipino Lucky Me! is more on the local flavors (i.e. La Paz Batchoy – needless to say, a childhood favorite with garlicky broth; Bulalo – similar to nilagang baka, with a hint of beef shank broth taste). As for the Japanese variety, it borders more on the rich, umami taste.

Not all McDonald’s outlets worldwide have totally the same menu, probably excluding worldwide favorites like Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, Fillet-O-Fish and a lot more. Only the Philippine McDonald’s (aka McDo) franchise serves Chicken McDo, a fried chicken cut (not fillet) served with gravy and rice. I misconceived that the branches in China (aka Mai Tang Lao, 麦当劳) and Hong Kong likewise sell Chicken McDo since the Chinese people’s staple food is likewise rice. Yes, the China francise has chicken rice meal but the chicken is boneless, served on top of a bowl of rice. McDonald’s Hong Kong serves corn cups as side dish.  KFC in China is likewise different from the one here in the Philippines. The KFC I have dined in Chongqing served soup and egg custard tart as part of the chicken value meal while the KFC here in the Philippines offers a Fully Loaded meal comprised of signature chicken with rice, brownies, mushroom soup, macaroni salad, coleslaw, and mashed potato with gravy.

I have been eating cheesecake since I was a kid. As far as I remember, the first slice of cheesecake I have ever tasted was the Blueberry Cheesecake from Red Ribbon (the time before it was turned over to fastfood giant, Jollibee). The texture was a mix of crushed grahams and yogurt-like feel of the cream cheese. These were the same characteristics of the other cheesecakes I have tried like Conti’s, Banapple (the king of cheesecakes in the Philippines), Cheesecake Melliza, etc. However, this proved that not all cheesecakes are created equally:

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A cheesecake-making routine in the newly-opened branch of Pablo Cheesecake in Robinsons Place Manila.

While the Americans prefer their cheesecakes to be sweet and solid, the Japanese cheesecake is more on the creamy side. My family ordered Pablo’s Premium Cheesecake two weeks ago and the texture was quite similar to leche flan. The burnt sugar neutralized the cheesecake’s sweetness. Hmm… what could be the taste of the Filipino cheesecake (no, not just the chiffon cake topped with Eden Cheese) made from kesong putiDayap (local lime) could probably be one of the ideal flavors of kesong puti cheesecake.

These are just some of the examples that food is culturally particular. It depends on not just the ingredients available in a particular province or state, but also on the acquired taste.

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