Friday, May 30, 2008

Kulturang Siksikan

Here's a funny thing I notice about commuting in Metro Manila: everyone finds a way to squeeze in. Just like in the picture above, which shows a man still getting from point A to B (and paying full price for it too) by being a "sabit sa jeepney." (Literally, hanging on for dear life.)

The extra passenger is so common here that buses get away with causing traffic by overloading. First you hear the ever inviting, "Maluwag maluwag maluwag pa!" (There's still a lot of space) and it morphs to "Makakaupo, makakaupo!" (You'll be able to sit) and when it's absolutely full, "Maraming bababa, maraming bababa!" (Many will get off at the next stop).

Only when the bus is literally popping with passengers (or, on light hours, when the bus has lingered too long) does it proceed to the next stop to drop off those who need to get down. One needs agility and whole-body-awareness when getting off a populated bus--you have to squeeze out without a. stepping on anyone, b. hitting anyone on the head with your bag, c. getting stuck.

And it's not only in jeeps and buses that this happens. In the MRT, you never step in the train on your own--others push you inside. The MRT at rush hour is a tidal wave of opposing forces. People going in don't wait for people going out to get out before making their move. It's become so normal that you actually get surprised when you see a near-empty carriage. Oh, what an unusual treat to find a seat! (Waitaminute--there are seats?)

The trend has gotten so popular that even private vehicles get stuffed--did I mention that in university events, there's a "sport" called car-stuffing? Sadly, the name's no euphemism for anything more--shall I say--athletic. It is exactly what you thought its name meant: a team competition involving as little movement, as little breathing, and as little exercise as possible--the more people you fit in a four-door sedan, the greater your chances of winning.

Typical of Filipinos to make something fun come out of inconvenience. But that's what we're good at. And I'm thankful for the optimism. After all, that most uncomfortable ride is still the ride that brings you (and all those crowding around you) safely home.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On the ship to America

Around a century ago, the place to be for impoverished Europeans was America. And so many of them sold all their belongings to buy tickets to board the ship that would take them there--never mind that stepping on the ship didn't equate to living in America eventually.

Ellis Island in New York was the gateway--which explains why the famed Statue of Liberty turned out to be such an icon. Once you see Lady Liberty, you know you're in America--and if you were one of those going to America for a better life, imagine what the statue would have meant to you.

Which brings to mind one unforgettable movie I saw a few months ago. It's called The Legend of 1900. It's a film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (the film genius behind Cinema Paradiso!). In the film, a genius pianist called 1900 (played by Tim Roth) was born in a ship--one of those that brought Europeans to the States--and practically lived his whole life on the ship, while it went back and forth across the ocean. He didn't have a birth certificate and no records at all--no citizenship, no IDs, none of those tax things we work to submit on time every April...which is why the movie is called a "Legend."

So here was a guy who, in the midst of all that rush and urgency to get from point A to point B, was staying where he was. He stepped out of the ship once, but he went back in not 30 minutes on stable ground. And all his friends, who knew so well he'd make it big in America (because he's a genius pianist), were just shocked.

In one of the last scenes, 1900 tells his best friend Max why he stepped right back in for another voyage the very day he decided to finally leave the ship. 1900 tries to describe the ENORMITY of it all:

Take piano: keys begin, keys end. You know there are 88 of them. Nobody can tell you any different. They are not infinite. You're infinite... And on those keys, the music that you can make... is infinite. I like that. That I can live by...

You rolled out in front of me a keyboard of millions of keys, millions and billions of keys that never end. And that's the truth Max, that they never end. That keyboard is infinite... and if that keyboard is infinite, then on that keyboard there is no music you can play. You're sitting on the wrong bench... That is God's piano.

Christ, did you... did you see the streets, just the streets? There were thousands of them! Then how you do it down there, how do you choose just one... one woman, one house, one landscape to look at, one way to die...? Land? Land is a ship too big for me, it's a woman too beautiful, it's a voyage too long, perfume too strong... [quotes from]


Too...emo, perhaps? But true enough, in life, there are so many choices people can make. To choose the right one, one needs some sort of limitation--a way to discriminate bad choices from good. Whether it's morality or religion, discipline or just simple rules, guides simplify our life by narrowing our choices.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Country music in Cubao

One thing I notice about jeepneys that travel the Cubao-Rosario route is that all of them have custom-built sound systems with stereos that could make the normal street noise mute by overpowering. You could feel the music shaking the whole metal box of a vehicle; it makes it hard to tell whether your heartbeat is getting louder or it's just the drum beats, uh, beating.

Usually, the jeepneys are tuned in to Love Radio 90.7, which is ideally not the station to listen to FULL BLAST! if you should listen to it at all. There are those annoying dance mixes made with children's play songs, movie quips, DJ quips and beauty contest blunders. (Yes, they play those over the radio too.)

Anyway, because of these jeepneys, you can guess how much noisier traveling along Aurora Boulevard could be in the Cubao area. It's a my-radio-is-louder road war--no driver even cares about how slow the traffic gets. This is another way of saying you're not only compelled to sit through Saging Lang Ang May Puso (Only Bananas Have a Heart), you're also left with no choice but to listen to the whole dance mix word for word.

In this way, I must say I was luckier yesterday when I caught a jeepney that wasn't tuned in to Love, even if it was playing country music. I have nothing against country music; all I thought was how odd it was to hear country in the middle of comedy-dance-music-playing Cubao. Because of the obligatory amplified to the mega-decibel music, I heard every word of every country song (and I think they were all from a Kenny Rogers CD). This is the first time I heard the song The Last Ten Years (Superman), which I think is a song dedicated to Christopher Reeve:

The Last Ten Years (Superman)

Oh, the last ten years, it's been quite trip
Over thirty-six-hundred spins around without a cosmic slip
But within the realm of our atmosphere
We're 'bout as out of whack as we've ever been in a million years
We watched the Y2K scare in a panic
An' we watched as time proved Nostrodamus wrong
An' we watched as Mother Nature shook the planet
An' cellular replaced the telephone
We lost Charlie Brown, Ray Charles an' Johnny Cash
We even lost Superman, mhm.

Well, the last ten years, look at the hills we've climbed
The best golfer's black, the best rapper's white an' it's about damn time
But we best beware, there's a brand new fight, you see
An' I hate to say we might be our own worst enemy
We watched Oklahoma sifting through the damage
An' we watched a US President get caught
We watched shareholders watch their savings vanish
We all cried when we watched those towers fall
We lost Minnie Pearl, Ron Reagan and Sam Ahan
We even lost Superman, mhm.

Expensive gas an' free downloads
The dot-com boom, an' reality shows
What's gonna happen next is anybody's guess
Satellite radio and hybrid cars
Hand-held computers an' a trip to Mars
It's all become a part of who we are
In the last ten years.

In the last ten years
We lost George Harrison, John Paul and June Carter-Cash
Hell, we even lost Superman
Gonna miss you. Chris...

It's not a bad song--it's full of heart. It's very American, with references to what has been loved and idolized in the years past. But the message of the song is universal. By showing what has happened, the song (indirectly) tells the listener that though "What's gonna happen next is anybody's guess," ultimately, we decide what we become.

Ang di tumingin sa pinanggalingan
Di makararating sa paroroonan.
-Filipino proverb

Monday, May 19, 2008

Invisible Bike!

LOLcats are getting bigger! And I mean that literally:

photo from Troy McClure SF

This mural was recently painted in San Francisco by artist Josh Zubkoff, along with other LOLcat enthusiasts and friends. This particular LOL is a January 26, 2007 post from the popular LOLcat blog Icanhascheezburger:

Though some people groan over the language, I find myself laughing when I see these cat macros pictures. There are times when you just have to let loose and not play grammar police. Especially when part of your job is proofreading.

Hapi bloggr iz hapi.
LOLcats...ur doin' it big!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Yossarian Lives!

Currently I'm reading Joseph Heller's classic Catch-22, which is about an Assyrian named Yossarian who happened to be caught up in his duties as a fighter bomber for the Allies in WWII. The funny thing about him is he believes everyone is out to get him, even the very cells in his own body. Here's a quote I found amusing:

"There were lymph glands that might do him in. There were kidneys, nerve sheaths and corpuscles. There were tumors of the brain. There was Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. There were fertile red meadows of epithelial tissue to catch and coddle a cancer cell. There were diseases of the skin, diseases of the bone, diseases of the lung, diseases of the stomach, diseases of the heart, blood and arteries. There were diseases of the head, diseases of the neck, diseases of the chest, diseases of the intestines, diseases of the crotch. There even were diseases of the feet. There were billions of conscientious body cells oxidating away day and night like dumb animals at their complicated job of keeping him alive and healthy, and every one was a potential traitor and foe."

When you look at your body this way, it's easy to think you're only kept alive by chemical matter, which is not what we fully are. It's funny to read about a character who thinks this way, but if you meet a real person, it's actually very sad. There's more to living than the repetitive execution of body processes.

I'm enjoying the book so far, though it's taking me quite a while to read it. If you get ahold of the 1994 Simon & Schuster Edition, do save Mr. Heller's introduction for last. ;)


In case you don't know it yet, Catch-22 stands for a lose-lose situation--like the expression "damned if you do, damned if you don't." It got its name from the catch in the rules regarding exemption from war for the soldiers in the story. The rule was that if you're crazy, you could go home. But if you request that you go home on the grounds that you're crazy, it proves you're not crazy. And those who keep logging in flights are crazy, but they can't go home either because they're too crazy to ask. (And if they ask, then they're not crazy after all.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How NOT to show disagreement

This year's University of the Philippines Graduation Speech has been making waves lately (in terms of backlash in the blogosphere), but contrary to all those people who reacted violently, I find it quite refreshing to hear about a different kind of activism coming from a UP graduate. Gabriela M. Francisco, College of Music BM Voice, Summa Cum Laude, in her speech, urges fellow UP graduates to devote their education and skills to contribute significantly to the country. She asserts that patriotism is not only evident when you rally in the streets, but also (and more so) when you address your own responsibilities first.

This humble example of patriotism is no less valuable than going out to the streets to rally against the government. Gabi illustrates another side to the face of the stereotypical UP student in saying: "A lot of us have experienced the pressure to join rallies and boycott classes, or risk being called 'indifferent' and 'apathetic.' But such censure is neither fair nor complete if in sticking to one’s studies, by faithfully going to class and attending lectures, by fulfilling the mission given to oneself in the meantime, one always keeps in mind that time spent away from one’s studies is the money of one’s less fortunate countrymen gone to waste." (Let's not forget that UP, being a state university, offers education paid for by each Filipino.)

Not to put down the power of marching on the streets--in fact, it's the marching that made Filipinos famous back in 1986--but it looks like some people only see (and aim for) big-bang resolutions all the time. Whatever happened to the saying "If you want change, start with yourself"? Truth is, a lot can be done through the "quiet ways" too. And Gabi is just one to point out how much help fully committing oneself to one's studies (and work, if you're not a student anymore) can give to the country we all love.

But instead of hearing her out, some people who commented on her speech (read comments to speech in link above) not only expressed their disagreement, they also attacked her being a Music Major--and made assumptions about her personality. (There's even a poem on it--how much time do these people have to waste anyway?)

There are ways to argue your cause, and this is not a good example of them. Opinions will always differ no matter where you are--that's why humans were given a mind in the first place. Disagreeing with an opinion is one thing, putting it down as irrelevant (and attacking the speaker personally) is another. Is it so hard to disagree without calling names, picking fights and making unfair assumptions? Oh, I suppose not when you're always hoping for a big-bang turn of events--honestly, if you want a dose of that, why don't you watch those showbiz "news" shows? There are enough petty fights going on there to feed the hungry.

I'm sure activism can go a long way if the people promoting it would just stop criticizing and start doing. Just think about the time and effort it took them to put down Gabi (and her speech) and compose a silly and useless poem about her. They could've used that time educating people about their rights or making a difference. Instead they decide to pollute the Internet. So many capabilities, all put to waste.

On a related note, I've honestly never seen a rally flyer in UP without the obligatory name-calling. I'm sure you're all very smart--I just hope you'd show it more often.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lining up for a taxi takes forevah at Shangri-La Mall

Tonight I took the bus-train-cab way home because I got off from work at sunset and the weather was perfect for wellington boots. Shangri-La Plaza Mall has two lanes for cars to drop off their passengers. The nearer to the entrance is for private cars, while the one farther is for taxis and for those that just use the lane to avoid bad traffic brewing somewhere else (in the Philippines, there's always something of that sort brewing somewhere).

The line for the taxis, naturally, faces the farther lane so that as soon as someone gets off, the person waiting in line could get on with no fuss. But because of the time and the weather, the line got really long, and no cab would take any of us. The taxi drivers either rejected passengers or sped past all of those tired feet on the line--a gesture I can't help associating to a freakishly annoying Road Runner that says "neener-neener" instead of the usual "beep-beep."

To make it worse, the traffic officers were allowing the cabs to use the nearer lane and take as passengers people who never even bothered to line up! It was so frustrating to watch people taking cabs on the other lane from a spot in a line that was made specially for the purpose of making hailing cabs much easier. I would have walked away had it not been dark and rainy.

The woman ahead of me voiced out her complaint to one of the traffic guards, which let us air out our frustrations too. But the guy just brushed it off. So much for constructive criticism.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Baby loves Mommies!

Baby Magazine is now available in stores all over the Philippines! On the cover is the adorable Claudia Sofia Bozgan, taken by Ralph Alejandrino. From now on I'll be posting updates when ever Baby Magazine comes out--it's work we're all proud of here at Marathon Publishing.

For the month of May, we are featuring mom-preneurs, moms who have chosen to be their own boss--and with good results too!--proving that with creative juice, hard work, and clear priorities, moms can make more time for their family.

We also have the Mother's Day Promo so that moms can share their parenting tips and ideas and win great prizes too!

Baby Magazine is available in National Bookstore, SM Baby & Co., Havin' a Baby, and Procreation. Go here to read some more about our May issue. Enjoy!

Friday, May 2, 2008

When you care enough to hit send

Discovered this quirky and artsy e-card site called Someecards through (of all sources) the Twitter Newsletter. It mixes vintage illustration with funny one liners. And in true greeting card fashion, it has cards for every occasion and every receiver. The one above is for a breakup. Here's one for a birthday:

This one's a Get Well Soon type:

The site's tag line, "When you care enough to hit send" sums up quite adequately how times have changed. So many things are just a click away, that reaching out is so easy...the drawback is that the meaning of the greetings we send have diminished a little too. How much more meaningful is a phone call than a text message? And why hasn't anyone realized that breaking up through SMS, IMs and email is not the way to go?

E-cards are made for the fast-paced and impersonal life. If you want to let somebody know you're available for a little chat, by all means send an e-card or an email. But the chat itself should be eye to eye--that way, you learn more about your friends, your family, and the other people whose company you'd really like to keep.