just one or two beers, that's all.

my three nephews and four nieces decided they wanted to meet at a bar. their choice of bar, however, baffled my cousin, aileen. "of all the news bars in quezon city, i don't know why they should choose that one," she said. "i used to go there in the 80's!" i met them outside of a bar called decades. the boys shook my hand and slapped my back, and the girls kissed me on the cheek. i wished then that we didn't have to be so formal.

we went inside and aileen bought us all beers, including my fourteen year old nephew, ram. "how old are you?" i asked him. "seventeen," he said. he didn't look seventeen, but i took his word for it. later, i asked my other nephew, j.r., how old he really was. "fourteen," he said. i looked at the little fourteen year old punk with a beer, and oh, how i envied him. why couldn't i have gotten to do these kinds of things at his age.

they were all riled up when we finally got to sit down. the club was practically empty, and i wondered if they were disappointed by this. "do you understand tagalog?" jam asked me from across the table. "what?" the music was so loud i couldn't hear. she repeated the question. "i understand!" i said. "a little or a lot?" she asked. "a lot!" i shouted back. they all cheered. "i love you, uncle!" darlene said, and she slapped me a high-five. i really loved these kids then.

jam switched seats with j.r. so that she could sit next to me. i wanted to ask if she knew that she could've been my sister, but i didn't. instead, i just asked, "have you been to the states yet?" "no," she said, "we don't have any money!" i nodded. "can you find us a mate there?" she asked. they all laughed. "what?" i asked. "find us a husband so that we can become citizens!" they were in hysterics. "and find one for her," she said, pointing to cessan, the chubby tomboy, "but a girl!" throughout the night, they continued poking fun at cessan, implying that she was a lesbian.

"how old are you?" i asked jam. "twenty four!" she said. "but i look younger, don't i?" i said yes. "i look like i'm fifteen, huh?" she said. i said yes. she laughed and thanked me. cessan interrupted. "hoy!" she said, and then, in tagalog, "he's your uncle!" jam stopped laughing and i felt bad that cessan had put her back in her place. i learned from cessan and jam who everyone was and what they did. j.r. stopped attending school because of financial troubles. jam finished nursing school, but couldn't yet receive her degree because she still had loans to pay. the same held true for love. darlene was in her first year of college, studying psychology. cessan dropped out, and only runs errands for her cousin. jam does aesthetician-like work, giving facials and such, while love works at robinson's plaza as a realtor.

out of curoiusity, i asked how much jam and love owed in school loans. i thought that we might've been able to bond over the ridiculous costs for higher education. "i owe about ten thousand pesos," love said, and then she told me jam owed about twenty. it's only a couple of hundred american dollars, and my mom told me later that she would pay it off for them. once their loans are paid, they can take what they call the boards, and if they pass, they can begin working as nurses.

the conversation changed to music. "what do you listen to?" they asked. i tried to think of bands they might've known, but nothing came to mind. i said explosions in the sky, and their faces went sour. "do you like linkin park?" darlene said. fucking linkin park. all the filipinos and mexicans know fucking linkin park. and i always give the same reponse: "yeah, i know who they are, but i don't really listen to them." "ahh," darlene said. "how about paramore?" her eyes went wide. "yeah!" i said, "i know paramore!" i imagined us sitting in a karaoke bar somewhere, singing "that's what you get."

i asked cessan what she did for fun. "drink," she said. "ahh, lasenga kana?" i said back, meaning, "oh, are you an alcoholic now?" i tried to use tagalog whenever i could. it seemed to make them happy. "no," she said, and she had a hurt look on her face. i smiled so that she would know i was kidding, but i was really afraid i offended her. "i only have one beer or two every now and then, that's all." "me too," i said in tagalog.

they asked me if i had seen twilight yet. why's everyone into this goddamn vampire movie? i just don't get it. i told them i hadn't yet, and they looked a little disappointed. jam asked me if i liked harry potter. i said i had seen all the movies. "i love harry potter!" she said. "i have seen all the movies, and i've read all the books, one through six." "there are seven, right?" "yes," she said. in tagalog, she told me that people look at her weird for reading, especially big, thick books like harry potter. "i don't have," she said, "i only rent them from the library."

a fight broke out in the street, and everyone watched for a little bit. "that is typical in the philippines," jam said. i asked them if they liked manny pacquiao. "no," jam said. "i liked him before, but now he is too mayabang (arrogant). do you agree?" i didn't really know, but i agreed with her anyway. "do you like to gamble?" they asked me. i told them no. they also asked if i liked to drink or smoke. i said drink every now and then. "oh, you are a good boy," the girls kept saying. it made me wonder if that's what all filipino men did: drink, smoke, gamble, and do it good with young filipinas. some role model i could've been here.

aileen finally showed up after having dropped off a friend. suddenly, all the kids went quiet. in this culture, any time an elder family member is around, the kids have to fall in line and be as respectful as possible. it made me a little sad, and i secretly wished that aileen had gone away some more, so that i could see how they really were. they were just sitting there, and they started to look bored. i suggested we go to a karaoke bar, and they all agreed. i felt like i could've asked anything of them, and they would've all gone along willingly.

we ended up singing at a karaoke bar called music 21 until about 3 o'clock in the morning. i was surprised that the girls knew all these old songs, like air supply and other seventies/eighties hits. "how do you know these songs?" i asked love. "you're all so young." "we love old songs," she said. i could only sing songs in english, and i felt bad, like i had betrayed them all or something.

i never meant to betray them. honestly, i didn't.

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