Sunday, September 10, 2006


It must have been around nine or ten at night when a much older friend and I stepped out of the Jai-Alai fronton at Taft Avenue. My left-hand pocket was sort of bulging from my evening’s winning. I was never gifted with odd making, but my winnings were courtesy of some hangers on at the fronton. Only a short time since becoming an amateur, word soon got out that my sponsor to join the fronton's rank as amateur was one of Manila Jai-Alai's major stockholders; the wife of whom was a very close friend of my mother.

And for those professional players lingering in the dreaded purgatory — on suspension for having been caught as party to game fixing — an option to have it lifted and get reinstated is to befriend someone connected to an owner. No guarantees, of course; only hope to get back to the swing of things in this lucrative profession. And so through whispered allusions from a select group of hangers on, I soon learned the nuances of various hand and body signals used by the players while warming up. Interpreted properly, such gestures could yield a substantial windfall, indeed.

And on that particular night, coming out of Jai-Alai at Taft Avenue, the usual plan was to head over to Aristocrat Restaurant for a chicken barbeque and rice meal while enjoying some live bossa nova music played on one of those Yamaha organs with bass pedals on the floor. As my friend and I looked for a taxi, suddenly, there was a burst of gunfire which could only come from a machine gun. I turned to look at a wall up behind me to see the dotted line the bullets pierced.

More gunshots followed. My friend pushed me to the ground for safety, but I fell forward so awkwardly that I ended getting dirt in my mouth. The police were chasing some demonstrators from the U.S. Embassy; most of whom ran through Rizal Park towards Taft Avenue where the Jai-Alai fronton was. As the melee subsided we hurriedly got a cab to get us out of there and straight home as quickly as possible.

An hour or so later after getting home, there was a blackout in most parts of the city, including our neighborhood. Rumors circulated thereafter that the blackout served a sinister purpose: under the cover of darkness, some militant youths were being abducted from their homes. This series of events heralded a turbulent time spurred by the beginning of Marcos’ second term in office.

A couple of days after that gunfire incident, at about five in the morning, before I left our house for my Jai-Alai training session, I grabbed my passport and slipped it inside my backpack. And right after the training session that morning, I walked over to the U.S. Embassy dressed casually in my white T-shirt, denim jeans and sneakers. Slung over my shoulder was my backpack of sweaty clothes; with my right hand was my Jai-Alai cesta. The embassy had just opened that morning and I was directed to the office for visa application. I was suprised how unusually uncrowded the embassy was on that particular day.

I filled-out a form, slipped it between the pages of my passport, and dropped it in a tray. Within about five minutes, my name was called. The embassy vice consul behind the window looked at me from head to toe as I approached his window, and stared a moment at my cesta.

“Why do you want to go to America?” he asked.

“No special reason — a high school gift from my father before he died.”

He scribbled something on a piece of paper and without looking at me said, “Okay, have a seat. You may even go upstairs to the cafeteria for breakfast if you want to. This will take a few minutes."

And just liket that, in less than a couple of minutes my interview was over.

“Thanks!” I told him as I walked over to the stairs leading to the second floor cafeteria, which was practically deserted. I had a hamburger and fries. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I finished the meal. Wanting some more fries, I got up to order another. But as I was fumbling for some loose change, the stout Filipina cashier took a closer look at me and asked for my ID.

“An ID? But you didn’t ask for one earlier,” I argued as if her earlier oversight won me cafeteria privileges for life.

“You’re not a dependent are you?” she asked with brows furrowed.

“Why do you ask?”

“Polo player maybe, but a Jai-Alai player? They have no balls,” she said leaning her head forward and then letting out a hearty laugh.

She charged me for the fries but gave me a refill on my coke for free. She then told me that embassy staff members, American citizens, U.S. military personnel and their dependents were the only ones allowed in the cafeteria. But since it was a vice consul that told me to go up there, she considered me the guy’s guest.

When I went back down to the visa application office, the interviewer waved me over to his window. He handed me my passport with a U.S. visa stamped on it and dryly bid me a safe trip.

My mother was completely astounded when I showed it to her when I got home. During the past few months, she and Fraulein had been preparing the necessary papers for me to present when applying for a U.S. student visa, which was supposedly scheduled in another month or so. But there I was with a passport and a tourist visa. Told her I would just apply for a change of status — from a tourist to a student — once in the States.

Many people I would later talk to about my stroke of luck in securing a U.S. visa quite easily would have their respective take on it. Personally, not that I possessed hypnotic charms, but I could only attribute it to God’s will; plain and simple. Ironically, the concept of God according to my indoctrination to Catholicism, I had already cursed out of my consciousness due to an overwhelming angst I was deeply harboring at that time.

My last view of Manila’s horizon was similar to the photograph above as my Air France flight took off from Manila International Airport and headed towards Tokyo, a couple of weeks after getting my visa.

There were very few passengers on board; no one was seated next to me or the entire row along mine so I cried without embarrassment. I knew I was leaving many friends behind and may never see any ever again. Most were under the impression that I would only be away a few months.

None of them, including my relatives and immediate family members realized the severe depression I was suffering from since the death of my father; an experience akin to a spiritual death it was. Had I stayed in Manila, I would have literally killed myself slowly without my even knowing about it.

I terribly missed my father but the culture that nurtured me as a youth didn't allow me to even admit it.

* * *

This entry was inspired both by the photograph I took of our massive flag at Baywalk set against a Manila Bay sunset (featured above) and Noemi’s entry,
The Taboo on Grief and the Filipino Culture.

* * *

Please note:
I very much appreciate my articles and photos appearing on fellow bloggers' sites, popular broadsheets, and local broadcast news segments, but I would appreciate even more a request for permission first.
Thank you!



posted by Señor Enrique at 10:19 AM


Anonymous JV said...

Those gunshots are a terrible experience! Ahhh! I shiver to the bone!

Wow! You got your visa? Congrats! My mom told me that her friend always got rejected. I don't know why. They've become stricter these past few years...

September 10, 2006 1:16 PM  

Blogger ipanema said...

One of the lucky ones. I think it should be done that way. Not a file of supporting papers to show. We need luck most of the time.

That's how you went to the US, Eric?

Perhaps now I understand all the posts you have here about your reminiscing of glorious days with your dad. This is perhaps your way of remembering him. A closure perhaps or you've done that a long time ago.

Nice post. As always, it's straight from the heart.

Enjoy the rest of the day! :)

September 10, 2006 4:39 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

They have always been strict with visa issuance, but for some odd reason, JV, it was absolutely divine intervention. In retrospect, I, myself, as a vice consul, would have rejected me :)

Yes, those gunshots were truly terrifying!

September 10, 2006 6:40 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I think the writing part of it, Ipanema, are the final stages of closure or healing process.

By sharing, I hope others would gain some insight from it, as well as know how a child's traumatic experience is taken into adulthood.

In making peace with God, I've come to appreciate that those times of turmoil, including their darkest moments, essentially strengthened my soul for current and future journeys that await me in the afterlife :)

September 10, 2006 6:47 PM  

Blogger Amadeo said...


Although for you the landmarks you mentioned provided necessary props to your rather poignant essay, they also rekindled deep emotions in me, though from a different perspective.

Taking those daily trips to Quiapo from Malate, the JaiAlai building loomed large and unreachable. In my more than 3 years of residency there, never got the chance to get inside and browse. Though I had eagerly wanted to. The famous older sister of a classmate, singer Pilita Corrales, had married a pelotari. Thus, my young mind was quite curious about the game, the foreign players, and its appeal to the public.

Is that building still around? Wasn't Adamson U, behind and close to it? And wasn't there an eating place on the top floor of JaiAlai called Skyroom?

BTW, we lived around Remedios St. in Malate. Last I heard, the neighborhood has been converted into something else.

September 11, 2006 12:00 AM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

Good blog !! Good blog !!

Do announce it here if you write a book ok ?

September 11, 2006 5:19 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Unfortunately, Amadeo, that Art Deco building was torn down and the lot remains empty to date. There were many who protested against the idea of tearing it down, including Carlos Celdran who considered the Jai-Alai fronton a landmark.

The Skyroom offered live jazz music sometimes and the venue where our annual amateur club Christmas party was held. Pilita Corales' husband may have already retired from the game when I started playing. As for Pro Filipino players, there were only two then; one was from the Madrigal clan.

In retrospect, my having gone into this game was probably inspired by some unconscious death wish ... hehehe. Once I brought my mother and her friend to watch how the game was played. They both almost fainted with fright -- both regretted having been catalysts for my getting in as an amateur.

Right next door is Santa Isabel College in which one of its students I was deeply enamored with; my rival was a son of a notorious smuggler from Cavite. When I lfet for America, I was told by a cousin that they wed.

Adamson University is still there and thriving.

Remedios Street has been transformed as a lively street with cafes and restaurants, especially near the circle. Havana Cafe is a favorite restaurant where I'd always order the lengua.

Haven't been there recently, but I will pass by one time and take photos of the area to post.

September 11, 2006 7:46 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

You're too kind, S.A.!

I just hope I don't make anyone uncomfortable by my writing about and attempt to finally get over a very sad aspect of my youth.

September 11, 2006 7:49 AM  

Blogger Amadeo said...


An older sister went to Sta. Isabel to study piano.

Another interesting district is Ermita, around the Isaac Peral (now UN Avenue) area. Had an uncle who lived along Cortada St. close to Isaac Peral. He was a big politico, reaching Speaker Pro Tempore of the House.

Ermita - artists' haven and home to many bars along Mabini St.

September 11, 2006 10:44 AM  

Anonymous noemi said...

I guess your dad was there all along beside you. It was his way of guiding you to a new life without him. That US visa was part of the plan. There are nothing wrong with tears. It means we loved so much. Good you didn't hold back.

September 11, 2006 10:56 AM  

Anonymous niceheart said...

Very touching post Eric. Thanks for sharing with us this very personal story. You know I can relate very well to this one.

September 11, 2006 11:18 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

So glad you mentioned its original name, Amadeo. Trying to figure out where Isaac Peral all along since having returned. And I don't remember ever knowing about a U.N. Avenue when young. You just solved it for me.

Ermita is still a swinging strip, especially at night with all its bars and restaurants -- still catering to tourists!

September 11, 2006 1:30 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Thanks, Noemi. I knew everything seemed too easy -- as if a dream --that it could only have been due to some divine intervention. Deep down I knew I had to leave if I wanted to continue living. It was that gloomy a time.

September 11, 2006 1:33 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Yes, I knew you would appreciate it, Niceheart. Somehow, it's like figuring out how to get up once again and carry on the journey.

September 11, 2006 1:37 PM  

Anonymous kyels said...

A very nice photo. I love the color of the skies and the flag hovering above, it's just so amazing.


By the way, what's Jai-Alai?

We all have dreams and we can make those into reality if we are ready to strive to make it for real and it was good your story.

September 11, 2006 2:27 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Jai_Alai means "merry festival" in the Basque language spoken by those who reside in th Pyrenees Mountains of Spain. And Basque Ball which is now known as Jai-Alai is very fast game. For pictures and more history about the game, check this out:

Yes, I agree with you ... it is up to us to manifest our vision :)

September 11, 2006 3:00 PM  

Blogger dave (",) said...


I am greatly honored that you have graced my fledgling blog. By the way, I've added you to my links :)

September 12, 2006 12:57 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Thank you, Dave!

The honor is mine as well for your reading my posts :)

Will link you as well!

September 12, 2006 6:08 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally was able to catch up on all your wonderful entries... was convalescing for a while. My husband and I will start a Griefshare program in our church sometime in November. Do join us if you feel like it. Will let you know when we have finalized the dates. Yes, in your case -- Divine intervention -- HE really meant for you to be in New York. God bless! This is Cathy from Midlife Mysteries -- I'm having a difficult time posting a comment Eric :(

September 15, 2006 9:53 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Hi Cathy!

Trust you're feeling all right now :)

Please let me know the date and time. I would love to attend. Thank you!

September 15, 2006 10:09 AM  

Anonymous rhoda said...

Oh, Eric, this melts my heart so, about how you felt terribly depressed when your father passed away.

You know, I have a young niece who is now a complete orphan. Her dad (my older brother) died in 1996. She is an only child, so when my brother died, it was just her and her mom in their house. Then about four years ago, her mom had an operation in the ovary. We thought it was common procedure as she was not the only one in the family who had undergone such. But on her third day of recovery, she had a blood clot and didn't survive.

When I got the news, I not only cried -- I wailed! ... and at that very moment, I wanted to run to my niece and embrace her, hold her tight as if wanting to protect, comfort and just love her - she being an only child and orphaned at a tender age.

I don't really know how my niece got over it. But I believe she has not completely healed yet. Later, we never talked about the tragedy with her directly, as if we were afraid we might hit a very sensitive nerve. There were times I wanted to make her open up, talk about it, cry it out, even blame God if she wanted - but I guess she was raised to be composed and restrained in her emotions.

But she is a very intelligent girl - which, I think attributes to her inner strength. Her mom died two months before her graduation in college - so it was her grandma from her mother's side and my older sister who went up the stage at UP to pin her medal of honor. :(

January 20, 2007 12:22 AM  

Anonymous rhoda said...

Okay, Eric, this is enough... I won't be reading your entries muna. Hehehe. Baka ma-master ko na ang laman ng blog mo.

I am off for the weekend - be going to Vigan for a two day break, tour around a balikbayan high school friend. Baka may bilin ka - anong gusto mong pasalubong? :)

January 20, 2007 12:27 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Ayoko ng pasalubong from Vigan. I want to go to Vigan! Lol!

Heard so much nice things about it, and would love to visit it for myself one of these days and take loads of photographs.

I feel for your niece. Honor student pa pala siya when graduated from UP. Unfortunately, intelligence sometimes has nothing to do when one is coping with grief, but I'm sure your niece has ways of dealing with it effectively.

You enjoy your trip to Vigan and many thanks for reading my entries, Rhoda. You're much appreciated.

January 20, 2007 8:13 AM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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