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