25 June 2011


It's early afternoon at the office, and it feels  too much like Ondoy. As the online updates keep coming and the general anxiety mounts, I feel no fear for myself, who will go home to a second-story room on a slightly sloped street, but for those who might not--

the new staffer who, still unfamiliar with our department's attendance policy, somehow got through the flood in his area to come in for work;

the veteran designer, who was absent for several days last year because she lived in Marikina;

the layout artist who left us last year, who told me then of how he waited in the dark, body half-submerged, for hours;

the people of Cotabato, Rizal, Marikina, Malabon, Bulacan, and still other places--

I finally left the office at around 8:30. I hadn't wanted to go until I'd finished an assignment, but as the other departments switched off their lights and even my usually nonplussed boss began to worry, I packed up for the day. I was the last employee to leave the building, a rite of passage I might have enjoyed, had the mood that seemed to saturate the air not been so somber.

The street leading to our office was about three inches flooded, as was the major road I had to cross to catch a jeepney back to Cubao. Cars, jeepneys, buses, and trucks, usually eager to speed along E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave., moved slowly, like little boats, silent but for the sound of water gently spraying from under their tires.

When a ride finally pulled up, everyone aboard was quiet, as if in solidarity with the rest of the country. The driver played no radio, couples and friends didn't chatter to one another; instead, we seemed to shyly search one another's faces for some small sign of comfort. The same went for the second jeepney I boarded to take me the rest of the way home. Portions of Aurora Boulevard were underwater, and the bars, motels, and columns looked as though they had begun to sink.

On my street, there was flooding at the intersection. I had to find another way around to get to my place but was thankful that it was all I had to deal with that night.

I woke up with the rain hammering against the house and turned on the TV to catch the news. I caught the national anthem and felt my insides leap, but was immensely disappointed to find that each channel proceeded with regularly scheduled programming: cooking shows, cartoons, health talks, prayer hour. Even Twitter, my feed packed with people from another part of the world, showed that this didn't merit some kind of interruption. Rather than comfort me and tell me that all was well and all would be well, it made me feel quite small.

Today, I'm supposed to attend someone's birthday party, an educational talk, and the blessing of a new apartment. Ordinarily, a full Saturday like this would make me feel happy that something is going on, and I am part of it. Instead, thinking of those who've had to evacuate their homes, who'll depend on relief goods for today's meals, who undoubtedly feel that it's too soon to go through this again, I feel that I am missing something, and that safe inside is not where I'm supposed to be.

23 June 2011


It takes me days, weeks, or often months to shrink my longing for other places into the type of discomfort that you sort of just live with every day, and even forget that you have. On those days, I can imagine myself settling in this city and somehow being happy with it--and that thought makes me happy, also.

But it doesn't take much more than a photo, the sound of a distinct accent on TV, a news report, or a 30-minute drive in the countryside for whatever emotional dams I've built to crumble and the mild ache to froth like acid, eating away at me from inside.

Last weekend, I went with my cousins to Cavite, where the rain and the garbage made the beach depressing and the swimming pool taste strangely of rust. I was asleep on the way over, but on the way back, the sight of rice paddies, lonely little towns, and even lonelier little houses, and the sense that the sea was just over that ridge there, reminded me of how things looked and felt on drives home from a Sarangani beach with my own family.

In Martin's house on Monday afternoon, I alternated between the news and food channels, where updates from Socsargen and shows in Malaysia and Singapore and the voices of the locals made me wish alternately that I was there, or there, instead of here.

In another week, my parents will be in town, and I'll be taking another trip to the countryside. Two triggers in one weekend, while I'm still patching up from the last one. This doesn't bode well for my state of mind to start the second half of the year.

Martin and I had a conversation once about the differences between our country and the one I wanted. He said that for all the difficulties he's had to deal with here due to some absent or inefficient system, including the difficulties that likely led to his and his family's current misfortunes, he still felt loyal to our country--and to this city especially--because it was his home.

I find it hard to feel that kind of loyalty because, for one thing, my home in South Cotabato feels like it's not part of the same country as this city. For another, the loyalty sounds to me like the kind of loyalty a battered wife would have to an unrepentant scoundrel of a husband.

I do actually believe, however, that the Philippines has it in itself to become like these other countries I envy. If all these executives I've interviewed really walk their talk, if people get in line behind the real good guys in our government instead of waiting for terms to end so they can go back to their good ol' days of self-service, then maybe not just my kids but also all future Filipino kids will enjoy decent public transportation, good public education, affordable healthcare, affordable housing, proper sanitation and waste management, and, yeah, clean air, billboard-free skies, trees to climb, constellations to learn, etc., etc., etc.

It's just that some days, I wish I didn't have to wait that long.

15 June 2011

Notes: Deleting just the attachments from Gmail

- saw that 60% of my inbox capacity is used up; I know that this keeps increasing incrementally, but since I started at this job, the increase in space can't keep up with the increase in e-mails with attachments

- couldn't find any in-Gmail solution to deleting just the attachments without losing the message itself
> suggestions on help forums included forwarding the message to myself while unchecking the attachment box; didn't like this as I wanted Gmail conversations/threads to stay intact and to keep the name of the original sender
> other popular suggestion was to use an e-mail client with IMAP, like Thunderbird

- while Thunderbird was downloading, followed forum poster's advice and searched Gmail w/ "has:attachment" (no quotes), then labelled everything with a new label, CheckAttachment

- in Thunderbird, saw
> over 500 messages in the CheckAttachment folder
> some of them with attachments I wanted to save, like work documents, stuff from parents and other family, stuff from old schoolmates
> couldn't get through all that without fear of deleting something I wanted to keep
> deleted some stuff I wanted to keep after all

- new process:
1. in Gmail, go through CheckAttachment label w/ combined search operators (e.g. "label:checkattachment" and "label:family-mail") to get good stuff out of CheckAttachment
2. sync Thunderbird again
3. proceed with deletion

14 June 2011

Quality of Book Report

On Saturday, I decided to read what was left of the book I'd cut for my last OA project, Meghan Daum's "The Quality of Life Report".

There was enough left for me to understand the story and not feel like I'd missed anything, but to be honest, I'm not too sad now that I cut the book. It was all right, and funny in parts, making what I guess America calls a decent "beach read." I still didn't like the protagonist very much, nor the end at which the book arrived.

Lucinda Trout is a TV producer from New York who, after an assignment in Prairie City, decides to relocate there in the hopes of discovering that easier, slower-paced farm life, apparently the fantasy of many harried city dwellers.

I might be the wrong person to write a review of this book, maybe because I did the opposite by leaving my own quiet province for Metro Manila, maybe because my priorities are vastly different from Lucinda's, or maybe because she's American. If Ms. Daum's objective was to write "Moving to a Small Town, You're Doing it Wrong," I guess she succeeded, but she didn't make Lucinda someone I could root for in the process.


- Lucinda leaving New York for Prairie City and thinking of the latter as a sleepy hick town is way off, based on the kind of lifestyle she's able to sustain. In the beginning, she made Prairie City out to be something like the isolated farm town of Holt, Colorado in Kent Haruf's "Plainsong", or worse, someplace with few phone or power lines and maybe no running water. But it's more like she moved from Metro Manila to General Santos, where the malls, businesses both local and franchised, and landscaped central park are enough to tell you you're far from the middle of nowhere.

- Lucinda's first friends are the community leaders, possibly elites, who change cars every year and own a big house with a pool in the backyard. Most of her encounters with people from lower income brackets are when she interviews/exploits people for her show and when she's in line at the local supermarket.

- She's kind of stupid with her money. Knowing that her pay-per-used-segment income will likely be inconsistent, one of the first things she does is get a co-branded credit card for a furniture store. "Oh, I might not be earning enough money. Rather than budget wisely and try to save, I'm going to get myself into debt to support my need for interior design! Yay, eggplant door panels!" Kaya nagka-financial crisis sa States, e.

- She then springs, not for a modest studio or a little cabin, but for a huge apartment in a suburban area and all this Martha Stewart-type junk to decorate it.

- She does this a second time, for a more expensive place, with her new boyfriend whose own money goes to child support for his three kids.

- The new place is isolated and sort of a farm, but she doesn't know how to take care of it. She's helpless without the boyfriend around to play the brawny farmhand.

- She buys a car. Sure, it's secondhand, but doesn't this place have a bus system?

- When she gets depressed, she blows more money on tanning and fake nails. I thought the point of moving to the country was to find inner peace by living off the land. She could at least have planted a vegetable garden.

In the end (SPOILER ALERT?), Lucinda realizes that instead of truly improving her quality of life, she's deluded herself into thinking that she can get her rural fantasy without actually working for it. It's a great moral, sure, but I just feel like there could have been less shallow, less obvious ways for her to learn it.

There's also a disturbing, second conclusion (ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT?) to Lucinda's tale, which I think she touches on but kind of chickens out of exploring: it's people who experience inertia, not cities. The inertia she experienced as a New Yorker too complacent to leave her highly urbanized cocoon is not unlike the inertia that sucks the people of Prairie City into the ground. In a similar vein, the concerns and conversations had by her giggly girlfriends and bitchy employer in New York are just as absurd as those of the Prairie City socialites who surround her.

Maybe this is the main reason I don't like Lucinda's story. She thinks she's changed into a better person, but really, it's not by much. Fast life, slow life--it doesn't matter if you don't actually go anywhere.

07 June 2011

Whiteout-popup Quality of Life Report

Two months ago, I saw this post by Adam David (possibly NSFW) calling for blackout poem / "visual erasure" contributions. I thought it might be a good exercise for my popup buildings, as well as to maybe work out my love-hate relationship with the city while telling a story.

I missed the "Erase Erase" deadline, though, so I decided to just post the work here. Click on each thumbnail to enlarge (they're arranged in order from left to right, like a regular book; filenames are numbered if you're confused).

Just some notes, which you don't have to read.

It was harder than I thought, to pick something that was inexpensive even for Booksale (P45), had the right title, at first glance held the kinds of words I was seeking, and, most importantly, wouldn't feel like a huge loss once I started cutting out pages. Meghan Daum's "The Quality of Life Report" fit the bill more than anything else I saw (I ended up buying more than one book that day) because the blurb on the back made it sound like the kind of sweetly cheesy, "I'm Reed Fish"-type of story that I'd probably catch on Star Movies during off seasons.

This is probably blasphemy to any book-lover, but I didn't even read the book before cutting into it. The deadline was pretty close, and I haven't had a lot of time to read; the last thing I read, I finished last week but bought in late February. I did end up reading the cut pages, though, and I felt bad afterward. It did sound like an interesting and well-written story after all. So, if you ever read this, Ms. Daum, please accept my sincerest apologies, as well as a promise to buy your book if I ever see another copy in a local store. Your other book sounds interesting as well.

How I made it: I chose the words first, sliced out those pages, and sketched the buildings and skylines I wanted to put over/under them. The buildings themselves didn't take more than two or three hours to plot and cut for each spread, if you don't count the spreads discarded for wrong measurements or cuts. I used black crayon on the parts of the book page that would show up behind the buildings, then glued the pages onto the back while trying to get the words to line up with the windows before the glue* dried.

In the end, though, work and other things took up my time, and I finished the last spread just on Sunday. The photos and layout (if you can call it that) were done this morning after I woke up. I desaturated everything on my computer because my camera's white balance was acting funny.

The whole project was fun but also tiring in that I kept coming up against my own lack of imagination for these buildings. Now that I'm aware of it, though, I'll keep trying to come up with more interesting things in the future.

*Boring notes about glue: Elmer's white glue comes in the easiest bottle to work with, but God help you if your paper's not perfectly aligned when you stick it on; this stuff dries fast. Elmer's "school" blue glue gives you time to push the paper into place before it dries, but if you use too much, some parts of the paper will look permanently wet and dark. Locally made Sti-Kee (?) glue works the same way without the wet look, but the bottle is a pain to work with because some idiot thought a glue "spreader" next to the nozzle was a good idea, when really, it just gets in the way of everything. The glue's also so thick that it comes out of the bottle in globs instead of a neat line.

01 June 2011

June: Cutting and Folding

I just reread this entire entry several hours after posting it and thought, Wow, I am a boring, repetitive person. That explains everything. Thanks for sticking with me, people whom I can count on one hand.

The start of a new month seems as good a time as any to get a solid life update on the blog, so here we go.

I'll start with work because it seems to have had the biggest ripple effect on my life so far. I recently got promoted to assistant editor. I had my proverbial baptism of fire last week.

The last week of the month is when everything seems to pile up at work, and it just so happened that our boss had to fly out of the country for two-and-a-half days, leaving me more or less in charge. I get tired just thinking about it, so I'll spare you the details. I'll leave you instead with a mental picture of me reading until two or three in the morning of Saturday, a few hours before I had to wake up again and get ready to go back to the office, because the energy drink I'd taken to get me through a late night of working from home hadn't worn off by the time I was actually done.

I don't plan on doing that again anytime soon.

All things considered, however, last week actually made me pretty happy. It was the most productive and fulfilled I'd been in a long time--possibly the most I'd ever been in my brief career so far.

It's a pity and an irony, then, that there are some changes coming at work that mean I probably won't have a week like that again. I won't complain, though; as enjoyable as it was, it was also mentally and physically draining. I get tired just remembering it. I guess I'll just be glad that I have a better idea now of what I can do and what the future might be like.

This brings me to the change in the plan I'd made earlier this year, when I'd just returned to Manila wracked with homesickness and city sickness (related but not identical). The plan had been to leave again before Christmas if nothing--whether some changes at work, a new job elsewhere, or just something big with significant repercussions on everything else--had happened before then. I wanted to spend time with my family and get away from the city before I had to confront again the idea of settling down here for good.

Inside, I had really believed that nothing would happen. I would really go home.

The promotion definitely counts as something, though. So, I'm staying here for at least two or three more years to see what happens next.

I'm not too sad about it, actually. Let me get back to you when I start feeling directionless and depressed again.

What happens next is, my brother might soon take his turn at getting a job and seeking his fortune in the big, bad world of Metro Manila. When that happens, I'll have someone to share a decent apartment with as well as a chance to catch up with the family I've been away from for so long.

With my brother around, I'll see what being a sister means now that we're both out of school and old enough to pay taxes. To some extent, I'll see what being a daughter means, too, as my parents will have more reason than ever to keep an eye on our lives in Manila.

I expect this will cramp my and Martin's style a bit. My parents have cut back on asking me if I've gotten home yet after (or during) a late night out since I moved, and I've been pretty free to go where I want without worrying about what they'll think, but I understand Martin's apprehensions that me living with Mikko will rejuvenate their wayward-offspring sense.

It's not like I go out clubbing or drinking; it's more likely that I'm with Martin at some out-of-budget restaurant, chatting while he plays his computer games, or falling asleep in front of his TV. But once one of my parents gets the sneaking suspicion that it's getting late and I haven't even thought of catching a ride back to my own rat's nest yet, they'll start with the "Where are you?" and "Are you home na?" messages. Now, even without the GPS tracking (which I'm not entirely sure they've stopped using), my parents will probably improve their fingerspitzengfuhl of these comings and goings through my brother.

This picture frustrates Martin quite a bit because we get little time together as it is. With him living in Paranaque and me in Cubao, it's practically a long-distance thing, and we see each other only on weekends. That situation won't soon change with his impending move to Katipunan; given my brother's likely line of work, I'll probably move soon to Ortigas or Makati. On top of that, Martin's started studying for his master's, so his Saturday classes will leave us just one day together a week.

At this point, our liberal acquaintances may ask why we don't just move in together; how old is Kat, again; what do you care what her parents think; and similar variants of those questions.

I've thought about it myself quite a bit, and coming home to Martin at the end of every day sounds better than coming home to a dimly-lit boarding house full of strangers or to my brother (sorry, Mikko). But while I've given up certain beliefs, I'm not yet ready to give up the idea that marriage should come before you start picking out furniture.

"It's a societal construct," you say,

or "You don't need some ceremony to legitimize your relationship,"

or "Lots of couples live together for years before sharing a long and happy marriage, or a long and happy life together without marriage,"

or "If it came down to it, which would sound worse, a breakup or a divorce?"

or even "Do you really doubt Martin's commitment that much?"

Pardon my eschewing these rational reasons while I'm still just plain afraid. This is precisely why the concept of cohabiting as some kind of test drive strikes me as ridiculous. I don't want to open myself to that kind of vulnerability. I don't want to give someone an all-access pass without some kind of assurance that they don't still have one foot out the door. Yes, even if I know that it's Martin, who wouldn't do anything like that to me.

Maybe one day, I'll see that marriage isn't any different, that solemnized or no, relationships don't always last, and breakups can be amicable or ugly regardless of whether rings were exchanged first. Even then, I think I'll take comfort in knowing that I gave it my all without fear.

As for caring about what my parents think, well. I am 23, more than old enough to make decisions for myself, including whether it's okay for me to stay out with Martin well past the curfew I outgrew when I moved into my first apartment. Yes, you people who think I should have a mind of my own, I know that. The thing is, that mind cares what its family thinks.

It's not to say that I'm completely under my parents' GPS-tracking thumbs. I've butted heads with my mother over the years, and there will always be something over which we'll disagree. I've accepted that, and to some extent, I think she has, too. We are Facebook friends, for goodness's sake, which is more than many children can say about their relationships with their parents. More importantly, I'm able to live without guilt with decisions I know my mother wouldn't quite approve (my dad has generally let me be and voices his support whenever I seek it).

My grandmother, however, is another story, precisely because we've disagreed only once. Nearly all my memories of Lola are happy: letters in her curly script, gifts of Reader's Digest books, my first journalism lessons, her general pride in all my achievements, small as they may seem now. The happiest I was about my promotion was when I got to tell her in person and see the look on her face. The last thing I want to do is anything that would get the reverse.

The one time we disagreed, the one time she lectured/berated/scolded me for anything, was when I was 16 and I closed my bedroom door so that my then-boyfriend and I could have a little privacy from my youngest brother, who was six and kept following us everywhere. I was mad because we weren't doing anything, we just wanted to talk, and she seemed to immediately assume the worst. I know her reaction then was and her reaction today would be out of a concern both loving and old-fashioned (just like my mom's). I kind of want to spare her from that kind of hurt.

And while I did say that living with my brother might tighten the influence my family has on my decisions, I kind of welcome the challenge, too. I've been living more or less outside of their presence for the past couple of years. All the consequences I've imagined my decisions to have on my relationship with my family have been just that--imagined. It's well past time for me to see what happens for real.

Of course, that depends how uptight my brother might be and whether he'll tattle--but see, I wouldn't know. Even though he's also been in Manila for the past couple years, I haven't had a lot of time with him since he lived on campus and was tied up with school. I've only just started to see how he's been now that college is done with him, and I already beat myself up about not being there for our younger brother Mon. I don't want to pass up on this chance to touch base with my family beyond calls, texts, and e-mails, especially since there's no telling when and how things might change again.

What else is new? I've developed an interest in architecture. That's not really new, but I haven't really talked about it much. I still haven't figured out where it comes from.

It might have started two years ago, when one of my first assignments at BW was on the ten tallest buildings in the country, and I read that G.T. International Tower had a "fin." It might have come from all those commutes to interviews around the city, all the time I spent staring at the buildings while waiting for it to be time to go inside one of them. It might have come from looking at all that PR material for new condos and projecting, asking myself if I wanted to live in a building that looked like that. It might have come from when we wrote about different Filipino architects (these articles never got published) and I got lost in the Palafox Associates portfolio.

Maybe it started before I came to BW, when I was still at CCF and Ortigas was my stomping ground. Or, maybe the seed was planted in high school, when I tried to make sense of "The Fountainhead," or even earlier, when I was ten and reading about Fallingwater in a Core Knowledge textbook.

However it started, all of a sudden, buildings were awesome, and my respect and admiration for the people who know how to design great ones is such that I'm afraid of looking stupid by continuing this paragraph.

Anyway, once the initial amazement died down, I stopped regretting that I hadn't been exposed to more of it as a child and developed an early ambition to supersede the two Franks (Become a writer? Pah!), Now I'm content to read articles, play with paper, and keep looking at buildings. Maybe this will turn into more than an interest at some point, but I'm not in any hurry to get there.

Beyond being possibly the most practical artistic pursuit ever, architecture has also given me one more reason to like life in the city. The rest are Martin, Washington SyCip Park, trains, bookstores, and--wouldn't you know it?--my job.

I guess that's it so far. I'll leave you here with a preview of something I've been working on.

Here's hoping for the best, as always.