Friday, September 29, 2006

After the Storm

Milenyo left a trail of destruction around the metropolis, my neighborhood included. Felled trees and garbage and tree branches strewn all over greeted me as I made my way past my gate. Que horror!

No electricity since yesterday morning, so I ended up scouring Cubao last night to look for candles and some food. Good thing the water supply wasn't affected.

To kill boredom, with no access to TV, radio and internet, I hied off to the nearest mall to cool off, only to realize half the population of Metro Manila had the same idea. Dios Mio!

The sound of a generator still whirrs behind me as I write this. So I guess I'll still be having dinner by candle light this evening.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Merlion Trip

Just got back from a weekend in Singapore. I met up with my project employers and toured the new office. Went shopping in Bugis, Chinatown and Orchard. I nearly passed out from the pasture-like smell of the MRT.

Lucky Plaza feels like Farmer's Plaza in Cubao, very Pinoy. You can hear someone belting his/her lungs out in a videoke bar.

Had fun at Sentosa. I particularly liked the musical fountain-- a show of lights, water, holograms-- never mind the story. Oh come on! half-fish, half lion? Ok, ok, it's what they stand for.

Went luge riding downhill, as well as took the cable car. With people from different races in close proximity, I again almost passed out from the smell. People, taking a shower is such an easy thing to do!

All attractions are man-made. Which is to be expected, as Singapore does not have a natural attraction to speak of. The man-made beach, complete with white sand imported from God-knows-where, was kinda strange. It was carefully land-scaped. It was totally out-of-sync and seems like it didn't belong there. The water seemed dirty from all those oil tankers and cargo ships within viewing distance.

I stayed at Jami's, Eugene's childhood friend, whom he has not seen for 15 years. Very amiable and generous. Despite being very busy, she offerred her own room for us to stay in while she slept in Lulay's, her flat mate, room; prepared our breakfast; acted as our tour guide; and insisted on paying for our fares. Amazing.

You don't get this sort of treatment from other nationalities. They'd let you sleep in the couch, yah? She and her friend Mike, were even on hand for a send-off at the boarding gate! Mike even escorted us and reserved the plane's front seat for us. First time I ever sat on the front row. Makes you feel good about being Pinoy doesn't it?

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Changing Equations

Let’s face it. We all have skeletons in the closet. And we guard these with our lives. But often times, maybe to ease any associated guilt, or simply to blow off steam, we confide in somebody, carefully chosen for being, among other qualities, trustworthy and the most important of all, able to keep secrets.

Unfortunately, sooner or later, this trust becomes breached: the tongue slips and, unable to recover and make up a lame explanation, instead admits the whole thing. There goes your secret. And along with it what remains of your tattered dignity.

Rapping you out and short of declaring to all and sundry, “the jig is up, I know a deep and dark secret he harbors” only means the other person deserves to be buried, alive! But there’s just no point in digging a hole in the ground meant for squealers, for crying out loud because you’ll only end up crawling into it, for refuge. There’s no use lacing sandwiches with cyanide, God forbid! It’s not the end of the world.

A secret is bound to be found, after all. And keeping it as long as you can is the biggest challenge. Unless of course it is written somewhere that breaching your trust and confidence might throw this rat’s ass in jail. Which I don’t have, of course.

And you make plans for damage control, like what the Vatican is doing to assuage offended Muslims over the Pope’s comments about Islam.

But the equation has totally changed. You see, the variables have shifted, and the figures on the right side of the equal sign now paint a totally different picture. *sigh*

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Busy Weekend

Yesterday I clocked an hour and seven (7) minutes in the 10 km Adidas Marathon held in the vicinity of the sprawling SM Mall of Asia. A bit of a disappointment for me since I never get past my goal of posting an under-an-hour performance ever since I started joining marathons last year. Hayata, petite and slender and who is all of 5 feet and 5 inches, did 53 minutes, and she was not happy about it! Ack!

I do have a good excuse, however. The previous week had been particularly toxic for me, which left me no time to at least do some runs around the Marikina oval.

Compared to the previous venue, the terrain this year was mostly flat, very ideal for running, unlike last year when you had to navigate a steep fly-over stretch.

Don, Bong and I were off to a good start, Don lead the pace which allowed us to leave behind Paul (a.k.a. Bart Simpson) and Mike, the team captain. Unfortunately, at Km 3, Don, a veterinarian (Doc) zoomed ahead while Bong, a former macho dancer, followed a little later. I tried to pick up my pace but could only manage to narrow the distance between us. At halfway point, the inseparable Mike and Paul zoomed past me. Oh well.

I gathered speed and overtook a friend, Lance whom I haven’t seen for quite some time, and used the final stretches of the marathon chatting and laughing while running at the same time.

As if this event wasn’t tiring enough, we all proceeded to the row site after the marathon, to commence dragon boat practice!

And Eugene and a friend of his still went swimming at the Rizal Memorial after rowing.

Doc and I plan to take up mountain biking and leisurely cruise through the nearby towns of Rizal and Laguna soon.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Unfortunate Comments

Pope Benedict's perceived anti-Islamic comments which is generating outrage around the Islamic world is quite unfortunate. He was actually qouting some 14th century conversation between two prominent personalities about Islam forcing conversion through the sword. Which is true, anyway, but which offends a lot of people.

To begin with, the history of Christianity isn't exactly peaceful, either. The history of the Church is filled with violence, all in the name of religion: the Crusades, Inquisition, Hundred Years' War. The list goes on and on.

But does he need to apologize? I don't think so. He clearly has strong views about Islam. But who doesn't? After all, as the Supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church, he is tasked to defend the institution, for better or for worse. And he did just that, when asked to comment about the differences between religions.

And I'm sure, if Muslim clerics were asked the same question, you'd pretty much expect the same sort of answer that the Pope gave, just the other way around, you know, in Islam's favor.

It would have been different if he acted like Franklin Graham who called Islam a "very wicked and evil" religion, while Pat Robertson went as far as describing it as Satanic. Now that was really bad, but that episode didn't even create as much stir as the one the Pope now has generated.

So people, pipe down will you. There's no need to over-react.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Streaks of Chucky

Growing up, I always thought of myself as well-behaved, at least compared to most kids my age. In public places I conducted myself in the most polite manner: I couldn’t remember throwing a single tantrum, run around the hallways chasing other kids, or shout at the top of my voice like other kids do. In fact, I prayed in Church with both my hands pressed together and pointing towards heaven. I listened attentively during sermons (Father Moggi’s Italian-accented Cebuano was a stretch to listen to, although his was better than Father Bittner’s heavily Midwestern style, “mo-adtow kamowh sa lawngit…” which would send one into an instant coma), sat up to listen to my teachers in school, and didn’t make a fuss when Loren Legarda anchored the evening news on RPN 9.

I hated squalling babies. I had visions of taping and gagging the mouth of Nang Berta’s youngest, Leah, who’s really loud wailing and caterwauling would probably make her a good opera singer someday.

I also avoided fist fights, at least not frequently as Re-re and Bam-bam. At a young age, I wanted quiet, order and harmony. I was a good kid. At least that’s what I thought I was.

Now that I think about it, I think I might not have been such an angel after all.

The earliest recollection of a really bad deed I did was in first grade. The girl sitting in front of me in Mrs. Piloton’s class wasn’t successfully toilet-trained yet (I won’t mention her name, Stella and Zarah know her). On several occasions, she’d pee in her seat, creating a stream of piss-puddle on the Johnson-wax shiny floor in front of me. It was nasty and it annoyed me no end. And so I devised a plan to teach her a lesson.

The minute she walked on the aisle, I casually extended my right foot as she passed by, whereupon she’d fall face flat into the floor, squalling like a cry-baby. Feigning innocence, I’d say “Ooops, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you pass by…” and I got away with it.

There was also this girl who was so talkative I actually entertained visions of stuffing her mouth with firecrackers (I know I’m baaad). One time after school, we were assigned to clean the classroom. So I placed a coconut husk carefully on top of a slightly open door, which, without fail fell and hit her squarely in the head when she pushed the door open and came in.

Oh yes, she cried.

I fled home.

At home, my uncle Rustom would sleep in the couch, snoring softly after a hard day at work. My brother once contrived a plan that required me to pour salt into his open mouth, while he snored! Of course I got caught in the act. As my poor Uncle gasped for air and wondered what hit him, my brother fled the scene and was nowhere to be found, leaving me to face my Uncle who was red-faced with anger! *gasp*

Grade school can be a tough environment, especially if you look different. There was this kid who looked so alien to us-- he looked geeky and his Chinese features stood out-- that the me and the other boys took turns hiding his things, putting his shoes in the girls’ shoe rack, and generally poked fun at him. We were admittedly bad. It came to a dramatic end when his mom barged into the classroom, poured her heart out, cried unashamedly because of her son’s ill-treatment, and rightfully transferred him in public school. We were all stunned and felt guilty about the whole scenario. We certainly learned our lesson the hard way.

Fist fights at the back of the school were a normal occurrence, usually attracting a crowd of school children eager to watch a slugging match. My first was with Dwight—he was actually a very good friend of mine, and I hang out with him, along with Ambrose.

One time, Santos (his name is really ironic, isn’t it?) bullied us into fighting each other. The accepted logic was that we were both candidates for sissy-hood because we hadn’t punched somebody else’s nose yet.

And so Dwight and I—although we were school chums-- traded punches, kicked each other in the groin and wrestled on the ground before some upper grader stopped the fight. (Although the following morning, we were back playing “takyang”).

Surprisingly, when I got home, my mom already knew about the whole thing. Apparently, some pony-tailed goody-two-shoes neighbor, who went to the same school, promptly went to my house and incredibly laid out the details of the fight to her.

To my credit, my mom didn’t over-react, like most parents do when their kids get involved in fights. She cleaned the cuts and bruises without fuss. A short lecture ensued, of course. And then, she simply cut a piece of cake and prepared some warm milk for me. She seemed to expect it. She understood perfectly that what happened was only a part of growing up.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Bottle Caps

I used to hang out with Andy when I was a kid. He’s the eldest son of Nang Elsa who, I don’t really know how to say this gently, was born mildly retarded. In our politically correct times, he is what we now call a “special child”. Yes, he’s slow. And his younger siblings moved up in grade school, while he got stuck in second grade. Yes Che and Marc, I probably got my autistic tendencies from him.

But since he’s like a forever-kid type, he was great to hang out with. Andy, along with Nang Berta’s kids Napie, Jun-jun and Bam-bam, were my childhood chums.

I knew even then that he was different from the other kids. There was plenty of rumor going around that he could talk to dwarves and elves, you know, that he can communicate and be friends with people from a parallel universe inhabited by fairies and elementals. Some even thought Andy might have had a different father: Nang Elsa must’ve committed an extra marital affair with, well, a dwarf! Ack!

I never believed one word of it, since around 10 a.m. everyday we usually trek to the garbage dump, and I never suspected him of anything extra ordinary. Although occasionally, he seems disoriented and fixes his pensive gaze into the distance while you talk to him.

You see, during the summer break, we’d saunter along the freshly plowed pineapple fields, in the outer edge of the housing camp towards the garbage dump, in search of Pepsi caps. Pepsi had this promotional gimmick where pictures of bicycle parts were hidden inside bottle caps, and collecting all pieces wins you an instant bike. We never got to complete the entire set.

Imagine a scene in “Batang Yagit” with two street urchins busily searching and poking through garbage dumps. It’s David Copperfield and Tom Sawyer in the Bukidnon highlands. You get the picture.

One time, we decided to pass by the woods on our way back to pick some native guavas and cool ourselves beneath the bamboo trees. Noon was approaching and we chose a rather solitary mahogany tree among shrubs, banana trees and wild guavas to rest our tired muscles and sprained backs.

We happily chattered and compared our bottle cap finds. We became hungry and Andy decided to climb a short guava tree nearby. As he moved, however, I noticed some odd things. I could hear some flapping and a faintly shrill sound, buzzing in my ears. I simply assumed they came from fruit flies.

When I glanced on the ground, however, my gut suddenly raced towards my throat: the shadow certainly wasn’t Andy’s.

The black outline on the ground appeared in a slouching position, like a farmer carrying a heavy load of fire wood…and I recognized a pair of small wings flapping slightly… detected a faint smell of rotten eggs…and that odd buzzing sound that seems to come from far, far away….

We went home. I managed to convince myself that I only imagined those things…I think.

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Monday, September 4, 2006

Mahler Symphony No. 1 Recording

Here's a recording of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 on BBC Classical Archives, although my favourite remains his powerful Second, the Resurrection Symphony.

Great Music. Enjoy.

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Sunday, September 3, 2006

Judging a Singing Contest

I once judged a singing contest. Recuperating in Bukidnon after a bout of illness which I contracted in Manila, a housing camp officer called my house one morning and pleaded for me to judge an upcoming amateur singing contest. I didn’t really want to, I was in no mood to contribute to community camaraderie and brotherhood. And besides, I was only two years into my first job and I hardly felt qualified to judge contestants who were way older than I was. You’d really know if you’ve achieved some sort of a local celebrity-status when if some people got wind of your being “home”, they’d invite you to all sorts of community activities supposedly to “inspire” people: to speak or perform before an audience.

To shut this officer up, I acquiesced. My older brother and I, as well as a male cousin were left to take charge of the house while our parents were away. And since my brother worked in the city, he flatly turned down the offer to judge.

As I have mentioned before, my family has built a von Trapp reputation in the community where I grew up. We ran a piano school during week-ends. My siblings and I, who were quite advanced in our piano studies compared to the neighborhood kids, took turns as substitute-piano teachers. My father managed the local church choir, trained the members and competed regularly in choral contests. I accompanied the choir on the piano several times.

My father and brother once judged a very long amateur singing contest with over 20 or so contestants during a fiesta celebration in Bohol, they got splitting headaches and pancit-bihon as rewards.

In my case, the contestants were mostly company employees and their dependents, some even more than twice my age. And get this, my high school teacher, Mrs. Lanticse, who sang solo during Sunday masses and other community activities, was one of them. Ack!

It’s a really weird feeling when the student is the one grading his teacher. And boy, oh boy, I knew she’d win. She picked a war-horse of a piece, an operatic version of a folk song “Sa Kabukiran” (“in the boondocks”, literally), complete with a coloratura flourish at the end, ending the piece with a high C. In terms of musicality (timing, diction, voice quality), she performed much, much better than the other contestants, who were either too nervous to look at the audience, and thus were serenading the walls and the space above the audience’s heads, or too damn dramatic (plenty of hand gestures—much like a grade school declamation piece) they forgot that there is such a thing as timing! Of course she won. It’s as if she were auditioning for a part in a Rossini opera! Personally, she should have been excluded, to give a fighting chance to the other unknown contestants. Yes?

Anyway, as I expected, I got pancit bihon (vermicelli) and a word of thanks from the organizers afterwards. Not bad.

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