Friday, January 31, 2020

What Happened in January 2020

Friday, January 31, 2020

It’s only the last day of the first month of the year, yet numerous momentous events had already happened.

Early this month the US government ordered the killing of one of Iran’s top military officials over the threat of an imminent attack against America. Consequently, the Iranian general’s death increased volatility in the region.  After being impeached by the House of Representatives for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, President Trump’s fate—whether or not he will be removed from office—is being deliberated upon in the ongoing Senate impeachment trial. The legal claims that the president’s motives are unknowable and that he can do whatever he wants threaten to upend the Office of the President.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex giving up their royal titles was covered by the international press more lengthily and forcefully than Britain’s official departure from the European Union—which is today, 31 January 2020.  Boris Johnson campaigned on the slogan “Get Brexit Done” and, unlike his predecessor Theresa May, he did get it done. What Brexit really means for trade, Britain’s economy, the backstop, local residents, foreign workers, and travelers, though, is still unclear.

Taal Volcano erupted which wreaked havoc in many provinces in the Philippines. It’s just recently that those who had been forcibly evacuated were able to return to their homes. And then comes another disaster. Yesterday, just when the World Health Organization declared global emergency over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus that has already spread to 15 countries and claimed 170 lives, the Philippines announced its first case. This morning, from the moment I left the house to the time I entered our office building, I counted 238 people wearing face masks. The sight of all those people wearing masks is fairly alarming. Yesterday’s announcement and the fearmongering over the virus in social media are causing mass hysteria.  

Thursday, January 30, 2020

I never liked people

Thursday, January 30, 2020

“I’m not joking when I say that I never liked people, because people scared me. Because anytime I said what was inside me, they had no idea what I was talking about. They made me want to smash a window just to have a reason to walk away from them. Because I kept fucking up, because it seemed so hard not to fuck up, I lived a life where I had less than what I desired. So instead of wanting more, sometimes I just made myself want even less. Sometimes I made myself believe that I wanted nothing, not even food or air. And if I wanted nothing, I’d just turn into a ghost. And that would be the end of it.”

~ Kevin Wilson, Nothing to See Here, 2019

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Imagining I'm on Vacation

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

We’re so busy at work trying to beat deadlines that to get through the day I imagine myself already enjoying that long vacation I'm planning to take: lazy, carefree hours with D, the smell of the ocean, bikinis, the sound of foreign words, rainforests, the taste of food I haven’t tasted before, cool mountain air, hiking, long-distance buses, getting lost.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Some story of suffering

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

“…this is the one thing all migrants have in common, this is the solidarity that exists among them, though they all come from different places and different circumstances, some urban, some rural, some middle-class, some poor, some well educated, some illiterate, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, Mexican, Indian, each of them carries some story of suffering on top of that train and into el norte beyond. Some, like Rebeca, share their stories carefully, selectively, finding a faithful ear and then chanting their words like prayers. Other migrants are like blown-open grenades, telling their anguish compulsively to everyone they meet, dispensing their pain like shrapnel so they might one day wake to find their burdens have grown lighter….”

~ Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt, 2020

Monday, January 27, 2020

Immersed and Transported

Monday, January 27, 2020

After that long run last Saturday I decided to stay at home and take it easy the rest of the weekend. Taking it easy meant binge-watching shows on Netflix. I went over my to-watch list and chose Haider, a 2014 Indian movie that is supposed to be an adaptation of Hamlet. After 20 minutes of watching the film I felt distracted. I was unmoved by what’s happening on screen. I went back to my listPandemic, The 43, Atlantics, Virunga, The Game Changers—but nothing appealed to me. Is it me or are those shows really that boring? Is my mind too jittery that I cannot fully concentrate on what I’m watching? I gave up and started reading instead. Before I knew it, hours had passed and I’ve reached the last page of Esme Weijun Wang’s compilation of essays, The Collected Schizophrenias. So I began another book: American Dirt, today’s most talked about novel that almost everyone hates.

I am now 42 years, with no responsibilities and nothing else to distract me from my life of solitude, and I’ve retained the deeply engaged, obsessive reading of my childhood, those long, trancelike reading bouts that are more satisfying than watching movies of mindlessly scrolling through social media. With books I am transported; I am immersed, body and soul.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Great Punctuation

Sunday, January 26, 2020

“I wouldn’t deny that there’s joy in knowing a set of grammar rules; there is always joy in mastery of some branch of knowledge. But there is much more joy in becoming a reader who can understand and explain how it is that a punctuation mark can create meaning in language that goes beyond just delineating the logical structure of a sentence. Great punctuation can create music, paint a picture, or conjure emotion.”

~ Cecelia Watson, Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark, 2019

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Today is a Good Day

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Today is a good day. I was able to run 10 kilometers, something I've been meaning to accomplish for months now. On my way home from that morning run, I saw persimmons for sale. I was delighted for I haven't seen persimmons since we went to Japan more than two years ago. I bought some and went home. When I got home I checked my phone for any messages. There it was, a message from D, telling me the best, most wonderful news. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

My year of rest and relaxation

Friday, January 24, 2020

“This was good, I thought. I was finally doing something that really mattered. Sleep felt productive. Something was getting sorted out. I knew in my heart—this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then—that when I’d slept enough, I’d be okay. I’d be renewed, reborn. I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories. My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.”

~ Otessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2019

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Spanish Proficiency

Thursday, January 23, 2020

I keep receiving invites to Duolingo events. I’m tempted to attend these events but I always hesitate. These events are for people who are learning Spanish through Duolingo, a free mobile and web app for language learners around the world. There’s one group that meets every month at a location very near my place. The meetup is not a class but is meant to build one’s confidence in speaking the language. So I think of these events as my chance to actually converse with people in Spanish. Yet I never go. Meeting strangers with whom I need to exchange small talkin Spanish at thatis such a daunting task.

I’ve been studying Spanish since 2013, but I'm not even close to being fluent. I took a Spanish proficiency test and based on my score I’m now at the intermediate (B1) level. This means that I am now an independent user of the language and that I (supposedly) can:
  • understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.;
  • deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken;
  • produce simple connected texts on topics which are familiar or of personal interest;
  • describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions; and
  • briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
In theory, yes, I can do all of those things, but in actual situations I’m not quite sure. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Everything In Its Proper Place

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Namba, Osaka, Japan
When you live in the Philippines and travel to a country like Japan, you will realize how stark the differences are between the two countries. In Japan everything is in its proper place and everything is done with method and order. There are many things in that country that I wish the Philippines also has – things like umbrellas in individual umbrella stands, heated toilet seats, bathrooms that also work as clothes driers, ICOCA, bagging your own groceries, house slippers, bathroom slippers, trains that are never late, TV in the bath, unlimited green tea at every meal, push button crosswalk signals, spotlessly clean sidewalks devoid of vendors, beggars, and street urchins, shops without security guards, bicycles for rent, vending machines that can be found everywhere, bento boxes, bus drivers wearing pristine white gloves, the absence of chatter and unnecessary noise in buses and trains.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Ideal Conditions for Working

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"When I thought of the ideal conditions for working, in other words, I looked at things from the perspective of someone not working, of someone on holiday, of a tourist in Taormina. I always had in mind the view that my desk would overlook, thereby overlooking the fact that the view from the desk is invisible when you are actually working, and forgetting that of the many genres of sentence I dislike there is none that I despise more than ones which proceed along the lines of ‘If I look up from my desk . . .’ The ideal conditions for working were actually the worst possible conditions for working."

~ Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage: In the Shadow of D.H. Lawrence, 1997

Monday, January 20, 2020

Free to Write Anything

Monday, January 20, 2020

Knowing that nobody (except you, honey) reads what I write gives me the freedom to write about anything I want. I don’t have to please any audience or alter my writing to fit readers’ reactions. I can write solely for the pleasure it gives me.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The small and the daily

Sunday, January 19, 2020

“Because it’s true: more than the highlights, the bright events, it was in the small and the daily where she’d found life. The hundreds of times she’d dug in the soil of her garden, each time the satisfying chew of spade through soil, so often that this action, the pressure and release and rich dirt smell, delineated the warmth she’d found in that house in the cherry orchard. Or this: every day they woke in the same place, her husband waking her up with a cup of coffee, the cream still swirling into the black. Almost unremarked upon, this kindness. He would kiss her on the crown of her head before leaving, and she’d feel something in her rising through her body to meet him...”

~ Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies, 2015

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Bali's Lempuyang Temple

Saturday, January 18, 2020

My siblings and I knew beforehand that the drive to Lempuyang Temple in East Bali would take three hours and that the queue for a photo at the gate would take another three hours. We went anyway. Instead of whining about it, we considered the long queue in the oppressive heat of the midday sun as something to enjoy, not endure. Instead of whining about it, we thought of waiting in line for three hours not as a waste of time but a singular feat that required tremendous patience.

Tourists line up for a photo at the gate of Lempuyang Temple, with mighty Mt. Agung in the background.
I wonder why some tourists feel so cheated when they find out that the lake is merely an illusion created by holding a mirror under the lens of a camera. Of course it’s fake. Have they not read anything about the temple at all? If you went there just to have your photo taken at the gate with the fake lake, you’d undoubtedly feel deceived. Lempuyang Temple is one of Bali’s six temples of the heavens. It is sacred to the Balinese because it is located at the top of Mount Lempuyang, the island’s easternmost mountain. That gate where tourists pose for photos only marks the entrance to the outermost sanctum of the temple. The uppermost inner sanctum of the temple actually sits at the top of 1,700 steps, another two-hour climb from that infamous gate.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Autumn leaves don’t fall

Friday, January 17, 2020


"And just at that second, the wind picked up, and thousands upon thousands of yellow sycamore leaves broke from their life support and streamed across the sky. Autumn leaves don’t fall; they fly. They take their time and wander on this, their only chance to soar. Reflecting sunlight, they swirled and sailed and fluttered on the wind drafts."

~ Delia Owens, Where the Crowdads Sing, 2018

Thursday, January 16, 2020

You Are My World

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Him: Is Costa Rica safer than Rio?
Me: Oh, definitely. Nicaragua is a bit iffy too because there is civil unrest.
Him: What unrest?
Me: People have been protesting for months now, like in Chile, Ecuador, Hong Kong.
Him: We can join them.
Me: You really don’t follow world news, do you? Hahaha...
Him: What world news? You are my world.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Anticipating the Unfamiliar

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What makes traveling such a pleasure is the anticipation in knowing that each day in a foreign place may result in anything. You could get lost and end up utterly ill-prepared, shambling down a perilously steep and muddy path through a tangle of trees, creepers, and tea plantations in flip-flops, a midriff-baring top, and a long swirly skirt. That’s precisely what happened when D and I woke up one morning and decided to go to the Demodara Nine Arches Bridge in Ella, Sri Lanka.

The Nine Arches Bridge was built entirely out of brick, rock, and cement and without a single piece of steel in 1921.
Having no idea how to reach the bridge, we opted to walk rather than take a tuk-tuk as most tourists do. We asked locals for directions and they patiently pointed out landmarks and shortcuts to get to the bridge. Following their instructions, we walked towards Little Adams Peak then turned left until we reached  Nine Acres Resort and Spa. We then crossed the road and entered a narrow path in the middle of a dense tea plantation. We weren’t quite sure if we were on the right track, yet we walked on, trusting the directions given to us, until we reached that steep, dangerous-looking trail. As I was dressed inappropriately for that kind of hiking, I refused to go, but D convinced me otherwise. He promised to prop me up, even carry me just so we can reach the bridge. And we did.

As someone who plans everything right down to the most infinitesimal detail, I was delighted when I realized that not knowing anything about a place but going there anyway can be absolutely fun and that traveling is all about taking pleasure in the onslaught of the unfamiliar.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Shut the door on grief

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

“…What else have I missed? How many times in my life have I been, so to speak, on the back porch, not the front porch? What would have been said to me that I failed to hear? What love might there have been that I didn’t feel?

These are pointless questions. The only reason I have lived so long is that I let go of my past. Shut the door on grief on regret on remorse. If I let them in, just one self-indulgent crack, whap, the door will fling open gales of pain ripping through my heart blinding my eyes with shame breaking cups and bottles knocking down jars shattering windows stumbling bloody on spilled sugar and broken glass terrified gagging until with a final shudder and sob I shut the heavy door. Pick up the pieces one more time.”

~ Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, 2015

Monday, January 13, 2020

Suspension?

Monday, January 13, 2020

Taal Volcano erupted yesterday, leaving devastation in the surrounding provinces. Its ash fall reached as far as Metro Manila, yet we’re still required to report for work. Although it’s now clear outside who knows what kind of toxic particles we’re breathing in by exposing ourselves to the ash? Flights and classes have been suspended since yesterday. The government also urged companies to suspend work and many complied except ours.  I heard that they might let us off soon. But what’s the point of that when we’re already here? We might as well stay and finish the day’s work.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

When the fight is about unraveling

Sunday, January 12, 2020

"When your fight has purpose—to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of an innocent—it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling—when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event—there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it."

~ Tea Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife, 2011

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Favorite Experiences in Bali, Indonesia

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Not long after my family and I came back from a vacation in Bali last year, I started reading William Finnegan's memoir Barbarian Days, a chronicle of his surfing life around the world. In 1979, he went to Bali about which he wrote the following:

“Bryan loathed Bali. We wrote an article for Tracks—it carried, by tradition, both our names, though I only gave it a light edit—mocking the notion, then widespread among Australian surfers, that Bali was still an unspoiled paradise of uncrowded waves and mellow Hindu natives. In fact, he wrote, it was overrun with surfers and other tourists. It was a place where one could “see topless and bottomless Europeans of both sexes,” “listen to the lies of surfers from all over the world,” “hire a board carrier and experience the dizzying thrill of colonialism,” and “tell people you’re from Cronulla when you’re really from Parramatta,” the latter being a less cool Sydney suburb than the former.”

I can’t believe that Bali was already overrun and consumed by mass tourism as far back as the 1970s. Even in 2013 when I first visited the place and now when I returned with my family, Bali is no longer an “unspoiled paradise of uncrowded waves.” It is the exact opposite of that yet we enjoyed the place nonetheless. Below are my favorite experiences in Bali.

Having lunch at our favorite warung


Spending countless hours just hanging out in the house we rented in Kuta


Traipsing through the Tegallalang rice terraces in Ubud


Watching the sun set while listening to a live band covering Bob Marley songs at Double Six Beach, Seminyak



Friday, January 10, 2020

Someone’s absence

Friday, January 10, 2020

"This is love, she thought, isn’t it? When you notice someone’s absence and hate that absence more than anything? More, even, than you love his presence? Each knew of how she had waited for the Kolker by the window every day, how she became acquainted with its surface, learned where it had melted slightly, where it was slightly discolored, where it was opaque. She felt its tiny wrinkles and bubbles. Like a blind woman learning language, she moved her fingers over the window, and like a blind woman learning language, she felt liberated. The frame of the window was the walls of the prison that set her free." 

~ Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated, 2002

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Joy in Missing Out

Thursday, January 9, 2020

When I quit Facebook in 2016 I never felt as if I’m missing out on anything. I don’t really care about what’s happening in the lives of virtual strangers who are purportedly my “friends”. I don’t want to lay eyes on the insipid things they share or read the callous, malicious thoughts they insensibly put out in public. I cannot take the low-key bragging, the overblown outrage over trivial matters, the calculated equivocations ubiquitous in news feeds. When I switched off Facebook and along with it the ambient noise of other people’s lives I felt relieved. And since then I feel joy, not fear, in missing out.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Favorite Experiences in Taiwan

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

A couple of months ago my friends and I went on a short trip to Taiwan. The five days we spent there were not nearly enough to enjoy all the sights and experiences the country has to offer, yet we truly enjoyed our brief vacation. The highlight of the trip was spending time with each other and celebrating three decades of friendship. But aside from that, here are my favorite experiences in Taiwan:

Shopping at Ximending, Taipei
We spent many hours shopping and just walking around Ximending.

Eating stinky tofu at Raohe Market
Stinky tofu smells rotten and tastes really nasty.

Hiking the Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan) Trail
Hiking to the top of Elephant Mountain offers the best views of Taipei's skyline.

Watching huge waves sweep across the pebbled shores of Qixingtan Beach in Hualien
Qixingtan Beach is truly stunning but swimming is not allowed because of strong currents.

Hiking the Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou) Trail in Taroko National Park
Yanzikou Trail is amazing but I'd like to go back to Taiwan to hike the other trails at Taroko Gorge.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

An illusion all lovers have about themselves

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

“We tend to slot any new relationship we come across into a pre-existing category. We see what is general or common about it; whereas the participants see – feel – only what is individual and particular to them. We say: how predictable; they say: what a surprise! One of the things I thought about Susan and me – at the time, and now, again, all these years later – is that there often didn’t seem words for our relationship; at least, none that fitted. But perhaps this is an illusion all lovers have about themselves: that they escape both category and description.”

~ Julian Barnes, The Only Story, 2018

Monday, January 6, 2020

Aimless Days

Monday, January 6, 2020

Passing entire days in the twilight of boredom and idleness is the ultimate indulgence, the best way to spend the holidays. In the past two weeks I got up no earlier than 9 am (except for those mornings when I felt compelled to run). I’d have breakfast, randomly scribbling down notes for my blog, half-listening to the local news on TV, and dispensing unsolicited--and often indignant--comments on what’s happening in the world. My mother would sit there, sipping her coffee in comfortable silence, used to my daily rambles. Hours would pass and the rest of the family would join us in relishing the day’s unformed possibilities. What we’re having for lunch/merienda/dinner and what Netflix show we’re going to watch are the day’s most pressing concerns. We were happy doing nothing in those lazy, aimless days.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

What we want out of a vacation

Sunday, January 5, 2020

"What we want out of a vacation changes as we age. It changes from vacation to vacation. There was a time when it was all about culture for me. My idea of a real break was to stay in museums until my legs ached and then go stand in line to get tickets for an opera or a play. Later I became a disciple of relaxation and looked for words like beach and massage when making my plans. I found those little paper umbrellas that balanced on the side of rum drinks to be deeply charming then. Now I strive for transcendent invisibility and the chance to accomplish the things I can’t get done at home. But as I pack up my room at the Hotel Bel-Air, I think the best vacation is the one that relieves me of my own life for a while and then makes me long for it again."

~ Ann Patchett, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, 2013

Saturday, January 4, 2020

My Favorite Books of the Decade

Saturday, January 4, 2020

I had a hard time selecting the titles that belong to this list. After several hours of introspection and rumination, I finally decided on these books:
  1. 1Q84, Haruki Murakami, 2011
  2. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara, 2018
  3. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2013
  4. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo, 2012
  5. Both Flesh and Not: Essays, David Foster Wallace, 2012
  6. City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp, Ben Rawlence, 2016
  7. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett, 2016
  8. Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney, 2017
  9. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death at a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink, 2013
  10. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen, 2010
  11. Improvement, Joan Silber 2018
  12. Neapolitan Novels, Elena Ferrante, 2011-2014
  13. Normal People, Sally Rooney, 2018
  14. Pachinko, Min Jin Lee, 2017
  15. Purity, Jonathan Franzen, 2015
  16. Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart, 2010
  17. The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka, 2011
  18. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt, 2013
  19. The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai, 2018
  20. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy, 2017
  21. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan, 2013
  22. The Passage Trilogy, Justin Cronin, 2010-2016
  23. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015
  24. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, Jia Tolentino, 2019
  25. Zone One, Colson Whitehead, 2011

Friday, January 3, 2020

Singlehood is his decision

Friday, January 3, 2020

"Some of them ask him with pity, and some ask him with suspicion: the first group feels sorry for him because they assume his singlehood is not his decision but a state imposed upon him; the second group feels a kind of hostility for him, because they think that singlehood is his decision, a defiant violation of a fundamental law of adulthood.”

~Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life, 2015

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Where To This Year?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

It's the second day of 2020, and I can't help but plan for - or dream of - the places I will travel to this year. Where am I going to spend my precious 18 days of vacation leave along with the countless non-working holidays and long weekends that we have? I want to go somewhere I haven't visited but I also don't want to bother myself with any visa application. That narrows it down to these countries:
  • Asia: Armenia, Brunei, Iran, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste
  • Africa: Benin, Cape Verde, Comoros, Cote d'Ivore, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda
  • Oceania: Cook Islands, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu
  • Americas: Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominica, Haiti, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago
So where to this year? I always wanted to go back to Latin America so maybe Costa Rica. It's easy to go to Myanmar so that's another option. Or maybe Seychelles, Vanuatu, or Dominica? 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The opinions of others were irrelevant to me

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

"I wasn’t used to being attacked like this and it was frightening. I thought of myself as an independent person, so independent that the opinions of others were irrelevant to me. Now I was afraid that Nick was right: I isolated myself from criticism so I could behave badly without losing my sense of righteousness. "

~ Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends, 2017
 
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