the winner takes it all.


the other day, captain ramon, my rich uncle, took my parents and me out to lunch at zong's. he told me i looked the same, but that i was now taller. obviously. on the ride from the hotel to the restaurant, he turned on the stereo. "do you like abba?" he asked me. "yeah," i said. "do you have that there in the states?" jesus, did he think abba was a hot, new band or something? "yes, we have abba," i said. he put on "dancing queen." it was quite a sight, my rich uncle driving my aunt, my parents and me, while blasting abba in his tinted x5 bmw suv. when "dancing queen" finished, he skipped ahead to his favorite song, "the winner takes it all." how fitting, i thought.

captain ramon is an ex-pilot, who used to fly for philippine airlines. he gained some fame when one of his flights was hijacked in the seventies. he also claimed that he once saw a ufo on a flight. "how old are you now?" he asked me. "i'll be twenty-six next week," i said. "oh good," he said. "you're young. enjoy life." in tagalog, he said that it was all about the single life. i thought it was a little insensitive, even though it's been over a decade his wife, my mom's sister, passed away. maybe the philippines brings out the traditional, the conservative in me.

we got to zong's and i had a mango shake. my dad had a lychee one, and i liked his better. we ate fried squid, fried rice, beef and brocolli, and some other stuff. it's nonstop eating here, have i mentioned that already? he asked me the usual questions all filipinos ask their american relatives: "do you like it here? could you live here?" i told him i liked it here, and that i could live here, if the situation was right. in other words, give me one of your houses, rich uncle of mine.

after lunch, i soon realized it wasn't a "free" lunch or even just a "let's catch up" kind of lunch after all. it was more along the lines of, see what i've got, see what i can do, kind of lunch. he took us to various spots around the city, where he owned properties: condos, houses, sometimes just a plot of land in a scenic spot. the two condos were big and spacious; one overlooked a golf course and metro manila, while the other had a great view of makati. they even had their own "servant's quarters." yes, they're really called that here. i guess that it's bad when the white man captures slaves from africa, but filipinos can enslave each other just fine.

how does the whole maid/driver thing work here? i had to find out, so i asked my cousin, aileen, one night. "we have an agent," she said, "and he finds us people from the provinces. it's best to get them fresh from the provinces." she said some more about why it was better to get them "fresh from the provinces," but i couldn't really follow. i could only think about how she just compared human beings to coconuts. fresh from the provinces. not all the maids and drivers have to live with their owners here. some have their own places, and some run other errands like watch the shop, or watch the kids. when they go out in public, though, the ya-ya's (permanent babysitters) wear uniforms. "why do they have to wear uniforms in public like that?" i asked my cousin, grace. "it's a status symbol," she said. "it's just to show other people that you have money."

on new year's eve, i went to my cousin jun-jun's house, as he had recently purchased a shitload of fireworks. these weren't the wimpy kind of fireworks, either. not that sparkler/fountain type shit americans light up on the fourth of july. no, these are fucking explosions that can and have blown people's faces off. i cautiously stood back and watched as jun-jun's drivers lit them with their five feet long lighters. they were the kind of fireworks that shoot up and illuminate the sky. the kind that only major cities and amusement parks can get a hold of in the states. but here, on new year's eve, everyone's got them. "even in the squatters," my aunt said, "they light up fireworks. it's important for them to ring in the new year."

and yeah, i can't believe it's 2009. i used to buy these comics when i was young, the 2009 series. it was like xmen 2009, spiderman 2009. you get the point. that's the future, i thought to myself. 2009 was the future.

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