Monday, December 31, 2007

Reduced Friction

This holiday season is, by far, the most boring one I have ever lived through. True, a lot of things happened, never a dull moment, really, except that whatever's going on, I'm not feeling it. I'm not quite sure how to put into words what I feel, or cannot feel. It's as though the spirit of the Winter Solstice has been, more than just commercialized, also exorcised.

I used to be a gift-giver during this season. It does not necessarily imply, though, that I like giving gifts. Au contraire, I don't like second-guessing what other people might like or dislike. Yes, I could have just settled with giving people senseless aromatics like candles or oils or, uh, scented photo albums or, uhm... cakes, fruitcakes... scented fruitcakes! However, my code of ethics, which has more than once gone against my better judgment, made me exert an effort to really give.

Truth be told, I used to give gifts only to my friends. I'll admit that it is one of the reasons I don't have that much friends; it is that much easier to micro-manage your relationships. This year, however, I am bathed with a sense of surreal quality, as though what I'm doing may or may not matter at all.

Allow me to elaborate, I started working, and a six-month probationary period, at June 25 this year. As such, I am scheduled to be regularized on Christmas Eve, that is, if I am to be regularized. In other words, I have no clear idea whether I'll be seeing the recipients of my gifts ever again or if I'd be updating my resume for some other company, hopefully, someplace with less homophobic people.

Anyway, it went well, somewhat. Unexpectedly, really, one of my friends, er, warm acquaintances actually liked what I gave him. I guess it might be for those kind of smiles and thanks that I decided to invest, err, give gifts to my co-workers, I mean, friends. Who knows?

Christmas was a pretty dull event. After some kind of altercation between my family and the other families on my dad's side three years or so ago, it was, so to speak, the first day "we", as in the family tree on my dad's side, were together for Christmas ever since "the incident". Really, it pissed me off. An uncle all but ignored me and was muttering under his breath something about chairs and tables. Other cousins, aunts and uncles also, quite overtly, made a point of not sharing a table with us, despite there being enough space for three or four more people. Smiles were forced, laughter was kinda stifled, everyone gave off the impression of happiness but everyone old enough to know also knew it was a rather tense happiness at that. It sucked, really, and it was a "family" gathering I'd rather not repeat anytime soon.

Things were a bit better with the family on my mom's side. For one, it was not a large family so it was rather easier to form connections. For starters, they were only four of them. The eldest died by a railroad accident, so I was told. The youngest, on the other hand, had, for all intents and purposes, dropped off the face of the earth. That left only two families, two pairs of parents, six children and me, the lone adult-child.

Anyway, the day after Christmas was the birthdate of my sib. There was not much by way of guests and the party was rather boring too. Still, it was just right for cooking good ideas... or what seemed to be good ones. In any case, it ended with us going out for another family adventure on Rizal Day.

First stop was Quiapo, that dirty place in dirty Manila famous for its Church and equally infamous for the mendicants of pirated wares, palm and card readers, hawkers of potions to induce abortions and nimble-fingered thieves, all who plied the dirty streets of dirty Manila. However, my parents, my aunt and my uncle all thought it was a good place to buy fruits for the New Year. Indeed, as far as price goes, it is good to buy in the Quiapo market, perhaps second only to Divisoria.

After this little adventure, which started with a trip to the Church (Is it just me or is it really burning hot in that hell?), we proceeded to Luneta park. After all, what was a Rizal Day, which we weren't really celebrating, without a trip to the place where he was shot, immortalized, bastardized, vandalized and worshiped? It was a rather dismal atmosphere we had for breakfast there; the ground was still damp where the trees shaded it while the air was uncomfortably warm where the glaring sun prevailed. There was enough wind up above to half-heartedly pull on kites but not enough at ground level to cool the heated populace.

It was crowded, at least, that's what it seems to me. I haven't been to the park frequently enough to judge accurately when it is crowded and when the people are sparse. Everywhere I look, there are people: fellow civilians in picnic mats having breakfast, or an early snack, vendors of balloons, toys, kites and trinkets, peddlers of rice cakes, delicacies, taho and newspaper (it was still early morning), overtly gay or lesbian people screaming over a spider, locking lips, holding hands and, well, being intimate, children clothed with ash and dirt and soot begging for alms where the park's security guards cannot see them and athletes training for arnis, taekwondo, running, badminton, cycling, whoring, man-whoring, resting, sleeping or lounging, among other people. Well, it was what I expected from Manila and I was disappointed to have been proven right.

Mavi on IceAround ten, we moved to SM Mall of Asia and had an exceedingly early lunch. By eleven, we were slipping controllably on ice.

Ice-skating is a rather nice experience, that is, if you don't mind the fees, the smelly skates and helmet, the lustful jeers and hearty applauses by the audience without should someone slip and fall, the occasional slip and fall, the rare collisions with fellow skaters, the tired arms and exhausted legs afterwards, the abrasive ice as you skid helpless across it on you skates and hands, the burning acid of envy and jealousy as you watch figure skaters skid past you or the surplus saliva you secrete when you speed by a cutie you've been eyeing the entire time.

Seriously, it could have been a lot more fun, if I hadn't been developing a headache or nursing a cough at the time. Well, it would definitely have been better if everyone just agreed with me that I am, I really am, a figure skater and that people just don't know how to appreciate the figures I'm making. Really, I didn't slip or lose my balance, it was all part of a trick that is rather difficult to duplicate.

In the rink, there were, in my opinion, roughly three types of people. The noobs, which is, I have to admit, where I belong, are composed of people who can navigate on ice from okay to fairly well. Quite a handful of them, like me, my brother and my cousin, along with nearly half the noob population, can pick up speed and control how they slip across the ice just fine. They cannot, for the most part, do tighter spins or glides, skate backwards, leap across the ice or swizzle from rest. Those are the job for the pros. These people are the object of jealousy, attention and, should they falter, jeers. The last class of people are the uber-noobs, that is, people who immediately feel an inclination to lie on their backs the moment they step into the rink. My sister is one, but as she said, it's hard for a big person (I'm not sure whether she meant breasts, hips, legs, neck or, uh, personality?) to find her balance.

Generally, people navigating across the ice follow a set of rules. A noob on a collision course with another noob or a pro will not collide; one or both of them veers off from quite a respectable distance. A pro and another pro on a collision course are not; depending on their level of skill and trajectory, they can actually veer off on the last two second to the evitable collision. Actually, I have to admit, there was this girl in pink who I've been eyeing for some time. She wasn't pointedly prettier than the rest but she was agile and graceful. Once, when she was skating backwards, she almost collided with another pro who was looking elsewhere. What happened was somewhat beyond my understanding. Basically, there was a clink of metal, with a few shaved ice, she lifted off a few inches and, the next second, she landed right beside the other guy and safely skated right past him. The other pro, himself, also gaped at how she evaded collision by nearly a hair's breadth.

Dealing with uber-noobs, on the other hand, is not a life of roses. They are the most unpredictable lot. They use their arms a lot, especially in flailing. They can skid okay for a few yards before suddenly tripping up on their own toe pick, momentarily levitating like the aforementioned girl in pink, but with much less grace and agility. A pro on a collision course with an uber-noob escapes unharmed while the startled uber-noob screams, attempts to either veer off or reach the wall and promptly falls on their butt or on their face. A noob on a collision course with an uber-noob may not be as lucky, depending on their skill level; they may narrowly evade the accident or end up with more than their skates on ice.

I remember reading an article featured on the New York Times, re-featured by a local newspaper and recycled by the same paper in their Tech news. Delft was a town in the Netherlands where cyclists speed past pedestrians through the town square. Pedestrians attempting to second guess the oncoming cyclist and avoid him are likely to startle him and collide. However, if they just ignore him and keep going at the same pace, the cyclist can safely predict the movement of the horde and safely steer his way about.

The hour draws near when it becomes the first day of the first month of the next year. It doesn't feel as magical now as it did in years past but, for what it's worth, I wish everyone a Happy New Year. May the Fates be kind to you, er, us. May the Earth Mother welcome more of her rogue children in her warm, grave-like embrace. May the world finally recognize the figures I'm skating.

A few minutes before the clock strikes midnight,
In a dim room with only a computer screen's light,
Came a message for a tiger, sleepy and exhausted
Who, though he may be, by the winter's cold, muted,
Still has his claws, his fangs and his deathly glare
That all who earns his ire might die by his stare.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Why I hate Makati

Howl, great wind of the Western skies!
Grind against our human truths and lies.
Carry the news of our destructive ways.
Forewarn those before us to seek another place.

I hate the city of Makati. That much, however, I am sure you can infer from the title.

It's a rather nice and busy place, the hub of commerce and the fulcrum of the Philippine economy. It is, therefore, expected that it should be the site of numerous attacks to and from the government, overt or covert. In my recent memory, it has been the victim of a bombing, which is still seen in the public opinion as seesawing between an intentional government scheme, an intentional terrorist attack or an unintentional gas leak. Much more recent is a bloodless, pointless coup staged by no less than a Philippine senator, which, instead of resulting in some sort of change in our beloved nation, only served to call the attention of the masses to the "brutal" treatment of the media, much to the aforementioned senator's consternation, I suppose.

Still, overall, it is still a very advanced city, what with its towering buildings, insolently piercing the skies as Longinus spears. It has a hotline system people could call in case of an emergency. When, in the past, a typhoon knocked down pylons supporting major power lines, Makati is as lit and busy and cool and alive as ever while, around them, neighboring cities and districts languished in agonizing heat and darkness. Each year, from January to June, Makati also draws a throng of hopeful yuppies, all hopeful to land a spot in the corporate world they could use as a foothold in beginning the long, hard, arduous climb up the career ladder.

However, it is, for me, a terrible place to be in, especially the area around Ayala Avenue. It is a wind-swept place, the air being pushed, shoved and whirled around in howling torrents as they ground against the artificial canyon we, humans, have erected. It is quite an orderly place and I found one reason for it: bus and jeepney stops aren't just stops. There's a spot for buses to load, for jeepneys to load, for passengers to disembark from buses and for people to get off jeepneys. As a consequence, if you wanted to get anywhere, you'd have to do a lot of walking.

Walking is actually good for the body. It is quite an ordeal, however, when gusts of cruel winds batter your frail frame and your ears are filled with a cacophony of revving engines, honking horns, howling winds, droning air vents, people chatter and just chaos, in general. Your lungs are treated to different aromas of engine exhausts. Indeed, the world seemed like a cold, harsh and uncaring place that only catered to professionals who had nothing but money in mind. Then again, those are just my impressions.

When walking at a brisk pace, as people hurrying for their job interview or application exam two blocks and five minutes away usually do, it is quite easy to miss all the little details. However, after those exhausting interviews and exams, when one tends to wander slowly, gently meandering between shops, cafes and fastfood (They have McDonald's on every block, I believe), one gets to see the finer details. Scattered about are sunburnt soot and grease-coated people, peddling candies and cigarettes, sometimes offering to buy your empty printer cartridges. Some of these people, the spitting image of poverty in a city of wealthy elites, just settle for dreams; you'd see some of them in nooks and crannies of buildings, happy in their own personal dreamworld, despite the glaring sunlight, the oppressive heat or the blasting noise.

When crossing streets, as walkers are often wont to do, pedestrians are provided the stifling discomfort of claustrophobic underground tunnels. In truth, I am sinning against charity here; the underpass systems at each intersection are actually roomy, almost cavernous when compared to those of Manila. Still, the harsh lighting, the cold, hard tiles, the frozen faces of fellow pedestrians, the echoing click of numerous pairs of leather shoes, the intimidating Cylon guard, they're all enough to drive a poor peasant like me into temporary insanity. Well, to be fair, I don't generally like being underground.

Speaking of underground, the Metrostar Express, a light-rail transit system, goes underground at Buendia and Ayala stations, an ordeal I had to face during that summer when I am being summoned to job interviews in the Makati area. Where, one moment, there was the sky and space, a few moments more and you'd be in a dark, cramped tunnel. Ever and anon, halogen lights would flash by, cruelly reminding you that the tunnel walls are less than a meter away. If you're a really unlucky claustrophobic, on the other side another train would thunder past, also painfully reminding you that they are also less than a meter apart.

Still, there are some things I liked about Makati. People generally tend to be orderly, in the sense that they generally do not cause undue distress on fellow pedestrians. In a cold and impersonal way, everybody minded their own business. Also, when riding the Metrostar Express, there is, when approaching Ayala station, a neat nook illuminated by the sky, filled with mold, stagnant water and, among other things, lots and lots of ferns. I really liked this reminder that life is a hardy thing, struggling to find their spot in a world that, altogether, doesn't seem to want them here.

In Makati, I met a man who made my dreams come true. Twice. And that man was the first of the many people I met later on in my life. He was, all in all, my first. I'd have to admit, I really liked what happened between us back then, to say otherwise would be hypocrisy. However, as things usually go with pleasurable things it quickly became an addiction that, even now, I am struggling to conquer.

It is said that he who has tasted ambrosia will go loony in his life in trying to capture the same taste later on. I'm not loony yet. I'm just hateful of the place where it all began.

These are the reasons I hate the city of Makati.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Why I hate Manila

I hate the city of Manila. That much, however, I am sure you can infer from the title.

It is a rather nice and nostalgic place, one that brings back fuzzy memories. For my parents, a visit to the capital of our country is a trip down memory lane as they both studied in a college there. Here, they used to hang out with friends now far away, dead or dying. This road, they often traversed in their cheap rubber slippers to save on jeepney fare. On this spot, they used to do their projects, sneaking about and climbing fences to gain access to the park instead of paying the entrance fee.

I, too, remember Manila from my childhood days. Oh, the horror as I, an impatient kid back then incapable of keeping still, traveled by jeepneys, sitting uncomfortably for each ride. Every time we switched rides, "Ha? Sasakay na naman?!? E kasasakay lang natin e!" (What? Ride again?!? We just got off!) I had no idea back then that jeepneys actually travel different places; I was more focused on my buttocks sore from what seemed like long hours of sitting.

Each trip to Manila only meant one thing: a trip to the doctor for my vaccines. It was always a painful encounter, probably more so because I couldn't see the needle. I mean, when it comes to stabbing me with something I can't do anything about, I prefer to see what's going on rather than be surprised with a sudden prick. I didn't hate my doctor aunt but I did grow afraid of her. On family gatherings, I always suspected she had an immunization pack handy in her handbag. I'd be wary and steer away from her whenever I can.

As a pediatrician, my aunt had a friendly secretary who sold us rosquillos: sweet ring-shaped biscuits, which I happily munched after my shots. Also, her clinic had one of the best rocking horses in the world. It was a wee white horse with large spots of different colors. Sadly, though, I doubt they make such playthings anymore. Even if they did, I doubt today's Playstation and Xbox kids would enjoy them as I did long ago.

Near the hospital was the Yellow Line of the Light Rail Transit. At the time, it was the only train servicing the metro. My mom would usually sit on the chair while I had to stand up like a gentleman. "See that sign?" my mom once said. "Tayuman," I read. "See? Exactly! Tayo (stand), man. It means you have to stand up." I was wondering if there was a Tayugirl sign somewhere so she could stand up and it'd be my turn to sit down. At the age of 7, it dawned on me that Tayuman was the name of the station, not an order for all males to stand up. Still, I enjoyed that train ride, either because I have never rode a train before or because I'm getting sore legs instead of sore buttocks.

Also near the hospital was a branch of Shakey's Pizza. I really liked their pizza and chips, though I didn't, at the time, remember liking them as food. All I knew was that if it was Shakey's, I am happy.

However, those trips to Shakey's were quite rare and, oftentimes, we usually ate at the open-aired Chinese restaurants Ma Mon Luk or Rose Canton. It was really a terrible ordeal; as a kid, I could not comprehend how my parents managed to eat at such dirty surroundings. I mean, you could really make patterns with the soot of what would otherwise have been a white vinyl-tiled floor. I remember tearfully pleading with my parents, "Ayoko dito, ang dirty-dirty e!" (I don't like it here; it's so dirty here!)

Years have passed; it's been quite a while since I've last been to Manila. Sure, ever and anon, there would be the educational field trips to Manila Zoo (I got lost there when I was 4; when I returned to the group, I fell in love with my best friend who held my hand tightly so I wouldn't get lost again. Well, granted, it was puppy love and I wasn't gay back then) or Fort Santiago (they have a splendid view of the infamous Pasig River, responsible for the drowning of several unnamed, dead heroes; the dwellers of its banks retaliated by killing the river itself) We also visited the Museo Pambata, which was not just for kids, mind you, the San Augustin museum and, of course, Rizal Park.

On my last year in college, I met someone from Manila. To be more exact, he lived in the provinces and he stayed in Manila as a dormitory occupant. A nursing student, he was my contact in a social networking site for years. That day, we both found an opportunity to meet each other offline.

To sum it all up, it was a one-week love affair. Despite having known him for only days, I felt that he just might be the kind of guy who I might be willing to spend the rest of my life with. I'm afraid I am entirely inaccurate in describing it as a love affair; it was not quite love but it was, for me, no casual date either. He is also one of the best kissers I have ever locked lips with my entire life.

He knew how much I hated Manila, but, for a week, I did my best to be there. He had been through some bad times; I went there when I heard the news. At the end of that week, however, he broke off with me. He didn't feel "the spark", which was enough reason for him. Additionally, we had differences in our beliefs; he was a practicing Catholic while I was a skeptic agnostic. I don't wish to antagonize him; forgive me but I still hurt whenever I remember those times. That night, we shared a final kiss and a promise to keep in touch with each other.

Months have passed since then; time had caused us to forget, to be busy, to fail to keep our promises. At this moment, I am wondering what disasters at work the next week will bring. At this moment, I believe he's either asleep or reviewing for the nursing board exam. For my sake, I sincerely hope he has already forgotten that week we spent together.

Ever and anon, I'd wake up in the midst of a fitcul slumber, my skin seeking a touch that had warmed it before, my lips searching for a kiss that was never there and my heart, aching for the loss of what could have been, at the very least, a friend.

I have never returned to Manila on my own again. Even now, I am being overwhelmed by the bitter memories I dug up and, in the privacy of my domain, allowed myself to shed these salty tears.

These are the reasons I hate the city of Manila.

Dust and smoke and soot and ashes,
Floatsam, jetsam and acid washes
Tell me tales of ancient ages,
Of people struggling in their cages.