Friday, January 29, 2010

issueless misery

Friday, January 29, 2010

And once again I am I will not say alone, no, that's not like me, but, how shall I say, I don't know, restored to myself, no, I never left myself, free, yes, I don't know what that means but it's the word I mean to use, free to do what, to do nothing, to know, but what, the laws of the mind perhaps, of my mind, that for example water rises in proportion as it drowns you and that you would do better, at least no worse, to obliterate texts than to blacken margins, to fill in the holes of words till all is blank and flat and the whole ghastly business looks like what is, senseless, speechless, issueless misery.

~ Samuel Beckett, Molloy, 1951

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cambodia Chronicles Four: Playing Tourist

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So what’s Cambodia like? That’s the question most of my friends asked me when I came back from my vacation. I could have played tourist, effusive in praise for everything and everyone in the country, but the cynical, misanthropic me refused to completely play that part and ignore what’s beneath the surface.

(Phnom Penh)

Playing tourists, we did all the embarrassing clich├ęs - we did what was expected of us, and we tried to see all of the attractions as much as we could. As we traveled from one place to another, I could have focused on the country’s magnificent landscape, breathtaking temples and colonial charm and pretended not to notice its ugly side. The luxurious hotels that catered to the millions of tourists that flock to the Angkor temples, the casinos in Phnom Penh, the foreign crowd drinking the night away along Siem Reap’s Pub Street – all of these stood in stark contrast to those small villages that relied on sugar palm trees as means of subsistence. Children peddling postcards and souvenirs abound in most tourist areas. It amused and amazed me how they could speak multiple languages and have memorized facts about different countries, but shouldn’t they be in school learning about other things, instead?

(casinos in Phnom Penh)

(palm tree plantation in Siem Reap)

Cambodia’s thriving tourist industry—whose recovery from the Khmer regime is truly astounding—does not mask, but even highlight, the signs of poverty that continue to weigh down the country. Although it emphasizes the gap between those who have and those who don’t, tourism fuels the Cambodian economy. To quote David, our tour guide: "For every tourist that comes to Cambodia, three Cambodians get employed."

this meaningless voice


Ah if only this voice could stop, this meaningless voice which prevents you from being nothing, just barely prevents you from being nothing and nowhere, just enough to keep alight this little yellow flame feebly darting from side to side, panting, as if straining to tear itself from its wick, it should never have been lit, or it should never have been fed, or it should have been put out, put out, it should have been let go out.

~ Samuel Becket, The Unnamable, 1954

Monday, January 25, 2010

a happy birthday

Monday, January 25, 2010

The sound of my phone ringing jolted me awake. It was my grandmother calling at half past six in the morning to greet me a happy birthday. She remembered. Through the tears that slowly fell, I began to smile-a smile that lasted throughout the day. I did not expect the call, nor the joy I felt because of it. It was, indeed, a happy birthday.

Turning thirty-two, I realized that an unexpected phone call and simple yet heartfelt greetings from family and friends all over matter to me more than loud gatherings. I don’t have to throw a party to celebrate my birthday when all I want is to stay at home by myself with a cup of yoghurt, a bowl of honeydew and—I hate to admit this—Elizabeth Gilbert’s travel memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. I don’t have to pretend, make excuses or apologize for spending my birthday the way I want it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I can choose

Sunday, January 24, 2010

There is so much about my fate that I cannot control, but other things do fall under my jurisdiction. There are certain lottery tickets I can buy, thereby increasing my odds of finding contentment. I can decide how I spend my time, whom I interact with, whom I share my body and life and money and energy with. I can select what I eat and read and study. I can choose how I'm going to regard unfortunate circumstances in my life--whether I will see them as curses or opportunities (and on the occasions when I can't rise to the most optimistic viewpoint, because I'm feeling too damn sorry for myself, I can choose to keep trying to change my outlook). I can choose my words and the tone of my voice in which I speak to others. And most of all, I can choose my thoughts.

~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, 2006

Thursday, January 21, 2010

At Thirty-two

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"The fire that stirs about her, when she stirs,
Burns but more clearly. O she had not these ways
When all the wild Summer was in her gaze
."
(William Butler Yeats, The Folly of Being Comforted, 1902)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cambodia Chronicles Three: Climbing to the Top

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When the light from the sun has begun to dim and our strength has been depleted from an entire day of traipsing from one monument to another, we set out for Phnom Bakheng, the temple sitting atop a hill north of Angkor Wat. Along with what seemed like hundreds of other tourists, we made our way up the 60-meter hill through a winding path in the forest. Willing my exhausted legs to function, I tried to keep up with the group rushing to get to the top to catch the setting of the sun. The half hour climb had a numinous feel with only the trampling of numerous feet and the lonely cry of the cicadas breaking the afternoon silence. Though walking side by side, each person was alone with his or her thoughts.

Reaching the top, we saw the quincunx of sandstone towers that crowned the temple and its steep stairs going all the way to the top. On all fours and with feet turned sideways, we painstakingly climbed those perilous stairs to get a glimpse of the sun setting on the ancient kingdom of Angkor. The view from the top turned out to be disappointingly dismal. The golden sun we all looked forward to hid beneath the leaden sky.

As we walked back, I felt dead tired yet surprisingly invigorated. The uphill hike made me happy, and I didn’t really mind missing that sought for sunset. It was the climb that mattered and not what’s there on top.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Overrated

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

As I move forward into the fourth decade of my life the more I realize that love is overrated. Maybe not for others, but in my case it, sadly, is. Loving someone with all you’ve got never makes certain the ‘happily ever after” that everyone dreams of but only a few achieve. Such is a sad fact of life that, deluded into believing in the supposed all-conquering power of love, we refuse to accept and continue to struggle with until there is nothing left. When your market value becomes a determinant of the future of your relationship you start doubting your self worth, and you slowly understand why you are still alone.

I used to believe in love; but like religion, marriage and God’s existence, love—in all its glory--is something that I now question.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Arrival

Monday, January 18, 2010

The air was rife with exultant anticipation. Containing my own eagerness, I sat amid the expectant crowd. From my seat I could see the security personnel battling with a throng of people all wanting to gain entrance, anxious to welcome the new arrivals. D’s plane was delayed, but that didn’t faze me. What’s another couple of hours when I’ve been waiting for his arrival for several months?

On the small monitor perched in front I scanned every person going down the arrival ramp. With each person who walked down that ramp, my impatience grew. Why’s he not here yet? What’s taking him so long? I saw the exact sentiment mirrored in the faces that surrounded me.

And then, at last, I saw him. The happiness I felt was terrifying. I wanted to break into a run, hurry forward and give him a fierce hug, but I didn’t. I’ve been waiting for that very moment for quite a long time that I didn’t want it to be rushed. I wanted it to last.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Through a Veil of Thought

Friday, January 15, 2010

“We all know what it is like to read whole paragraphs, and even pages of a book without assimilating a word. Few of us realize that we spend most of our lives in such a state: perceiving the present—present sights, sounds, tastes, and sensations—only dimly, through a veil of thought. We spend our lives telling ourselves the story of past and future, while the reality of the present goes largely unexplored. Now we live in ignorance of the freedom and simplicity of consciousness, prior to the arising of thought.”

~ Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, 2004

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hastening the Days

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Her eyes are red with sleepiness, but with unabated enthusiasm she reads on. She clicks on this and that site, athirst for anything related to the place they would next go to. Patiently checking ferry rides, bus and train schedules, air fares and flight availability, she wonders why she’s doing all those things this early. Why has she been staying up late planning for something that is not taking place soon?

Maybe it’s because she’s anal. Fussy and fastidious, she wants everything—to the most infinitesimal and trifling detail--perfect and according to plan. Or maybe it’s because she likes doing it. She loves the thrill that comes with research and knowing more about things she previously had no idea about. Or perhaps it’s the wanderlust in her veins, the siren song of the open road beckoning her once again. But the more she thinks about it, the more she grasps that those are not the fundamental reasons.

Hovering at the margins of her consciousness is the insane belief—and wishful thinking--that the more she plans and makes everything perfect, the sooner it will happen, the sooner he’ll be with her again. The waiting has begun anew, and she can’t but do something, anything, everything just to hasten the days.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

squandering your vote

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Most of the people I know are voting for the less popular candidates in the upcoming—or, if you look at it in another way, impending--presidential elections here in the Philippines. Some, though they would want to vote for those who rank low in the latest surveys, said that they won’t. Because for them it’s like squandering their votes for somebody who, unless the powers that be make the impossible possible, has no chance of winning. Do we vote for those whom we think would win? Or do we vote for those whom we think should win? Would we want to be responsible for putting a person, regardless of his or her capabilities, in that position just because majority said that they would?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Vietnam Chronicles Four: Freedom from Habit

Monday, January 11, 2010

I kept telling myself there is nothing to fear, but my heart was pounding hard and my stomach was clenched tight and I caught myself biting my lower lip. The narrow row boat continued to sway left and right, and I--maintaining a white-knuckle grip on its sides—imagined the boat toppling over and throwing me overboard. The boat ride seemed to last forever until I began to relax. Lulled by the beauty of the Mekong River, I realized that there is nothing to fear after all.

(Mekong River, Ben Tre Province, Mekong Delta)

Surrounded by the seemingly endless waters of the Mekong and the gentle breeze that threatened to blow my hat away, I began to drink it all in.

In a foreign country like Vietnam I am freed from the habits that order my life and the various fears that circumscribe it. Because I didn’t have to do the usual things I do, I got to do those I never dared to do before – things that were strange, new and exciting. Shielded by anonymity in a foreign place, I was able to leave--even just for a while--my comfort zone. I gave in to discomfort and, unexpectedly, had more fun as a result.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Alone again, naturally

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It’s oddly soothing, this silence enfolding me. As I return to the everyday from the gleeful jangle of the holidays the absence of sound, movement and existence outside my own is quite refreshing. I am alone again and, this time, I am not complaining.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Vietnam Chronicles Three: TheSinh Tourist

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I was so impressed with the quality of the services provided by our tour agency, TheSinh Tourist, that I had to write about it.


As early as six in the morning you will see buses lined up in front of it. There are hordes of people—tourists, travelers and backpackers of all colors and sizes and various points of origin—coming in and out of the building. On the street, you will hear “Mui Ne! Mekong! Cu Chi!” being repeatedly called out. Of all tour agencies in the area, TheSinh Tourist, formerly known as Sinh Cafe, appears to be the busiest. And it is.

Well planned and very organized, all of the tours we booked at TheSinh Tourist, were free from confusion and delay and definitely worth the amount we paid. The guides who always performed their tasks with alacrity are fluent in English, French, Japanese and Mandarin. Available in its office, the leaflets and pamphlets detailing TheSinh Tourist’s tour packages are also translated in those languages.

Through it we met some delightful people - the other members of the four-day Cambodia tour that we took. Most of them are travelers from different parts of the world who came back to visit their country of birth. Aside from us, there were two other couples: one is a Filipino couple working in Saigon and the other is a pair of backpackers who, as of the day we met them, had been backpacking all over Africa and Asia for three months. Beneath the light conversations over breakfast and the bus rides made more bearable by bursts of mirth, it would have been nice to get to know those people better. But given the limited time that we had, I am grateful to just have met each one of them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

8/11

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Twelve months ago I listed down the things I need to do before 2009 ends. Looking back, I wonder where I did right, where I failed, and what I accomplished. Here’s the list.

Mastered at least three piano pieces. It’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve
never touched the keys of the piano since I wrote the list. I think I’ve already forgotten how to read notes. And since I failed to master even one piece last year, I will do so this year.

Started with the online course I’ve been planning to take. Started, yes; but finished, no.

Saved enough to go for a vacation outside the country. Chasing our dreams, D and I were able to travel to three countries in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. We plan to travel some more this year.


Spent more time with the people I want to be with. In the middle of last year, my old friends and I did some catching up. With them I was able to escape, though momentarily, my life of monotony and needless anxiety. Their presence reminded me of who I was and who I have always wanted to become. The weekend visits to my mother’s place gave me a chance to bond with my family, particularly my sister who never fails to cheer me up. Along with my friends and my family who live far away, there’s that one person who I want to spend more time with and, in 2009, I did.

Each moment with him was so precious that in the middle of the majestic temples, palaces and skyscrapers, the markets that swelled with people of different countries, the bumping shoulders at the skytrain, aboard the river boats that gently rolled along the Chao Phraya River, surrounded with the sawatdee ka we hear and the smiles we see everywhere we go, in the sweltering heat of the City of Angels, we had eyes only for each other. I loved the way his eyes rested on mine. His eyes showed how happy and content he is, like a person who has everything he wants in life – an exact reflection of how I, myself, feel.

Weighed approximately the same (or even less!) than I did last year. Still at 47 kgs, yay! I would have wanted to lose the flab, though.

Expressed my appreciation for people more. There were lapses, I know, but I somehow accomplished this.

Read at least 55 books. This I accomplished with much pleasure and little effort. I was able to finish 56 books, both fiction and nonfiction, that tackle various topics and belong to different genres – religion, dystopia, travel, atheism, Spanish and Portuguese literature, postmodernism, Jewish fiction, satire, old age, coming of age, African American literature, and a lot more obscure stuff.

Managed to stay away from the doldrums. I tried to stay away but failed terribly.

Mounting waves of loneliness engulf her at times when she least expects it. She feels its presence even when surrounded with colleagues and particularly when she goes home at night and closes her door to the world. Her eyes fall on the empty couch, the somber walls, the lone glass on the kitchen counter and she braces herself against another wave.

Beneath the pretty clothes, the sparkling laughter and the sweet smile is an utter desolation whose very existence would astonish anyone if they’d only look closer. Beneath the confident exterior is someone struggling not to fall apart.


Spent less on ‘wants’ than on ‘needs’. The line between wants and needs sometimes gets a bit blurry, but most of the time I managed—after summoning enough self-control—to differentiate the two.

Learned the basics of Photoshop. It helped that I’m part of the review team for the development of our Photoshop textbook. Learning the tool, however, did not make me want to use it. Not only did I find the whole image editing process tedious, but I still prefer raw photos over manipulated ones.

Focused more on what’s going well than on what’s not. My failure to do this was the reason I didn’t manage to stay away from the doldrums.

I got eight out of eleven, which is equivalent to 72.7 percent or 2.25 (using the UP Grade Point System). Eight out of eleven is considered good or satisfactory, a gentler term for mediocre or puwede na rin.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Together

Monday, January 4, 2010

The usual buko salad, egg rolls, spaghetti, caldereta, and pork barbecue were all there on the dining table, but the people who used to enjoy the food were not present anymore. What looked like a simple feast was actually an effort to continue the family tradition on New Year’s Eve despite the glaring—and painful--fact that only four of us remain now - my brother, my sister, my mother and I. In each moment, I felt my heart melt within me with happiness. Yes, there were only four of us during the holidays, but we were happy. And we were together.
 
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