[PHOTO - Raymund (foreground, right) and his fellow resident assistants in a recently held Christmas party at the National University of Singapore.]

MANILA, DECEMBER 31, 2011 (STAR) By Jovan Cerda - A friend once told Raymund Vitorio that Christmas in Singapore, where he currently stays as a student, is “just a commercial activity.”

The Southeast Asian country, being a multicultural society, is a mix of people practicing various religions where Buddhism is the predominant faith. Christians only make up a handful, and unlike the case in the Philippines where the holidays span for months, Christmas in Singapore is only celebrated on the day itself.

“I am doing my master of arts by research in English language at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

I am also a part-time teaching assistant for undergraduate modules in the Department of English Language and Literature of NUS. Early this month, I got accepted as a resident assistant (RA) for the Graduate Residences-- mostly planning events and attending to residents' concerns and welfare. This is why I cannot fly back for Christmas,” he said.

Second time around

It’s not Raymund’s first time to spend Christmas Eve away from his family. Last year, he attended a debate tournament in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Because flying back to Manila on an earlier date was too expensive, he booked a flight and got home on the night of December 25.

“I didn't really feel sad that time because I was with a friend, and we joined a street party in Kuala Lumpur,” he shared.

However, this year is different. Since he got accepted as a resident assistant, the school administration only allows him to take a maximum leave of 10 days per semester.

“Technically, I could have flown back for Christmas but I had to move it to next year because I am also doing thesis-related fieldwork. December is a bad time for that. Right now, I am stuck in Singapore doing readings and preparing for that fieldwork,” he said.

Christmas, Pinoy-style


Raymund describes his Christmas in the Philippines as “typically” Filipino: food, family, friends and faith. It’s that time of the year when it’s perfectly acceptable to gain weight from eating every food item on the dinner table, he said, adding that the pressure to get fat makes the first 11 months of the year a mere investment to earn eating credits.

“The whole family would go to Church on the eve itself as we await the Noche Buena. Of course, this includes Christmas practices like exchanging gifts, listening to caroling children, and singing videoke over drinks,” he said.

Up to now, his family follows a P50-rule for exchanging gifts. He said it started when he and his siblings were still young and didn’t have the money yet to spend for more expensive gifts.

“I remember in 1997, my brother gave my Mom a box of powder detergent as a gift for Christmas. He was in second grade then. He just said, "Mom always complains that the maids waste a lot of detergent. Maybe this gift would be perfect for her then." The box of detergent just cost P30, so he had to tape four five-peso coins on the box itself. Up to now, it's still a running joke in the family,” he said.

Furthermore, he said December 25 always involves a family reunion with his maternal relatives. When he and his cousins were still younger, they would have a contest of performances among themselves. Their yearly bonding also involves watching at least one film at the Metro Manila Film Festival, which opens on Christmas day.


Other than those family activities, Raymund said he misses a number of things: the University of the Philippines’s Lantern Parade, local television channels' Christmas station IDs, his mom's puto bumbong pasalubong every morning she goes to simbang gabi, swearing off sweet hams and fruit cakes because of surplus and Christmas lights all over the metro.

Still a merry Christmas

But homesick as he may be for this year’s holidays, sulking is not in Raymund’s to-do list.

“I am currently arranging a small gathering among some friends who are here in Singapore as well. On Christmas Eve, I am cooking Pinoy-style butter prawns and adobong pusit. They are not really Noche Buena dishes, but those are the only dishes I know how to cook,” he said.

He added that he will also be spending Christmas day with a Singaporean friend and some of her other friends for a Christmas celebration with her family.

“This is a gesture that I really appreciated because it makes me close to a concept of the family,” he said.

For New Year, he plans to go to Singapore's countdown in Marina Bay.


“They are releasing wish balloons to the bay as they welcome the New Year with fireworks. This is still not fixed yet. If this does not work out, I might go out with friends to Sentosa to attend a beach party instead,” he said.

He added that almost all of his co-RAs are in staying in Singapore as well which makes it not so difficult for him to cope with the situation.

“They might not have the same regard for Christmas as Filipinos do, but at least I have company here,” he said, noting that most of his co-RAs are Chinese looking forward to the Chinese New Year.

Raymund said although he is spending Christmas away from home, he loves the entire experience. Back then, when he went there as an exchange student, he said it was mostly about enjoying the semester: partying frequently, traveling occasionally and not really caring about life issues.

“It was mostly a long vacation. Now that I am doing my full-time masters here, everything changed. I am experiencing the total opposite of it,” he said.

Closer to home

He said studying in a foreign land changed him as a person. The geographical distance makes him even more in touch with his homeland-- he makes it a point to be updated with almost everything that happens in the Philippines-- from politics to showbiz. His research interests are also directly related to the Philippines-- and he sees the country in almost everything.

“I became a fan of Azkals and even watched their friendly game with the Singapore Lions here! I even started a Facebook initiative to gather the Filipinos who are staying here in the NUS University Town so that we do not miss speaking Tagalog much. It was a very vibrant group, and I am so thankful I met them. Most of them were just on exchange though, which means that we will have new blood next semester,” he said.

Despite the distance, an entirely different culture, the absence of family and friends back in the Philippines, and Christmas being a mere “commercial activity” in the foreign land where he stays, Raymund is still thankful for the little things that make him closer to home.

“I should say though that I am lucky that Singapore has lots of ways for me to not get homesick,” he said. \

The Global Filipino

Proudly Pinoy: James and Phil Younghusband

By Jovan Cerda Updated May 27, 2011 04:29 PM

Their eyes may be of different colors and their accent a far cry from Filipino English, but James and Phil Younghusband are certified Filipinos who know how to make the motherland proud.

Football seemed alien to most Filipinos until late last year, when the Philippine national football team reached the semifinals of the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup after stunning the Vietnamese defending champions.

What came after was unprecedented in the history of Philippine football.

But even if the team, fondly called the' Azkals' (based on asong kalye, the Filipino term for mongrels), was not able to bring home the coveted title of Southeast Asian football champions, the astonishing feat was more than enough to excite Filipinos and catapult football in a place usually occupied by boxing and basketball. Players also started gracing the cover of magazines, posing for billboards, guesting in television shows and creating trending topics in Twitter.

Among those responsible for football's sudden popularity in the Philippines are James and Phil Younghusband, British-Filipino booters, who, after their careers in Chelsea football club, decided to go back to their Filipino roots and play for the national football team.

In this five-part exclusive interview, two of the most sought-after players in the Philippine football scene talk about what they like most about being Filipinos, representing the Philippines in the international arena, their memorable experiences in the country and their decision to stay here for good.

PART 1 of 5: The brothers share their first impressions of the country, the difference between England and the Philippines and the adjustments they had to do upon staying here.

PART 2 of 5: James and Phil talk about football in the Philippines and the potential of Filipinos to succeed in the sport.

PART 3 of 5: Discover what James and Phil miss whenever they leave the Philippines, and how they interact with the Filipino community in England.

PART 4 of 5: The brothers spill their most unforgettable experiences in the country and the Filipino features they are most proud of.

PART 5 of 5: James and Phil discuss long-term plans and share messages to their fans.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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