26 December 2011

....

Whenever I came home and found that home had stayed the same no matter how I'd changed, I felt reassured. This Christmas, it's home that's changed, and it feels like for good.

The other day, I had just an hour to spend with some of my oldest friends. My family had to go to church in a bit, Kim and Kriselle would be leaving for Davao again the next day, and I wasn't sure if I'd see Mariel again in Kalsangi after Christmas (I'm flying back to Manila tomorrow).

Of the four of us, only Mariel has lived in Kalsangi longer than my family. In January, she and her family will be moving away.

This vacation has literally been a nostalgia trip. While going around the neighborhood, I haven't been able to stop thinking, "So-and-so used to live there. I used to climb that rock. I used to go inside that shop and look at the bracelets. My friends and I once called that cluster of trees Narnia. I used to go to that pond and catch those tiny frogs."

I wish there was more time.

In our family, Christmas has rarely been just for us. My mom is so involved in the community that she's buying, baking, cooking, wrapping, and delivering presents till well past Christmas day. It's a lot for one person to do alone, which is why the rest of us get roped into helping her. I guess it's selfish of me to wish that just one Christmas Eve, she could have nothing to do, but I wish it all the same.

Then I remember that I live in Manila; if I didn't, she'd have an extra pair of hands leading up to the holidays, and maybe by Christmas, she'd be chilling on the couch and listening to her favorite CDs, instead of begging my brother to get away from the computer and deliver this tin of fruit cocktail cake to the Parcons.

Things have settled down now, so I think it's safe to "plan" today on doing nothing but letting my memory catch up and settle itself also. I just wish there was more time.

22 December 2011

Now Dismiss

A recent comment from Lance has encouraged me to blog a little more openly about my faith, so here's a little pre-Christmas reflection.

--

In church, we've been counting down to Christmas with four songs that were sung in the days leading up to Jesus's birth. I missed the first, but the other three were Mary's, the angels' to the shepherds, and Simeon's.

I like the latter two best. I miss the days when I believed that heaven could speak to me in the most unlikely places, so to imagine myself hearing the angel song, say, while waiting on a crowded MRT platform would give me all the hope and foundation I needed. Never mind my doubt and throw off my anxieties if I could have a moment like that to remember: I saw angels and heard them sing. We all did. The light and the sound was incredible. God is real, and near.

At the same time, however, I suspect that I wouldn't be the one seeing the angels. That visit today would be made to day laborers at a construction site, slum dwellers, and flood evacuees sleeping on cold classroom floors. If there is such a God as the preachers have preached, he is a God of those for whom things are most hopeless, and I should be afraid to receive the word that the Gloria was sung.

The prophets of the Bible have warned against ignoring the suffering of the fatherless, the widowed, and the destitute. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not for sexual deviance, but for failing to care for the needy. The Messiah heralded by the angels brings justice, so for all the times I've failed to care, I should be afraid.

This is the point in the post where someone who means well rushes to the comment box and says, "But you're missing the point of the angel song! They're announcing the arrival of a Savior who banishes all fear! The Savior is for both rich and poor! Just accept him into your heart, and you won't have to worry about punishment; you'll be in heaven when you die!" (Plus a little side debate about faith and works.)

This is why Christmas can be difficult for me. Believing in and celebrating a Savior entails believing in the kind of God that would send a Savior, and would send one in the style set out in the Bible, which in itself requires a lot of rewiring on my part to be fully accepted. Once I get through those road blocks, I then have to consider the proposal that this Savior is Jesus of Nazareth.

And if it is Jesus, then it is the Jesus who made it a point to prioritize the poor and the outsiders over all the rest. It's the Jesus who, in one teacher's translation of the old Greek and Hebrew for "compassion," saw the multitudes and wanted to shit himself.

It's the Jesus who can tell you at the gates of heaven, "I don't know you," and whose ancestor Abraham may tell you that the gulf between your station and poor Lazarus's is too great to cross.

When I was smaller, I wanted to be the boy with the basket of bread and fish, ready to be offered and shared. Now that I'm older, I know that at my worst, I'm the Levite crossing the road to avoid the mugging victim, and at my best, I'm only the man in Mark 9:24, Thomas who needed to touch the holes in Jesus's palms to believe, and Zaccheus who needed a little shakeup to give his wealth away.

In some small measure, then, Simeon's song is comforting, because he received the sign he was waiting for, held his Savior in his arms, and knew that he could now die happy and at peace. On good days, I don't have to go through all these mental gymnastics, I can see how easy it is to "just" believe, and I have a little peace. On bad days, I hope there is a God, I hope he gives signs, and I hope I'll know how to recognize them, to grasp them before I die, so I can have a little peace.

And in the meantime, I do what work I can.

15 December 2011

To Architect a Heart

Two years ago, I was in the middle of what I can now, from a distance, identify as a nervous breakdown.

I had just taken on a new, more challenging job that I wasn't sure I could handle. I had just moved to a new place that I hated. Around the time of my 22nd birthday, I felt myself being pulled apart, by my family telling me not to tie myself down too soon and by Martin asking me to take our still fairly new relationship more seriously.

I also felt that the megacity was swallowing me whole. A cab ride from Martin's house in Parañaque, through C-5, back to Quezon City would freak me out. I was riding on the rim of Metro Manila, and the sight of Parañaque, Taguig, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig, and Quezon City all whizzing past within minutes heightened my alienation. Where in all that concrete, steel, and slumland was I supposed to be?

I think that feeling, more than anything, sparked my later interest in real estate, urban planning, and architecture. I wanted to understand how people used and moved in their spaces, how they decided whether to put up walls or to set pathways between one another, and whether the shape of a window changed how one looked out and others looked in. Would how we went from point A to point B, and what we saw, be somehow different through a triangle instead of a square?

Thus, the simplicity and order of moving from point A to point B in Singapore, and the beauty of even the lowest-cost housing, appealed to me when my family and I went this year. Getting from me to you did not have to require a jeepney ride, a train ride, an FX ride, another jeepney ride, and a ten-minute walk. And when I got there, we could have room to move, light to see, and air to breathe.

Before I learned about buildings, though, back in 2009, I knew that I needed to adjust and change. I had to accept the city if not embrace it, because it was the only place Martin wanted to be, and I wanted to be with Martin. Yet I was terrified at the thought that when it was over, I wouldn't recognize myself anymore.

God, what a wreck I was. Poor Martin, having to carry me through that.

Then, at the start of 2010, his leg broke, literally and figuratively. So I somehow snapped out of my stupid crisis and tried to carry him.

It really was a snap; I remember answering the phone, hearing those two small words ("It broke."), and feeling my gears fly into place because there was someone more important than me and in much more pain. It was time to put the wrench down.

What followed was difficult and painful, to say the least (and I want to say only the least). Everything was put on hold while Martin recovered his strength.

And then, when he could stand again, he walked away.

He walked into a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity, grad school, and life without time or energy for anything else, much less for picking up where we'd left off. I told myself to just wait a little longer, be supportive, work on improving myself, and just be there for him.

So I worked at my job and learned to enjoy it. I never quite got to love the city, but I accepted it, the way one accepts that they must work with an enemy against an even greater enemy.

For me, this enemy was disorder and decay. And because I couldn't set a wrecking ball on the megacity, I set it on the unsound structures I'd built inside me. I gave my emotional squatters more productive outlets and settled them in a tidy high-rise overlooking a lake, which I dredged and cleared of invasive thoughts. I made myself bike paths and got myself new trains, so that getting from problem to solution would be simpler, quieter, and even enjoyable. I restored the park as well as the crumbling theater and museum, the places inside myself that made me feel safe, whole, and progressive. I planted tree seedlings, dreams I hoped we'd get to nurture once Martin was better.

I wanted to be stable, solid, and strong for him. I wanted to be at once his Taliesin West and Fallingwater, Hundertwasserhaus and the Guggenheim de Bilbao, the Manila Met returned to glory and the Parthenon lovely even against all erosion.

I wanted to be the home with the gentle staircase and the treetop view, the quiet study armored with full bookcases, the sunlit kitchen window lined with potted herbs, the bedroom overlooking Central Park--the dream home, in other words.

So, I worked. I can't say I reached the ideal, but God damn it, I worked to become a balanced, loving, lovable, worthy person.

But as the months passed, I doubted that he noticed at all. He talked about work and school all the time. When I asked if we could talk about something else, the conversation died, and when it picked up, it felt forced and hollow. When I asked if we could talk about us, he got defensive. He wouldn't even let me touch him, because it meant more lost energy, more time away from whatever was on his desk.

I told myself to wait for later; he had no time right now. After months of this, though, I finally asked if he could possibly make time, make room, or if he had any room at all.

In a nutshell, he said no.

So until fairly recently, I felt that all I'd done since the breakdown, all I'd built, had been a waste. I was angry, because he'd asked me to make a place for us in all my plans--he'd even gotten mad about it several times--and now he was the one who got to walk away.

And he couldn't even say why. That's why, for the past couple of months, I've been questioning everything I've done in the past near-three years, looking for cracks that I'd missed, and picking up old guilt over the old breakdown.

I think I'm done now. I felt another snap, maybe three. I finally found the gap in the bridge, the loose cables, the one car causing the jam.

It's a little hard to explain, or, at least, it sounds a little stupid. These are things I've been telling myself over the past few months, things I myself would tell other people in the same situation, but I guess these things just didn't sink in until now.

The longer I hang on to my anger, the harder it is to just let Martin keep walking. The more I look for cracks, the harder it is to admire my handiwork and the good it actually, still, has. And the more I question whether I'm ready, the longer I'll wait before I reopen the gates.

I could hide inside myself and chip away at my own foundations until I implode like poor Christine Chubbuck. Or, I could pick up my hammer and build again, better, stronger, higher, until I scrape the sky.

14 December 2011

Wǒ xuéxí Hànyǔ

"Learning a language, even a natural language, is more of an emotional decision than a practical one. It’s about belonging to a group."*
— Arika Okrent, author of “In the Land of Invented Languages”


To this day, I'm not entirely sure why I signed up for Mandarin classes. I am sure the trip to Singapore and the subsequent dream of an interesting life somewhere far away would have something to do with it. I figured that given current world affairs, if I ever decided to move to another country, Chinese would be the most practical new language to learn.

(And if I was wrong, at least I might make a buck teaching people who might also be wrong still.)


I did sign up for the class to meet people, too. So far, though I haven't had much of a conversation with anyone beyond,

"Nín guì xìng?" (Sir/Madam, what is your honorable surname?),
"Nǐ zuò shénmè gōngzuò?" (What do you do for a living?), and
"Nǐ jiā yǒu jǐ kǒu rén?" (How many people are in your family?).

I guess I'll see who sticks around for Basic 2.


It all comes down to wanting to feel like I'm getting somewhere with my life, especially now that the things I planned over the past two and a half years are now dust.

In the end, though, it might just something to keep me busy until I have something big and new and consuming to work toward, to belong to, again.

--
* strikethrough mine; quotation source

13 December 2011

New Books I Read in 2011

Before I get on with the list, some notes.
  • Not all of these books were released this year; by "new," I mean that I read them for the first time this year.
  • I'm not even sure if this list is accurate. I only started with "Never Let Me Go" because I know I received it last Christmas. I can't seem to get Shelfari to show me exactly when I added the books.
  • I'm a little disappointed that I didn't read a lot more this year. Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in one or two more books before 2012 comes.

And now, the list.

  1. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. A Christmas gift from my grandmother. Really beautiful story, made me cry.

    Also, it is not a little painful to read about the death throes of a young couple's life together when you are constantly asking yourself whether you are in the death throes of a young couple's life together.

  2. The Joys of Love, by Madeleine L'Engle. Another Christmas gift, this one from my mother. It's Ms. L'Engle's first novel, posthumously published by her granddaughters. I found it a refreshingly simple, happy look at what it was like for one of my favorite authors to be a young writer and actress.

  3. Certain Women, by Madeleine L'Engle. Another gift from Mom. It might be a little dry for some people, but I loved all the theater and Biblical references, as well as the way Ms. L'Engle wrote about this family.

  4. Betty Crocker's Microwave Cookbook. Ha.

  5. I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak. I loved it until I got to the ending. What a cop-out.

  6. Mercury, by Hope Larson. My expectations were high for this Eisner winner, so I was a little disappointed with the simplistic story. Good art, premise, and choice of themes, though.

  7. Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson. My gift to Martin. I sort of wanted to take it back after I read it, haha. I really enjoyed the whole investigation into apophenia.

    Yes, that was my favorite word for a few weeks.

  8. For the Win, by Cory Doctorow. I've actually ranted about this here and here.

  9.  Art & Max, by David Wiesner. Visually exuberant, like a Pixar short with words.

  10. Just Being Audrey, by Margaret Cardillo. A tribute to the Hollywood icon that also serves to introduce her to young readers. I think the illustrations captured the poise, charm, and lightness that fans have ascribed to Ms. Hepburn.

  11. A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Just awesome.

  12. The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. Also awesome. I generally love stories about the world after human civilization, so it was great to get a National Geographic kind of look at how it would happen.

    Before the book, Mr. Weisman wrote this article on the same subject; it should give you an idea.

  13. The Major Plays, by Anton Chekhov. <3

  14. The Diaries of Adam and Eve, by Mark Twain. The writing's a little sexist, but I love the sheer joy Eve feels as she explores the newly-made world. Adam's such a fuddy-duddy.

  15. A Song of Ice and Fire, series, by George R. R. Martin. It's not going to win any Pulitzers, but I'm so invested in the characters now. Sansa Stark for the win.

  16. The Animal Family, by Randall Jarrell. A wonderfully weird fairy tale. The decorations by Maurice Sendak are a huge bonus.

  17. And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer. I also reviewed this here.

  18. The Red Tree, by Shaun Tan. I read this shortly before the breakup. It helped before and after the breakup. I will probably gravitate to this book and anything by Shaun Tan whenever I feel really sad. If someone you know is sad, give them this book.

  19. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. I'd heard about this book on and off for several years, but I'll admit, I only finally picked it up after I'd read that Emma Watson had been cast as the girl. I know. Bad reader, bad, bad. But the book was good, good.

  20. Blankets, by Craig Thompson. Relatable and sweet.

  21. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks. If someone had told me ten years ago that neurology was where it's at, I'd be in med school right now. Instead, I have to content myself with the tales of Oliver Sacks.

  22. Love Wins, by Rob Bell. Not very well-written, but still moving and thoughtful. It was nice to feel someone within the evangelical establishment (well, as far in as the liberal upstart Mr. Bell got, anyway) reaching out to doubters like me.

  23. Clockwork, by Philip Pullman. At once chilling and sweet, like several Grimms' tales woven together.

  24. Gentlemen of the Road, by Michael Chabon. Having read #15 put me in the mood for something like this, and Mr. Chabon did not disappoint. There's historical interest as well as solid swashbuckling.

    It was also the first Chabon book I ever read, but the self-stroking afterword has made me hesitant to read any other.

  25. Over to You, by Roald Dahl. Exquisite stories about being in the Royal Air Force during WWII. Also, madness.

  26. The History of Luminous Motion, by Scott Bradfield. The macabre, lyrical, at times drug-addled bildungsroman of a frighteningly precocious eight-year-old sociopath. Hacksaws are involved.

  27. Delirium's Party, A Little Endless Storybook, by Jill Thompson. A little too cutesie, but I loved the illustrations.

Next time, books I hope to read next year.

12 December 2011

Swing Seven


This photo I took of my youngest cousin Paolo at his seventh birthday party last Saturday has me near tears, for reasons I can't openly share.

Oh, little man, always swinging between tearful brooding and deafening exuberance. May your childhood be awesome. May you often, if not always, be this happy. May there always be someone to catch you regardless. It will be okay.

08 December 2011

Do What Pray Tell

A well-meaning friend suggested that, now that I'm single again, I should spend more time with God and ask myself if I was going to be with him in heaven after I died.

The thing is, she and I have different ideas of God. I don't think she'd really dig mine, much less how I spend time with who I believe is God. There's also no paper trail--no Bible study group signup forms, no outreach ministry membership brochures--to prove to her that I spend any time with God at all.

Ever since I left my church job, talking about God to the people--especially the professing Christian people--who have known me since childhood runs the risk of opening a can of worms that never seems safe to open. So, all I could do was sidestep my friend's suggestion and address some of the other points she'd raised during our conversation about whether I'm ready to date anyone.

I do wish, though, that there was someone I could talk to about my faith. The next-closest person to me who has any clue about its state is my younger brother, but out of pride, I avoid talking to him about it. I say next-closest, because Martin knew a little more than my brother does, but his viewpoint is Catholic, so he didn't quite get everything.

I once dropped in on a Filipino Freethinkers meeting and would have liked to talk to the Episcopalian guy, but I don't feel like going back.

I guess I would just like to talk to someone who understands Protestant, particularly evangelical church culture, is familiar with evangelical teachings, would listen to what I had to say, wouldn't judge me, and would maybe even walk away without worrying unnecessarily over the fate of my immortal soul. Basically, I would like to talk to someone who would listen, not preach or fret, and just leave me in the hands of whatever God they believed in, just as I place myself in the hands of mine.

Preferably not someone I work with, because just knowing they follow me on Twitter makes things soooo awkward already.

Is it too early for New Year's resolutions? I'm looking forward to the new year. These are more plans than resolutions:

1. Reread the Bible, this time a KJV.
2. Continue studying Mandarin.
3. Bike more.
4. Move out of Cubao.
5. Keep a planner.
6. Make more complicated popup buildings.
7. Invest some more.
8. Study more economics.
9. Get a pet. If where I live doesn't allow pets, get a small pet that doesn't make noise. A turtle, maybe.
10. Be happy.

And as for whether I'm ready to date anyone, I don't think I want to just yet. So far, no one who's expressed interest has really grabbed my attention, either. I guess we'll see how the new year goes.

04 December 2011

Is this thing on?

I've installed the IntenseDebate comment system for new posts on this blog. This is just a test post to see if it's working.

01 December 2011

In My Country, We Sit on the Street and Draw With Rocks

I often feel that when it comes to popular culture, my peers are always at parties to which I am always late, where I barely know anybody else, where I am horribly underdressed , and where everybody talks about what they ate at the last party--to which I was also late, and so only got leftovers.

I'm the foreign exchange student, the extraterrestrial whose guidebook to this land is out-of-date, incomplete, and misspelled. I grin stupidly at everyone in the room, fail at conversation, and try not to stick my proboscis in my hosts' flower vase instead of the glass someone set out for me. I want to get assimilated, but at the same time, I can't help wondering why everyone gets so worked up about everything.

What I'm trying to say is that it's exhausting to try to keep up with the movies, TV shows, books, and music that everyone else seems to not only consume but also thoroughly digest. It seems to be the Thing to Do around here, so I feel a subtle pressure to join in, but it's a wonder nobody's head falls over from the sheer weight of everything they've crammed in there.

I tend to chalk these feelings up my old life in isolation, when the school library had what it had, the only decent bookstore I knew was a three-hour drive away, Internet access was rationed, the TV had less than 20 channels, and I just read or watched or listened to (1) what was there on the shelves, (2) what I could buy with my P50/week allowance, and (3) what I liked. And if I didn't like anything that was on, I went outside.

Now that I live here Where Everything Happens, I have online, offline, financial, convenient, and near-constant access to practically every piece of culture created in history. I can catch up on whatever I missed (the books, my God, the books) and get my hands on whatever's new.

I should be stuffing myself, licking my fingers, smacking my lips, and letting the juices of all those texts dribble down my chin. Instead, I am overwhelmed by the sheer amount on the table, ask to be excused early, and wish I could go outside.

It's not to say that I think I'm better than people who do consume so much culture; in fact, I wholly admire them and their capacity for what feels like everything everyone ever made in the world, as well as their ability to discern which consumable is, in fact, tasteful. But I think I'll go on reaching only for the things I might like and hope someone will want to talk about it later.

26 November 2011

Turtle Times

This is the first Saturday I've had in a long while to do nothing. It's weird.

I've actually had a lot on my mind lately--things I wish I could discuss in detail here but can't because of the number of people who read my blog. It's funny; I used to want people to come here. But now that I want to purge, I have nowhere to go without worrying that there is someone out there whose nice little idea of me will change as a result of what I'd like to say.

Well, what the hell.

I really enjoy working on the popup buildings. I really enjoy having something to do with my hands and working steadily at something until it comes out clean, crisp, and kind of pretty--or it doesn't, and I get to start over. That kind of starting over I enjoy, for some reason.

The other kind, the kind I've felt I've had to do, repeatedly, in the past couple of months, has not been so fun.

I think I can sum everything up (and avoid sharing too many details) by saying that I'm most afraid of wasting time. I'm afraid that I'll waste time on the wrong person. I'm afraid that I'll waste time on myself. I'm afraid that I'll waste time being afraid.

All things considered, though, I'm in a much better place than I was three months ago.

When I went home last month, I visited the family turtle in the lanai. He's been sitting in that tub for over five years now. In all that time, he's seen nothing but the little floating plants that he's been given, his food, and the sides of his tub. He's still alive, though, and looks pretty stoical about everything.

He reminded me of the world turtle, actually--that big old beast carrying all existence on his back, seeing everything happen and happen again for centuries and centuries and centuries, and swimming on despite it all.

I wish I knew their secret.

23 November 2011

Cut, cut, cut

Some of you might have guessed from this post (not that I was terrifically discreet) that something big was coming for me in the arts and crafts department. Well, yesterday, everything finally came together.


What happened was, the creative director of our newspaper's luxury magazine saw one of my popup buildings and asked me if I could make some for the Christmas issue, which would feature some really, really, really pricey fountain pens. In a moment of hubris, I said yes.

After the meeting with the photographer, I spent most of my spare time drawing buildings and cutting models. I also sat through three howtoarchitect playlists (1, 2, and 3) in one day for tips and ideas.

I also spent a day with Highlife's production assistant, Nina, going to stores and picking out pens to feature. It is a little ridiculous to walk into one of those stores, ask for the most expensive thing they have, and be taken seriously.

There are more photos from the shoot here, and I'll be posting the actual shots in a week or so. It depends on whether I can sit on them till the magazine actually comes out.

I am trying to play it cool at the office, but inside, I am kind of panicky about the whole thing. None of the work is as great as I'd like it to be. On the other hand, it was nice to be asked to spend a day on something that I really, really love to do.

Baby steps, I guess.


In this picture, you can see the backs of Kathy Chua, photographer, and her assistant Eric. They are cool people, and Adphoto is a cool agency.

15 November 2011

Morning Sun to Flake - Eodermdromes

After Petra posted these eodermdromes, I decided to give the pattern a try. This is what I've come up with:

build a house
build we light
house we
a light build

fall to morning fall
sun flake
morning sun to flake
fall

old love cut old
the rest cut the love
rest old

09 November 2011

O, Papierbaum! (peek)


Here's a little preview of a project I'll be working on this month.

I went to a meeting with a photographer and some magazine people this afternoon and felt sicker and more panicky every minute. The potential for screwing up feels horribly high.

Let's hope I don't crack—blades are involved, after all.

04 November 2011

The Save Point

Many video games have what's called a save point. It can be an object, like a hoop to jump through or a glowing star or crystal to touch; a place, like the plaza of each village you visit or a sparkly bit of grass along your way; or even a person, like a healer, guide, or good fairy waiting at just the right point in the game.

Whatever form the save point takes, it's a typically a point where you save not only your progress but also your character's current state. If it's the last save point before the next big battle, it's a good place to assess your character's skills and equipment and prepare as best you can for what's coming next. And if your character is injured or killed, you simply reload the game at the save point to try again.

So it wasn't such a stretch for a high school crush to once write that life has its save points also. For him, the save points were moments when life was good, he was in a good mental and physical state, he was aware of these things, and he felt ready for anything. If he went through trouble in the future, he had only to recall his last save point to remind himself that things were once better and could be again.

I've never called it a save point, but that's what my childhood home has always been for me. Because it's a place, though, my save point is a little less like my schoolmate's and a little more like a video game's. I go home, see how my family has grown older while my bedroom still looks like a 15-year-old's, see how some trees have been chopped down while others have grown taller, think of what I've left in Manila and what I'll return to, ask myself how I plan to handle it, and steel myself accordingly.

This time, though, I realized that my capacity for acceptance had increased before I'd even arrived. While I was eager to be home again, I knew in the back of my mind that it would only be for a short time and that because my family was older—my parents' and lola's age showing more than ever, my youngest brother a high schooler in a big man's body—things would not be as I remembered. I just had to be glad for the time I did have and go with the flow.

So, I spent my first day shopping with my mom, partly to wait for my dad's flight to come in after mine and partly to reacquaint myself with the idea that getting new clothes isn't always a waste of money.

On the second day, we went to church, then to sing hymns by my lolo's grave, then to our favorite roadside grilled chicken place, then home for an afternoon indoors because of the rain.

On Monday, we went to a secret beach—no fences, no signs; you just drive right off the road and pay some lady P10 per head—to snorkel against the current over a patch reef.

On Tuesday, I finally got to take a walk. I took Buster, because he'd been cooped up recovering from a sprain, and my brother Mon, to hold Buster's leash. When it started to rain, though, they both went home (but not before I had to chase the dog chasing the neighbor's pet rabbit—fun for both me and the dog, though his limp returned afterward). I stayed outside, took a dizzying turn on the tire swing, then walked.

This was the walk I knew I had to take before I left again. I went down my street, up the main street, across the back grass to the quadrangle of my school, down to the pavilion and then back up to the high school, then down again the back way, on the route I'd take with my friends in our uniforms. And while I walked, all the sights I knew, every house and tree and shrub I'd passed hundreds of times on hundreds of walks, runs, and rides seemed to wink and wave at me. My homecoming was complete, even as I was to leave the next day.

I felt happy. I think I was happy that though my life, short as it's been, was behind me, I had lived it. I looked forward to getting as old as my lola, and not all my memories were nor had to be sad. My home and my family would always be there, even after my parents retired and moved away.

And near the end of my walk, under a tree between the houses of my oldest friends, I found blooming some yellow wood flowers I thought had died out, and their seed blossoms littered the ground.

--

When I got on the plane again the next day, I cried a little, not for the home I was leaving behind—I wasn't leaving it behind—but for a person I'd left before leaving Manila. I hadn't thought about Martin much over the weekend, except to note that he wouldn't have been able to enjoy something my family and I were doing at that moment, but he came to mind then as the crew readied for takeoff.

I cried because I was witnessing the dying gasp of what we were together, because I knew in that moment that I didn't want him back at all, not if it meant more of the hurt and more of the past. A lot would have to change first.

Time now for the present and the future, for takeoff and flight.

27 October 2011

Time for Time

I'm flying home this Saturday to spend the long weekend somewhere quiet, green, and familiar.



Maybe it's just my brain flipping out over the clean oxygen, but something magical always happens to me whenever I go home after a long time away. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing my family, my oldest friends, my favorite neighborhood haunts, and the dog. But I'm also looking forward to taking a long walk alone around the place, just to reacquaint myself with myself.

This is usually done by any combination of the following: looking for the kinds of leaves and seeds and rocks I played with as a kid, crossing the gully bridge to the high school campus, visiting the abandoned pond behind the Grade Two classrooms, standing under any tree in the ballpark, taking the pine-needle-covered path to the Clubhouse, and/or sitting on a half-buried boulder in the backyard of an empty house, just on the edge of the eight fairway.

At some point in the middle of all this, I can expect to be blindsided (every time) by the general feeling that all is well, my life has a purpose, and even if it doesn't, all shall still be well. If I'm feeling particularly low at that moment, some crying may be involved. If I'm especially lucky, it happens at that odd hour in late-mid-afternoon when the sun hangs an golden veil over everything, and walking feels like a swimmy dream, or a Florence + the Machine song.


Possibly this one (thanks for the share, Meg).

It's like Adam Young having one last perfect summer day in Lower Tadfield, or perhaps Ruth Belville going to Greenwich just to set her watch.

I can already feel it in my ribcage; this is going to be the best time.

24 October 2011

Chantico

Think of Chantico, She Who Dwells in the House, as you return again to the dim little room you now share with no one.

Think of her tending the fires, hearing the warriors' prayers said to dying flames, and giving them the hope of returning to their own hearths, as you sweep up more ashes every day.

Think of her poisonous cactus crown and her tongue of fire, scourging those who would take her treasures, as the truth dims the luster of your dearest pearls.

Think of her eating paprika in spite of Tonacatecuhtli, and receiving his wrath for the sake of a flavorful fish, as you agree to two weeks of tears for one morning of laughter.

Think of her bearing her punishment, becoming a dog, pet of the sun and of the dead, as you draw closer to your last candle, and scratch an orphaned puppy behind the ears.

--
Ref.

Also Ref.

20 October 2011

Bike Notes 6 - Nice Neighborhood

Tuesday was only the second time I got to bike to and from work. The last time didn't really count because I didn't make it home without the left crank arm falling off, and I was apprehensive about another attempt even after the repairs. I wasn't 100% sure of my ankle, either, but on Tuesday morning, I figured it was now or never.

I left a little earlier this time to try a different route, crossing EDSA via New York Ave. It was a little longer yet a much quieter ride than if I'd taken Aurora; the streets were narrower and wound a bit, but it was early in the morning for what passes as suburbs in Cubao, so there was room enough for a small bike (and biker) among the tricycles and the four-wheelers taking a shortcut.

As I approached EDSA, though, my hunch about something I'd seen on Google Maps proved correct—you can't cross on streets that don't have that suggestive-looking pokey bit.


So, I made a left on Annapolis St. and went past the condo building where I would have lived if I'd been able to afford it at the time, and past a schoolkid who cried out, "Ang ganda ng bike!" (What a nice bike!), before rejoining westbound traffic on Aurora Blvd. As I turned the corner, another cyclist, this one in full Lycra regalia, passed me and also remarked how nice my bike was, and I smiled for the millionth time that morning.

Made it to work, washed up and changed my shirt, got through the day. I felt my heart beating harder as the end of my workday approached, though. Was my bike in one piece? I'd locked the wheel before leaving the garage, but that wasn't really going to stop something else from breaking or falling off. And if it was all okay, was I going to get home in one piece?

The last and only time I'd been able to bike home from work, I'd taken Aurora and gotten caught in the congestion between Stanford St. and 20th Ave., a good near-ten blocks packed with grouchy jeepney drivers, irate car owners, and tons of carbon monoxide.


Also the home of several girlie bars, a porn theater, a few hardware stores, some abandoned buildings, an interior design studio, and an evangelical church.


I didn't really want to go through that again, so I thought I'd try an alternate route home, too. I took Tomas Morato Ave., sailed (I really like this word for my bike notes; it's what it feels like) past all the cars lined up at the bottleneck, and turned right at Kamuning.


It was paradise in comparison.


I was immediately and pleasantly surprised by how few vehicles there were on that street, at that hour. On the one hand, it does cut through a "suburb" (I passed a small, nice-looking building for if I ever want to live in the area.), but on the other, it's in a generally high-traffic area and has its own jeepney route. Crossing EDSA wasn't scary, either, and Kamias, the street on the other side, was even quieter than Kamuning and much better lit than Aurora.

The only trouble I had was with the alternating uphill and downhill blocks; stoplights were often at the bottoms of slopes, so I'd have no bwelo for starting uphill once it got safe to cross.

Anyhow, I don't know whether it was before or after I crossed EDSA that this evening cool peace settled over everything. It was just so nice to travel without any machine trouble, without any fear that a bigger vehicle was going to hit me, and without anyone rudely honking, shouting, hissing, or whistling at me on the road. Everyone else just seemed absorbed in getting home without any trouble to themselves or other commuters. On top of that, the weather was good, I wasn't inhaling as much smoke, the lighting was kind of sweet, and the neighborhood took on its own sleepy charm. On two wheels, I felt as balanced as I was ever going to get, and happy.

12 October 2011

Life Update: Tattoos, Haircuts, Bike Notes 5

This blog post has been divided into sections, so you can skip ahead to whichever rambling you're most interested in.


05 October 2011

Communion

1.

I'm not sure what I'm doing in church. I started going again, tagging along with my brother, a few weeks ago, but half the time, I'm not sure why I'm there.

I used to blog quite a bit about my faith. I stopped when I stopped going to church and quit my old job because I'd stopped going to the church where I worked. I just had and still have all these questions that, at all the churches I'd been to, would only have been met with judgment instead of consideration. I couldn't find anyone with a satisfying answer to my own personal Mark 9:24.

To explain everything I do or don't believe today would take another post, but in a nutshell, I call myself an agnostic theist. Somehow, despite all my doubt, I believe there is a God. The big however is, I don't believe that humans and human religions have the last word on who God is and what he does.

So, for the longest time, I couldn't stomach being in church, because everything anyone said from the pulpit was met in my head with, "Well, how do you know?" or, "That doesn't sound like something God would really do."

So, no one's more surprised than me at the fact of me sitting in the pews next to my brother these past several Sundays, hanging on to the pastors' words, and feeling my heart welling up in song.

The skeptic in me says that old habits die hard. She also says I'm vulnerable right now and looking for something to hang on to—that it's the only reason I've started going again.

But, the believer in me knows that my faith's been creeping slowly back for months, beginning with counter-doubts for all my doubts. Somehow, despite everything, inexplicably, I just believe.

It helps that the church my brother's chosen, though still conservative in doctrine, is quite open, and openly open. There's a sense that its leaders actually see individual human beings with myriad needs and concerns, not just sheep to herd and count. And so far, they've spoken less about how to avoid going to hell and more about how to treat your fellows, how to help one another, and how to be good in an often bad world.

The most telling thing for me was when the pastor spoke before Communion last Sunday and said that the table was open for everyone regardless of denomination, and, "not just for those who believe, but those who want to believe." And I could tell from the way he spoke and stood that his invitation was not some memorized spiel but a sincere invitation to taste what God and church had to offer. So, I took the bread, drank the wine, and was thankful.

2.

After church, Martin and I met in the area to talk things over some more. I'm not going to reproduce his exact words, but even if I didn't hear what I wanted to hear, I know I heard everything I needed. I've sworn to myself to remember this every time I feel my own bitterness returning. I do believe everything will be fine.

27 September 2011

Falling in Love

I've kept from writing anything like this in any public channel for as long as possible, lest I make either of us look bad or ruin any chance of repair, but I don't know. I guess something had to give.

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything."

A friend's Facebook post recalled this old Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ quote to me this morning, but to be honest, it's been on my mind for the longest time.

If you asked me whether I harbored any bitterness over the breakup, I'd point you to that quote, then tell you that the love had decided everything for me: where I lived, how much time I spent with other people, which dreams to pursue and to shelve, and which emotional and psychological sacrifices to make and to accept.

Objectively, I don't or can't regret anything, not any of the decisions I made precisely because of how important this love had been to me. It was painful but, as Fr. Arrupe said, practical, as well as rewarding in its own way. I remind myself that all of that stuff, good and bad, made me who I am now—stronger, more confident, more independent, and even, arguably, more content than I have ever been in my life. I can wholeheartedly say that I am grateful for everything that happened.

Emotionally, however, I can't help feeling robbed, cheated, and lost.

You'll have to pardon me for shaking my head at statements like, "At least you're not starving," or, given today's events, feeling unaffected by others' misfortune. If I were feeling really cheesy, I'd quote the opening lines to Stars' "In Our Bedroom After the War" just to make some "cool" or "literary" point.*

Sure, I enjoy my job, I have a great family and great friends, I'm secure in my faith, I have neat hobbies, I can pay all my bills, I have a roof over my head, and I eat well; those things are always at the top of my head. Yet none of it seems as bright as it used to be, because the reason I worked to reach this kind of satisfaction is gone, and continuing to do it for myself or for its own sake somehow seems less worthy.

It's what happens when you build your life around something, only to find that your best efforts can't keep that something from disintegrating, nor the wind from stealing it all away, so that what you've built is now an empty shell.

I have faith that things will eventually get better, and if anything I believe about the Man Upstairs is true, they will work out for the best. That still doesn't do much to change how I feel right now.


--
* Oh, what the hell.

"Wake up! Say good morning to that sleepy person lying next to you. If there's no one there, then there's no one there, but at least the war is over!"

24 September 2011

Bike Notes 4: First Ride to Work; First Troubles

After Sunday, leaving my bike chained up in the house was kind of hard to do. The new bike smell—bikes have new bike smells!—would greet me from the bottom of the stairs every time I stepped out of my room, and the long wait for jeepneys at the end of each work day suddenly seemed much longer.

I didn't want to set out without knowing what I was up against, though, so I waited until I'd studied that bicycle safety page some more and observed other bike commuters on my planned route. In my previous post, I planned to do little neighborhood rides at first, and it would be at least another week or two before I'd try an EDSA crossing. By Wednesday, though, I was feeling confident/stupid enough to think I could survive Aurora and E.Rod and make my first major bike ride to the office.

Timing was off. That night, I had to sleep over in Makati to see my dad after his business trip and give him back the family netbook*. Thursday morning, I went straight to the office from Garma's** house for the annual company physical. It wasn't till yesterday, Friday, that finally I saddled up.

I scowled at the overcast sky and knew I was tempting fate, but I just really, really, really wanted to ride my bike. I packed my breakfast and an extra T-shirt, put on my helmet, and pushed off for Aurora.

It was awesome.

I kept the bike safety tips in mind, watched other bikers on the road to see what they would do, and just pedalled at a steady, relaxed pace. It was really funny to let the jeepneys zoom by and then to catch up to them at all the stoplights.

As I approached that bike shop with the overpriced moldy foldies, I was tempted to shout something witty and scathing at the smiley shop boy who wouldn't take me seriously, but it was enough just to sail past his dusty wares. Also, I don't know how to be witty in Filipino, because I speak the language of the lost burgis.

I'm not going to lie, it was really intimidating to share the road and travel in such close proximity to all these bigger and faster vehicles. I'm very, very, very thankful that they all steered clear of me.

All told, I reached the office in roughly the same time it normally took me to take jeepneys. As I entered the room, I thankfully cheered, "I'm alive!" at my officemate—and never felt more so.

Getting there, of course, was only half of the day's adventure. I still had to get home. Before I could even pull out of the company garage, though, I already had trouble.

One other reason I'd waited to bike to work was that I still had to buy one of those blinky red LED lights for the rear of my bike, to make sure that vehicles coming up from behind at night would be able to see me. Before I left the house yesterday morning, I finally screwed it onto my bike and put in fresh batteries.

When I came down to the garage after work, my hand went right to the light to turn it on and found that the lights were there, but the reflective cover and the batteries were gone. Some jerk at the office—only employees can park in the company garage—thought it would be funny if I didn't have a working safety light for my ride home. I have no idea who it was, as I wasn't the only one tickled by my new bike; another officemate took a picture of half the company's burly motorcycle couriers clustered in curiousity around my little bike. It was funny then, but it hurt to imagine it again as I made my way home. I couldn't believe that someone might consider a pair of double-A batteries, or worse, a stupid prank, to be worth more than a colleague's safety.

Later, I realized that the light might have fallen apart on my way to work that morning, and I simply hadn't noticed, but I have no way of proving this, either.

It was a good thing that I had two lights with me; I'd also bought a white light to fasten onto my handlebars. I was able to improvise and fasten it to the back of my bike before setting off. I don't know what might have happened if I hadn't had that second light with me, really, and thinking about the ride home makes me even more thankful that it was there.

I was really rattled by the theft/loss, and the Friday night rush to get home didn't improve my spirits. Drivers weren't in a mood to give way to each other, much less to a bike commuter. Again, though, I just followed the guidelines I'd studied and stayed slow and steady. The EDSA night crossing was actually the easiest part, right before the snafu of jeepneys and FXs jockeying for passengers between Puregold and 20th Avenue. I figured it was better that drivers honked at me for being too slow and taking up their lane*** than to go fast, weave, and risk getting rear-ended by a Marikina jeepney doing the same thing.

Just as I neared my turn, my second light**** fell off. I'm not sure how; maybe my foot kicked it while readjusting the pedals. Traffic usually stands still at the stoplight there, though, and the jeepney driver behind me pointed the light out to me so that I could walk back and pick it up. Everyone in that lane—at least, the driver behind me and the passengers in front of me, all staring—probably thought I had no business being there, but no one was gladder than I when I made my turn and got home.

Yesterday, I biked to and from work for the first time. I was no longer a pedestrian and claimed a little bit of road for myself. I'm alive, glad, and ready to see how far I can go today.

Probably just down to Shopwise to get a new bike light.

--
Lots of asterisks for today's notes!

* My parents got the same model netbook as me, and after the supplier-installed OS started giving them problems, I put Ubuntu on it. It works pretty fine for them, except for the rare times it doesn't. Then my dad and I e-mail back and forth about what to do with it. This time, he actually sent it to me to fix.

** We've called my maternal grandmother Lola and my paternal grandmother Grama for as long as I can remember. I guess it avoids confusion. Garma is a childhood mixup that stuck.

*** On my way to work, I stayed toward the right side of the road because that's where the other bikers tended to cluster. Also, I had to make a right turn to get to the office, and I just knew it would be easier if I didn't have to weave among other cars from the wrong side of the lane.

Going home, though, I stayed on the left side of the lane, so that I could make an easy left turn onto my street. This may have been the cause of half the honking, but it really seemed better than staying on the right and then having to cross to the other side of the lane.

**** That was the only time that light worked. After the fall, it wouldn't turn on anymore. I suppose that's what I get for choosing cheap imports over the branded lights in the sporting goods stores, but P50 and P88 just seemed a lot more practical than P500 each for the same thing. I told my dad about it, and he said to still get the cheap ones, plus a box of rubber bands.

20 September 2011

Bike Notes 3: Safety, Route-Planning

Yesterday, I read up on bike safety and found this really useful page, aptly named, "How Not to Get Hit By Cars." At first I thought that this wouldn't really apply to Philippine streets, but Michael Bluejay's advice errs on the side of caution and prepares you for inconsiderate and careless drivers. Well, I hope it does.

This morning, I had to leave early for work. It happened to be the hour I estimated I'd have to leave if I wanted to get to work before the sun got too hot, so I paid attention again to the traffic situation and road bike-ability. It turns out that there are lots of commute bikers at that hour, so I won't be alone if and when I work up the courage to become one. I also saw them applying some of the tips Mr. Bluejay supplied.

*

In particular, I thought that you'd have to ride much closer to the curb (Line A) to be clear of drivers coming from behind. Riding closer to the center of the lane (Line B) is supposed to make it easier for them to see and avoid you, but I'd always assumed that impatient Philippine drivers would only honk and yell at you to get out of the way. This morning, though, I saw a handful of bikers go closer to the center as if it was the most normal thing in the world, and faster vehicles just maneuvered around them. There were noticeably less drivers on the road at that hour, though, but I suppose that's a good thing.

Another thing I tried yesterday was to figure out the safest and quickest route from the house to the office.

I usually take one jeepney from my place (blue box**) to the LRT station and another to Balete Drive. "How Not to Get Hit By Cars" suggests avoiding your usual route, which probably uses busy major roads, and cutting through the quiet neighborhoods instead.

My problem is that my neighborhood isn't very quiet; three or four busy streets cut through it already. And no matter which route I take, at some point, I'll still have to cross EDSA, that mother of all busy streets.


***

The green, pink, purple, and dark blue lines mark the possible routes I might take. Green is the same as my regular jeepney route. Aurora Boulevard can be a screaming nightmare thanks to those Marikina jeepney drivers, but I'm still leaning toward taking it because I've at least watched other bikers take it. Plus, there are traffic lights and enforcers at the Aurora-EDSA intersection, and motorists tend to obey them.

If I were to cut through the neighborhoods like Mr. Bluejay suggests, to cross EDSA, I'd have to take Ermin Garcia Ave. (pink), a much narrower street with lots of blind spots and heavy traffic in the morning; or New York Ave. (purple and dark blue; wrongly labelled on the map as E. Rodriguez), which is a popular shortcut among motorists and still requires passing through either Aurora or Ermin Garcia at some point. I'm also unfamiliar with the stoplight/enforcer situation at either of these alternative EDSA crossings. And what if there are no crossings, and I still have to take the U-turn slot at Aurora?

All of the routes cover roughly the same distance, though, give or take ~0.2km.

One route I haven't plotted is going straight along Aurora and then cutting through the neighborhood around Betty Go-Belmonte LRT Station. Another is to head further north and take Kamias/Kamuning, but that's just another busy road and would take me too far out of the way for my taste.

Other good bike-related links I found yesterday:

Some non-bike notes: I haven't worked much on my popup buildings since I started reading "A Song of Ice and Fire," haha. I did do a practice form during the weekend, but I haven't taken any pictures yet; I want to finalize the diagram first. Maybe this weekend, between biking and my dad's visit. :)

--
Previous unnumbered bike notes here and here.

* Image © 1998-2008 by Michael Bluejay
** This marks only the general area. This is still the Internet. The address of my office may be public knowledge, but I'm not telling you the name of the street where I live.
*** Made with Google Maps, one of the best websites ever.

19 September 2011

Notes on Owning a Bike

The first thing I learned about owning a folding bike was that folding bikes are still heavy. I got one of the bigger ones with 18-inch wheels and six speeds because smaller wheels with less or single speeds meant more pedaling for the same price.* But now I'll have to build up the strength in my arms if I ever plan on hauling the bike to an LRT platform.**

The second thing I learned was that you need confidence and good reflexes to ride a bike in the city. My grandmother's house in Makati, where I stayed this past weekend, is in a relatively quiet neighborhood in arguably the most orderly city in Metro Manila. Biking around there on Saturday afternoon was a delight, but crossing one of the few busy streets was kind of an ordeal.

Where I live in Cubao is not so quiet, the streets are much busier, and the streets and sidewalks, as I learned yesterday afternoon, aren't so great, so my ride around was kind of frightening. I've complained about motorists not wanting to give way to pedestrians on foot; apparently, they're even less willing to give way to people on bicycles, and they honk at you like you're an idiot.

The third thing I learned—another reason I need confidence, really—was that males aren't used to seeing females on bikes. If in my previous post I wondered why female bikers are so rare, it might be partly due to this. It's really creepy to be watched while you walk down the street, but today, it seemed that guys paid even more attention as I passed on a bike. I actually felt more uncomfortable and vulnerable than I ever did on foot. The only consolation was that having wheels allowed me to get away even faster.

My plan after buying the bike was to return to Cubao partway by bike and partway by train, but for all the above reasons, I took a cab from Makati with my new bike safely folded in the backseat. I feel ridiculous and kind of defeated right now.

I don't want to be cowed, though. The first part of my plan now is to take practice rides each weekend to build up both my confidence and my stamina, and to get used to biking in the city. The sight of people commuting on bikes along major thoroughfares like E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave. and Pasong Tamo**** helped encourage me to finally get my bike; though the riders were all male, they showed me that it could be done.

I'll bike around my neighborhood for the first couple of weeks, then see if I can make it as far as Katipunan, then try for my office one Saturday.

The second part of my plan is to move to a nicer neighborhood first quarter of next year.*** That might mean living farther from work and definitely biking only on weekends, but after two years on this side of Aurora Boulevard, I've had enough. I need someplace where guys just don't leer at girls, whether they're on two legs or two wheels.


* Mikko and I visited every shop in that row along Quezon Boulevard, across the Quiapo church, plus that one shop near J. Ruiz Station where he got his unicycle. (Yes, my brother bought a unicycle.) The average lowest price for a folding bike, regardless of size or number of speeds, was around P3,500. Even the secondhand ones I saw cost roughly P3,000.

Before going to Quiapo, I'd gone to this one shop on E. Rodriguez Jr., where the shop boy first ignored me, then grinned stupidly at me the whole time I asked questions. He told me that the cheapest folding bike was P4,800. It looked old and unstable, and the look on the guy's face told me that I wouldn't get any respect from this shop. Don't go there, friends. Check out any of the shops in Quiapo, where they treated me like a valuable customer. I got my bike, new and still in its packing, at Global Craze.

** LRT2 is the only train line I know to allow passengers to take bicycles on board, and the bikes have to be folding. That and the general lack of storage space in all the places I've lived in the past seven years were what led me to seek a folding bike instead of one of those prettier and cheaper road bikes.

*** I've harped on my awful neighborhood and slimy neighbors since the day I moved here, but I've delayed moving again for the following reasons, in chronological order: too rattled by recent changes to uproot myself again, unable to afford a better place, hoping the attention stops bothering me in time, waiting for brother to decide whether he wants to share an apartment with me, and waiting for salary to be fixed. That last won't be till February, so I'll just have to put up with the jerks on the street a little while longer.

**** This morning, instead of taking a jeepney, I walked from my house to EDSA to study the roads, traffic, and people on bikes. It seems easy enough to bike on Aurora Boulevard; even with heavy traffic, bikes and motorbikes can stay safely to one side of the road and still squeeze past the four-wheelers. Crossing EDSA was another matter, but there was one biker did it. I felt like clapping my hands.

16 September 2011

Bicycle? Bicycle. Bicycle?

I've been thinking of getting a bike for a while now. Every day, on my way to work, I pass by this surplus bike shop on E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave. and ask myself if it might be easy enough to just bike to the office instead of taking jeepneys. It might be worth getting a bike to explore the city with, too; there's a lot I don't get to see, looking out of those little jeepney windows, and I'll get to go at my own pace.

What's deterred me so far is the lack of bicycle racks or parking in any part of Metro Manila apart from Marikina, the roasting heat that starts even before 9 a.m. (and the need to get to the office in non-sweaty, non-smelly condition), the fact that I spent most of my weekends with Martin in faraway Paranaque, and, to some extent, the complete absence of commuting females on bikes—I've never seen any biker babes on these streets; have you? I have female friends who bike, but not to work or school. So, I'm planning to visit all these bike shops tomorrow, and I'm still not sure whether I should leave with a bike.

All those downsides considered, though, a bike still represents freedom to me. Sure, I think of the childhood I spent riding whatever magical conveyance I wanted my bike to be. But I'm also tired of being the pedestrian that has to climb stairs just to cross the street, or wait till I'm three blocks past my destination to get off a jeepney.

Even if I didn't end up biking to work every day, I think I'd still like a bike for the weekends. Now that I have all this time to myself, I should really be able to explore the city now, and I'd rather do that by wandering around on a bike than going on foot but maintaining a certain radius from train stations and major roads.

Yeah, I think I'll get that bike. Way to psych yourself up, Kat. Good pep blog.

13 September 2011

Archaeology

I meant to write something more straightforward yesterday, but I ended up making up a story (?) instead. I revised it a bit just now, though I'm not sure if it's better.

Before I get to that, though, what I meant to write yesterday was, Martin and I broke up two weeks ago. It was the result of as grown-up a conversation as can be had with one person (me) sobbing, and I am sad as hell, but I guess it's time for us now to figure some things out separately. We are still friends, though.

I suppose that takes away some of the mystery of what I've written, but anyway—


Archaeology


When they dig us up at reunion dinners and birthday parties, they will find the ruins of an unfinished temple, abandoned because its builder-priests had simply run out of time.

To be sure, there had been a deadline, though it had been pushed back and back by so many interruptions, until the priests had simply agreed that they would finish in good time, eventually.

The diggers will climb the gentle staircase of the temple’s foundation and note that early construction had been easy enough, with slabs of granite faith and the cement of ardent promises. They will find the memories, too, painstakingly carved into the inner walls and preserved in glass jars, made airtight with fondness.

“Look here,” they will say, “dirt and flaming petals from an old ledge, crumbs from a crispy catfish salad, pine needles from Sagada, a boarding pass to her hometown, a paper star.”

Then, where the next walls went up, there will also be the first crack, hastily filled with panic’s plaster.

“Here is where the morning priest had some crisis, the kind that's notoriously difficult to avoid but still looks childish in hindsight. See the receipts from Butter Diner, the keys to separate houses across the city? She dropped her hammer and sealed herself off in a room for 90 days.”

Annoyed by the delay, the evening priest occupied himself with letters from the crown. They will see that building resumed after the cloister was torn down, when the morning priest had heard silence outside its walls as well as in. Its cracked stones form the base of the pillars, which might still have stood solid and majestic, eagles and lions carved into the basalt, if lightning hadn’t struck.

“Look: worn bandages, a broken crutch, an empty golden tin that once held methyl salicylate, tear- or beer-stained scrolls. This time, the evening priest was abed for nearly a year, and building slowed to a near standstill.”

That year, the foundations were strengthened somehow, but nothing could rise till the builders were stronger. In the meantime, the morning priest made new blueprints, for the city that would surround the temple: smooth streets for easy walking, simple houses that shared single courtyards, open markets, large enough barracks, and parks larger still, for children and grandchildren who already had names.

“Here the books and ticket stubs mark the new year, and the evening priest vowed to continue their great work. Over the beautiful pillars, which they would finish first, he said there’d be a gilded roof to last for all time. But look, the limestone blocks never left the quarry. He left to accept a regency."

Hammers are not as heavy as crowns; his is half-buried beneath tall grass. Forgotten, dropped, or thrown from his cart, no one can tell. Some digger will trip over it on their way to climb the steps. And they will go to the very top, see the invisible pillars, and gaze from the dais over the jungle, grown where houses would have stood. They will explore the niches, open the jars, and catalog everything carefully for display in their own faraway museums.

They will not know how we passed hammers to one another, prayed for peace under the open sky, admired our own handiwork—how I traced your eagles’ wings with my fingers; how you caressed my lions with your palms—and promised with tears in our eyes that this would be the greatest temple, a shining marvel to all the world. They will see only the bones of the morning priest, sealed off in a stone room to die, clutching blueprints to her chest.

12 September 2011

The Archaeology Lesson

When they dig us up at reunion dinners and birthday parties, they will find the ruins of an unfinished temple, abandoned because its builder-priests had simply run out of time.

To be sure, there had been a deadline, though it had been pushed back and back by so many interruptions, until the priests simply agreed that they would finish in good time, eventually.

The diggers will climb the gentle staircase of the temple's foundation and note that early construction had been easy enough, with slabs of granite faith and the cement of ardent promises. There'll be the memories, too, painstakingly carved into the inner walls and preserved in glass jars, made airtight with fondness.

"Look here," they will say, "dirt and flaming petals from an old ledge, crumbs from a crispy catfish salad, pine needles from Sagada, a boarding pass to her hometown, a paper star."

Then, where the next walls went up, there will also be the first crack, hastily filled with panic's plaster.

"Here is where the morning priest had some sort of crisis, the kind that's notoriously difficult to avoid but always looks childish in hindsight. See the receipts from Butter Diner, and the keys to different houses across the city? She put off building to seal herself off in a room for 90 days, and the evening priest, annoyed by the delay, occupied himself with the blueprints of the treasury."

They will see that building resumed after the cloister was torn down, when the morning priest had heard silence without its walls as well as within. Its cracked stones form the base of the pillars, which might still have stood solid and majestic, eagles and lions carved into the basalt, if lightning hadn't struck one evening.

"Worn bandages, a broken crutch, an empty golden tin that once held methyl salicylate--and the story is here in this tear- or beer-stained scroll. The evening priest was abed for nearly a year, and building slowed to a near standstill."

Somehow, the foundations were strengthened, but nothing was to rise until the builders themselves were stronger. In the meantime, the morning priest made new blueprints of the city that would surround the temple: smooth streets for easy walking, simple houses that shared single courtyards, markets and barracks only as large as necessary, and parks larger still, for children and grandchildren who already had names.

"Here the movie ticket stubs mark the new year, and the evening priest vowed to continue their great work. Over the beautiful pillars, which they would finish first, he said there'd be a gilded roof to last for all time. But look, the limestone blocks never left the quarry. He'd received a regency, and crowns are heavier than hammers."

After dinner, they'll climb the steps, see the invisible pillars, and gaze from the dais over the trees that have grown where houses would have stood. They'll explore the niches, open the jars, and catalog everything carefully for display in their own faraway museums.

They won't know how we passed hammers to one another, admired our own handiwork--how I'd trace your eagles' wings with my fingers; how you'd caress my lions with your palms--and promised with tears in our eyes that this would be the greatest temple, a shining marvel to all the world. They'll see only the bones of the morning priest, sealed off in a stone room to die, clutching blueprints to its chest.

--
Cross-posted

09 September 2011

02 September 2011

Failing and Flying

1. Landslide - Fleetwood Mac
2. The Show Must Go On - Queen
3. What the Water Gave Me - Florence + The Machine
4. Shoot the Moon - Norah Jones
5. Piazza, New York Catcher - Belle & Sebastian
6. Aquarius - Regina Spektor
7. If You Could Read My Mind - Scala + Kolacny Brothers
8. Suzanne - Leonard Cohen & Judy Collins

named for

26 August 2011

Backspace

My first month as an editor is nearly done.

The person I've had to edit the most is myself.

18 August 2011

Missing: Klaris Chua

Klaris was a relatively new employee, so I didn't know much about her, apart from the following:

  • She was a good writer and a pretty decent photographer.
  • She was polite to everyone in the room.
  • She often stayed late in the office to keep working.
  • She was quiet but could do a mean Up Dharma Down cover.

There are many other things I might have liked to know about her, but at the moment, I—and I guess we at the office—know just one other thing: Klaris has been missing since 07 August 2011.


Most of the details of Klaris's disappearance have been handily summarized by ABS-CBN here.

Since then, her parents have been along to the office to collect her things. We still don't know where she is or if any misfortune befell her (sana naman wala), but I hope she comes home soon.

If you've seen Klaris and have verifiable information about her whereabouts, let me know, and we'll relay it to her folks.

17 August 2011

Gmail and Thunderbird FAIL

I finally had time to go on with my project of deleting old attachments from my Gmail account and seemed to be making headway, until I noticed that something was wrong.

As I went through my old messages in Thunderbird, deleting attachments like crazy, I would keep Gmail open in my browser window also. I'm not sure how the folders in Thunderbird sync with Gmail, so I'd take breaks between batches of deletions and use Gmail's web interface to remove the newly stripped messages from my "Check Attachments" folder.

While I was doing this, I would occasionally look at the counter in the lower-left corner of the web UI. That's where it says "n% full" and "Using x MB of your y MB."

I expected these numbers to drop as I went on, but they were actually increasing. At first, I thought that it was just because I was receiving a lot of new e-mails and attachments, and I wasn't deleting old ones fast enough. Today, though, I saw the number go up (1) while I was deleting and (2) while there were no new messages for hours.

I did a quick search of a few stripped messages, and this is what I found:



For some reason, Thunderbird deletes the attachments, and then it (or Gmail; not sure which) creates a complete duplicate of the original messages with the attachments intact. So instead of reducing, the bug actually almost doubles the amount of space used by these old e-mails and files. :/

I've since filed a bug report and put this project on hold, while I go through all these e-mails and delete the duplicates one by one.

The dupes only show up in Gmail, by the way; they're not visible in Thunderbird, so add-on applications that claim to remove duplicates don't detect anything.

I've created this blog post in case anybody used my prior Gmail notes (sorry, Zoe) and they have the same problem. I'm also hoping to get the attention of someone who knows how to fix this, since within several seconds, my bug report got buried under all the new ones. :(

Halp.

--
UPDATE: Someone responded to the bug report and said that it was likely a Gmail problem, not a Thunderbird problem. In the meantime, I've taken to this only-slightly-more-tedious way to delete old attachments:

1. Delete attachments in Thunderbird.
2. Search Gmail using the web UI for the just-stripped message.
3. Delete duplicates via the Web UI.
4. Remove stripped messages from Gmail label "CheckAttached."
3. Rinse and repeat. For ~4,500 messages with attachments.

11 August 2011

This changes things.


Of course a promotion changes things. It changes my plan, that big plan I wrote about earlier in the year: if nothing "big" happened to me career-wise or other-part-of-life-wise in Manila, this blob city, I would go home to Mindanao and see what would happen if I lived there for a while, possibly indefinitely.

Now, I find myself staring at a blank slate, erased by the two intra-office memos that got me this desk. I'm a little afraid because, while I know more or less how to keep things running smoothly here at the office, I'm no longer sure what to do once I step out of it.

If you've been reading this blog, you'll know that I went through a really long mopey phase—it had highs and lows, but even the highs were still on the mopey side of the emotional graph. I wanted permanence, and I somehow thought that it could take the form of a decent apartment (in Singapore, if possible) and an everyday life with Martin, and because I wasn't at the point where I could have either of these things, I stewed and stewed and stewed.

Then something Martin said made me ask if there wasn't something permanent, some rock I couldn't hold onto, already inside myself. It sounds really cheesy, but that's what got me out of my rut after more than a year. Since then, I've been able to enjoy work more, enjoy the present more, and generally stop worrying about whether I would get the future I wanted. Any answers to questions about the near future, at least, seemed to just magically click into place.

So once I was told I'd soon be promoted, they went on—click, click, click: I should be able to afford an apartment—a real one, not a boarder's room where I have to keep the microwave on the floor—once they adjust my salary. In another year, I'll start applying to grad school and working on a master's in development comm. or research. And once that's done—and Martin's done—I can start thinking about what happens next. But even if none of that happens, I'm fine with the way things are and will just take things as they come.

I could have gone on with this plan, and gone on not worrying, were it not for a couple of idle chats with officemates, benignly comparing stories of what led us to where we are now. And now, I find myself returning to these questions: Who did I want to be then? Am I that person now? Do I still want to be that person? If not, who do I want to be? Will things really be better with an apartment? Do I really want a master's in those fields? I feel happy; happier than I've been in months, maybe a year—What if that's an illusion? What if my books, my crafts, the Internet, and my boyfriend are just a distraction? What if "enjoying the present" is just pretending that there's no reason for me to strive?

If Martin were here now, he'd probably tell me that I'm overthinking things and being too hard on myself again (it seems to be a sickness with me), and he'd probably be right. Maybe I'm just shocked that I haven't asked questions like these in a while.

I feel like kicking myself, really. Why did I have to ask? Now that it's done, I know I'll lose sleep and happiness points looking for answers. Why couldn't I have just let myself be happy, however deluded that might have been?

I'm terrified now, though not so much by not finding answers as by finding myself back in the doldrums. I never want to go back there. Maybe I'm not sure who I want to be, but it sure as hell isn't that sad person.

Ha. Maybe that's something for me to hang onto, while I'm trying to reestablish my bearings; maybe just knowing what made things so bad for me will help me avoid that awful state again.

I guess we'll see.

10 August 2011

And Another Book

"And Another Thing..." is the sixth book in Douglas Adams's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy, written by Eoin Colfer of "Artemis Fowl" fame.

While I support fanfiction for fun, for some reason, I don't usually like the idea of someone picking up where the author left off, even if it's authorized (in this case, Mr. Adams's widow Jane Belson gave the okay). I guess I'm generally skeptical that whatever the new guy/girl does won't really measure up to the original.

This was the case with Mr. Colfer's continuation of one of my favorite book series—but it doesn't mean I didn't have a good time. Once I got over my own disdain a few pages in, I was reconnecting with characters I loved, and the storyline itself was definitely something Mr. Adams might have cooked up himself.

I have only two complaints, really, though they're related.

First, some of the characters had out-of-character moments. For instance, the series' hero Arthur kept feeling really concerned about his daughter Random. The last time I'd seen him, he was still coming to terms with the fact that he had a daughter at all, and any actions out of fatherly concern were very self-conscious—I barely know this kid who showed up on my doorstep. I'm not even sure that I like her, much less love her. For goodness's sake, she throws rocks at me. I'm only trying to connect with her / save her life because it seems like something a dad would do, but I still have to get my head around the idea that I'm a dad at all.

When he's not freaking out about something weird and spacey, and before and after Fenchurch, Arthur's default emotion is the kind of stoicism one assumes because you know that actually freaking out will only cause you even more discomfort. The way I see it, his disconnect from his daughter is partly rooted in this default mode, and partly out of the fact that he barely knows her. In this new book, though, Mr. Colfer has Arthur moaning about being about to lose his daughter half the time—hardly a week after they first met.

It might be something to do with the psychological effects of travelling through dark space*, but then Arthur spent most of that journey chatting to the computer simulation of his lost love Fenchurch, and his post - dark space epiphany had more to do with moving on from his heartbreak than it did being a good father. He spends barely any time with Random at all in this book, so the moments where he suddenly acts very fatherly feel very superficial.

Second, there's not enough Arthur to begin with. Arthur is my favorite character in the series because he's an everyman. I'd like to be Trillian the astrophysicist-turned-journalist or Fenchurch the ordinary but sweet—the only female characters who undergo anything resembling character development in the series—but it's Arthur I want to succeed, Arthur I want to find roots in a strange galaxy after losing his home planet, Arthur I want to finally have a decent cup of tea.

"And Another Thing..." gives most of the action to the other characters. These characters are less ordinary, and their choices have always propelled the story more than Arthur's, but at least Arthur was usually around to give me the lost Earthling's perspective on some of these events. This time, whatever happens to Arthur kind of just bookends the plot, and I feel the book might have been better had Mr. Colfer written more for him.

That said, I did enjoy the book, and it was funny. I'd still recommend it to other H2G2 fans with the it's-not-Adams-but-it's-fine reservations.

Also, Arthur wasn't the only character I rooted for; do keep an eye out for "utter bastard" Constant Mown.

--
* "For a being of light, gazing even for a moment into the heart of dark space has an effect equivalent to a dozen near-death experiences. It's the Universe's way of telling you to get on with your life. Which is a good thing if the feeling budding in a person's heart is a good feeling." – Chapter 9, "And Another Thing...", by Eoin Colfer

Philippine Prudential's Shady Selling Tactics

Yesterday afternoon, I got this text:
FINAL NOTIFICATION: Gud day! Ds s Ms..SHIELA REYES,, from PHIL.PRUDENTIAL Claiming Area,Ur 3 REWARDS and PRIVILEGES For Free are still here n our ofs.U need to Claim and Activate TODAY because the management will finalize all the records of our recipients who don't claim their rewards. For your claiming code w/u will need to present upon claiming;you may call exclusively in our makati ofs from: 9am to 5pm for further information. Tel.(02)7551532 upon receipt of this msg.Many Thanks and GodBless! (DISREGARD IF CLAIMED)
I'm extremely suspicious of strangers who text or call me, especially if they're trying to sell me something. This message I got from Ms. Reyes (+639486506960) sounded especially scammy. "FINAL NOTIFICATION"? This was the first time I'd ever heard I'd won anything from Philippine Prudential*; how could it be the final one?

The first thing I did was to google the landline number, and it turned out to be legit. This contact page for Phil. Prudential was the third search result—and the first two were about a kind of scam.

I thought then that the scammers might be using Phil. Prudential's real contact number to trick people into thinking they were the real deal. When I tried calling the number just to verify whether it really belonged to Phil. Prudential, it just rang and rang; nobody picked up.

But after sifting through some confusing posts, I finally managed to dig this up from New Media Philippines's blog: The Philippine Prudential Life Plans "Scam"?. I suggest you read that post and the horror stories in the reader comments first, but they seem pretty clear: the text I received is a selling tactic actually used by the company to get people to listen to their sales talks.

Enticed by the idea of prizes, people call the numbers or go to the offices and end up sitting through hours of spiels, after which they often buy an insurance policy out of sheer fatigue (I sat through all that; there must be something I can get out of this), confusion (Wait, so that paper you made me sign says you can take things out of my credit card account?) or gullibility (Can I have my prize now?). And if they want their money back, they have to battle unhelpful and even deceptive customer service agents before they can fully back out of the whole thing.

ABS-CBN did an expose on this scheme, and New Media embedded the clips at the bottom of their post. Unfortunately, a rep from ABS-CBN is carrying out a takedown campaign, so I wasn't able to watch the first one. In the second one, though, there's a rep from the Insurance Commission who describes the whole thing as "deceptive marketing." He also said that if the company continued to "tolerate" these sales practices, the commission might issue a cease-and-desist order.

The clips were uploaded in December, though, so it's been about eight or nine months. Considering that I got the text yesterday, these practices are still going on, and people are probably still getting duped.

Phil. Prudential is still registered with the Insurance Commission and still has a certificate of authority for the year. The company released this official statement after the ABS-CBN documentary came out, and the company opted to focus on one disgruntled customer and their awards, while ignoring all the angry consumers who've taken to ranting online. There's also this terribly written looks-like-a-blog-post-but-smells-like-poorly-done-damage-control text that's getting regurgitated by online content farms.

I think this whole thing is less a scam (i.e. a ploy to sucker people into paying for nonexistent or snake oil products) than it is a really aggressive and deceptive sales approach tied to really awful customer service.

At this point, though, I don't care whether they're a real company or if their products are actually any good. I'm definitely not answering Ms. Reyes's text.

--
* As if to add to the confusion, Philippine Prudential Life Insurance Company (PPLIC; referred to in this post as Phil. Prudential) shares similar names with Prudentialife Plans, Inc.; Pru Life Insurance Corp. of UK (Pru Life UK); and Prudential Guarantee and Assurance, Inc. Doesn't the Securities and Exchange Commission have rules on this? :/

09 August 2011

Respectable

This is me a few months ago, making my best T-Rex face with my cousin Trixi.
This is not the face one makes if they are about to become editor and would like to come off as mature and respectable.
Of course, I hadn't known I was going to become editor at the time I made that face. It's also possible that I would have made that face anyway, though I know for a fact that I didn't.
Here's hoping I don't make my predecessor regret her decision. :D