Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sputtering, gasping, dying...car trouble on EDSA

Arrrrrggggghhhhhhhhhhh!

One among the many phobias of driving maniacs like me is having car trouble in the middle of EDSA or the South Superhighway in the midst of bumper to bumper traffic. Arrghhhh indeed! Very few can compare with the aggravation, the humiliation, the frustration, the desperation (I could go on and on, but you get the drift).

First, it is so damn inconvenient precisely because cars do have this annoying tendendy to break down when one is running two hours late to a very important appointment, or when traffic is unbearably heavy and everyone's patience just broke 280 degrees. Lucky if its a simple case of the radiator overheating (luckier still if there is water nearby, or if the driver had the foresight to bring water to begin with for this kind of emergencies). Too bad if it is something like a fan belt getting torn or the injector pump getting twisted (the last one is a personal invention, also called poetic license - obviously my knowledge of car engines is zilch). Ah, but regardless, one has to stand under the car's open hood to try and pick on the machine pretending to tinker with it just to communicate to people that yes, your car decided to throw a tantrum to spite everyone else on the road!

Second, very few people empathize with drivers experiencing car trouble. Yeah, as if anyone wants to experience being stuck in the middle of a highway under a scorching sun to begin with! But other drivers do honk their horns behind you berating you for getting in their way. Those who are not openly annoyed lower their windows when they pass you and give you that patronizing stare that says "so you are the guy who did not conduct maintenance check on your car before you left your house and has therefore caused us to be late by 5 minutes."

And third, and worst, the vultures on the road circle and slowly descend on you. First, the traffic cops. What I want to know is who designed the training program to train cops to be so unfeeling? Not only is it automatically presumed that a car problem is your fault (why can't it be the car engine's? Or the car manufacturer's? or the mechanic's? Or while we are at it, why can't it be the government's fault for not taking care of the roads and lowering oil prices? okay,okay, got carried away there), they are actually trained to collect money from you. Goodness, nasiraan ka na nga, mumultahan ka pa! And then before you know it, there is a motley crowd gathered around you - towers (who will charge an arm and a leg to bring your car 20 meters away), enterprising people who offer to fix your car on the spot (for the cost of a total overhaul) and kibitzers who offer unsolicited advice and their friends and jueteng bettors. Arrrghhhhhhhh!

At this point, you simply just want to get it over with.

But to be fair, yes, there are some good samaritans who do inquire about what they can do; if you need water or a battery cable or whatever (perhaps a shoulder to cry on? another car I can kick?). There was a time my car actually sputtered, gasped, and then decided to just stop right in the middle of the South Superhighway. Three drivers actually stopped and offered help. Good thing, the car started up again after a few minutes and a serious heart to heart talk between me and the engine which involved some threatening from my end (I swear if you do not start I will trade you in for a beetle!) and all right, some shameless pleading (please please, will you at least get me to a gas station or somewhere a little more convenient?).

Anyway. I had car trouble this morning right smack in the middle of the Guadalupe Bridge while on the way to work. Good for me, the car did not actually die down so I was able to slowly, gingerly bring it to the Robinson's Mall on Pioneer Street where I was able to park it safely. But still, I caused some traffic as that part of the road is where the buses congregrate and make mayhem. And yes, there were two people who immediately approached me and offered all kinds of advice and of course, their services. Fortunately, I was in a safe place so I just locked my car and called someone.

Turns out it was just the aircon's fan belt. So I am driving without an aircon. Sigh. Happy new year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Hooked on iTunes

Courtesy of my friends Angelo and Jerome, I am now officially hooked to digital music. As of the moment, I have 22.3 hours of music stored in my laptop (I KNOW, I KNOW, SOME OF YOU HAVE MONTHS AND MONTHS OF MUSIC STORED IN YOUR IPODS!! give me a break, I just had the darn program installed yesterday) and I am seriously, seriously restraining myself from getting more (music and memory!). I know there are people out there with 40gb worth of music stored somewhere in their ipods or memory sticks or PCs or laptops and that's probably all the music made so far, of course not counting the drumbeats of the early neanderthals.

But what does one do with all that music? I don't think one can play all those pieces anyway. Is there a new psychological phenomenon out there that explains this seeming horde mentality among those in the loop? Is there some comfort to be had in the thought that one has has a digital copy of Yoyoy Villame's Botsikik in his ipod or laptop even if he does not intend to listen to it? I can imagine a conversation thus: "but does your ipod have Shawn Cassidy's version of Lollipops and Roses?" "That's nothing, I have 28 version of that song including a rehearsal recording of Shirley Bassey where she screams at the producer." "How about Humpty Dumpty sung by..."

And pray tell, what does one do with all the music cd's and records and tapes accumulated through the years? I have boxes of them and quite frankly, I feel a little quilty that I havent even been able to at least unpack them from the last house transfer. And now, with iTunes I know I would never have to search for my favorite Bach cd's as I can easily click on them while working on the laptop. No need to stand up and break my momentum while working just to search for the cd in a stack, turn on the stereo, etc., etc..you know the drill.

Anyway. Just officially making it known that I am finally listening to mp3 music. So if anyone out there has the mp3 soundtrack of The Godfather and The Age of Innocence send them my way please. Thanks.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The days after Christmas

Cut me some slack, the title is hackneyed and uninventive; these are days when one doesn't feel like getting up in the morning. And it is not just because whoever is in charge of central heating in the Philippines has decided to lower the thermostat one more notch every day. And not just because the vats of fats and proteins and carbs and sugar that we have ingested over the holidays has clogged up our arteries making it more and more difficult for blood to circulate all over our bodies (I understand this is what happens when bears and other similar creatures hibernate during the winter). It is simply because we need a vacation from the Christmas vacation!!!

Today, I finally succeeded in piling semi-decent clothes on top of my body and drove to work despite the fact that every cell in my body was screaming in protest. I logged on to the net and downloaded my emails. What do you know, there were at least 20 inquiries over three email groups devoted to HR concerns all inquiring about the same thing: "has january 2, 2006 been declared a non-working holiday???" Despite the fact that it has been written up in the papers repeatedly that no, January 2 is a regular working day; regardless of the fact that this question has been answered many times in the days leading to Christmas. I guess it is not a question of people not listening - it is more a question of people wanting to believe - or people hoping against hope that someone out there changed his or her mind and extended the holidays one more day.

Anyway.

The new year has not officially started yet but one can already hear knives being sharpened in the political front. Yesterday, some senators warned that the President's troubles are not over yet. In fact, the good Senator Biazon (goat of his PMA class - grin - couldn't help putting that in) went one step ahead and actually said that he doubts if economic recovery is possible because the political crisis is far from over. In other words, "sorry, Juan de la Cruz, do not get your hopes up because I am not through getting my pound of flesh." I guess all those messages of love, peace and prosperity which they shamelessly placed in their Christmas cards and calendars to accompany their made up countenances had a fixed expiration date after all: good for Christmas day only.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Night Before Christmas

As I write this, it is a few hours before Christmas and the kids at the house (both old and young) are running around high on sugar and God knows what else. It is like this every year in our family and it is a great wonder there is no body count before midnight. Whoever said Christmas is about families must really have a gift of wisdom because only in the context of "what can we do - we are family" can one take comfort in this season of madness and frayed nerves.

But I still would not have it any other way. I can not imagine spending Christmas alone in some foreign country or in some isolated place the way some of my friends do. True, being stuffed to the gills with food that is bound to clog arteries and having one's liver pickled in liquor are technically not proactive ways of celebrating this supposed season of joy, love and peace, but then again, who wants a philosophizing scrooge on Christmas?

This afternoon, my daughter and I had to rush to Harrison Plaza to do some last minute shopping to cover some unexpected but oh-so-delightful "arrivals." One of my favorite brothers showed up unexpected all the way from the province. He made my Christmas this year. Or at least, he helped make it.

I am still a little "high" from the last pre-Christmas party held all the way in Noveleta Cavite yesterday. That was one truly fun party - and it was great to bask in the genuine warmth provided by peers and students. I must be getting old because I have started to view students as my own "children" - well, at least those that touch my life in many profound ways. Two of my "grown children" - Jon and JT - were there as always and it truly makes my heart swell with pride to see how they have matured and wisened in the few years since graduation.

Anyway, it is a few hours to go before the frenzy in my household erupts to full potential and I am cocooned here in my room trying to catch some moments of quiet and reflection. Tough order of course considering that my cellphone has been buzzing continually with all kinds of messages and wishes since this morning. As of last count, I have received 84 Christmas greetings ranging from the truly profound and insightful to the ribald and irreverent.

I hope your Christmas is meaningful as well.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Christmas Letter

There are certain things that I look forward to every Christmas: opening gifts on Christmas morning (yes, I open all my presents on Christmas day itself), receiving friends and relatives who invariably drop by on Christmas day, and reading Christmas letters from some people who have made it a tradition to send profound and thought-provoking letters every year instead of a mere Christmas card, to mention a few.

Every year, I have always intended to write my own Christmas letter as a way of greeting the friends and people that matter in my life. Sadly, I haven't really been able to do that - either because I have never felt satisfied with whatever it was that I have started writing, or because the Christmas rush has overtaken the intent. I know, I know, I really should not think of it as a serious literary attempt. But well, there is always something that gets in the way of good intentions.

And so this year, since I have started writing this blog anyway, I have decided to break the annual "exercise in futility." So if I got to write my Christmas letter this year, it would be something link what follows.

There is something about Christmas that touches the heartstrings of our lives. Despite the growing commercialism and the increasing preoccupation with all things material, there are still many, many things about Christmas that remain strongly bound to tradition...trimming the Christmas tree, partaking of familiar dishes at the Noche Buena table, singing Christmas carols, even wrapping gifts - all these and more are simple activities laden with deep personal meaning. We do these because they kindle a fire within each one of us, and before we know it, there is a warmth that radiates from each one hopefully touching every other person that we come in contact with.

Perhaps it is true then. Christmas keeps us in touch with our humanity; reminding us that deep down inside, there is a yearning and a hunger that only real affection can fill.

And so therefore, as we bask in the warmth and glow of the season, it is my hope that we find real meaning and fulfillment in the celebration.

May our hearts and souls overflow with love and affection from kith and kin.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Teaching Blues part 4

Depending on what kind of student one is, today is either D-day or V-day at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde where I teach two nights a week. It's the end of the term which means...class cards distribution! For the uninitiated, it means today is the day students find out whether they flunked or passed the courses for the term. (Interesting aside: when I was in College, I never did get to enjoy this annual rite. Somehow, I was impervious to class cards day - I never, not even once, bothered to get my class cards on the day of the distribution itself. Oh no, it wasn't really because I was confident I would pass every darned subject - although I did. It was just something that I couldn't find any meaning in. Must be one more reason why some professors really hated me with a passion).

It is one of those days when the air becomes thick with anxiety and a deep sense of foreboding. One can actually feel it while walking along the corridors of the College. And believe when I say that today, the supposed teleserye ng totoong buhay pales in comparison to the variety, the range and depth, and the profundity of the emotions displayed.

I have been teaching for more than five years now and yet, I still do not get it why students can't get this basic logic straight: professors do not manufacture grades, we only compute them. Students themselves make or produce the grades - they take the tests, they prepare case work and projects, etc. We only tally the scores and compute based on the pre-agreed weights. (In fact in my case, I do not even do the computation - someone at work does. And technically, she doesn't do the computation either - microsoft excel does). And yet, come class card distribution day, some students act as if we are the ones at fault if they get negative grades.

When I was a newbie professor, I would actually go as far as manually computing the grades in front of a student to justify the end grade. But not anymore today. I have learned to put on a "Medusa" expression on my face - you know, that look that says "ask a question and risk being turned to stone with just a stare." Of course this does not stop some really clueless student to still complain.

So today, some professors will have to be prepared to face the possibility of having to roll their sleeves and change flat tires (I have done this twice already in my first year and since then I have learned a valuable lesson - if you flunk bullies in your class, park your car somewhere very safe; better still, do not bring your car on course card day). Also, some professors' list of most creative pleas will become longer - necessity is after all the mother of creativity. And of course, some professors will definitely lose their cool today and some blood pressures will shoot up.

It will be bedlam. And call me twisted, it will be somehow fun.

Thank God, I had a valid reason to ask for an early schedule for my course card distribution when most students wouldn't still be in school. So most likely, I will be dumping all my class cards in the "unclaimed" box and then turn off my cellphone the rest of the day. I will also be parking my car somewhere safe and far just in case. But then, I will missing on half the fun.

Paano Naman Kami? (What about us?)

Of all the annoying things in this world, on top of my list is the "paano naman kami" attitude of some people.

Our athletes who brought honor to the country in the last SEA games are now in Hongkong for a three-day R & R - the blowout is courtesy of the First Gentleman and some private donors. The delegation, I read in the papers today, is composed of almost 400 heads, almost half of them sports officials. Why there are that many officials in the delegation is precisely due to a sense of entitlement - paano naman kami? what about us?

The athletes deserve the prize. They worked hard for it, for crying out loud. But naturally, because we are Filipinos, many critics have found something terribly wrong with that. The general drift of the criticism has to do with, of all things, "nationalism." Why go to Hongkong and not Boracay or Baguio or for that matter, Enchanted Kingdom? Why celebrate in Hongkong and not here? I find this kind of nitpicking childish and utterly illogical. First of all, let's call a spade a spade: there is no place in the Philippines that comes close to the kind of thrill and enjoyment one can find in Disneyland. Second, where is it written that nationalism means having fun only in the Philippines? Third, why the heck shouldn't they go where they want to go if someone is giving it as a gift?

I think though that deep down inside, the criticism has to do with this "paano naman kami" attitude. If all of us have to tighten our belts, why shouldn't they do that as well? The obvious answer is: because they deserve it and you do not! Because someone else can afford it, and you can not. So stop whining and work so that you too can go wherever you want to go.

And some people actually had the nerve to make comparisons between the SEA games athletes and those participating in the ongoing para games (athletic competition for physically challenged). I do not have anything against physically challenged people and I am all for the para games. And yes, someone out there should also be generous to them. But to actually put the SEA games athletes to task for going to Disneyland because the same privilege may not be extended to the para games athletes - now, that is cheap and tasteless.

Those who think that the para games athletes deserve exactly what the SEA games athletes are entitled to should lobby hard and work just as hard to get sponsorhips and all that. But quite frankly, I think asking for the same privileges just because of "paano naman kami" just does not fly.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Weekend at the movies

So what did you do during the weekend?

I found some time in my hands last Saturday afternoon and happened to be in the vicinity of the Quaipo district. Being one of those people who can't resist good bargains at quaint places even if it means driving around and around side streets that require clipping the car's side mirrors to get through - I naturally ended up at the Muslim Trade Center. I know what you are thinking - baaaaaaaaaaaad place to be; gasp! it's almost like being in Tondo at midnight with a Rolex strapped to your wrist and bling blings on your neck, wrist and fingers (although why anyone would dare wear a Rolex and bling blings if one doesn't have private transportation is beyond me, but I digress). Muslims take a bad rap for simply being muslims and that is really unfair.

And if one happens to be around the Muslim Trade Center area - one and only one product comes to mind. Nope - not batik (although they do have those in all shades and textures), not pearls and corals (although they have those too including what they claimed to be genuine south sea pearls at Php200 a string - any one who thinks he has stumbled into real pearls at such a ridiculously cheap price needs to be strung upside down?), but yes, DVDs and VCDs!!!

I plead guilty to buying pirated DVDs although I hasten to add - I DO NOT, repeat, I do not buy pirated original Filipino music or Tagalog movies. I draw the line there. Oh I know, someone out there from the Philippine movie industry or from some government bureau must have a ready argument to counter why it is the same banana and therefore just as evil. What do I care. Like I said, for as long as those actors and actresses and singers and TV hosts continue acting like they are entitled to roll in luxury simply for having the ability to create scandals and to be daily fodder to gossip in Bandera and Tiktik I will not empathize with their plight. You want sympathy from ordinary Filipinos? Simple - stop acting like you guys are on top of the food chain.

Anyway. Where was I? Oh movies. There is something about this consumerism thing - even stalls in Quaipo specialize! (Those who are interested in finding where the octople x movies are - just enter the trade center and keep on walking deep into the - ehem - bowels of the place until the air becomes so palpable you can almost touch it and the temperature comes close to the Sahara desert. You can't really miss it. Along the way, the dvds and vcds that are displayed become more and more suggestive. When you reach the section, all pretenses are bared - be warned, it is not for the faint hearted. All parts of the human anatomy are displayed in all shapes and textures on the covers of the multitudes of DVDs and VCDs. A deeply religious person who strays into the area will jam the confessional for years and years).

A few months ago I discovered some stalls that specialize in hard-to-find concert DVDs including those of classical artists. Whew! Imagine, buying a whole collection of John Williams classical work on guitar for 1/20th of the record store price. Also last month, I stumbled upon a stall selling nothing but - hold your breath - collections of hit TV shows from Dallas to ER to Queer As Folk to Carnivale to Desperate Housewives.

Last Saturday, I found this stall that sells DVDs of films exhibited or cited in various "alternative" film festivals from around the world. This place must be a film lover's concept of heaven. And the DVDs were selling at only Php50 each. I picked four films - Ethan Mao, Cinema Paradiso, Eating Out, Sugar and vowed to come back on a weekday when I probably will not have to smell someone's armpits while flipping merchandise.

I watched the films over the weekend. I loved all four films (of course I have watched Cinema Paradiso before, but it is one film I will watch over and over again). I will not do full reviews here - I will just single out what I liked about each one. Well, except for Cinema Paradiso - that is one film that does not require another review specially from someone who watches films purely for pleasure.

Ethan Mao is about this Chinese American named Ethan Mao. The fact that the main character is Asian is immaterial actually because the conflict in the story is universal - it is about fathers and sons, brothers, stepmothers, friends, lovers, etc.

Sugar is a deeply disturbing film about a boy's coming of age and a hustler's coming to terms with human emotions. It is a sad, sad film that is somehow liberating as well.

And Eating Out is this film by Q. Alan Brocka - it is a hilarious twisted take on Meet the Parents and La Cage.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wish List

Today, they hung a sheet of paper in the office bulletin board with bold letters printed in it "Your Christmas Wish List Here." Everybody's name was on it and some have already written down their wishes for Christmas. Not a bad idea, really. At the very least, it keeps us in touch with the little kid inside ourselves, that kid that still knows the magic of wishing and hoping. God knows how much we all need that in this period of creeping hopelessness and cynicism, no thanks to our political leaders who continue to jostle for top of the list in Santa's "naughty boys" for the year.

I went through the list - and made a supreme effort not to make a nasty comment about how everybody wrote down a material thing as their wish for Christmas. Whew! Four people actually wrote down "weighing scale" as the one gift they would like to receive this Christmas. Practical people, I say. With all the parties we all have to go to at Christmas, we all need whatever little reminder there is about the need to practice eating in moderation this season. Someone wrote down Victoria's Secret undies. Must be a sign of the times - I never thought underwear was a politically correct gift for Christmas. Still another one wrote "DVDs - pwede pirated basta okay ang quality." I suppose the giver has to test the merchandise first - not a bad idea; watch the movie first and then give it away as a gift.

And what about me? I wanted to write "world peace" just to spite everyone - but I know that today, those two words do not actually mean anything ; thanks to Miss Congeniality, the movie. Even if you do mean it, those two words have forever lost their meaning in public conversation. I mean, who in his right mind would actually dare say those two words without expecting some eyebrows to orbit the room?

So I wrote down the first thing that came to mind: owls. Hahaha. Well, if I was going to be materialistic, I might as well write down something realistic. I am collecting owl stuff - figurines, stuffed toys, whatever. If you come across one - send them my way please. But no stuffed owls from the taxidermist please. I draw the line there.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Remembering kith and kin

The families that we are born to are special of course because they are family. But the families that we create as we journey through life are probably more special because they are freely chosen - because they become part of our lives not just by the sheer accident of sharing a gene pool, but because we elect to make them part of our lives.

One of the great things about Christmas (see, I told you I was gonna get into the Christmas spirit eventually) is remembering kith and kin - the people who make our lives worthwhile because of the warmth of the love and affection they provide. And yes, even if they are three timezones away.

Today, I got an email from someone dearly missed. (Sean, I do miss you my dear friend!) What's more, the email came with pictures of him and two other close friends I also miss (Jojo if you are reading this, call me and let's have dinner! Carlo G, good luck with the new house - ayan, may isa pang bahay na pwede ko gawing hotel when I get to visit california). And this got me into a very Christmassy mood - you know, remembering how blessed we are to have in our lives certain people who make our hearts sing even if they are not physically present.

When we were younger, my friends and I would always make it a point to gather in someone else's house for after-Christmas dinner. The main Christmas dinner was celebrated with our immediate families - but we would always rush to our "other Christmas dinner," this time with our very close friends. This was our other family - and it was in this company that we truly felt the spirit of the season - no pressures that somehow always come with family reunions, no embarrassing questions and answers, no overt efforts to fit in and belong. Within our circle of friends, we had quiet conversations around the dinner table, we traded wishes and stories and simply relaxed in the warmth that only real friends can provide.

Let's not forget what Christmas is all about - it is about kith and kin. From my house to yours, Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Kris Kringle

You know it is Christmas because everyone seems to be part of this grand conspiracy to make you buy stuff under the guise of gift-giving. I know, I know, I am beginning to sound like a Scrooge. But bear with me, I swear am slowly imbibing the spirit.

When I was a child, it was called a Kris Kringle. I never did get to ask my teachers why it was called thus - or probably I wasn't listening when they did tell us. And then when I reached College (not very long ago, I might add), it was suddenly called Manito-Manita. And suddenly, too, it wasn't about giving one gift, but several - one was required to give something long and hard on Monday, white and milky on Tuesday, soft and smelly on Wednesday, hairy with balls on Thursday, etc. And yes, the themes always bordered on the naughty and the ribald.

At the office, someone came up with this brilliant idea to assign parts of the house as themes for the weekly gift-giving. So the other week, it was something for the kitchen (I promptly got a vegetable peeler - the poor bloke who bought it must be someone who doesn't spend much time in the kitchen - he bought the first kitchen implement that struck his mind). And then something for the bathroom (I got a tabo - there's a Filipino item one doesn't get as a gift often). And tomorrow, it will be something for the bedroom (I hope I do not get condoms as I have no use for them at the moment). I didn't realize how literal people could be - I thought that the themes were metaphorical - but then again, I was the kid who in Grade 2 questioned "Daniel and the Lions" and insisted the lions were mere symbols, so it is probably just me.

Anyway. Today, they actually set price limits (minimum worth of the gifts!) for the gift-giving. I always speak out against price limits in gift giving because silly old me, I cling to the belief no matter how idealistic that it is the darn thought that matters. But I guess people want to make sure that they get value for value so I will be looking around for a meaningful gift that describes me worth 250 pesos, inclusive of wrapper. And if I happen to find an object descriptive of me that is less than the amount prescribed (Sigh, how can I be worth less than 250?) I am obligated to include loose change in the gift as well. So much for spreading the true spirit of the season!

And that is how we will be spending the next few days - trading materials things under the guise of spreading love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Where's the Christmas Rush?

I went out at lunchtime today to Megamall without any expectations at all. At the back of my mind, I know I would have to pick up some stuff to begin my Christmas shopping with; but at the same time, I was quite prepared to simply while away the time without having accomplished any shopping at all. I was half expecting a throng of people fighting tooth and nail for every square foot of space inside SM.

Well, what do you know - there were no lines at SM and one could actually walk through the alleys of the mall. In fact, one could have rollerbladed around SM. In Christmasses past, one does not walk in Megamall, one trudged painstakingly, putting one leg in front of the other while trying vainly not to be squeezed into a salvaro cookie by people.

Maybe it is not just me then. Maybe there are many people out there who still has to feel the spirit of the season. Or perhaps, life is really difficult these days and people are just being practical - they are doing their christmas shopping at 168 or Divisoria or in the many tiangges that have sprouted around the Metro like well - mushrooms.

Well, anyway - there is nothing quite like shopping (with a credit card!) to get one into a wistful mood (so many things to buy, so little credit limit!). Merry Christmas everyone! Bah, humbug!

Monday, December 12, 2005

13 days to christmas and I still havent bought a single gift

That is right. I haven't maxed out my credit card yet. I do not have plastic bags in my bedroom. And I haven't as yet made a christmas list. I do not know how I will manage.

I am actually thinking of simply buying a generic gift for all - like a giveaway. But that really smacks of commercialism. Not that Christmas isn't about commercialism, mind. But magbibigay na rin lang naman ng christmas gift, eh di seryosohin na. And this is the main problem I guess - the spirit hasn't sunk in yet.

Anyway, I hope you guys are done with your Christmas shopping. I hope 168 is what it is touted to be and more. Wish me luck.

Guilty Pleasures

While having a side conversation with this highly-respected columnist in a major daily during a serious weekend planning session, we stumbled upon a common secret: guilty pleasures. Yup, certain activities that one does under cover because of some hypocritical norm out there that says certain activities do not fit a certain level of stature (ehem). Well, I say out with them! The heck with conventions.

So here are five of my guilty pleasures.

1. I am not beyond buying and reading YES magazines. I used to justify it by saying that the editor in chief of that rag happens to be someone I truly admire as a features writer (Jo Ann Maglipon). And if her name is not enough justification, there's another literary god I can drop: Pete Lacaba (who is the rag's executive editor). But I must admit that what I like about the magazine is the way they feature lifestyles - from homes, to fashion, to scandals - in a very unapologetic and nondiscriminatory way. I guess I am a celebrity fan at heart.

2. I own a DVD copy of the whole first season of Desperate Housewives and yes, Winter Sonata (retitled Endless Love 2 in the Philippines). Winter Sonata was something I watched on and off when it was playing at prime time on GMA7. One day in Quaipo (there's another guilty pleasure - buying pirated DVDs- sorry Chairman Edu, but unless you showbiz people take cuts in your talent fees to reduce the cost of original dvds, I can not empathize with your call to save the entertainment industry. You want salvation - save yourselves first!), I came across this store that sells complete sets of TV shows for a bargain and there they were - whole seasons of Carnivale, Desperate Housewives, Winter Sonata, Queer as Folk, etc. What I didn’t expect though was the number of people out there who also covet (secretly it seems too) these DVDs, so I have no idea where these DVDs are now - last I looked, they were being passed around like the four proverbial fruit cakes that supposedly gets passed around at Christmastime.

3. I am going to wear my heart on my sleeve on this one although I probably won't be able to live this down all my life. I am a sucker for underdogs - and thus, I am secretly rooting for Hero Angeles. There I said it. There is something about that guy that tugs at the heartstrings of my life. I caught that SCQ episode on TV (one of the three times I actually caught the show on TV) where he babbled about the saddest Christmas episode in his life (having only champorado for Christmas eve). That really got me - that was one real story that touched me deeply because all my life Christmas dinners have always been occasions for getting stuffed silly. Anyway, I kind of feel that he and his brother have been victimized many times over by the most annoying personalities on TV (who can be more annoying that Cristy Fermin and Alfie Lorenzo? - I know, Kuya Germs and Korina Sanchez, but that's another story). So go Hero and let Cristy and Alfie eat their own words!

4. I actually listen to AM radio on my car. And while I still have to develop a taste for the hysterics and pontifications of Ted and Korina (who died and made those two experts?) I must admit that when I find myself in my car between 10:30 and lunch, I actually find myself enjoying Todo Todo, Walang Preno - the radio show of Ariel Ureta and Winning Cordero. There is something about the wit and sobriety of Ariel and the childlike giggling and housewife wisdom of Winnie that appeal to me. Of course, I have always liked Ariel as an emcee - he with that booming voice and perfect diction.

5. I actually like Willy Cruz songs. I have an old album (a worn out tape) of Sharon Cuneta that I play every now and then in my car (although I guess the last time was like a year ago). I do think that some of Willy's songs are gems - too bad they generally fall under the category of bakya, but well, there is no accounting for taste. The other musical guilty pleasure I have is Cindy Lauper. There's a singer I truly love. I don't think anyone has been able to sing True Colors with as much emotion as she does. Not even Lea Salonga.

There. You can pelt me with tomatoes now.

Friday, December 09, 2005

HP4

Yes, I finally got around to watching Harry Potter 4 (The Goblet of Fire) last night at the Glorietta. I was half expecting the theatre to be empty, after all, the movie has been showing for what seems like 2 years already - but nah, the theatre was still full. By the looks of it, many of the people were repeat watchers since the guy behind me kept on babbling on about the next scene (don't you just hate people who talk inside movie houses?).

What do I think about the movie? This movie was everything I imagined it would be. Honest. The triwizard challenges were exactly as I imagined them - except for that bit about Harry Potter flying around Hogwarts on his broom. To me that was a bit stretched considering that there were many wizards and witches watching who could have done something to that wayward dragon.

Well, four down, three to go. I am looking forward to reading the last installment of the book series. Wonder when it will come out?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Violating people emotionally

Last night, I was watching Pinoy Big Brother on TV passively until something happened that got me riveted to the television set. I was riveted simply because I could not believe the extent and the lenghts to which the people behind the show will and could go to squeeze out of the housemates every possible emotion. If anyone out there wants a perfect case study on emotional abuse - last night's episode was it! One can't go any lower or cheaper than what they did to those four people.

First of all, any psychologist or psychiatrist worth his name will tell you that deliberately subjecting people to negative situations for the sake of "learning a lesson" or "proving a point" is never advisable even in a controlled environment. Electric shocks and torture are already considered barbaric today. As early as the eighties, psychiatrists have already come to a consensus that while deliberatley exposing subjects to negative and traumatic experiences may have short term benefits, the long-term negative side effects far outweigh any advantages. It is actually common sense (unfortunately, common sense is not common, and I guess this is where the problem lies): someone may learn from a negative experience, but the negative experience in itself negates the very learning process. To illustrate, a child may learn not to steal by being set up and publicly humiliated but the child will carry the scars of that public humiliation for a long time - yes, the child may (and this is not guaranteed) learn not to steal again, but now he has bigger emotional problems than stealing. In the end, what is to be gained from the learning experience?

This is the reason why trainers follow a cardinal rule when doing affective training: never ever subject participants to negative emotional situations. If people cry and break down and become very emotional during the activity, this is processed; but these should not be induced through unethical ways.

What I found truly objectionable from a psychological point of view is this - it was deliberate, it was meant as a test, the whole thing was sustained even when it was obvious that the housemates were already showing signs of being emotionally violated, and, to cap it all off, the show turned sanctimonious and put the blame squarely on the housemates. Ehhhh?

While watching Nene, Uma, Cass and Jayson struggle with their emotions, I could not help but feel outraged. Nobody has to be subjected to that kind of cruelty. The people behind the show may argue that such "torture" happens in real life - that there are people who deliberately do those things and those tests to others to validate or prove a point -- but those are people cast under the same list as Hitler and his doctors at the Nazi camps. They are evil people - kidnappers, cruel stepmothers, etc. Benevolent big brothers and authority figures do not that do that to prove a point.

And Pinoy Big Brother is not a courage contest - it is not Fear Factor where people sign up to confront their fears. This is a show that is supposed to be about empowering the Pinoy! It is supposed to be about how great ordinary Filipinos are and can be.

I was hoping vainly that the humiliation would already stop and that Big Brother would announce that the whole thing was a test of the housemates' loyalty towards each other - i.e., how far the housemates will go to support each other. That was the only logical and face-saving way out of that psychological black hole. But no, they actually saved their ass! Big Brother actually turned sanctimonious and even called in Uma's supposed debt of gratitude. The show actually turned the tables around and stopped very, very short of calling the housemates ingrates. Yeah right. The housemates were fed and given shelter - but ABS-CBN made huge amounts of money at their expense. Excuse me, Big Brother, you may go to town with your charitable acts - but the whole show is primarily a business and everybody knows that. So spare us the sanctimoniousness.

The show had better show how they switched the emotional trigger (Uma's beloved jeans) - because quite frankly, there are valid suspicions that the show's staff switched it when the three housemates were already inside the confession booth. All throughout the "challenge" the garments were in clear view and no switching could have been possible.

But the bottom line is this. What they did was clearly unethical and uncalled for. They violated the housemates emotionally and they should be decent enough to admit it and apologize.

And next time, please call in a psychologist worth his name before pulling out emotional stunts like that one.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Philippine Daily Aggravation

After a week of bannering stories about allegations of cheating in the soon-to-be-concluded (today I think) SEA games - in the process making all of us squirm in embarrassment at the innuendoes, the Philippine Daily Inquirer today run jubilant news stories about how Filipino athletes are accumulating gold medals in the games. Huh? Suddenly, the newspaper is riding on the bandwagon. The Filipinos are great once again.

Practically all week PDI gave front page honors to anyone with scandalous stories to tell about how the games are being rigged in favor of the Philippines. Allegations being made by Thailand were given more prominence than countless real stories of the heroism and courage of Pinoy athletes.

I watched many of the games this week on TV - I watched how the female volleyball team trounced Indonesia. This is a sport where we have never been good at traditionally and it is a wonder to see how our female players are comparing against the other countries. From bowling, to tennis, to athletics, to taekwando, to boxing... I saw on TV how Filipino athletes worked hard and gave it their all for country.

I can't blame Thailand for being such a spoilsport. But I do find it offensive that the newspaper I subscribe to seemed to take on Thailand's side last week.

Not plagiarized - just reposted

One often comes across something truly worth sharing. This one is. What I like about this piece is that it successfully pokes fun at the idiosyncracies of Filipinos without traces of sarcasm or insult. The guy is obviously enamored by Filipinos and does not mean any disrespect.

I do think that these signs not only showcase our inherent creativity but also our inherent playfulness as a people. We do not take ourselves seriously even when it comes to seemingly serious stuff like running a business.

There is one in Kalayaan Street in Makati that says "Eva's Food, Dringks, and Others Restaurant" - it is a beer house, so you can figure what else is in the menu. I pass through the road everyday and that signage always makes me smile.

Wit of the Filipino
By Nury Vittachi
(From THE FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW)

THERE'S A SIGN ON Congressional Avenue in Manila that says: "Parking for Costumers Only." This may be a misspelling of "customer." But the Philippine capital is so full of theatrical, brightly dressed individuals that I prefer to think it may actually mean what it says.

This week, we'll take a reading tour of one of the most spirited communities in Asia. The Philippines is full of wordplay. The local accent,in which F and P are fairly interchangeable, is often used very cleverly,such as at the flower shop in Diliman called Petal Attraction.Much of the wordplay in the Philippines is deliberate, with retailers favoring witty names, often based on Western celebrities and movies.

Reader Elgar Esteban found a bread shop called Anita Bakery, a 24-hour restaurant called Doris Day and Night, a garment shop called Elizabeth Tailoring and a hairdresser called Felix The Cut.Smart travellers can decipher initially baffling signs by simplytrying out a Taglish (Tagalog-English) accent, such as that used on a sign at a restaurant in Cebu: "We Hab Sop-Drink In Can An In Batol." A sewing accessories shop called Beads And Pieces also makes use of the local accent.

Of course, there are also many signs with oddly chosen words, but they are usually so entertaining that it would be a tragedy to "correct" them. A reader named Antonio "Tonyboy" Ramon T. Ongsiako (now there's a truly Filipino name) found the following:

In a restaurant in Baguio: "Wanted: Boy Waitress;" on a highway in Pampanga: "We Make Modern Antique Furniture;" on the window of a photography shop in Cabanatuan: "We Shoot You While You Wait;" on the glass wall of an eatery in Panay Avenue in Manila: "Wanted: Waiter, Cashier, Washier."

Some of the notices one sees are thought-provoking. A shoe store in Pangasinan has a sign saying: "We Sell Imported Robber Shoes." Could these be the sneakiest sort of sneakers? On a house in Jaro, Iloilo, one finds a sign saying: "House For Rent, Fully Furnaced." Tonyboy commented, "Boy, it must be hot in there."

Occasionally, the signs are quite poignant. Reader Gunilla Edlund saw one at a ferry pier outside Davao, southern Philippines, which said: "Adults: 1USD; Child: 50 cents; Cadavers: subject to negotiation."

But most are purely witty, and display a love of Americana. Reader Robert Harland spotted a bakery named Bread Pitt, a Makati fast-food place selling maruya (banana fritters) called Maruya Carey, a water-engineering firm called Christopher Plumbing, a boutique called The Way We Wear, a video rental shop called Leon King Video Rental, a restaurant in the Cainta district of Rizal called Caintacky Fried Chicken, a local burger restaurant called Mang Donald's, a doughnut shop called MacDonuts, a shop selling lumpia (meat parcels) in Makati called Wrap and Roll, and two butchers called Meating Place and Meatropolis.

Tourists from Europe may be intrigued to discover shops called Holland Hopia and Poland Hopia. Both sell a type of Chinese pastry called hopia. What's the story? The names are explained thus: Holland Hopia is the domain of a man named Ho and Poland Hopia is run by a man named Po.

People in the Philippines also redesign English to be more efficient. "The creative confusion between language and culture leads to more than just simple unintentional errors in syntax, but in the adoption of new words,"says reader Rob Goodfellow. He came across a sign that said "House Fersallarend." Why use five words (house for sale or rent) when two will do?

Tonyboy Ongsiako explains why there was so much wit in thePhilippines. "We come from a country where you require a sense of humor to survive," he says. "We have a 24-hour comedy show here called the government and a huge reserve of comedians made up mostly of politicians and bad actors."