Inkcanto: On fan obsession and getting insulted by Simsimi

We're practically Electric Fan Country as Filipinos practically can't live without it. Inkcanto photo for InterAksyon.com.

Summer and the terrible heat—do we have real summers in the Philippines? All we have is the dry season and the wet season, right? Nowadays, these two seasons can’t make up their minds. A few days ago, we had the hottest day of the year, so far, at 34.5 degrees Celsius. This was followed by heavy rain, the kind we’ve always known in this monsoon country, or, an “Umbrella Country” as novelist Bino Realuyo called it in his first novel.

Well, we are also an Electric Fan Country (I get dibs on that title for my novel!), especially when the dry season rolls in. The electric fan is as essential and as iconic to Filipino culture as the venerable tabo (dipper) that we use when we do our bathing, laundry, general cleaning, and even for watering plants. Granted, we don’t use the electric fan for the same activities (Have you tried using the electric fan for bathing or for watering plants? Not a good idea.) but we still can’t live without it.

Just how essential is the electric fan to the Filipino? One Associated Press photo of the Cagayan de Oro flash flood shows a man wading through floodwaters, carrying an electric fan to save it from damage and loss. (See the photo here: http://www.sunstar.com.ph/cagayan-de-oro/local-news/2011/12/17/floods-kill-dozens-leave-hundreds-missing-196294) For this man, possible drowning is a risk worth taking for his beloved electric fan—something not many boyfriends would do for you, ladies, believe me.

The whirring sound of an electric fan can be both comforting and annoying: from the smooth, even soothing, hum when brand new, to the grating, guttural, metallic wail—like a trapped, dying beast of iron—when it gets too old and the motor is about to give out.

Children of my generation saw electric fans in Pinoy as well as Hollywood films. We even saw Ernie and Bert of Sesame Street use an electric fan:

Occasionally, the electric fan gets into the news. This happens when one of them bursts into flame, causing a fire that burns a house down. Or some poor kid, somehow, puts his fingers into the spinning blades and… let’s not go there.

“Isindi mo nga yang bentilador!” we would ask someone in the heat of the moment. And then we curse when it’s broken and we are condemned to sweat and dehydration. Our Filipino word, “bentilador”, of course, is based on the Spanish “ventilador” which refers to a mechanical air-blowing device for cooling, whether manual or electric.

Some of us may also use Taglish and say, “Isindi mo yang electric pan” which I find rather funny when the “f” in fan is pronounced, as “p”. When I hear that, I am tempted to ask if the person plans to do some cooking instead of cooling.

An electric fan is a good wedding gift to Filipino newlyweds. Certainly, it’s more essential than, say, an electric rice cooker. In fact, a rich person even gave me and my wife an electric fan as a wedding gift. It was probably a model used by rich people, as it was very durable, lasting us a number of years.

Some of the old electric fan television commercials are classics from the 1970s. What would our childhood have been without Rod Navarro’s roguish, gravelly baritone saying that an electric fan brand is “Mahangin talaga” (“Really windy”), as the electric fan blows away appliances, farm animals, a guy’s wig, etc. It was the commercial that made the expression “mahangin” synonymous with being a braggart or a blowhard. He called the various electric fan models the “Mahangin Family”, a phrase we still use to describe a family of blowhards.

Certainly, it was a milestone in Philippine electric fan history when one of the more famous sexy actresses of the 1980s, Pia Moran, did an electric fan commercial. She was doing sexy, provocative (for 1980s standards) gestures while pointing out various electric fan types and models. “Desk fehn… Estahhnd fehn…” she pronounced. It made an indelible impression on an entire generation.

A few years ago, when TV dance shows were popular, Pia Moran made a really brief comeback into popular consciousness. After all, she was also known as a very good dancer as well. She was even known as the “Body Language” girl, after the 1980s hit that she danced to in lunch hour variety shows on TV. This, if I recall correctly, caused uproar over “indecent” dancing in noontime TV shows.

I wonder if that was a factor in choosing her to endorse electric fans, as in, “When Pia Moran does her sizzling body language in your vicinity, you’ll need to turn on several electric fans to cope with the heat. These fans will then, after Pia reaches a peak in her act, burst into flame.” If they made a commercial, or even a music video, like that, I bet that Pia Moran would be an even bigger icon today.

Well, this video clip of the dance show proves that, even in the Noughties, a fiftyish Pia Moran still has the moves that few, if any, sexy stars (wait, are there any left?) today can match: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXCp7LZhaZE

And that shot were she spoofs her own electric fan commercial just kills me. Wasak talaga:

Electric fans are great movie props. The way the spinning blades cast their shadows, the way they break up light in a scene—plus, of course, what they suggest about the setting and the atmosphere. Is it a brothel? A gangster’s hideout? The hovel of a poor, beaten down protagonist? The movies “Total Recall” and “Blade Runner” used huge, industrial fans to suggest a bleak future on Earth as well as on Mars.

Filipino films, of course, feature the electric fan. Joey Gosiengfiao’s cult classic Temptation Island includes a several electric fans among the castaway’s hallucinations after they are trapped in a desert island:

Joey Gosiengfiao’s “Temptation Island” (1980). A work of camp genius.

So, this summer, let us make sure to love our fans back. I interviewed Mang Jun to gain expert knowledge on electric fan care. Who is Mang Jun? He’s the guy in our village who fixes electric fans. He used to be a family driver in Saudi Arabia. Now, how did he learn to fix electric fans? From experience—he’s self-taught in The Way of the Electric Fan Man.

After retirement, Mang Jun suddenly felt compelled to learn the intricacies of the electric fan so he could fix broken ones. It was the Voice of the Fan, calling out to him. During the interview, he explained to me how an electric fan works. Unfortunately, we don’t have space to put in all that.

So I will share his advice on how we can love our electric fans back, for all the cooling they give us: 1) Clean them regularly, every few weeks, when you notice that dust has gathered on the grills and at the back of the motor’s housing. It’s fine to remove the housing to clean up the dust inside. BUT DON’T put anything on the motor. Just removing the dust with a brush is fine; and 2) Always watch out for any impaired motor function. Take the electric fan to the repair shop when you notice that the fan blades stop spinning or the fan’s head no longer moves normally.

According to Mang Jun, there is always a risk of the electromagnet overheating when the blades, for some reason, stop spinning. “The motor’s job is to keep the shaft and the blades spinning continuously. If they are stopped for any reason, the motor may overheat and catch fire. To be safe, have the fan repaired when you notice that the blades no longer spin normally,” he said.

He warned against thinking that your electric fan is “OK” when it fails to spin when you press button One, but still spins at buttons Two and Three. The failure to spin at One is already an indication of a weak capacitor. Never leave an electric fan on while its blades are not spinning. That’s a sure way to burn out the motor and cause an explosion and/or a fire.

So stay safe and let your electric fans feel the love this summer—and enjoy hours of coolness.
***

While writing all this, I began to wonder if I had any fans for this column—I mean, fans as in admirers or fanatics. I couldn’t think of any way to find out without horribly embarrassing myself, so I asked my kids’ advice and their suggestion was: Ask Simsimi and Cleverbot. Who are they?

After a lengthy explanation and a lot of eye-rolling at their clueless Dad, I understood that Simsimi and Cleverbot are computer programs that you can converse with (www.simsimi.com and www.cleverbot.com). You say something and they answer you back. Intrigued, I tried them out.
I began with Simsimi:

Hmmm. I’ve never been insulted by a computer program before. Well, I tried again. This time with my real intent:

Hmmm. I get insulted and then propositioned. Interesting. Let’s try again:

Okay. Simsimi seems to be a fan of mine. A deranged one. Let’s try Cleverbot:

Why do conversations with Simsimi and Cleverbot always end up with them propositioning me? What’s up with getting into my pants and asking about my “package”?

Believe me, a lot of times, an electric fan is more preferable than the fans that come with fame and good looks.

InterAksyon.com