Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Funky

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It really is summer now, isn’t it? I can tell from the rancid, unmistakably sweat-induced smell that assaulted me as I entered the cramped elevator noontime yesterday. Though I had to hold my breath till the 29th floor, I can't help but smile to myself. It's summertime, yey!

Monday, March 30, 2009

I miss school

Monday, March 30, 2009

The last class I attended, way back in 2007, was a three-unit penalty course I had to take for exceeding the university’s Maximum Residency Rule and the last hurdle left before I can finally finish my master’s degree in Social Development Studies. And it turned out to be a real punishment, indeed.

Since I was already living here in Manila then, I had to endure the weekly seven-hour torturous bus ride to Baguio to attend my three-hour class, and then immediately after another seven-hour bus ride back to Manila. Every week we are assigned a couple of inches thick of inscrutable articles, chapters and multiply cross-referred references, all of which we are required to read and write a short paper about containing our supposedly distilled, but often inchoate, thoughts and ideas. Having to read, understand and integrate each article into one coherent whole, initially inside my head, and then be able to transfer it on paper is a daunting--almost impossible and seemingly interminable--task.

It is a marvel to me, until now, how I survived that bloody semester. What I’m entirely sure of is how I miss every gory detail of it. I miss school.

I miss those sleepless nights I spent reviewing for long exams. With adrenaline running high, what kept me awake all night long was this one obsessive thought: I must get a 1.0 for this exam. I miss all the research – all the blood, sweat and tears - that goes behind crafting a paper. And the heightened feeling I get from earning a good grade afterwards is truly incomparable. I miss the challenge of making sense of the abstruse ramblings of ancient and contemporary philosophers and social theorists. I miss those frequent intellectual orgies with my classmates. I miss the interaction inside the classroom whose sheer informality nullifies the usual teacher-student distinctions and enables everyone to be a learner, instead.

I miss school.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

the universal urge to be otherwise

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I spent most of the weekend reading Philip Roth's Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993), from which I find this passage so true:

...people are trying to transform themselves all the time: the universal urge to be otherwise. So as not to look as they look; sound as they sound, be treated as they are treated, suffer in the ways they suffer, etc., etc., they change hairdos, tailors, spouses, accents, friends, they change their addresses, their noses, their wallpaper, even their forms of government, all to be more like themselves or less like themselves, or more like or less like that exemplary prototype whose images is theirs to emulate or to repudiate obsessively for life.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rush Mode

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It’s been hectic at work for the past few days. The whole office is in some sort of a rush mode – books being rushed for printing, tie ups with the bank, partner school trainings, closing of accounts, and meetings here and there to untangle everything. Maintaining my own work pace in the middle of this pumped-up, haste-driven, so-many-things-going-on-all-at-once climate demands an exhausting equilibrium.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

plans, plans, plans

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Now that we are financially capable and free from parental restraints, you’d think it’s easier for us, a group of friends, to make travel plans. It’s actually the opposite. It’s more difficult now than when we were still in high school. Back then, plans to have sleepovers are made without any fuss and finalized in a split-second. Preoccupied with only a few concerns in life, it was quite easy for us to organize a get together.

Hop on a plane and spend a few days in Boracay – that’s the plan. But it’s like so many forces are at work to make it merely a dream and less of a plan. The fact that we now reside in different countries is not the only issue to contend with. Factor in visa requirements, family obligations, incongruent schedules and different priorities, and the more the plan turns into wishful thinking. The only thing that holds the plan together and makes it attainable is our strong desire to, once again, be with each other.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Greeter's Lounge

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The greeter’s lounge at the arrivals section of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 is a hot, crowded and noisy place that looks like a chicken coop, but I love it. Whenever I go there I see the same thing, but I find it fascinating, still.

Buzzing with so much excitement, it is a place where, in the middle of the night, not a single person looks sleepy. Everywhere I look, I see faces glowing with wide-eyed anticipation, unmindful of the place’s chicken coop atmosphere. With bridled impatience, greeters alternately glance at their watches, the small monitor announcing flight schedules, and the arrivals ramp across the street.

It is a place where expressions of heartfelt delight abound. Cries of She’s here! That’s him! Welcome home! Welcome back! – all uttered with undisguised joy - can be heard all around. The way people’s faces light up as they catch a sight of the person they’re waiting for amidst the crowd is very heartwarming.

It is a place where all waiting ends. It is where you will witness the sweetest of kisses exchanged by couples reunited after long periods of separation. It is where the person you’ve been waiting for becomes that person you can finally press your face into and wrap your arms around.


Monday, March 23, 2009

when i don't update my blog

Monday, March 23, 2009

On days that I am not able to write a blog post, I feel kind of triumphant. It’s weird, even perverse, I know. I should feel the opposite, right? It’s just that when I don’t update my blog, it means that I’m busy with something else. And in my mind, it means that I am living life and not just writing about it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Certain Scent

Friday, March 20, 2009

After a meeting with the other department heads this morning, one of them approached me and asked what brand of perfume I am using. Obviously disquieted, he said that when I entered the room he caught a whiff of my perfume, and it reminded him of a past love—that person who, until now, haunts him.

Isn’t it astounding how a certain scent, a particular smell, can bring back a plethora of memories?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bangkok Chronicles Five: Impressions

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In Plato’s famed Allegory of the Cave, prisoners live in a cave with their legs and necks in bonds such that they can only see the shadows of things on the wall, not the things as they actually are. Socrates asks Glaucon, “Do you suppose such men would have seen anything of themselves and one another other than the shadows cast by the fire on the side of the cave facing them?” Then one prisoner was dragged out of the cave to see things as they really are – for the first time.

I am like him.

For the first time, I went out of my cave, my sheltered world, to try to discover what life is like beyond it. For the first time, I visited a foreign country. I saw things as they actually are - not described through the limiting and limited vocabulary of an author and not filtered through the distorting lens of a photographer’s camera. Preferring quiet walks to the more obvious must-see destinations, we didn’t see much of the city of Bangkok but what we saw opened my eyes to a lot of things.

My first thought as I stepped out of the plane was, this feels like Manila! In so many ways, Bangkok looks a lot like Manila, too. But as our stay lengthened, the differences become more glaring. And seeing the stark disparities first-hand is way more astonishing than merely reading about it. Litter-free streets, the ease of not having to have your bags checked everywhere you go, the absence of pushing and jostling to get inside the next train, inhaling air free of diesel stink – such small matters made me realize how, unlike the Philippines, a country like Thailand has made things work.

It is easier to understand what is truly captivating and unique about Bangkok by focusing on how everything there, though outwardly of divergent natures, blends seamlessly with each other – the fusion of various flavors in its culinary offerings; its towering temples, skyscrapers, five-star hotels and shopping centers dotting the skyline in a non-competitive way; the red light district of Patpong in harmony with the verdant sprawl of Lumphini Park; the river boat and the skytrain packed with both monks, locals and tourists in tranquil coexistence.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bangkok Chronicles Four: Throne Halls and Temples

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
From the Tha Chang Pier, we followed the throng of tourists marching towards the Grand Palace. It was so breathtakingly magnificent that I don’t think I have the words to adequately describe it.


The Grand Palace complex was established in 1782 and it houses not only the royal residence and throne halls, but also a number of government offices as well as the renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It covers an area of 218,000 square meters and is surrounded by four walls, 1900 meters in length.

The Upper Terrace (with the Phra Mondop in the middle, a repository for Buddhist sacred scriptures); the Phra Wiharn Yod (which contains a number of Buddha images); and a miniature of the Angkor Wat

The imposing Phra Siratana Chedi (a reliquary in the form of a golden chedi)

The Royal Pantheon (Prasat Phra Monthian Dharma) in which statues of past sovereigns of the ruling Chakri dynasty are enshrined

What amazes me most among these structures is the intricacy of detail devoted to each piece:


North of the royal residence and linked by a connecting gateway lies the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, one of the most venerated sites in Thailand where people convene and pay respect to the Lord Buddha and His Teachings.

The Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha

The Chakri Maha Prasat Hall (built in 1882 and consists of the Central Throne Hall and two wings)

The Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall is furnished by an exquisite mother-of-pearl inlaid throne surmounted by a
nine-tiered white canopy, a symbol of the duly crowned king. Its principle function has been and still is a hall for the lying-in-state of kings, queens, and honored members of the royal family

The Dusit Maha Prasat Hall and the Amphorn Phimok Pavillion

From the Grand
Palace and back to the Tha Chang Pier, we took a cross-river ferry to Wat Arun (Wat Arunratchawararam), a royal temple located on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River.


Its central prang (pagoda) towers to 66.8 meters and climbing up the steep stairs halfway to the top is really scary - and more so, going down.



The central prang, satellite prangs and porches (mondop) are all completely covered in thousands of porcelain and china decorations in a myriad of patterns… with some portions artistically highlighted by seashells, pieces of dishes or the traditional five-colored Thai chinaware known as benjarong.
If Wat Arun is impressive during daytime, it is equally so, or even more, at night. Here’s a photo of Wat Arun taken from a restaurant across the river, The Deck at Wat Arun Residence, where D and I had a lovely dinner overlooking the river.

(The guide pamphlets and maps provided at the Grand Palace and Wat Arun served as reference for all information contained in this post.)

Wealth of the World


With the economically and environmentally precarious moment we are in today, I thought it fulfilling to revisit Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or Life in the Woods (1954) and how he was able to “front only the essential facts of life.”. Here are his thoughts on books:

Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage. They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse them. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rustication

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Has it been almost two years now since you shared this dream with me?

I’d like to build a house by the beach with plenty of books to read, music to listen to, with the love of my life drinking Shiraz or Merlot without a care in the world. Occasionally, we would visit a museum in the urban jungle, see a day baseball game, go to an exotic place, hike the Appalachia, camp under the stars, see a play or go to a concert, dinner at a small restaurant by the Windsor castle and lots and lots of laughter. And do it all over again… I'd like you in my dreams, traipsing on the beach, teasing each other’s follies and you quoting famous dead people.

So far-fetched it seemed then, but it is now almost within our reach. It is so close that I can almost hear our laughter blending with the lulling sound of the waves and the rhythm of country life. It is so close that I am eager to be dislodged from where I am today. It is so close that I find myself anxious to say goodbye to life as I knew it and to embrace a new one with you.

Others may not believe it, but I yearn for the quiescence of a bucolic life--away from all the unnerving noise and enervating zombie-like energy of the city--punctuated with occasional visits to the world beyond it. I yearn for a home where, while fashioning sentences, I can look out the window and actually see the true color of the sky, vivid and not steeped in smog. The boondocks it may seem but it provides all of life’s essentials. Above all these, I yearn to have a world of our own, the life of our dreams.

Just a little bit more. We are almost there.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Toga

Monday, March 16, 2009

With a suppressed sigh and the slightest hint of poignancy, I looked intently at a friend’s picture. She’s wearing a toga, the kind members of the choir wear in church. I used to wear the same thing – its folds all pressed to perfection and pristine in its whiteness. An unexpected stab of regret pierced through me as I realized that, sadly, I’ll never wear that garment again. Since I left the fold, singing church hymns, which used to be a source of infinite gladness, is now reduced to a dim memory, an irretrievable fragment of the past. What remains is a sweet sadness for all that was lost and, in return, for everything I have gained.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bangkok Chronicles Three: Lumphini Park

Friday, March 13, 2009

If I can transport one part of Bangkok to Manila, it would be Lumphini Park, a 57-hectare park located in the middle of the city. I won’t even attempt to explain why. These photos can speak for themselves.

  

 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Right of Way

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It’s crazy how D just steps off the curb and proceeds walking along the pedestrian lane oblivious to the onslaught of speeding vehicles coming from who knows where. I had to explain to him, here in Manila you have to look in all directions before you attempt to cross the road. Drivers won’t stop even if there’s a pedestrian lane or a red light. He protests, but it’s my right of way! Yes, that may be the case but what’s the use of claiming that it’s your right of way if you’re already maimed or killed? Right of way is neither enforced nor followed here. Everywhere I see impatient motorcycle riders sneaking and snaking their vehicles even into the tightest of spaces, using the sidewalk--originally meant for people going on foot and not on wheels--just to escape traffic jams. They just can not and will not wait for their turn. It’s so exasperating how they bend the rules to their advantage, acting as if they own both the road and the sidewalk. For us lowly people without wheels, walking, once beneficial to our health, has now become a hazard.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bangkok Chronicles Two: Cabbages and Condoms

Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Along the 16th soi of Sukhumvit Road is Cabbages and Condoms, a restaurant that promotes better understanding of family planning and serves food “guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.” With a tagline like that, how can we not visit it?


Entering the place what greeted us were figures of a couple dressed in nothing but hundreds of vibrant colored condoms. With so many amusing things on display, we had to force ourselves to concentrate on the menu, from which we ordered tom yum goong (a spicy Thai classic soup of shrimps, lemongrass, galangal, mushroom, coriander and roasted chili paste), gaeng daeng (red curry) and som tum (spicy green papaya salad).


With advocacy on population and community development, great food and free condoms to go, how can we not enjoy the place?

unconvincing, implausible and blah


I’ve recently watched three hype-producing, award-winning, critically acclaimed, supposedly good movies: Gran Torino, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Contrary to popular perception, though, I find all films totally unconvincing, implausible and just plain blah. Watching movies presupposes suspension of disbelief but as I sat down and continued staring at the flickering screen, listening hard to what’s being said and trying to comprehend what’s happening, my incredulity mounted. Then boredom set in.

I can’t help but wonder, do those movies really stink or is it just me?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bookhouse

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Looking at my table, it suddenly dawned on me that I need a bookcase. The table has become so crowded with all the b ooks that kept piling up over the past two years I’ve stayed in my apartment. Now I not only have more desk space but my books have their own home. I had fun organizing them as I relived how each book became my source of wisdom and refuge, how they radically dismantled everything I’ve known and believed in, how they rocked my world and illuminated what was once dark and made ambiguous what was once clear. Every time I look at the small bookhouse, I can’t help but be delighted--and awed--with the vastness it contains.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bangkok Chronicles One: Street Food

Monday, March 9, 2009

It was our first day in Bangkok. We arrived at the hotel, left our luggage in our room, then immediately explored the neighborhood. It was a sight to behold – vendors selling everything you can possibly think of right there on the streets – food, clothes, shoes, kitchen utensils, lottery tickets, hair accessories, plants, jewelry. The area buzzed with so much excitement that you can feel it in the air.

We went looking for the nearest BTS SkyTrain Station, Saphan Taksin, and the adjoining Central Pier, a five-minute walk from the hotel. On our way back, we saw a collection of pots containing all sorts of dishes lined up on the stairs of a building. A small crowd was gathered around it so we decided to join in. Everything looked and smelled so delicious that we had a hard time deciding what to buy. We decided to get three dishes – chicken, fish and vegetables. Then we went back to our room to feast on our meal.


We st
arted with the roasted tilapia, so fresh and yummy (and went well with D's Singha beer and my own strawberry cola). Then I proceeded with the semi-cooked chicken salad seasoned with chili and herbs. The herbs so powerful, it was absolutely delicious and tasted like nothing I’ve tasted before. I savored each bite, wondering what particular ingredients were added to it. Halfway through, my mouth started to burn. Really, really burn. I’m used to spicy food but for that one, I think I drank almost a liter of water. D tasted it and he, too, had to endure its spicy kick. Just a few hours in the city and we were already having fun!


From then on, we fell in love with Bangkok’s street food – especially D. He’d wake me early in the morning just to hunt for gustatory delights. Of all the things being sold in the city’s streets, only the food fascinated him.

Here are just some of Bangkok's scrumptious street food:




 
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