Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sleeping in Court

Of all the things I want to avoid as much as possible in my work as a reporter, it’s being sent to sit in at seminars or trainings, or any gathering that requires me to sit still and listen for more than 30 minutes. I consider it pure torture.

Just the other day when I was about to start eating my breakfast at 10 in the morning, my editor called me to cover a controversial case at the Supreme Court involving the former president of the electric company in Palau. Expecting something like the trial courts in the Philippines, I left my baon and drove to the court, promising lunch buddies Celina and Denice to be back within 30 minutes.
The trial, which was the first one I covered since I worked for Island Times newspaper here started just as soon as I arrived.

I didn’t even sit down properly because I was expecting that one of the lawyers will file a motion for postponement or other motions that will delay the trial but I was in for a disappointment. The Attorney General (AG) began his delivery pointing out the merits and evidences why the defendant should be judged guilty of the 15 counts of cheating and forgery. The minutes ticked by and the AG was still blabbing on and on. I began to nod my head, not in agreement but because of extreme drowsiness. Exactly 45 minutes later, he stopped and the judge gave the floor to the defendants for the rebuttal.

I haven’t expected a full-blown court battle. At exactly 12 noon (can’t believe I was still alive after two hours sitting in court), I had shifted my buttocks in almost all positions available while sitting and had desperately fought my hunger and drowsiness when the judge declared he was not hungry and that the trial will go on till lunch.

Oh gosh! So the court trials here will depend on the stomach of the judges, I mumbled but I couldn’t leave. My buddies were waiting for me because I brought our food in the car. To divert my attention from hunger and wake up, I began fumbling with my cellphone inside my bag, turning it to silent mode before starting to send messages to Celina without looking at the keypad. I had mastered texting without looking at the keypad that if amazed my boss who doesn’t know how to text. Of course he didn’t know that my cellphone back in Davao is the last thing I hold before going to sleep and the first thing I touch when I wake up in the morning.

“Lady, you turn that cellphone off right this minute!” I was startled when a huge Palauan hissed behind my ear. I was irritated because I kept the cellphone inside the bag and it was in silent mode but I obeyed just the same, albeit grumbling.

It was the third day of hearing and the case was judged at around 2 o’clock that afternoon. So that’s how speedy cases are decided upon in Palau. I got another headache because unlike there in Davao, it is so hard to acquire copies of the decisions and other documents here. You have to go to the Clerk of court for it and have to squeeze blood from stones before you can get what you want. I made an appointment to talk with the AG (you can’t simply conduct ambush-interviews here, you’ve gotta make an appointment first) at 10 a.m. the following day to get more details of the case.
I showed up at the agreed time and was informed by the secretary that the AG took the day off and went fishing. Uh-uh.

Chopsticks 101

I never got the chance to learn how to use chopsticks before and I often wondered why people would waste their time trying to learn how to eat using them. I thought trying to eat using chopsticks is silly because the spoon and fork is a much more advanced eating tool and I don't see why I have to bother learning something so useless to me. Or so I thought, until I had to feature a Japanese restaurant for last week’s issue of our newspaper.

My editor Maam Lei has already made reservations for us at Sushi Bar, an authentic Japanese restaurant right along the main street of Koror, Palau’s capital state ahead of time so when we got there, everything was almost cooked (or uncooked) to perfection.

After taking several photos of the various dishes prepared for us, we settled down to start eating. I shook my head at the whole lot spread before us: food with complicated Japanese names which in reality were mostly raw fish sliced and served in different styles and comes with different dips and paste, fish rolled in sticky rice and topped with some leaves, sushi, sashimi and other foods designed to produce tears to my pure Bisaya palate.

And then I noticed something lacking. Placed beside my table napkin is a pair of chopsticks, those two long thin sticks made of bamboo which translates loosely into the English as "speedy ones" or "speedy fingers". Chop sticks, I learned later, used to mean "fast stick" but it doesn't apply to me because how could one eat fast by picking food with it is still a wonder to me.

“Miss, pahingi naman ng kutsara at tinidor please,” I asked a passing waitress but before she could give me what I want, Maam Lei stopped her. She must have understood what I said and told us to practice using chopsticks because “it’s a must in this Republic”. Oh gosh.

Maam Lei demonstrated to the four of us (I was with officemates Celina, Au and Maam Lei’s daughter Bella) where and how to hold the two sticks together to be able to pick up food. We were so clumsy at first but towards the end of the meal, we were able to pick something using the chopsticks. I ended up still hungry though.

I was attending a press conference during my SunStar days last year at the Marco Polo hotel when a small table was laid and dainty bowls of food I only see in Chinese restaurants were set before us for “media sampling”. I was hungry and getting hungrier by the pleasant aroma rising from the food. Then we were handed chopsticks.

It was not my first time to touch chopsticks, mind you but I never did learn (or acquired the interest to learn) using them.

"Why would I spend more time trying to spoon food into my mouth using two thin pieces of wood when the realiable spoon and fork are doing a fairly good job of it?" I've always argued to myself.
I guess I would never be comfortable using them.

Everybody was having an easy time. I did try though but I did not enjoy the food despite my hunger. The little bits of food I successfully spooned into my mouth were even too little for birds. I had a hard time spooning rice into my mouth because it took more manual dexterity than I currently possess.

As there were only very few of us, I was unable to escape and was forced the join the 'food sampling'. Admittedly, I missed breakfast and was getting considerably hungrier but I did not fancy Chinese food, plus the use of chopsticks.

I joined the other media practitioners and spooned food into our small dishes and we were handed the chopsticks. The appetizing aroma of Chinese fried rice tempted by tastebuds but the futile attempts to spoon rice into my mouth using those chopsticks were getting on my patience.

I’m having rice and fried wahoo fish for lunch today. I’m using chopsticks and I’m slowly learning how to use it but I still consider my hands the most realiable alternative in the absence of spoons. I always get a different satisfaction from eating with my hand.