Are we drowning in data…and can Cowbird connect us?

Founded by Jonathan Harris, Cowbird is a new form of storytelling and participatory journalism, on a multi-media platform.
We live with simply too much information these days…and we are overloaded with data.

At the same time, communication is getting shorter and shorter.  Is it because we have so much to communicate? And with so many  modern tools…are we connecting in a more meaningful way?

We have gone from crafting long, hand-written letters, to phone calls…to emails….to text and now, to tweets. Is another level of compressing our communication waiting to emerge, even shorter than tweets?  And if so, what will it look like?  Are we going to just use mono-syllabic words and just grunt at each other?

The comedian Jim Gaffigan has a comic bit about this, related to how we order fast food meals.  He jokes that since we have it down to uttering a number to get a meal…”#1″ or “#2″…will this next evolve (or in this case, is it devolve) to just grunts when ordering at the drive-up window?

I heard Jonathan Harris talk about Cowbird on the radio program To the best of our knowledge recently.   He is betting that we have compressed our communication so much that we need to go another direction to create something with more meaning, and a way of connecting our stories (and he believes that technology has not yet touched on connecting these stories).

And his project, Cowbird is a place on the Internet for just that…a place to connect and express ourselves in a deeper, more lasting, meaningful way.

It really is communication PLUS, because your personal story may be part of a larger “saga” and organized in a way that will touch millions, as a part of shaping and recording the human experience.

It is also a means to connect the stories behind and perhaps beyond the news events.

For example — here is the link to stories related to the Occupy Movement.  At the time of this post, there were almost 500 in this category.

Neat site — and a great idea by Jonathan Harris   What do you think?  Have you participated in Cowbird, or plan to?

 “Of all our truest hopes and desires for our work is that, what we find, we ourselves never knew. It came as a shock. It came as a surprise. It was new. We could never have known what we were going to do before we did it, and in that sense, we discover too. Here is what I’ve got to say to you: there are things in your life you will see; there are stories you will hear; if you don’t write them down, if you don’t make the picture, they won’t get seen, they won’t get told.” Emmet Gowin

Words have wings

I was listening to the radio on the drive home from San Francisco and heard this proverb from Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat:

Paròl gen zèl.” – words have wings (and she also said “words have feet”).

I have not heard this proverb or a similar one in English or Tagalog (Filipino).  The topic on the radio was “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work”, and is on Edwidge Danticat’s reflections on art and exile, and what it means to be an immigrant artist.  It was produced by the Cambridge Forum.

Trail near water headed to the Pacific ocean, Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur, California. A good place for contemplation, or thinking about a proverb or two...

I though of this proverb upon waking up today, and it is true, words do have wings.  In terms of something as basic as gossip, and writers and artist who change our thinking and our perception about the world through their art, words indeed do have wings (and feet).

And it turns out the Haitians have a rich menu of proverbs.  The website — from the Haitian Student Organization at Florida Atlantic University — has a section of Haitian proverbs in Creole, with English translations.

Haitian proverbs are concrete sayings popularly known, repeated, and passed down through generations. During Konbit Kreyol’s general meetings proverbs are sometimes taught in “Creole 101” mostly through skits performed by members.  Haitian proverbs express a truth, based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are often metaphorical.

Here are some interesting ones (of the many listed on the site):

  • Lang pa lanmè, men li ka neye-w.” — The tongue is not the sea, but it can drown you
  • Lè kabrit gen twòp mèt, li mouri nan solèy. — When a goat has too many masters (owners), it dies (tied) in the sun
  • Lespwa fè viv.”  — Hope makes one live…
  • Li pale franse.” — He speaks French. (so is likely is deceiving you)
  • Milat pov se neg, eg rich se milat. — A poor mulatto is black, a wealthy black is mulatto.
  • Pa pèdi founo pou yon sèl pen. — Do not lose your oven over just one bread.
  • Se sou pye mango chaje yo voye wòch.” — It is on the mango tree full of fruits that they throw stones.
  • Ou bat tanbou epi ou danse ankò.” — You beat the drum and you dance again.

Seagulls --- Monterey Bay, California

Green message trends…soju and placemats

There has been a trend of “green” and eco-friendly messages, and many big corporations are jumping on board to be part of this movement.

I applaud this, as when a company, say, as big as Wal-Mart makes changes to the way it does business — like in reducing packaging waste or using renewable energy — its impact to the environment and the ripple effect is tremendous, especially if they use their power to make their manufacturers and vendors implement earth-friendly practices.

I have not seen this trend in larger alcohol beverage companies, so it was interesting to see this paper placemat from the Korean soju beverage company, Jinro, spotted at one of our local restaurants.  Jinro is owned by Hite, Korea’s largest beer company.

I like this attractive veggie heart and especially the message of LOVE the earth, HATE the waste”.  And as far as in-your-face messages, a message placed on restaurant placemats would have to rank among the top methods right?

Have you had soju?  It is a distilled beverage traditionally made from rice, and native to Korea.

In the state of California and New York, it can be sold in restaurants that sell beer and wine, despite being a distilled drink with a higher alcohol content.  Thanks to lobbying by the Korean community (with large populations in California and New York), it is exempt from the requirement of a full liquor license costing $12,000 here in California, and instead falls under the much less expensive beer and wine license — at around $300.

Jinro — the company that provides these placemats to restaurants — is Korea’s largest producer of soju, and according to their website, they are:

  • The world’s best-selling spirit for 6 consecutive years (2001 – 2007)
  • Ranked 1st in the Japanese Soju market for the 7th consecutive year
  • Also…that Jinro’s “Chamisul” sales volume exceeded 10 billion bottles on May, 2006
    (if you laid all 10 billion bottles flat on the ground, it covers the circumference of the earth 54 times)

Have you seen similar green messages from other beverage companies?

Oh, and by the way, I posted an article about South Korea and their enthusiasm for recycling in June last year (click here to view), with a link to a humorous article by the BBC’s Lucy Williamson.  Hmmm, so maybe, the campaign is also part of the more green mindset of Koreans…

The Rose Parade and the Occupy — or Anti-Wall Street Movement

I noticed something different on newspaper coverage of the occupy protestors march, following the Pasadena 2012 Tournament of Roses.

There was no “occupy” language on our local paper’s headline and sub-heading. The headline read Pageantry and protest, and the sub-heading read “ROSE PARADE FOLLOWED UP BY ANTI-WALL STREET MARCH”.

The Local Nomad’s blog post on The Occupy Movement in Small Towns (and topics not so local) delves into this “occupy” name and paradigm.  Perhaps the movement name is evolving.  “Anti-Wall Street” certainly sounds clearer and less aggressive than the “Occupy” terms.

What do you think?

This cartoon from Mike Luckovich, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution takes aim at the meaning of mess from occupy movement encampments…all a matter of perspective?

Enjoy Newly Taste Best Gifts

And now,  something funny…

We use to see a lot more signs or items with odd or funny English translations when eating at ethnic restaurants — on the wall, bathrooms, or the chopstick wrapper, the paper place mats and so on.

I thought maybe we would not see any new ones, at least locally.

Well.I…so I am wrong.  Here is the calendar gift box — for 2012 — from the local Chinese restaurant.  You would think someone would catch this and fix prior to mass printing. Hmmm….maybe they do this on purpose…just so we smile and add it to our lost in translation items.

There is a funny website called dedicated to these translation topics  —- check out the site and their “brog” for some smiles, snickers and laughs (okay, maybe only if you share my sense of humor).

Most translations are from Japanese to English, but people submit items from all over the world.  I especially like the section called “almost Engrish”.

Sample submissions below.

On Vaclav Havel…and what is wrong with this newspaper front page?

I’ve been meaning to post something about the death of Vaclav Havel.  It so happens that he died the same weekend as North Korea’s Kim Jong-il.

It bothered me that the news focused so much on Kim Jong-il instead of the life and leadership of Vaclav Havel.  Our own local newspaper is proof…

It doesn’t seem right that a person who caused suffering for so many should take top billing over a person who led a life of integrity and contributed positive ideas to our world.

I’m afraid to ask…but what does this say about our culture, about us?

Kim Jong-il – Over the last 17 years, known for leading a country with a depressing human rights record, and one of the world’s most closed and repressive governments.

According to Human Rights Watch, he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of North Koreans through widespread preventable starvation, horrendous prisons and forced labor camps, and public executions.

Further, “Kim Jong-Il will be remembered as the brutal overseer of massive and systematic oppression that included a willingness to let his people starve,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Vaclav Havel was a playwright, political dissident and past president of the Czech Republic.  He was the leader of the peaceful anti-communist “Velvet Revolution” and supporter of human rights.

The Clintons, who attended Havel’s funeral, called him a “towering figure in the world of human rights and a force for progress in Eastern Europe.”

Havel inspired his people, and millions more across eastern Europe, to stand up for democracy and fundamental human rights in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch.

More about Vaclav Havel on this article by Newsweek/Daily Beast columnist and CNN contributor Paul Begala.  Excerpt:

As the world struggles to make sense of the depressed and dark fiefdom that is North Korea in the wake of the death of its Dear Leader, let us pause to remember his polar opposite. If Kim Jong-il was dictatorial, sociopathic, and inhumane, Vaclav Havel was a freedom-loving, warm-hearted humanist…

…His life is testament to the power of politics at its best, a politics not of cynicism and power, but of truth and freedom. A politics that Havel described as “the art of the impossible.”

Click HERE to read Paul Begala’s article

Vaclav Havel – Photo from The Daily Beast – Petr David Josek

Tagalish McRib

I’m adding this McRib ad to my now, sort of blog collection of Tagalish – Tagalog and English advertising.  So far, most of what I see are from McDonald’s — and this by far is the silliest. It is also different from the ones I’ve posted in that the sentences are either in English or Tagalog, but the ad itself uses both languages.

What does this ad convey, and what does “winning or losing” have to do with a sandwich anyway?

Oh I see…it translates:

Nandito na ulit ang McRib (The McRib is here again)

Sobrang sarap ng sandwich, ipaglalaban ko ito (The sandwich is so good, I’ll fight for it).

Okay then….

Click here to see the rest of the Tagalish ads, in my new category pages.

What do you think of this one?

No water bottles for sale? No problem…

Still thinking of the recent Bioneers Conference…where you could buy all sorts of drinks from the food vendors.  But if you were looking to buy a plastic bottle of water — the ones sold it seems, at all other event venues — sorry, but not at this conference.

And it was a rather sunny, hot weekend.  What to do?

No worries, as there were carbon filtered water stations all over the place.  So, as long as you had your reusable water container, you could fill up —  for free — and eliminate the need to buy single-use plastic water bottles, and saving a lot of money in the process.

And of course, if you forgot your water bottle, or needed to buy one, there was the Klean Kanteen store, sellers of stainless steel, reusable water bottles, conveniently located next to one of the water station tents.

A few months ago, I posted an article about advertising campaigns by bottled water companies, focused on getting us to think that bottled water is somehow better for us. Click on the water bottle ad below or here to read.

It is so nice to see the opposite message at the Bioneers Conference…we don’t need overpriced, single use, plastic water bottles at these big events!

To learn more about how advertising campaigns manufactured a demand for bottled water….and got us to buy water that cost up to 2,000 times more than the water from our faucets, click on this link to The Story of Bottled Water.  (From the same group that brought us “The Story of Stuff”).



And to read about how to free your event from bottled water, visit the website

White Milk

I noticed this ad for white milk at Target.

Isn’t milk…plain old milk…just MILK?  I mean, you don’t send your family member on an errand and tell them, oh yeah, pick up some white milk while you are at the store…you just tell them to get milk.

Just odd, and I have not seen this before.

100% Natural Water

This ad for water caught my attention because of the big letters “Born Better”.  At first I thought it was some sort of new, better for the environment, bottle — especially with all the news about plastic trash (including many plastic water bottles) harming our oceans.

Reading further, I find the ad had nothing to do with the bottle or container, and was about the water itself…which is 100% Natural.

Really?  Water is 100% Natural?

This ad looks so healthy — the white clouds, blue sky, water and green grass.

But we have to be mindful of what is being sold to us here.  That is, that their particular water is “100% Natural” — “Born Better”.

Guess what…water from our faucet is 100% natural too…and if you want to take the extra step to put your water through water filtering systems or pitchers, it is still 100% natural.

If we are sold on a belief that this bottled water is somehow more “natural” or better for us than our tap water, does that make us feel compelled to buy water in a plastic bottle?  Which then results in even more plastic trash in our landfills because few plastic water bottles actually end up being recycled.  Worse, when bottles are not disposed of properly, they may end up being washed out to sea.

We are doing our best to bring our own reusable water bottles with us and to reduce drinking water from plastic bottles.  Sometimes I forget and don’t have a choice but to buy single use, plastic bottled water (and then we recycle!).

If you are as busy as our household is, it is best to have a few reusable water bottles at the ready —- we have several for each family member.

Here are websites to visit if you would like to learn more about the problem of plastic trash in our oceans — and what we can do: – plastics problem

And let me know what you think of this ad.

UPDATE: I have posted another water bottle related article, after attending the Bioneers Conference titled “No water bottles for sale? No problem…”  Click here to read.

My Germany & Philippine Connection

I was talking to my younger sister about a connection that Filipinos and Germans share.  She laughed and said “what connection?”

Note:… if you are a vegetarian, you might want to skip this post.

The connection? It’s the pig of course.

Crispy Pata!

As in crispy pata, or cooked adobo style, or sweet sticky Filipino BBQ sticks, in sisig, in sour sinigang soup, as lechon —  bamboo pole slowly turned over hot coals and whole pig cooked to crispy skin perfection…and why I don’t think I can ever become a vegetarian.

And…one of the reasons I enjoyed living in Germany.

Filipinos love their piggy.  The Germans love their piggy too.

When I got the news that I would be stationed in Germany, I phoned my sisters…and they said, “Great!  You have always wanted to go there!”

Really? I did?  Apparently when I was a little girl, I spoke of this wish to go to Germany…hmmm, must have been all those castles I heard about.

And as soon as we got there…I loved it.

I loved the green scenery, uber clean streets, loved the villages, the autobahn, loved the architecture and the castles, loved the volksmarching, loved the wine, the people we met, and the food.

Wittlich Pig Festival signWe lived in the western part of Germany while I served in the U.S. Air Force, and among the first festivals we attended was the village of Wittlich’s —very popular — Annual Saeubrenner Fest.

Translation?  Pig Festival!

Picture from the Wittlich Pig Fest courtesy of Sandy…click on this link for the history of the Pig Fest and Sandy’s blog, Rowdy in Germany.

Walking around the festival…and seeing all the roasted pigs….well, strangely, reminded me of the Philippines.

Wittlich Pig Festival 1

Jeff,  however, not used to seeing whole roasted pigs, was a bit startled, especially seeing pig heads on platters.

Wittlich Pig Festival

But no matter, the jaeger schnitzels, curry wursts, micro-brewed and flavorful beers hooked him in right away.

Distance between the Philippines and Germany?  Over 6,000 miles (or over 10,000 kilometers).  But for this Filipina, I felt at ease and happy living there.

We lived in a little town called Dudeldorf (really, I am not kidding,  say it and it makes you pucker and smile).  Dorf translates to village in German.

The town butcher shop was a regular weekend shop stop for me to try the deli meats and German wursts (sausages — which Germans take to a whole other level).  There were always ready marinated pork cuts to buy and take home to cook.

The shops knew my little baby girl, Dominique, through seeing her with babysitter Oma Lonien.  I think because of this —or maybe just because Germans love little kids– Dominique would get a slice of something yummy from the shopkeeper, whether the meat shop or the local bakery…where she got bread, a roll or some other treat.

A true Filipino celebration is not be complete without the Lechon – whole roasted pig.  And there is a part of me that thinks I should be disgusted with looking at a whole animal presented on the table.  And then there’s the other part that says…ahh yes, lechon — party time!

Lechon – whole roasted pig is a part of Filipino celebration and feasts. Photo by Lola Jane

And so even if geographically and culturally at least, the Philippines and Germany are far apart, one of my memorable connections….is the piggy.

Well, unless you count that letter pronunciation thing, like the Germans pronouncing “W” words like “V” and vice versa (wise wersa).  As in…so come and wisit me in my Willage Vittlich.

And so with Filipinos replacing the letter “F” in certain words with a “P”….as in, be carepul, por you might pall opp! (And get hurt and not able to enjoy your lechon at the party!)

Related Germany post:

The Jolly Bee & McDonalds Targeted Ads: Part 3

So I wondered… why are there McDonalds Tagalog / English ads in Philippine newspapers, here in the U.S.?  After all, Filipinos living here in America speak English (as do Filipinos living in the Philippines!)

I think I know why now—- and it’s about Jollibee.

Photo from

I recently read about Jollibee’s plans to set up 280 new stores this year, with 90 in China, as part of a major expansion.

Philippine-based Jollibee Food Corporation (JFC) started in Manila, soon after McDonalds made plans to enter the Philippine market.

At that time, the company founders—who had just started a Magnolia ice cream parlor franchise that also served sandwiches — figured that catering to the taste buds of Filipinos, and making spicier hamburgers would be the way to have an advantage over McDonalds.

Jollibee is now the Philippines’ largest chain restaurant, with over 600 locations (now 800 locations, as I update this post in March, 2014).  There are currently 26 locations in the U.S (mostly in California), and outlets in Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Brunei and Hong Kong.  It is one of Southeast Asia’s most successful companies.

Should McDonalds —with their 32,000+ locations worldwide— be concerned?  Well, perhaps enough so…at least for their Filipino-American customers, that they are doing these language specific ad campaigns in California..

The US State Department estimates the number of Filipinos in the U.S. at 4 million, or about 1.5% of the population  (as a comparison, the combined population of the states Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, Montana, Hawaii and Rhode Island is a little over 4 million).

Filipino-Americans are among the most educated, and have the highest incomes compared to other Asian-American groups (and so have money to spend on fast food restaurants, among other things).

Jollibee restaurants are opening up in areas of the US with a large and established population of Filipinos. Though this data is from 2000, areas highlighted with a high number of Filipino-Americans remain the same. New Jollibee restaurants are planned for New Jersey and Virginia.

But the U.S. Filipino market is just a small part of Jollibee’s expansion plans, when you look at the 90 stores they plan for China.

Jollibee has already established a presence in China by taking over several Chinese restaurant chains, including a fast food noodle chain last year.   And with China now an economic power, it may be easier to grow and catch up with McDonalds in China than here in the U.S.

“Playful” Filipino Names

This whole nickname thing is not unique to my family…it is a pretty much a tradition for many Filipinos.

At the end of this post is a link to an article from Kate McGeown of BBC News with the introduction “Bizarre and often unflattering names are as quintessentially Filipino as the country’s Catholic faith, friendly smiles…”

And just when my older sister thought I would not show her nickname here on my blog…ooops…here it is:  Wally, Wals, Wallie-Wallie, or the Walliest of course.

Which I thought was pretty harmless when this nickname evolved about 24 years ago.

That was until we introduced her to Robert, my younger sister’s then fiancée, now husband, who is British.

And so it went something like

Robert…meet my sister Wally.   At which point he choked a little before he politely shook her hand and said, “nice to meet you Wally”.  Turns out a Wally is not so flattering a name to call someone where he is from.

And Wally is kind, and the most loving sister anyone can ask for, and I hope still —a forgiving sister— when she sees this post.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino is also known as Noynoy

Here is the link to the article “Playful Filipino Names Hard to Get Used To”.

Ever the current President has a nickname, Noynoy.

I would love to hear about your family’s nickname or if you have met Filipinos with interesting names or nicknames.

McDonalds Targeted Advertising Part 2

And there it was again…McDonalds advertising in a Philippine newspaper using English and Tagalog  (Tagalish?) words.   No burgers this time — which was on my original post on this topic  (click here to read).

Well…it must be working since there were now two half page McDonald ads in the main section of this particular Filipino newspaper.

One ad is for an Asian salad: “Tikman ang harmony ng nature sa bawat bowl” (Taste the harmony of nature in each bowl)

McDonalds Tagalog and English Ad for Asian Salad


And the other for McNuggets.


McDonalds Tagalog and English Advertising - Chicken Nuggets

And so again, I am curious how the ad folks choose which words to use in English and which in Tagalog?  Do you think it is how the sentence sounds mixed up…or is it just more challenging to translate some words from Tagalog to English?

Here are the text details —

As far as translation for the McNuggets Ad at least…Filipinos do like their dipping sauces with certain foods (sawsawan) so it is not like there is not an equivalent word in Tagalog.

Strangely, I did like reading the following mixed words:

  • Ito ang big picture (here is the big picture)…and
  • Everybody say, “Saaaaarap” (Everybody say “Deeeeelicious”).

Though at the same time, I still wonder — and don’t know what to make of this mash-up of the two languages.  Is it to make Filipinos feel, well……included?  Attention Filipinos in America: McDonalds can speak (some of) your language!  And wants your fast-food dollars.

Well maybe the ad is working on me, or I am just getting hungry.    Or I like big pictures.  Or I really just like saying “Saaaaaarap!”

What do you think of these Tagalog and English ads?

Potato ABC’s

Product Ingredients lists: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Sunflower Cottonseed, Soybean and/or Canola), Yellow Corn Flour, Sea Salt, Dextrose, Methycellulose, Onion, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Natural Flavoring

I saw this potato product in the frozen aisle section.  I know…most of us are busy and look for convenient foods, but Potato ABC’s really?

Some may think…this is brilliant!  Gets kids to eat their potatoes and learn their alphabet too!

As for me….I think this is ridiculous.

Is it really necessary to take the humble and delicious potato and turn them into ABC’s?

After all, most homes with children already have ABC bath toys, ABC puzzles, ABC books….

In the process of looking up the ingredients “Methycellulose” and “Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate”, I found an excellent website called

They have a food rating system based on the product ingredients (you can even look up products based on the UPC Code).  Especially helpful for those with food allergies.

Interested in how these ABC Tater Tots rate?  Click on to the website link here.

A simple way we prepare potatoes in our home is to chop in quarters or wedge shapes, toss in olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper and parmesan cheese.  Roast in the oven….EASY.

And no methycellulose or sodium acid pyrophoshate needed.  Our grandchildren love roasted sweet potatoes too…same method, just leave out oregano and cheese, or bake, mash like regular potatoes.

No, I did not eat THAT Blackberry


The article from my post about how product names are derived (Name that mop…) also discussed how the smart phone name Blackberry came about  — and yes, again, Lola’s favorite technology device.

At the time the Blackberry was developed, the focus was on email so the first names had words like Mega-Mail, Pro-Mail, etc.  The concept overwhelmed people so the branding firm went towards names that calm people down….like vacations and natural things, which then led to fruits.  Eventually the name Blackberry was chosen as it was associated with a good color and apparently, “B” words are a reliable sound.

I wonder too if in the back of their minds, the success of the “Apple” brand influenced this use of a fruit name for the brand.

Photo from Tom Curtis,

So…it also reminded me of a time when (then 3 year old) grandson Gabriel was being impatient with Lola.

On an errand trip, Gabriel and I took a snack bag of delicious blackberries with us, and promptly ate it all.

Upon arriving at our destination, I was fumbling around for my Blackberry device — — —and I think taking a bit too long to look (well at least as far as Gabriel was concerned!).

Gabriel wanting OUT of his car seat said, “What are you doing Lola?”  I responded “looking for my Blackberry Gabriel”, to which he said, “You ate it already Lola!”.  I just had to laugh —- goodness I hope I wasn’t THAT hungry!

UPDATE TO POST October, 2014 — Wow, how quickly technology changes, and most of us know about the quick demise of Blackberry over the last few years.  I’ve moved on to HTC phones (first the EVO with the 3D photos / video capability, which was a lot of fun for the grandchildren, and now have the nice and big HTC One).  I did really enjoy my Blackberry, and now will have to be happy with real blackberries to eat!

I will keep this post on my blog though, as a reminder of the sweet and amusing comments from my little grandsons.

Luggage with A Special Kind of Stinky

Being a nation comprised of thousands of islands and where the ocean is never really far away from anyone or anywhere, it is easy to see why Filipinos are fond of seafood.

Also consumed in large quantities are dried fish and related fermented fish products, as these do not need refrigeration, are a source of protein, and brings flavor to plain old rice and vegetables.

“Tuyo” – Dried Fish for Sale at the Market

The word “tuyo” which means “dry” in Tagalog, is the same word for dried fish.

I do like using patis (Philippine fish sauce) in my cooking, as noted on my earlier post.  However, I am not as crazy about dried fish, though I know many bring back their favorite dried fish, squid or specialty fermented seafood after coming back from their visits to the Philippines.

Years ago, my Mom decided she had to bring several jars of a local Visayan “delicacy” called ginamos back to the California, and tucked several jars in her luggage.

Ginamos is a salted, fermented product made from tiny fish like silver fish, anchovies or sometimes bigger fish like sardines, as well as shrimp (the pinkish version on the photo below).  Sold in glass jars or in open buckets at the market, the sight of it is not exactly appetizing as most are cloudy to muddy gray in color.

Ginamos – Bagoong at Market. Photo Courtesy of Tsubibo

It does not get better once you open up the container, when the smell of fermented, decaying fish wafts out.  I swear the stinkier the variety,  the more my Mom lights up at how good it will be with her fresh steamed rice.  Many Filipinos also like to eat ginamos with bananas and sweet potatoes.

When walking through local markets where ginamos is sold, I have to hold my breath —and walk as fast as I can—for fear I may pass out from the smell…and I grew up familiar with this unique aroma.  So I can only imagine how those —whose olfactory senses are “new” to the odor would react to the smell because….it truly is a special kind of stinky.

So for this trip back,  Mom must have thought the ginamos batch was worth taking to the U.S., and brought back not just one, but several jars of it.  Unfortunately, Mom was not mindful of how to properly pack ginamos for a 7,000+ mile journey.

At the San Francisco International Airport’s baggage claim, I waited next to Mom and other tired passengers for her luggage.  At the same time, I noticed the area emitted a familiar fishy smell (familiar that is, to many Filipinos), and noticed too, others wrinkling their noses.

As you can guess, indeed, one of my Mom’s treasured jars of ginamos had shattered.  I was worried she would never get the odor off her clothes, and thought, oh well that luggage bag is history!  And then I thought..uh oh…..the poor folks who may have to smell that special stinky —maybe for weeks— around the luggage carousel.

For Mom though, she was more upset that she had lost a jar of her ginamos, especially after traveling so far.  After all, you can replace clothes and luggage, but you cannot buy that special gnamos just anywhere in San Francisco!

Enjoy your ginamos and bananas! Photo Courtesy of Karlhans.

Related: Lola Jane’s Filipino food posts:

The Ethnic Food Aisle

I was at an Asian store in San Jose shopping for what else, Asian food, and noticed this aisle sign.

Ethnic Food Isle in an Ethnic StoreHey…am I not IN an Ethnic store technically?  I thought it was odd that the store would have this particular aisle sign.  I have been to my share of Asian stores and had never seen an aisle sign like this, so I could not wait to check out the shelves…maybe American food?

I laughed when I saw it was food from the Philippines.  OK, maybe because the store was in an area with many Vietnamese stores…but still, Vietnam and the Philippines are neighbors geographically (Vietnam is the closest country to the Philippines across the South China Sea), so I am wondering why Filipino food ended up in the Ethnic aisle, since they do share the term “Asian” right?

NOTE – I received a text from a reader with the following technical points from their point of view:

  1. The Philippines is also near Guam, Palau and Micronesia, so some may argue about the Philippines’ “asian-ness”,  being historically Malay-Polynesian.
  2. Just because a line is drawn including the Philippines as an East Asian country, would have to argue that it may not be 100% true.

Any Comments?

The Swiffer…are you ready to replace your walis tambo or ting-ting?

Using Walis Tambo

Our (very tall) brother-in-law likes to use walis tambo for quick clean ups inside the house.

Did you replace your walis tambo — the traditional Filipino broom — with a Swiffer and wonder how the name Swiffer came about?

We know that language used in advertising and by PR firms are all about enticing us to buy products, but how did the branding team who come up with the name for Procter and Gamble’s new mop, the Swiffer?

As you can imagine, a cool brand name is crucial to introducing a product to market.

For the Swiffer, the branding firm started with a play on the word “mop” but decided to throw that out since it was a new type of mop.

Instead, a play on the words clean, wipe and sweep was how the name “Swiffer” came about.

Swiffer is now among Procter and Gamble’s biggest sellers, sold in 15 countries.

The experts say that one of the keys to a cool name is that the word has to be easy to say in all languages —which is vital to brand success.

With Filipinos having a tendency to replace “F” words with “P’s”, or strangely, vice-versa— since the Tagalog alphabet does not have a letter “F”, some Filipinos may call the Swiffer a SwiPPer.

Which, actually…sounds like, a SWEEPER anyway!

Though good luck with replacing the trusted walis-tambo, or walis ting-ting, the traditional brooms made of grass (tambo is soft for inside jobs) or from the rib of coconut fronds (nice and stiff for outside jobs).

Lolas walis ting ting webI have lived in the U.S. for a LONG time, and I still use traditional Philippine brooms.

I suspect that if there was a survey of broom types used in Filipino-American households, almost always, they will find  traditional brooms, which, by the way, are usually made of natural plants that compost or biodegrade.

Here is the link to the article,  With Billions at Stake, Firms Play Name That Mop, featuring hit names like the Outback but also some misses like Google’s “BackRub”.

Do you live outside the Philippines now but still use your walis tambo or walis ting-ting — or other types of traditional brooms?

Or are you now using a Swiffer, too?

walis tambo with plastic trim for web

Walis tambo for sale at one of our local Filipino store. The walis makers should go back to using natural materials (bamboo or rattan strips, natural fiber twines) so that the entire walis can be composted when no longer usable. The walis is not going to last forever, so why use plastic unnecessarily? It would be prettier with natural materials, too!


Picking Coconuts Philippines RdNot just for coconuts! Every part of the coconut tree is used, including the leaf frond rib to make the stiff traditional brooms called a “walis ting-ting” — click on photo for more about the coconut tree and coconut products made from this “Tree of Life”.

Related posts:

Sniff Kisses

When I was a little girl, I use to think the method in which lolas (grandmothers) and our titas (aunties) greeted us was….well, a little odd.

Sniff Kiss to grandson

sniff kiss to grandson Gabriel

The titas and the lolas would hug us and then give us these sniff kisses.  Yup…just as it sounds, they come close like they are going to kiss you and at the same time, do this sniff and inhale action.

It was as if they were taking in your very essence….maybe in case of a blackout (or as it is called in the Philippines,  brownouts) they can find you in the dark among all the other children.

Aha!  So there it is…a sniff kiss is actually a child location system from primitive times that we Filipinos are still doing in modern times.  Well…the sniff kiss might soon become obsolete once all human beings are implanted with a form of  GPS device.

And guess what, when Jun-Jun, my first grandson was born, I started giving him sniff kisses too!

I surprised myself, oh oh….and, oh no!  What the heck?

I am doing the sniff kiss thing just like those old lola types from my childhood.  Ok, no need to remind me, I am a lola, and….yes, getting older by the minute (so are you!)

Oh well, I’m in the sniff-kiss club now…and sniff kisses are the norm for me when kissing my little Jun and Gabriel —  well, at least until they become teenagers and refuse any close contact with their Lola!

By the way, I wish I had one of these onesies —  spotted at — when the boys were babies.

Let me know if you know of other cultures doing this sniff-kiss thing too.  And I suspect not just Filipino grandmothers…

My favorite sniff kiss subjects, my grandsons Jun-Jun and Gabriel…

favorite sniff kiss subjects

Phone call no sniff kiss

Sorry Lola, I’m too busy talking on the phone now, you’ll have to hold off on your sniff kisses for now…

A note on brownouts:  A Wikipedia article on brownouts noted that “In the Philippines the term brownout refers to an intentional or unintentional power outage or blackout and there is no apparent word in Philippine English to refer to a drop in voltage.”

Don’t know how to sniff kiss?  Then you must view the Happy Slip’s “tutorial” video, below. The talented Auntie’s advice always puts a smile on this Lola’s face 🙂 …

Hot Iron for your Undies?

Photo of New Iron by vichie81,

My friend Rachel recently returned from visiting her family in England.  She told me that her mother still sets time aside for ironing, including pillow cases, sheets and even underwear.

While there, Rachel told her mother —  to her mother’s surprise — that she no longer irons.

Rachel is a busy wife and mom to 3 boys— one is still a baby.

The topic of ironing reminded me of when I was stationed in Germany and of our loving babysitter, Oma (Grandma) Adelaide Lonien.

Baby Dominique in one of her german outfits, probably ironed by her Oma Adelaide

Any clothing that baby Dominique soiled while at Oma’s house got washed and IRONED.  Mind you, these clothes were for a BABY, whose wardrobe consisted mostly of SLEEPERS, and well…who SLEPT a whole lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I so appreciated getting the clean pile of uber-soft, perfectly folded, smoothly ironed baby sleepers when I picked up Dominique.

At the same time though, the thought of baby sleepers being ironed always made me laugh because I found it so unnecessary.

I suppose that it is a gesture of love and pride from certain people —- you want your family to look good right?

So perhaps the same thing with the ironing habits of my friend Rachel’s mom…but the ironing underwear part?    Well, OK, if you were modeling for Victoria’s Secret, you would not want wrinkly undies.  Not a good look on the runway.

I used to iron more than I do now…my favorite clothing to wear are linens and cottons, so it is a requirement really.  Lately though, my favorite linen shirts have been missing in action, in a basket piled with items to iron.  Lola is just too busy — after all, in addition to other tasks, I have a blog to maintain now!

My younger sister —who hardly irons anymore and is also in favor of wrinkle free clothing– recently uttered a saying in tagalog I have not heard in ages. Hahabulin ka nang plantsa! One says this when a person –usually a close friend or a much-loved relative— is wearing something so obviously in need of ironing.

It translates to something like:  The iron is going to chase you! I don’t think I have heard an English version of this (let me know if you have), so I wonder if Filipinos are just more wrinkle-phobic.

Old iron – photo courtesy of Leonardo Roque

And talk about old school ironing…when we were little in the Philippines and living in the province with our Nanay Lucing, ironing was a major and hazardous undertaking.  Here is a photo of an iron from that looks just like the one we had.

As you can see, there is no electric plug. And it is called an iron…because its made of IRON.  In order to use this contraption, you must first make a fire to have charcoal.  You then load the iron with glowing hot charcoal and lock the lever on top shut.

Old Iron on Banana Leaves, photo courtesy of

One must plan this out as you would iron first the items that were thick and can take the “high heat” setting — actually make that the “hot as hell” setting.  And be super careful lest you scorch –no, actually BRAND yourself (forever)  if you accidentally let any part of the iron touch your skin.

I was too little to help in this chore thankfully, so my older sister and cousin had this responsibility. There was always a pile of fresh, cool banana leaves as a place to set the iron. Then too, there was the starch…oh my goodness.  Nice to have that stiff cardboard look!

The part of collecting the banana leaves —well, the smaller girls were allowed to do.  And we hung around to watch if anyone got burned, and to smell the banana leaves.  Scorched banana leaves always did smell so good to us, because banana leaves are used in Filipino desserts.

With all the new wash and wear, and “wrinkle-free” type textiles in these modern times and our busy lives, who really irons anymore?  Is this a generational thing and do you still iron — and what do you iron?

Lola Jane

Related Germany post: