Friday, June 22, 2012

The Fanged Descendant

Eastern Europe

Harvard educated Dan is from Romania but works for prominent politicians in Washington D.C. We’ve worked together in the Philippines in 2010 for a candidate in the presidential election. As the campaign went full throttle all over the country, we watched a newsflash featuring a pregnant woman allegedly blood-sucked dry by a mananaggal (a witch with bat-like wings and flies with only its upper body). Laughter erupted at this amusing break in the barrage of political campaigning. I said, “Dan, do you have witches and monster stories like these in your country? “ He was obviously taken aback at my query. He said, Are you serious? Haven’t you heard about Count Dracula? I replied, “Yes of course, so?” He said, “Well, Dracula was Romanian!”

Romanians are among the friendliest and most hospitable people on earth with an innate sense of humor. They speak a Latin-based language called Romanian, a phonetic language, so words are pronounced as they are spelled. For a bit of trivia, Romanian is the second language spoken in Microsoft, because the company is full with Romanian IT specialists.

Central Romania encompasses Transylvania – home of Dracula! But it's also a place with unique architectural treasures, such as castles, fortified churches and centuries-old houses. Fringed by the peaks of the Carpathian Mountains is the medieval city of Brasov, located just three hours north of Bucharest. Its famous landmark is the Black Church which got its nickname after the Great Fire of 1689 blackened its walls. A designated European Capital of Culture is Sibiu. It has colorful houses on cobblestone streets, bounded by imposing city walls and defense towers overlooking a river. And located just a half-hour drive at the foothills of the Cindrel Mountains is Marginimea Sibiului - a string of 18 ancient villages!

Romania was a kingdom in 1881 then a republic in 1947. This was when Nicolae Ceausescu headed the Ministry of Agriculture, then Deputy Minister of the Armed Forces. He rose in the Politburo so fast until he became General secretary in 1965 and consolidated power in 1967 by becoming President of the State Council. His condemnation of Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia earns him praise but he soon became a dictator obsessed with megalomaniac building projects and eventually overthrown by a national uprising in 1989. When he left office, he almost drained the country’s finances.

I told Dan, “I’m sorry man, our finances just can’t keep everybody for the duration of the campaign.” He said, “Oh no worries and good luck, and I missed my coffin.” I said, What? My coffin. I slept in it. He grinned and attempted to bite my neck! It was a joke that kept me thinking - He did have sharp and longer than usual incisor teeth, and he smelled differently, and the suits he wore were old fashioned, more like 15th century fashion. And he did say he came from Transylvania! Could he be a descendant of the Count?
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Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The Middle East

You are very beautiful. I’ve always been intrigued by the beauty of Arabian women.” I said this to compliment her. “Excuse me but I am Persian, Arabs are a different people.” Sepideh rebuked as if I just blasphemed the Koran. Like me, most Filipinos are more attuned to what’s happening in Europe or the United States, but not Persian Gulf states. There are many Iranian students in the Philippines mostly enrolled in nursing, dentistry and the medical field. If not for them, not much is known about Iran nor the other countries in the Middle East. Through them I’ve learned that Iranians are Persians and Iran used to be Persia, a glorious empire in the ancient world.

Now, it’s hugging the headlines. The controversy is centered on its nuclear programs and the United States is threatened by a futuristic nuclear-ready Iranian military. Stop it! sayeth the superpower. But it adamantly says, No! and the Iranians agree with their government’s can’t-bully-me stance. This defiance is a slap in the face for somebody used to having its way around, and its quite amazing to see a relatively small country stand up to a lone global superpower. But as I dug deep into history, the present controversy can be traced back many years ago, and was rooted not in uranium enrichment, but to a more basic commodity everybody can relate to - oil….

It began when Britain and the Soviet Union pursued their colonial interests in oil-rich Iran. They came in during WWII, stayed, and reaped huge profits until Mossadeq came into power. He nationalized the oil and petroleum industry but was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup in 1953. This was followed by an era of close alliance between Shah Pahlavi and the American government, which not only shared a huge pie in the billion dollar oil industry, it also had border access to its cold war rival - the Soviet Union. But as the rapid growth of oil revenues in the 70’s and 80’s strengthened the Iranian state, it weakened US influence in Iranian politics. Nationalism rose and the 1979 Revolution became unstoppable, which deposed the Shah and passed the reign of power on to the Ayatollah who became the most steadfast anti-American ruler in history. 

When the Shah fled, he was granted US asylum right away. In retaliation, the angry Iranian mob stormed the US embassy in Teheran and 52 diplomats were held hostage for 444 days. They demanded the Shah’s extradition to face trial back home. Succumbing to pressure, the United States released the Shah after the Algiers Accords was signed, but Egypt took him in. Like an old wound that refuses to heal, what followed is an era of turbulent US-Iran relations, strung more than 30 years now, one event at a time….

“My father’s cousin was in that plane when it was hit by US missiles.” Sepideh narrated. It was near the end of the Iran–Iraq War in July of 1988 when USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian Airbus bound for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The attack killed 290 civilians. In its aftermath, An Iranian navy Captain sent this haunting letter to the one who pushed the button - Navy Captain William Rogers of USS Vincennes. "All Iranians felt they have a cousin that died in the tragedy. So you can understand the loathing we felt for America?" I said, “But it’s all part of history now. It’s in the past. Things change. People change.”  She said, “But the wound is inside. It cannot heal….” She was in a pensive mood now. “Ah let’s talk about something else.” I said. “When I go to Persia where will you bring me?” Her eyes lit and said, "I’ll show you Persepolis. It rivals Greece’s or Rome’s ruins. And you have to eat faloodeh!"
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