Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A base of our own

It's packing day today here at the office, as we get ready to officially move into our new building tomorrow. For about 9 years, our base of operations has been in Malabon, where our office, warehouse and production line have all been housed in a building we've rented from a family friend. Last year, my parents bought the Parco building located along EDSA corner Connecticut (well, almost at the corner-- there's a gas station right beside that's actually at the corner). After almost a year of renovations and repairs, tomorrow the building will be rechristened "CEO", Corporate Executive Offices, and after 28 long years of being in business, my parents will finally own their permanent headquarters.

Tomorrow, our office staff and warehouse personnel will move to Greenhills, leaving our production crew to occupy 2 floors of the rented building in Malabon. On the one hand, I'm psyched because this means I get about an extra half-hour's worth of sleep every morning, since CEO is about 5 minutes away from our house. On the other hand, it also probably means we'll be staying at the office 'til about dinnertime, since there's no rush to get home, what with home so close by. Moreover, I think I'm now expected to report to work every Saturday, which I used to be excused from. :( Then again, at least now I'm nearer civilization, so I won't be constantly late for weekday night dinners or after-work badminton games (hear that, AP-Annex? let's get it on! ;p). Besides, I get my own office (with 2 all-glass walls and a solo A/C unit, sweet!) and I can go home for lunch everyday if I want to. Not a bad trade-off for a few hours of overtime... I hope.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A public apology to Doug Kramer

Dear Doug:

For the past 4 seasons, I have not exactly been your biggest fan. In fact, if my dear old teacher and favorite Ateneo game analyst Sir Tirol had saved all of my post-game text messages to him blasting you, he would have enough material for a fairly long, unflattering essay. But as he texted to me after today's incredible Game 1 win over UST: with that one amazing buzzer-beating, game-winning shot, you have effectively redeemed 5 years of butterfinger errors. And he also told me I owe you an apology.

Hence, this letter.

I am sincerely contrite, and I would like to declare that your miracle of a basket was without question the most unbelievable thing I have witnessed in my 13 years of watching UAAP games. I shamefully admit that during the last timeout, with that now-historical 1 second left in the match, I turned to my companions Fara and Margaux and scoffed, "'Wag na tayong umasa." This utterly un-Atenean pessimistic disposition was deplorable. When Macky saw you wide open and passed you the ball off the inbound, and you sank that shot cool as anything just as that 1 second ran out, you made a believer out of me. A repentant believer.

So Doug Kramer, I am sorry for having called you many cruel-- albeit sometimes accurate-- things before ("stupid lug", "clumsy oaf", "big neanderthal", and "Duh Kramer", among others). After 5 years of playing for our alma mater, you have finally, beyond all doubt, proven your worth, and you have proven me wrong.

Whether we win or lose the Finals, you will go down in Atenean annals as the hero of Game 1. Way to go.

Ailee Lim
Ateneo Alumna
Batch 2001

P.S. I think your teammate Macky Escalona deserves to share a bit of your glory for making that spot-on inbound pass. And perhaps Coach Norman Black as well, if he had instructed you guys accordingly. I'm guessing he knew UST would smother Chris Tiu and keep an eye on JC Intal. That left you alone under the basket, and the rest, as we now know, is history. :)

Friday, September 22, 2006


I've noticed that for the month of September, I have posted only 3 blog entries, on every Monday of the month so far. As the 2 faithful followers of my blog know, I try to post stuff at least 3 times a week, so this sorry turnout for September is an indicator of 2 things: given my you-wouldn't-believe-how-busy work schedule, not only do I have no free time to write, but I am so effing drained from work that I can't think of anything to write about. To any self-respecting blogger, this is unacceptable (not to mention pretty pathetic), so this Friday post is being hastily pecked out to break the alarming I-only-blog-on-Mondays trend.

Begging my 2 readers' indulgence, my tired brain can only think of 1 topic to blog about today, and that is UST's amazing UAAP comeback. The Tigers have stunned UE by hurdling what seemed to be an insurmountable twice-to-beat advantage and trouncing the Warriors in 2 closely contested but well-played matches. And now, after 10 long years, the title-hungry-- nay, ravenous-- Tigers have a legitimate shot at the championship.

Here's the problem. In order for UST to win, Ateneo has to lose.

Let me explain my personal dilemma here. My dad, a UST alumnus, used to be the Tigers' team manager for 9 straight years, from 1993, the beginning of their glorious 4-year reign, to 2002. I witnessed UST's famed "4-peat" throughout my 4 years in high school, and it was easy as pie to get ringside seats to all the games (and that is why, up to this day, I can still score UAAP tix to even the most in-demand matches-- connections, connections ;p). Of course, as soon as I entered college, my allegiance switched to the Blue Eagles, but I have always had a soft spot for UST (I still know all their cheers by heart). And now, the improbable has happened: my 2 teams are meeting in the Finals, for the first time in UAAP history.

No question about it, I will be cheering for Ateneo. But here's my sticky situation: I am the lone Ateneo fan in our house. My parents, my sister (who also graduated from UST), and my brother (who's in UP but holds no neighborly affection for Ateneo) are all rooting for the Tigers to win. For the next 2 weeks, therefore , I am the villain. It's me against the 4 of them. If Ateneo loses, they will be gloating about it for a really long time. If Ateneo wins, they will be bitching about it for even longer. As it is, my parents keep on dissing Ateneans for being overconfident, pompous asses (and I can't exactly contest that-- see my last post). Imagine if the Eagles became champions... but not without violent scuffles, questionable calls, and heated protests from both sides. I would be mercilessly roasted over the coals for the next month or so every time the UAAP is mentioned in conversation. And trust me, my family is pretty damn good at picking on me. At least if Ateneo loses, they'll just be taunting me about it, and might take pity on me after a while.

Now can you blame me if a tiny part of me actually wants UST to win? From where I stand, it looks like the lesser of 2 evils.

So... go Uste? :j

Monday, September 18, 2006

Post-game perspective

So Ateneo beat Adamson in the UAAP semifinals, and we're headed for the Finals this Sunday, determined to seize a championship that many of my fellow Ateneans believe is rightfully ours, after we dominated the elimination round with a 10-2 win-loss card. Granted, our boys have played remarkably well this season-- the absence of our arch(er)rivals notwithstanding-- and they deserve this shot at the title. However, I think we need to be reminded that there are still at least 2 games left to play, 1 team left to overcome.

The way the Ateneo crowd was behaving during yesterday's game against Adamson (who, let's face it, were worthy opponents), you'd think "Ateneo Blue Eagles" was already inscribed on the UAAP championship trophy. My dad summed it up neatly: if Ateneo doesn't win the championship this season, all hell's going to break loose.
Yesterday, the Ateneo gallery at Araneta was even more keyed up than your usual intense Ateneo mob (it almost felt like an Ateneo-LaSalle match!). The frenzied Atenean energy was bordering on rabid. Every call that went against us was greeted with loud boos, the referees were jeered every time they slapped fouls on our players, and at half-time a small ruckus broke out when Coach Norman Black used profane language while protesting a non-call in the dying seconds of the 1st half.

Standing in the midst of such a fired-up, fanatical sea of supporters, I admit it was easy to yell along every time a ref blew his whistle and made a call that went Adamson's way. And our view from the uppermost row of the Upper A section wasn't exactly a vantage point, so every foul seemed like an imaginary infraction. But when I got home that night, I watched the replay of the game telecast (yeah, yeah, I'm a die-hard Atenean, like you didn't know that already :p), and I realized that majority of the referees' calls were spot-on. Sure, there were a handful of oversights, but I chalk it up to human error rather than "luto". The problem with us gungho Ateneans is that we tend to get carried away by the fervor of our school spirit, and let it blur our better judgment. You only need to take one look at all those scarily overzealous middle-aged alumni seated at ringside, the ones who bawl out the refs and even our poor players when they mess up, to know what I'm talking about. That Jesuit-educated men-- and even women-- can conduct themselves in such an unbecoming manner is sad indeed.

Sure, we stand a good chance of becoming champions this year. Sure, we have the deepest bench of all the competing schools. Sure, Chris Tiu is hitting those sweet treys and JC Intal is getting those awesome dunks. But hey, we haven't won it yet, so let's not act as if we cannot accept anything less than a championship. Both UST and UE are strong teams who have each handed us 1 of our 2 losses, and whoever emerges triumphant in their do-or-die game this Thursday could still very well hand us our arrogant asses in the Finals.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Brooding in Bangkok

Friendly warning: In this blog post, I will make several allusions to my favorite Greek guy again, launch into yet another existentialist angst-ridden reflection, and bitch about my latest trip to Bangkok once more. Proceed at your own peril.

In Homer's classic Odyssey, Odysseus is a battle-weary man who yearns to reach the shores of his beloved Ithaca, where his faithful wife and stalwart son await his home-coming. This was the Odysseus I introduced to my students in my 2 years of teaching English, the Odysseus I came to know, admire and love. In Kazantzakis' modern sequel, Odysseus is a restless, ruthless warrior whose wanderlust drives him to heed the call of the sea, and the endless possibilities that lie beyond. This is the Odysseus I am getting to know, an Odysseus I am beginning to loathe, yet still regard with the same fascination. And this is also an Odysseus I can relate to, indeed perhaps more so than his former noble self.

In one of my more intellectual (read: nerdy) discussions with Maddy, I once surmised that my affinity with (and abnormal affection for) Homer's hero is rooted in my being Atenean. After all, Odysseus does fit the profile of your typical annoyingly cocky, fiercely loyal, my-Trojan-Horse-is-bigger-than-your-Trojan-Horse Atenean, and I can certainly relate (and be attracted) to that. But I didn't think I would be able to relate to the other Odysseus-- Kazantzakis' Odysseus-- until last week, while I was in Bangkok on another excruciating, grueling business trip. On September 7, ICA was celebrating Teachers Day, and I was several thousand miles away, suffering in Bangkok, bearing up under my mom's incessant nitpicking and deathly dull meetings with suppliers. To offset my negative energy, I splurged on international roaming charges by texting all the ICA teachers in my phone book to greet them (Fara called me "crazy" for doing so, but hey, it's the time-- and money-- you waste on your roses, right?). To my surprise, I received SMS greetings of my own from 3 former students (Tiff Hong, Kri and Cla: love and hugs!), wishing me a happy Teachers Day even if I'm no longer one officially, and thanking me for having been theirs.

The timing couldn't have been better... or worse, depending on how you look at it. I had been having a stressful time in Bangkok (I swear I can never fully enjoy the city ever again for as long as I live, work has totally ruined it for me), so stressful that for the very first time in the year and a half I've been helping with the family business, I seriously considered quitting (at one point, when I really felt like I was going to scream from sheer frustration, I even texted my dad that I wanted to resign). I was that tired, and that drained, and that sick of dealing with countless forms of mental, physical and psychological torture my job has been inflicting on me the past few weeks. So in that moment after I received the first text from Tiff, I felt my first real, so-real-you-can-almost-touch-it, pang of-- not regret, I sincerely do not regret making the decision to help my parents-- my first real pang of longing, longing for what I had left behind: being a teacher, living out my Personal Legend. And in that same moment, I suddenly understood with painful clarity why they call it a "calling"-- it's something that summons you so strongly, so insistently, that it's almost audible. In my case, I had already answered that summons, then chose to leave it and move on elsewhere, and I thought that had been enough. But that day in Bangkok-- ICA Teachers Day in Manila-- I heard the call again, crystal clear, tugging irresistibly at my heart.

Whenever people ask me why I stopped teaching, they usually follow the question with automatic assumptions of "Hirap no?" "The students were a pain in the neck, huh?" "The pay was too low, wasn't it?" And I always wish I had enough time to explain to them that no, I didn't care about the lousy salary because the rewards were unquantifiable, and far more valuable than money. And that no, my students were wonderful and sweet and smart and funny and I adored them. And that no, it wasn't difficult because I loved teaching, loved it more than anything I have ever done in my life, more than anything I will ever do in my life. I quit teaching for the only reason I would ever leave something-- or someone-- I love: my family. And that has always been a sufficient answer for me, even up to now, even as I am still hearing the bittersweet echoes of my true calling.

But the second question people usually ask, would I ever go back to teaching, that seems much more complicated to answer now. I know that for all my mom's aggravating tirades and ceaseless disparagement, what I am doing for our family business does not go by unappreciated. I also know that my dad is confident that I have what it takes to survive in this industry and run our business. But I just do not see myself doing this for the rest of my life. My mom herself said that I am not cut out to be an entrepreneur, I'm too much of an intellectual. And I suspect she more than anyone realizes that I gave up the one thing I am truly meant to be doing. The question remains, do I return to what I am meant to be doing, or do I give it up for good, ignoring the plaintive call that will always resound in my soul?

I probably won't quit tomorrow, nor next week (even if 2 of our brand managers will be on leave for several weeks, which means my workload will triple over the month), nor even next year. I may be AVP of our company for the next 2, 5, 10 years. My siblings may join me and reinforce our ranks, or they may stay out of the business, partially or completely. But one thing is for certain: regardless of how long I stay, regardless of how long I'll be doing this job I alternately enjoy and detest, someday I will return to where I really belong, living out my life's dream, fulfilling my purpose in this world, answering my true calling.

It's no wonder Odysseus headed back out to sea. And I won't stay anchored in Ithaca forever either.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Cut off and pissed off (plus a review of The Devil Wears Prada)

Since last Friday, all the phone lines in our office haven’t been working because some sonofabitch stole the PLDT cables on our street. Apparently, phone cables are made of copper and can be resold at a pretty penny, so some brilliant hoodlum decided to take ours. THIS is why my parents always say there is no hope for this godforsaken country. It’s not just anything that isn’t nailed down that gets stolen— even things that ARE frickin' nailed down get stolen!

Without our phone lines, all crucial day-to-day work functions have come to a standstill: sending and receiving overseas correspondence via email, transmitting faxes, connecting to our stores’ POS systems, and communicating with all our local suppliers, sales people, and other business contacts. It’s an odd and disconcerting sensation, being cut off from the outside world, normally so accessible by pressing just a few buttons or tapping a few keys. And it is just plain eerie being in an office without the intermittent sound of a ringing phone.

It has never occurred to me how dependent our business is on telephones. The past few days, it feels like we’ve been hobbling on one leg, trying our best to get by with what we have, but with the full knowledge that we are severely handicapped. It’s both frustrating and frightening that some thieving delinquent off the street can cripple our operations so easily. If I ever get my hands on the jerk responsible, I’d happily return the favor and break his goddamn leg.

* * *

Watching The Devil Wears Prada is like reading a fashion magazine: you know its content is shallow and superficial, but you can’t tear your eyes away from it, it contains so much sumptuous eye candy. It’s also like watching the red carpet special before the Oscars: there’s really not much point except to check out what everyone is wearing.

There were only two real stars of The Devil Wears Prada, and one of them was not Anne Hathaway (sorry, Princess Mia— your doe-eyed naivete may be charming to some, but it doesn’t work on me). Obviously, Meryl Streep dominated the film as the divinely devilish diva Miranda Priestly, editor-in-chief of Runway magazine. Not only did Meryl bring bitchiness to fabulous new heights, she did so with a truly terrifying restraint that told you she wasn’t even trying very hard. Everything about Meryl’s Miranda was pitch- and picture-perfect: the cool, low voice, the icy, contemptuous facial expressions, and of course, the dazzling, to-die-for wardrobe.

Which brings me to the second star of the show: costume designer Patricia Field (of Sex and the City fame), who did a spectacular job in directing the endless, glorious, gorgeous parade of designer outfits, from the Prada bags to the Jimmy Choo stilettos to the Hermes scarves to the Chanel gowns. Each scene was so liberally littered with high-fashion labels, it was precariously close to being tawdry— but Field kept it all under control and managed to pull off the brand barrage as scintillatingly stylish rather than vulgarly vogue.

But what I enjoyed most about The Devil Wears Prada was how it approximated the level of stress in my line of work. Fashion is a cutthroat industry, and though I do not look half as chic as the “clackers” in the movie, I am intimately familiar with the killer pressure and down-to-the-last-detail drudgery that are disguised by glamour and trendy trappings. The fact that I watched the movie with my boss (i.e. my mom) made it all the more amusing, as I was secretly comparing Miranda’s demanding and domineering character to my mother’s own stringent management style. Granted, she’s not as nasty as Miranda, nor does she constantly ask for the impossible (the unpublished manuscript of the last Harry Potter book? get real!), but her I-want-it-done-yesterday pacing and failure-is-not-an-option attitude are pretty similar to Miranda’s. Not to mention they share a penchant for Prada. :p

Like I said, in terms of its overall quality as a film, The Devil Wears Prada is not exactly Schindler’s List, but then again, no one expects an issue of Vogue to be A Hundred Years of Solitude. The movie is an unabashed and unapologetic display of style reigning supreme over substance, and what a delicious display it is. Besides, everyone knows candy is not good for us, but damn if we can ever get enough.