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Monday, January 29, 2007

First Job

The first job I got after stepping out of the academic confines of the State University carried an impressive title of Business Analyst. When I applied for it, I didn’t exactly know what the job was, but it required writing lots of business reports. I fancied myself arriving in the office with my tie on as my sexy secretary greets me and hands me my coffee.

“Would you like me to get the morning paper for you, sir?” she would ask me, meekly.

I’d say, “Yes, please. You are so kind”. It was my plan to be deferential and nice to my staff. I was determined to live and think like a young urban professional, a yuppie to the core.

I planned my career with high hopes, hopes that have been severely challenged.

In my mind, I’d spend Friday nights in cocktail bars talking business with colleagues and business associates. “Do you think inflationary pressures would force the Central Bank to raise interest rates anew?” I would ask them, still brimming with confidence after getting a grade of 2.00 in Monetary Theory.

Instead, I found myself outside the office eating fish balls out of barbecue sticks and a bowl of porridge from an ambulant vendor.

You see, I found out later my prestigious job title really carried the rather unglamorous responsibilities of a Credit Investigator, or CI. I couldn’t possibly have a secretary. I didn’t even have my own computer and phone in my desk! I had to share it with several people.

I conducted lifestyle checks, credit histories and property verification. I did discreet interviews with neighbors on the street. I pretended to sell insurance over the phone. I once said I was conducting survey for the government.

Some people slammed the phone when I called them. A few even have the guts to call me names, demanding to know why I was investigating them when they haven’t stolen anything. One Chinese trader even tore the letter of introduction I gave him, accusing me of working for a competitor.

I lost count of the number of times I got lost because bystanders and policemen pointed me towards wrong directions. I found myself walking along the flooded streets of Malabon during high tide. I dozed off inside a passenger jeepney in the middle of a monstrous traffic jam in Novaliches. There was also a time when I couldn’t find my way out of a squatter’s area which resembled a maze.

I also found routes I never even thought existed, like the short-cut from Fairview in Quezon City to Montalban, Rizal, passing through rough roads near the Payatas dumpsite. I was lucky. My colleague, Ricky, once spent the night on Talim Island in the middle of Laguna de Bay, off the coast of Binagonan, because the outrigger boat or banca that was supposed to take him back already left without him.

There were uplifting moments, though. Some were nice enough to treat to me out to lunch, some offered me a ride. Others acted as if I were a long-lost friend, shaking my hands vigorously and enthusiastically asking me how I was. There were some who shared their life stories as if I were Kuya Eddie.

How I ended up doing all these after devouring articles in the Econometrica and other similar academic journals I barely understood, I don’t really know. I stayed for two years.

As my paddling team mate John once told me, the same oven that melts the wax, hardens the clay. Indeed. Because of it, I am now ten times a better researcher, which suits my current occupation. I learned to adjust myself to different situations, to read people’s minds and to anticipate their reactions. And I don’t easily get offended now. I’m made of sterner stuff.

As my former colleague Jasmin (who’s shifted careers and is now a nurse) and I would often kid each other, “Once a CI, always a CI”.

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Opera Kid

Why a prepubescent kid no more than 12 years old would ever attempt Mozart's "Revenge Aria" from the Magic Flute, a killer aria even for competent coloratura sopranos, is beyond me.

This is so hilarious and creepy at the same time. He hit the two(2) F's above high C.

His voice is so high, it makes me wonder whether he is a castrato.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor

Brazilian Pianist Nelson Freire interprets Johannes Brahms' hyper-romantic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor with the NHK Symphony. Freire used to be a top-notch pianist, frequently teaming up with the indefatigable Martha Argerich for piano duo recitals. I still have a DVD copy of their Rachmaninoff and Ravel recording for two pianos. Maybe old age has indeed caught up with him. His rendition is slower than what I am used to, even phlegmatic at times, and I miss the fire and the devil-may-care virtousity characteristic of his earlier years. But I still like his musicality. He kept a tight lid on sentimentality and made it sound lyrical, not so much romantic, unlike most pianists when they try to interpret Brahms.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

What I like about this concerto is that the orchestra plays not just a supporting role to the soloist but is seamlessly woven into the whole fabric of the concerto. It holds its own, especially in the first movement.

Typical of Brahms, the first movement is grandiloquent and majestic, with passionate passages immediately unleashed after a few introductory bars. Followed by a light, dreamy and tender adagio second movement. It feels like you're sitting under a tree during breezy summer afternoons, idly waiting for nothing. The final movement jolts the listener out of reverie with fiery outbursts in staccato octaves for a truly electrifying close.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Incipient Signs

I haven’t seen this level for a very long time: The Phisix hit 3,244 this morning on hefty volumes valued at around PhP6.2 billion (the daily average recently has been PhP2-3bn). I mentioned before that should the index reach 3,000, the market would likely enter a bull run. The trend is quite clear: high buying volumes consistently for the past year have pushed the market upwards to levels last seen only in the early 1990s.

With the current low interest rate environment (3-4% 90-day T-bills, the lowest in recent memory) and a strong peso (US$/PhP48.84) as well as a strong balance of payments (BOP) surplus position (US$3.8 billion), equities currently benefit from the shifting allegiance of large funds away from government bonds such as Treasury bills.

Good economic fundamentals (NEDA estimates 5.3%-5.6% GDP growth for 2006) point to a better year ahead for corporates. Low interest rates means lower borrowing costs for companies; low inflation also translates to lower production costs; while a strong peso benefits manufacturing companies with higher import production component. Listed companies will likely generate better margins this year.

Caveats: I would restrict my investment horizon to a short-term basis-- from hereon until just before the elections-- for two (2) reasons: (1) Election spending is very inflationary. Money supply has already expanded by 18% last year, exceeding the monetary authorities’ target of only 12%. Elections could aggravate that, putting pressure on interest rates to rise; (2) conduct of the elections. No major disruptions such as coups, a military take-over or another people power, please, since these would only serve to undermine the country’s financial gains. A wrong move and foreign investors, who dominate the market, may easily move out in droves as well, pushing the market back into the dustbin.

I’m pretty sure at some point the Bangko Sentral (BSP) will have to raise the interest rates perhaps after the elections, to mop up excess liquidity.

In addition, I hope Gloria vetoes the wage bill, or at least make it realistic. Drastic increases in wages which cannot be realistically matched by equally drastic increases in the country’s gross output will only result in higher inflation. It is so obvious I do not understand how this bill could have passed the scrutiny of Congress.

Why listen to communist relics in Congress, like Casiño and Beltran, self-styled Che Guevaras and die-hard proponents of a bankrupt ideology, who know zilch, nada, zero about economics and who probably think this country should emulate Cuba or North Korea?

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bull Run?

Writing non-stop for over an hour, I suddenly hit a brick wall, my train of thought disrupted by Jacques Torres’ paella and bouillabaisse cooking in his hometown in Provence, featured on the Lifestyle Channel. I’ll resume writing tomorrow morning at 4 a.m. I hope God wakes me up at that hour, I simply ignored the alarm this morning.

The equities market has exceeded the 3,000 index. My gad, I think there’s a bull run. Volumes have been quite heavy, averaging PhP2-3 billion daily, since last year. I gained a respectable 25% on SM Investments (over a one-year period) and recently, 56% on PNOC-EDC (I bought it only last month). I wasn’t able to buy much because the International Finance Corporation bought US$50 million worth of shares, crowding out small-time retail investors like me.

I am plunking my hard-earned money on the additional share price offering of FLI this first week of February. Why FLI (Filinvest Land)? Interest rates are currently low, which means amortization rates remain attractive. In addition, OFW remittances are hitting record levels. OFWs are becoming a major market for housing projects and condominium projects. With the deployment of more professionals such as nurses, engineers and IT personnel overseas, the money remitted back usually goes into real estate, education, or cars.

I expect FLI share prices to rise significantly. The company has a good track record in developing quality housing projects. It managed to keep its head above water even during the height of the financial crisis in the late nineties.

I am also aware that foreign brokerage houses are beefing up their staff, which means foreign investors may come back again in droves, especially after the elections in May.

The peso has strengthened so much, such that government economic managers took advantage of this to pre-pay some of our sovereign debt owed to multi-lateral institutions. A credit upgrade is likely, which would translate into better confidence in the market, resulting in an inflow of portfolio funds into equities.

The peso’s strength has affected me negatively, with the kind of work I do. I have to look for other avenues to boost my income.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Hiking Wages

The PhP125 peso across-the-board legislated daily wage hike, although still up for final approval in the Senate, does raise some eyebrows. Politically, it would ensure the survival of people in Congress and the Senate, as this populist move would sit very well with the workers.

The additional labor cost is estimated to be around PhP1.2 trillion (for the 12 million or so workers in the country), however, staggered over a period of three years. But can private business really afford this much increase in their manpower cost in such a short time? I seriously doubt it.

Wages normally get adjusted every year to account for inflation. However, it is periodically adjusted upwards to reflect gains in productivity as well. Drastically increasing wages without matching increases in productivity can only be inflationary.

Why, because growth in money supply on account of the strong demand for money to pay for the additional wages, will only exceed output growth.

Naturally, big business groups are one in opposing the move, as this would prove to be counter-productive in the long-run and will even make Philippine industries less competitive.

This can be salvaged however, like implementing the increases in a staggered basis over a longer period, six to maybe eight years. The adjustments to production would at least be gradual, giving time for both owners and laborers to make this work.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Updated Playlist

Here's the towering finger-breaker Sonata No. 3 Op. 28, by Sergei Prokofiev played on the piano by the Soviet-era pianist Emil Gilels. My brother and I used to watch Gilel's Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 on DVD at home in Bohol.

An absolute favourite, here's Toccata Op. 7 by the suicidal Robert Schumann. On the piano is the young German pianist Martin Stadtfeld.

Also, here's Maurice Ravel's ravishing Jeux D'eau, interpreted splendidly by Martha Argerich.

Yundi Li, the 2000 Chopin Piano Competition winner, plays my all-time war horse, Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu in C-sharp Minor Op. 66.

Also from the recent Chopin competition, Rafal Blechacz plays the Polonaise in A-flat Op. 53.

I'm currently trying to learn this piece, the Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G Minor Op. 23. It's lyrical, romantic and passionate. Love every note of this piece. Ambrose sent me the score over the internet.

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Nessun Dorma

TURANDOT
Opera in 3 Acts
Music by Giacomo PUCCINI
Libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni

Metropolitan Opera (New York) 1987
James Levine, Musical Director
Eva Marton, Placido Domingo, Leona Mitchell

First performance: Teatro alla Scala di Milano, 1926

Very much like Mozart’s Requiem, Giacomo Puccini failed to complete his final operatic masterpiece, Turandot, succumbing to cancer. In fact, most standard productions make use of Franco Alfano’s completion of the missing orchestration of the duet in the last Act.

Turandot is significant because it marked the end of the tradition of 19th century grand opera, raised to new heights by Verdi, and even pushed further towards immortality by Puccini. Turandot was composed just a few years after the ground-breaking Pierrot Lunaire of Arnold Schoenberg, Elektra of Richard Strauss and Sadko of the Russian neo-classicist Rimsky-Korsakov. This opera rivals Giuseppe Verdi’s Aïda, along with Meyerbeer’s neglected works, in terms of grandiosity. In oriental splendor, it is second to none.

This masterpiece—grand, lush, exotic—is filled with strongly-drawn characters set in explosive situations. Set in legendary Peking, it tells of Princess Turandot, a cruel princess who invites would-be suitors of royal blood from wherever, to try their luck and win her as the bride by successfully solving three riddles. Failure meant their heads would be chopped on the block. Turandot is trying to avenge the rape and murder of her ancestress by a man of royal blood during the turbulent years of the war. When she narrates the horror, her voice floats eerily and assumes a dream-like quality, as if it were far away, and gradually assumes a violent and ugly color. It is as if the soul of the offended victim has possessed her, in mind, heart and spirit, angrily asking for bloody revenge.

The Metropolitan production, under James Levine generated a mixed reception during the curtain call. The hisses and the jeers were unmistakable. Placido Domingo, as the brave Prince Calaf who risked his head for the beautiful Princess, was splendid during the first two Acts, his voice rising over the oriental rhythms and bold harmonies, even the occasional drift to atonality, of Levine’s orchestra. Acting-wise, Placido has always been one of the better tenor-stage actors. During the last Act however, he faltered in his rendition of the world’s most popular aria, the great “Nessun Dorma” (popularized by who else, Luciano Pavarotti), Domingo failed to hold on to the high C a wee bit longer than what is called for in Puccini’s score, and there wasn’t much ring into it. I got disappointed too.

Eva Marton as Princess Turandot was stunning vocally, also during the first two Acts, although I detected slight shrillness during the last Act. The transformation from a revengeful, icily-cold, man-hating, blood-lusting vixen to a remorseful and submissive penitent, was astounding. Although the matronly Marton (she was probably in her late forties when she sang this role) isn’t exactly the type of maiden most men, let alone Princes, would risk their heads for, but then again, where in the world could you possibly find a svelte, angel-faced, sixteen-year old with a voice so powerful it can shatter glass panes? Marton’s voice is naturally loud, very suitable for a role like Turandot. In fact, she’s among the very few sopranos who can both sing Italian verismo and Wagner, both styles requiring voices that soar above the complex sonorities of the orchestration.

Leona Mitchell splendidly essayed the martyr role of Liu, who sacrificed herself to save Calaf and provided the catalyst to Turandot’s transformation. She was the perfect anti-thesis to Turandot: warm, loving and loyal.

Oh yes, love conquers all, even the most cruel, blood-lusting, revengeful people can succumb to its power to change and heal broken souls. And Puccini’s out-of-this-world music powerfully sends that message across.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Night Clubs

I was still in college when I first stepped inside a night club. With a few friends from the same dorm who were equally penniless and hopelessly horny as I was, I bravely entered the dark doors of Club Paisano at the back of Uniwide in Cubao, a hole-in-the-wall girlie bar. The place stank, literally. The heady smell of smoke combined with the acrid smell of urine, spilled beer and cheap perfume- and the poor ventilation as well as the general rundown appearance made it a perfect candidate for a fire. No wonder Uniwide burned down a couple of years later, including the club. But since it was probably the cheapest night club that side of Cubao, we figured we couldn’t really afford to be choosy.

One or two beers were all we could afford to consume and we simply watched the semi-nude ladies parade on stage. We desisted from “table-ing” GROs, conscious of the fact that you get billed for the ladies drink. Since these drinks are probably no more than ice teas, the girls gulped the beverage as if they were starved for mommy’s milk, which means of course when it’s time to pay up, you’ve got to dig deep into your pockets.

When I started working, along with my officemates Ricky and Alvin, we would travel all the way to Caloocan, near Monumento, in Ricky’s car, usually during Friday nights, to watch an “all-out” show. Caloocan is notorious for hosting establishments of this sort. The Mayor then was Asistio, and you could tell that he commanded a strong support from night clubs. His campaign posters were pasted near the entrances.

It was becoming boring: the girls do a “fashion” show, fully-clothed, shedding their clothes off piece-by-piece until the very last moment when they’re totally naked-- for a split-second-- before running off the stage. Oh yes, in one of the more sizzling numbers, we couldn’t help notice that the girl gyrating in all her naked glory resembled our HR assistant at the office.

My roommate Paul and I also went inside Marlon’s in Fairview, a KTV bar. Curiously, the ground floor was conspicuously empty when we entered, with only one guy bawling at the karaoke machine. A short flight upstairs revealed the real state of affairs: the second floor was where the action was. I noticed the older and uglier girls usually did the wildest acts, like the high kicks ending in a full-split on the floor. Amazing.

But what really ended my desire to enter nightclubs was when Paul and I entered one along Commonwealth. The club management eagerly wanted to please its customers, it directed their gyrating, skimpily-clad models to hop and sit along your lap while teasing and touching you all over.

It was all right. It’s just that that two other male attendants were on hand to direct her from table to table with instructions, “this guy here, and then the other two in the next table” while the Mama-san, or the lady manager pointed the flash light to areas of my body where the dancer can touch me, like my bulging pants. It was so damn pathetic. It was conducted with crisp, robotic efficiency. It wasn’t sexy at all. Clearly, the customer was the exploited one, not the night club dancer. Whatever erotic thoughts I had during those moments evaporated in a flash.

Oh, I don’t go to night clubs anymore. (It’s true!).

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Deadlines

My project deadline's nearing, and I'm nowhere near the halfway mark yet. I think I need another miracle, as always. It has always been like this. I take on projects I have absolutely no idea how to pursue, economic circumstances do not permit me to say no to projects, especially foreign ones. Going to Quiapo and a quick prayer in the historic 400-year old Church always helps, especially when brilliant ideas do not make its way into my brain yet and when I hit brick walls when I try to look for credible sources and specific statistical data. Worse part is when I'm facing a blank monitor screen to write a 50-60 page report, in like, three days!.

Think positively, only imagine happy thoughts, I can almost picture a group of self-help gurus in all-white angel ensemble outfits consisting of Oprah, Kahril Gibran, Deepak Chopra and other perky self-help experts advising me on this, in vain :)

Currently listening to Sergei Rachmaninoff's monumental Piano Concerto no. 3, with Yefim Brofman on the Piano and Valery Gerghiev and the all-male Vienna Philharmonic in a concert in Tokyo, on youtube.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Magna

I have a confession to make. You see, I was among a select few who graduated magna in college, as in magna-nine years! (plus or minus-- you get the drift). Yes, I was busily tapping away at my workstation in a high rise building in Makati, giving investment recommendations to millionaires overseas who had money to blow in the local stock market, while that elusive diploma hung over my head like a dark cloud of despair. It was like a dark secret I kept to myself, and the feeling that a college diploma would have been framed and displayed for everyone to see in our little barrio in Bohol gnawed on me repeatedly. I felt like short-changing my parents. And so I vowed to return to school the first chance I get.

The culprit was that damn PE requirement. No, not the physical sports activity everyone is required to take. The lecture one, PE 1. I couldn’t pass it. I flunked it four times: 1. dropped it; 2. got an incomplete grade for not submitting a paper; 3. got a failing grade of 5.0 obviously for not paying attention to the lectures; and 4. a placement exam which would have exempted me from taking the subject again-- I failed that one, too. And the most horrifying thing of all? One professor didn’t even blink when he flunked me twice!

Ooh, spare me the lecture. Why I couldn’t pass a simple subject most 16-17 years old breeze through with flying colors, I do not know. Maybe I was disoriented, disorientated, whatever. I passed my accounting, econometrics and calculus but not PE 1. Most of my friends couldn’t believe it. I have stopped rationalizing.

And so when I started free-lancing, I had to get myself re-enrolled in the university. I had to write letters of appeal to the dean, the registrar, the college secretary, even the vice-chancellor, just so I can go back to school. I got in. But my appeal to have the PE requirement waived on account of my prospective employment abroad fell on deaf ears (well, I tried anyway).

And so I went back to school, enrolling in only one subject: PE. What did you expect?

The first day I in class I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. My classmates were like kids, freshman, and the fact that they were still in high school the year before while I was already slaving away in the corporate jungle was not lost on me. Worse, it turned out I was older than the instructor by a few years. Eeek! My only saving grace was that I wasn’t exactly the oldest student in class. A single mom, obviously she got pregnant while in school, took that “distinction”.

I was determined this time not to blow my chance of getting the diploma. I’ll pass this, by hook or by crook, I told myself. Unfortunately, I found the lectures boring, the subject uninteresting, and the instructor unenthusiastic. It didn’t help that the lectures were in Tagalog. Although I speak the vernacular fluently (I think), I have difficulty with lectures conducted in Tagalog, I find it exhausting. The real prospect of getting flunked by someone younger than I was didn’t appeal to me at all.

You know what, I actually flunked one exam. By that time I was already a firm believer of “curses”; someone must have hexed me. If not for my oral reports and research paper I would have been on my way down the road to perdition. Thank goodness.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Kapamilya News

Jong informed me early this morning that Maria Ressa suspended the once-all-too-influential media personality Korina Sanchez at ABS-CBN. Good grief, they should have done that ages ago. Korina Sanchez remains annoying, omniscient and highly-biased and it took ages for the network to realize that despite her popularity with the masses, she brings down the credibility of its news and public affairs division. In her TV and radio programs, she has this habit of fielding “leading” questions to support an already pre-conceived conclusion she has formed in her mind, and all she wants is for her interviewees to confirm it. Duh. Her so-called rival in the same network, Karen Davila, is no different.

Anyway, the same network has confirmed the pre-Valentines Concert of Piolo Pascual and Sam Milby. Ngeeek! I don’t know what to say. I thought it was all a joke because these two inseparable so-called heartthrobs are widely rumored to be ya know, together. Martin and Pops, Regine and Ogie, for a Valentine concert, yes. But Piolo and Sam Milby? Considering that these two are not exactly singers-- yes they can sing, but not good enough to mount a concert—you’d wonder what they’ll do onstage together. Will they be serenading the audience, or each other?

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Saturday, January 6, 2007

Helmets

I do not understand why cycling helmets have to look really ugly. You see, I bought one last Thursday and the designs at the bicycle shop really leave much to be desired. I know the design is meant to maximize the aerodynamic flow (whatever that means) and to allow proper ventilation while providing maximum protection to the head, the most important part of the body when you're on the move.

Anyway, the helmet I bought looks like a giant mushroom with large, protruding veins and a visor that appears to be a duck's beak. It's bulbous, a bit uncomfortable and at the risk of sounding redundant, really ugly. But then again, safety should be the prime consideration and not aesthetic values.

Lance Armstrong may be the best cyclist in the world, but look at his helmet, he looks like he was contaminated with radioactive material.

Don't even get me started with the skin-tight shorts or the jerseys filled with multi-color corporate logos. I'm not wearing those.

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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Contempt

The US Embassy and the Executive branch shamelessly carted off convicted US serviceman Daniel Smith to the US Embassy from the Makati jail in the dead of night last Friday, when everybody was busy with holiday activities. The Department of Foreign Affairs entered into agreement with the Embassy in view of the clear terms set forth in the Visiting Forces Agreement, despite the opposing views upheld by the Makati Court where Smith's case was heard.

This comes in the heels of the US threat to cancel the military exercises with the Philippine military. Obviously, the US is throwing its weight around again, placing Gloria in a difficult position. The Makati Court chose to interpret the terms of the VFA in a different light. And by defying the court, the US Embassy and the Palace should be cited "in contempt of Court".

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