Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Monday, December 29, 2008

An NY Pinoy's first thoughts after recovering from a stroke

This is rich stuff. The NY Times' Neediest Cases stories -- features about New Yorkers who've struggled through devastating hardships and received assistance from worthwhile charities -- are a valuable public service, but they tend to be pretty boring and I have a hard time reading past the third paragraph before my eyes glaze over and I start reminiscing on my glory days as a Telenovela villain. 

Fernando Kabigting, painter extraordinaire and an early favorite to star in my prequel to Goonies.

Yesterday's Neediest Cases article, however, was an exception. It told the story of Fernando Kabigting, an accomplished Filipino painter who moved to New York in 1994 and who suffered a stroke on a balikbayan visit to Manila in 1999. The stroke jacked up Kabigting's right side and his whole family anguished over the possibility that he might not be able to paint again. Thanks to hard work, prayer, support from loved ones, help from Catholic charities in NY, yadda yadda, he managed to recover the ability to paint. If this were the whole story, I'd think, "that's nice," and move on. I have an acquired taste for Philippines-related schmaltz that doesn't seem to transfer to any other cultural product. I don't read Neediest Cases stories about native-born New Yorkers. I'm not a huge fan of romantic comedies like PS I Love You. I don't sit around watching daytime soaps. But I can read Kabigting's Neediest Case file and I soak up Pinoy schlock romance in movie and TV form -- from When Love Begins to Ysabella! -- like an extra-absorbent Bounty paper towel. 

But the Kabigting article had one extra detail that really made it sing for me. Immediately after his stroke, Kabigting couldn't speak and communicated only by tracing messages, one letter at a time, on the palm whoever he was talking to. When his daughter flew from NY to Manila to visit him, and when she arrived at the hospital, the first message he had for her was "DID THE KNICKS WIN?"

I spend a lot of time researching the big ticket items related to basketball's mighty foothold in Philippine society -- PBA imports past and present, the early Olympians like Caloy Loyzaga and Kurt Bachmann, the Senate hearings related to Fil-Shams and the FIBA suspension, the legacy of Sonny Jaworski, and so on. But often times, it's little details like Fernando Kabigting's message to his daughter that really cement the significance of basketball in the lives of so many Filipinos. Taken on their own, a Growee commercial that suggests kids who drink the right vitamin syrup can grow tall enough to dunk, a multicab in Surigao City with a New Jersey Nets decal painted on its side and a reality show that highlights grassroots hoops talent like MyMVP might seem trivial. But lumped together, along with stories of Kabigting, whose first thoughts upon reviving from a stroke seem to have included basketball front and center, and countless other Filipino men and women who've made small tokens of their devotion to the sport, these little details weave together to form a mosaic of a country where basketball is deeply adored by macho athletes, painters, poets, and fishermen alike. It never fails to inspire me, and although I'm not Filipino, I feel the same way so many Pinoys do about basketball.


Blogger Seattleallstar said...

what do you think of the latest "dont you know who I am" story from the Philippines about the agrarian secretary beating up a father and son enjoying a trip on the links

6:03 AM  

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