Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I say Bahbel, Cate Blanchett says Baybel...

Babel is what AP-Annex would call a "nosebleed" film. Its 4 intertwined stories set in 3 continents are told in a non-sequential time line that leaves the viewer a little disoriented. Its characters speak in 4 different languages (5 if you count sign language) and make amazingly stupid and frighteningly real decisions. Its ending leaves you a little depressed and a lot confused. In short, it's not exactly a feel-good movie. But then again, no one expects barrels of laughs from a film that shows an American with marital problems vacationing in Morocco with his embittered wife, who gets accidentally shot by 2 bickering young locals using a rifle originally owned by a rich Japanese businessman with a rebellious, deaf teenage daughter, while the American couple's children are unwittingly smuggled across the Mexican border to attend the wedding of their nanny's son, chauffeured by her nephew with a criminal record.

I didn't hate Babel, but I didn't love it either. I did appreciate the whole cultural relativism angle, how director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu gives the audience discreet glimpses into Moroccan, Mexican and Japanese culture. I liked the not-quite-hidden sociopolitical messages regarding American paranoia and overreaction to the terrorist threat, and illegal aliens working in the US. I admired the bold depiction of contemporary teenage behavior, which I believe many found shocking and offensive simply because their preconceived notions about the Japanese still dance around kimonos and tea ceremonies (are American teens the only ones into sex, booze and drugs?). I respected the realistic take on human behavior in general: erratic, foolish, criminal, cruel, loving, generous, kind, compassionate. I applauded the quietly strong performances delivered by a cast composed of relative unknowns, with the bigger names contributing unobtrusive, nuanced turns (Latino hottie Gael Garcia Bernal was practically unrecognizable as the deadbeat nephew). Above all, I loved the powerful dramatic skills of Adriana Barazza, whose devoted Mexican nanny could mop up the floor with awards-season-debutante-darling Jennifer Hudson's lungs-of-steel Motown diva.

However, the film is just not engaging enough, intellectually, emotionally, aesthetically. Although it makes the viewers consider some issues, it doesn't challenge them to rethink their beliefs about them. Some scenes tug at the heartstrings (mostly thanks to the brilliant Barazza), while some scenes stretch on for excruciatingly long moments of... nothing. The dry Moroccan and Mexican desert landscapes and the neon lights of Tokyo help highlight the stark contrasts between countries and cultures, but let's face it, there's nothing very interesting to see in a desert, and bright lights can only be visually stimulating for so long (heck, even a scruffy Brad Pitt did little towards captivating me). The movie Babel, like the Biblical parable for which it was named, shows the flaws and failures of humanity, but it also exhibits its own flaws and failures as a film.

Of the 4 Oscar Best Picture nominees I've seen so far (I can't seem to find a DVD copy of Letters from Iwo Jima), Babel isn't even in my top 2 (those would be Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen, in that order). But it's more substantial and less glamorized than The Departed, and it has the advantage of not having a crazed maniac like Jack Nicholson running amuck and ruining the somber tone of the movie. Between those 2 major contenders (as beloved as Little Miss Sunshine is, it's still very much the underdog), I'd prefer Babel to win, but it would really be giving an award for excellence to a less than outstanding film.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pretty in pink, take two

Last night I got a YM message from Tangsoc, asking me to be the cord sponsor for her wedding in July. My honest initial reaction was a split-second succession of surprised-puzzled-touched-dismayed: surprised, because I never thought Tangsoc would want to include me in her wedding; puzzled, because I'm pretty sure she has other good friends she's known for far longer; touched, because it showed just how much she values our friendship; and dismayed, because I suddenly remembered that her motif is brown and... PINK. As soon as that last thought sank in, I went, "Oh HELL no, not again!" But of course I quickly shifted from dismayed to resigned and eventually settled into honored. After all, my "twin" wants me to be part of her big day, and even if it means I'll be putting on a pink dress for a friend's wedding for the second time in my life, I'll be more than happy to do it... as long as she promises not to drag me into any bouquet games. Right, Tangsoc? :p

Friday, January 26, 2007

How I Met Your Mother meets Les Miz

Jo had a link to this video in her YM status message, and I'm so glad I clicked on it because it made me laugh, and it brought back fond memories. My brother and I used to do this exact same routine, with me as Javert and him singing Valjean's parts. And I thought WE took it far too seriously. Haha.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Eldest: the Empi-- err, Galbatorix strikes back

I realize I appear to be on an unstoppable Paolini ranting rampage, given my scathing reviews of his first novel Eragon and the godawful movie it spawned, but I need to vent my negative energy, so bear with me as I share what I thought of Eldest, the second book in Paolini's Inheritance trilogy. [Warning: plot spoilers ahead, proceed at your own peril.]

Eldest picks up where Eragon left off... that is to say, it continues running parallel to Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings. I will stop short of saying young master Paolini ripped off George Lucas and Tolkien, but the similarities are just too painfully obvious to overlook. Eragon, wide-eyed farmboy-turned-valiant Rider (i.e. Luke Skywalker/Aragorn) and his blue dragon Saphira have joined the resistance fighters of the Varden (i.e. the Rebel Alliance) in their fight against the despotic king Galbatorix (i.e. Emperor Palpatine/Sauron), whose menacing presence is felt but never seen (by the end of Eldest, we have yet to meet the big baddie). Wise old mentor and ex-Rider Brom (i.e. Obi-wan Kenobi/Gandalf) is dead, having sacrificed his life to protect Eragon. Loyal sidekick Murtagh (i.e. Han Solo) has been kidnapped by a bunch of Urgals (i.e. orcs), and while he is not frozen in carbonite like the Galaxy's slickest smuggler, he does reappear in dramatic fashion much later in the story. Ajihad, head of the Varden (i.e. Senator Bail Organa/King Theoden), falls in battle and his daughter Nasuada (i.e. Princess Leia/Eowyn) assumes leadership of the freedom fighters.

Accompanied by the dwarf Orik (i.e. Gimli/R2D2), Eragon is sent off to the elves' forest of Ellesmera (i.e. Lothlorien), ruled by Queen Islanzadi (i.e. Galadriel), to receive further education in magic and the ways of the Riders (i.e. the Force and the ways of the Jedi). An ancient crippled elf and Rider named Oromis (i.e. Yoda) and his dragon Glaedr oversee Eragon and Saphira's training. The elf-maiden Arya (i.e. Arwen), with whom Eragon is smitten, turns out to be Islanzadi's daughter, squashing any possibility of a full-blown love affair (although given the predictable path Paolini's tale is taking, I'd bet good money the love affair happens in the third book anyway).

As Eragon is busy getting buffer and learning to become a bad-ass Rider, his cousin Roran (sharing the role of Aragorn) faces his own share of problems as he sets off on a crusade of his own, leading the villagers of Carvahall in an exodus to the land of Surda (much like how the people of Rohan up and left for Gondor), where the Varden are now based after being forced to evacuate the dwarf city of Tronjheim (i.e. Moria). The Ra'zac (i.e. Nazgul) are hot on their heels because Galbatorix wants Roran, presumably to be used as bait for Eragon. Since the pesky, tenacious cousin keeps slipping out of their clutches, the Ra'zac snatch his fiancee Katrina instead. Roran thus has his own score to settle with the malicious monarch, and more motivation to hunt down the creatures who not only killed his father, but took his girl. Along the way, he runs into a man called Jeod (i.e. Lando Calrissian), an agent of the Varden who helps him secure a ship to take his people to Surda. The ship survives a storm, dogged pursuit by the king's men, and a whirlpool suspiciously similar to The Odyssey's Charybdis.

Roran's journey eventually ends with a reunion with Eragon, at Surda where the first major battle between Galbatorix's troops and the Varden takes place. Eragon and Saphira are ably leading the charge against the king's forces, and the tide seems to be turning the rebels' way, when suddenly Murtagh, presumed dead by all, bursts onto the scene astride a red dragon (gee, I didn't see that coming). 1 of the 2 eggs in Galbatorix's possession hatched, "choosing" Murtagh to be its Rider. After a fierce duel on dragonback, Murtagh reveals to Eragon that they are both sons of rogue Rider Morzan (i.e. Darth Vader), making them brothers (this plot twist suddenly turns Eragon into a young Obi-wan Kenobi and Murtagh a young Anakin Skywalker as Eragon reels from the shock of Murtagh's betrayal of turning to the Dark Side, as it were). It is also revealed that Saphira is the last female dragon in existence; hence, Galbatorix wants her alive for breeding purposes. For old times' sake, apparently, Murtagh spares Eragon's life but takes the sword Zar'roc (i.e. Anduril) from him, claiming it as his rightful inheritance as their father's eldest son.

If you've read this far into my review, then I have just saved you the effort of reading Paolini's weak follow-up to his overhyped debut novel. Not only have I spared you from a you've-seen-this-all-before plot, I've also rescued you from Paolini's flawed writing style, which didn't seem as bad in Eragon. In Eldest, his use of language is inconsistent and awkward, shifting from overly formal and archaic (words like "aught", "nigh", "mayhap") to flippantly casual and contemporary (phrases that begin with "I guess..." and "Technically...", and hell, even "tickles like crazy"). The young author also tries his hand at Elvish-poetry-translated-into-English a la Tolkien, and fails miserably. The verses are contrived, lack all semblance of rhythm and beauty, and in no way enrich the already trite story. In addition to the annoying lyrical attempts, Paolini insists on naming irrelevant and faceless characters (they're not even nice names), and throwing around big words ("fey", "modicum", and "chary" keep popping up). Paolini reminds me of students I had whom I advised to "write to express, not to impress". The reader can almost smell his earnest, embarrassing desire to be admired and respected for his precocious talent. I just wrinkled my nose and tried to ignore the faint stench.

I don't discount Paolini has certain creative skills and a laudable dedication to his craft most teenagers and even adults don't have. But when a writer is gifted, his talent should unfold naturally, with even the simplest sentence he composes and each original idea he puts forth. He need not use lofty vocabulary and fancy poetry as trappings, and he need not lean on the work of legends as a crutch, much less use it as a skeleton for his own creation. Like his hero Eragon, Paolini has much to learn about using his innate gifts, and far to go in developing his potential. Hopefully, when the third book of his trilogy comes out, we'll see signs of growth from this promising Padawan of fantasy fiction.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Around 3PM today, a member of our staff entered my office with a weird, worried expression on her face. She was holding a small piece of cardboard in her hand, and she said someone had dropped it off at our store in the Podium, addressed to me. Expecting some sort of problem, I took it from her and saw this:

Forgetting to maintain my dignified-boss demeanor, I burst out laughing and reassured our staffer that it was ok, it was just 3 of my former students being crazy, and not a bunch of madwomen stalking me.

I love how, even years after ICA, my students can break the monotony of a day with a random moment of hilarity. Thanks Jo, Chars and Lars. I'm keeping the note displayed on my desk so that I'll have something to make me smile even in the middle of a busy or blah workday. :)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

First of five

Hey Oscars/Ailee fans! My first piece for the BBC Oscars panel has been posted on the website already. I'll be putting the link to each piece in my blog's sidebar and my Multiply's Links section so my faithful readers can access them easily (I don't intend on blogging about each individual piece-- I'm an egomaniac, but not that big of an egomaniac).

At the risk of sounding like I'm blowing my own trumpet, I was proud to see that I was the only Asian chosen to participate in the panel (last year it was all Caucasians), and I'm happy that I can represent this side of the globe, never mind if it's only in a trivial discussion about Hollywood movies. I was pretty pleased that the BBC didn't even edit my work except for changing "England" to "United Kingdom" (they left in "bitchiness", hurray!), and chopping the piece into shorter, more reader-friendly paragraphs. Even my slightly blurry profile photo came out ok. However, my favorite verbal sparring partner Angelo pointed out that my photo may give ignorant readers the impression that Filipinos look very... Oriental, if not vaguely Hawaiian ("very Disney ohana" he called it). I had actually thought of indicating "ethnic Chinese" under "Nationality", but I nixed that idea quickly, since I would much rather be thought of as an oddly Oriental-looking Filipino than a possibly-illegal Chinese alien residing in the Philippines. :p

In the meantime, I'm eagerly awaiting today's announcement of the Oscar nominations (9:30PM Manila time) so that I can get started on my second piece, which is due Friday. These deadlines are kinda stressful, but at least I'm enjoying what I'm writing, and admittedly, I'm reveling in my 15 minutes of fame. =D

Sunday, January 21, 2007

My cup runneth over

A few posts back, I said I was expecting a quiet birthday. Little did I suspect that a group of sneaky college freshmen were already planning to spring something on me even before I wrote that blog post.

The day started peacefully enough. At the stroke of midnight, my mom handed me my first birthday present, from her and Pa. The sight of the Coach paper bag was enough to make me giddy-- I was actually hugging and beaming at the paper bag for a good few minutes before opening it-- and the denim patchwork bag inside kept me occupied for another couple of minutes. In the morning, I woke up to find a package from Fara waiting outside my bedroom door, and even though I was running late for class, I stayed for a few minutes to see what she had dropped off. It was a CD case in the shape of a furry black pig, and it was heavy because inside were CDs of 3 of my favorite TV shows, which she had burned for me (you da bomb Farapot! mwah!). Then, after my Business Chinese class at Dela Costa (which I manage to stay awake through thanks to a big tumbler of coffee I bring every week), I rushed back to Greenhills to meet up with some members of AP-Annex for lunch at Italianni's Greenhills.

I was in the middle of chewing a mouthful of pasta when a bunch of my Openness kids led by master planner Rach arrived, bearing a blueberry cheesecake from Bizu and a framed card signed by their classmates. I was really, really touched that they took the effort to congregate in Greenhills and drop in to greet me when they could have been doing other things on a Saturday afternoon. To Rach, Tarin, Erica, Anne, Pamy, Den, Stef and Bea-- love and hugs all around. You made this 26-year-old very, very, happy.

With a full stomach and a fuller heart, I arrived home and was puzzled to find the entryway to our living room festooned with pastel crepe paper streamers. I remember thinking, "This is so not my siblings' style" before I stepped through and saw that our living room had been given the same pastel treatment. Blue, yellow and purple balloons and crepe paper garlands (and even a crepe paper smiley face) adorned the furniture and walls, and "Hapy Birtdy Ms. Lim!" was spelled out on a wall, a couch, and the floor (awful spelling done deliberately to tick me off, I later found out :p). A yellow balloon used to dot the exclamation point declared, "Love, Openness". I stood there slack-jawed thinking several things at once: oh my God, there's been a pastel explosion in our living room... how in the world did they manage to get in... I can't believe my mom let them do this to her furniture... who's going to clean this up? Then I ran to get my camera and snapped photos of their handiwork (courtesy of Rach, Anne and Erica), all the while grinning as I imagined my students blowing up balloons and placing them in the most ridiculous places like inside the cup of one of my dad's golf trophies. After taking enough photos, I reluctantly started removing the decor (for a mad moment, I contemplated leaving the room as it was for a couple more days) because my brother said he had been hearing balloons popping from the heat all afternoon. I saved the one that said "Love, Openness" and the pink and blue garland hung above "Birtdy". It was such a crazy, sweet stunt (and I thought nothing would top waking me up at 7 in the morning and making me stand on top of our driveway in my nightshirt), and I sat there looking at the pile of balloons and crepe paper wondering what I had ever done to deserve such devotion.

Later that evening my sister told me one of my students had texted my mom for permission to invade our house, and I marveled at the fact that my family had been in on the whole thing (Rach, your resourcefulness astounds me to no end). When I asked my mom about it, she was smugly mysterious and kept on answering my queries with the ever-infuriating reply of "Secret!" I let it go at that. :)

Dinner with my family at Makati Shangri-la's Red was lovely. Between courses, I opened multiple gifts from Auntie Nene and my sibs, and read/replied to the non-stop stream of text messages from friends and students. With all the attention I was getting, the super-cool tee my sister picked out for me summed up my day quite nicely: "As a matter of fact, the whole world DOES revolve around me." Presents and surprises and birthday messages aside, it felt like an intense concentration of love was enveloping me that day, and I was awed and humbled by it all. I felt utterly blessed, and deeply grateful for the people in my life and the joy they bring to it.

So to everyone-- to AP-Annex for celebrating with me; to my biatch Kat for conspiring with Rach to execute their surprise; to Openness for being my one and only; to my loyal LM peeps (Angelo and D.I. included) for never forgetting me and who I am; to Sir Tirol for affirming who I am; to my agent Mishy for her faith in me and for delivering on her promise to help me prep for the Oscars; to Raqs for everything in this lifetime and beyond; to all my friends new and old for being confidantes and counselors, love doctors and troubleshooters, YM chatmates and blog fans, fellow bookworms and TV addicts; to my cousins for being friends; to my family (Auntie Nene included) for being my rock and my core-- thank you for being my reason for living, and giving me every reason to look forward to my 26th year in life.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

OMG, the BBC wants me!

My friend Mishy has always joked about being president of my fan club. Now, she wants to be my agent.

Yesterday she emailed me something from the BBC website, that went something like this:

Interested to be one of the Oscars' panelists? Sign up here!

** Join the Oscars panel 2007 **
The BBC news website is again looking for film fans to form
its Oscars panel.

I was at the office, and as usual I was bored, so I thought, what the hell, it's only a 100-word entry, and what have I got to lose? So I hastily scribbled out something about 2 films generating Oscar buzz that I have seen (Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed), clicked the "send" button, and emailed Mishy back to tell her I had joined just for the heck of it. She responded by kidding about wanting to be my agent when I get "discovered" and become a famous movie critic.

Tonight, I checked my inbox and found an email from a Stephen Robb, from the Entertainment desk of the BBC News Website. It began thus:

"Many thanks for your submission to be on our Oscars panel - we would be delighted to have you take part (from more than 250 submissions, I might add)."

I was flabbergasted. And to think I had almost deleted the email because I thought it was spam! Of course Mishy was the first person I texted, right after I told my parents, who happened to be in the same room while I was checking my email. Mishy was so psyched she called me and immediately offered to burn me copies of potential-Oscar-nominee movies I haven't seen yet. What an agent, huh? :p I'm just glad I'm not getting any money for this writing gig or I'll owe a huge chunk of it to her. Haha.

As part of the Oscars panel, I have to submit 5 short essays throughout Oscar season, sharing my views on the nominees and their chances of winning, and my reactions to who will eventually win the awards. My only immediate problem is that my first deadline is on Monday, before the nominations are announced on Tuesday, and of all the possible Oscar contenders I've only seen Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed (I guess you can count Blood Diamond and The Devil Wears Prada, which will probably get acting noms for Leo and Meryl, respectively). I think I can get by if I just manage to watch Babel and The Queen over the weekend, since the first piece just calls for my thoughts on who might get nominated. However, I'm still under pressure to go see all the other films that WILL be nominated, and I don't know if I'll be able to given that they get shown here in Manila quite late (stupid, stupid Metro Manila Film Fest!).

But with my agent's help, I think I'll pull this off. Right Mishy? Kiss kiss, hug hug. =D

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A tribute to Sir Tirol

When students ask me for feedback on their written work (some of them still do up to now), particularly for application essays, I always exhort them to write in their own "voice". Students tend to write in a stilted, overly formal tone for academic papers, without a trace of their personality, concerned more with being right than being true. I'm particular about this because I had the same problem throughout my freshman year in college. The result? Middling grades in all my English classes, and a bunch of mediocre essays that make me cringe when I reread them (cringe, and go, "Did I actually write this crap?!?").

Funny enough, it took a History class to teach me how to write like myself. In my sophomore year, my block had the tremendous good fortune to be assigned to Mr. Jo-ed Tirol's Modern History class. The guy already had a reputation for being one of Ateneo's funniest, smartest and most competent teachers; we soon learned that the hype was all true. Sir Tirol's lectures were organized, clear and not just interesting, but entertaining (anyone who can make World War II entertaining definitely has skills). His wry sense of humor served to make each session fun no matter what the topic, and he kept us wide awake despite the class's deadly after-lunch schedule when most students would be drowsy and nodding off. In all my years of schooling, Sir Tirol's was the only class I looked forward to like I would a favorite TV program. He made learning almost effortless; I just sat there listening to him, laughing at his sarcastic zingers, scribbling down notes occasionally, and come exam time, without even much reviewing the night before, for some reason I'd remember practically everything we discussed in class. It was as if I had somehow temporarily acquired the power of his legendary sponge-like memory.

Despite his popularity and reputation as a "nice" guy, Sir Tirol wasn't a pushover; in fact, he always exuded a don't-screw-with-me-wiseguy air that commanded students' respect. He was fair and forthright, and when he meant business, he meant business. But he was also understanding and sympathetic to his students' plights, and would tweak some requirements or move a deadline or free up some consultation time when asked (or in Yang's case, "wheedled" would be more precise :p). Sir Tirol was the kind of teacher who still remembered what it had been like to be a student, and that made him easy to approach and talk to. Once, I misheard a word in a guide question for a reflection paper (instead of "What is the root of imperialism?" I took down "route"), and I only found out after I had submitted my paper. After I had explained it to him, he checked my paper as if the question had really said "route", and I still got an A.

But that was pretty much how I managed to get As on all my papers for Sir Tirol's class. It wasn't because I was this brilliant writer with revolutionary ideas. It wasn't because I slaved over my papers like a dog (I actually finished them pretty quickly, and usually in just 1 sitting). It wasn't even because the movies he chose for us to reflect on were so compellingly good (although they were). It was simply because I was comfortable with him reading my work, my thoughts, in my "voice". Knowing he would not frown upon my using the word "shit", that he would appreciate a well-placed barb directed at La Salle, that he would indulge my anal penchant for getting all the actors' and characters' names right (and in full), I was free to write like the opinionated, cynical wannabe-intellectual I was. I wrote from the gut ("truthiness", anyone? ;p), and I wrote without fear of censure, without being conscious of academic standards, without caring if I was being politically correct or I was going to get the right answers... because I knew he would get it. I knew he would get me. And when a teacher like that allows you to be yourself, you can't help but excel. The best teachers are the ones that help you become the best that you can be. In Sir Tirol's case, he helped me become a better writer, a better student, and a better thinker. And he also inspired me to later become-- or at least try to become-- the kind of teacher he was, the best teacher I've ever known.

Although I still call him "Sir Tirol", and we see each other only once a year (if we're lucky), I count him among my closest friends, and 1 of my most reliable confidantes. He's still the same sarcastic smartass who tries hard not to show others he's really a softie (closet sap, I call him), he's still teaching History at the Ateneo, where he's still a well-loved figure on campus. And on February 2, the Ateneo Schools Parents Council (ASPAC) is presenting him with the Outstanding Junior Teacher award, in recognition of all that he's achieved as a teacher, and all the qualities that make him an excellent one. I am so proud to have been this man's student, and I will be forever grateful for his influence and inspiration, for his friendship and faith in me, and for helping me find my "voice", and allowing me to be who I truly am.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Age angst

I am expecting a quiet birthday this Saturday, as compared to my 25th last year. For one thing, based on my experience, weekend birthdays tend to be less eventful than weekday ones since I don't have work and I usually reserve the time for my family. For another, I have to attend my Business Chinese class in the morning, which in all honesty is as dry and interesting as a piece of unbuttered toast (and similarly, is never an ideal way to start the day). I have nothing planned for lunch or the afternoon, so dinner out with my family and Auntie Nene is going to be the highlight of the day. Part of me feels a little down at the prospect of having a not-so-memorable birthday, given that the bar has been set so high in previous years (this is all Openness' fault, really :p). But another part of me feels that it's appropriate for me to have a low-key celebration, because for the first time in my life, I have apprehensions about aging.

It's not that I mind turning a year older. In fact, I have never been 1 to bemoan the loss of my youth (I prefer the independence and experience of adulthood to the innocence and ignorance of childhood). But something about surpassing 25 makes me restless and anxious. Now that I have survived my turbulent teenage years and overcome quarter-life crisis, I'm not exactly sure what's next... and that scares me. Even more terrifying is the thought that there may be nothing left. What if this is all there is to my life? Sure, it's not as if I have anything to complain about: I've got a family who's always there for me, circles of fabulous friends, a stable source of income, a nice home, an active social calendar, and sufficient leisure time to read, travel, and pursue my interests. I also have many achievements under my belt that I know I can be proud of. I've done more with my life than the average 25-year-old, and by all accounts I should be feeling fulfilled and blessed.

Conversely, perhaps the very reason I'm uneasy about turning 26 is that there is still so much more I can do with my life, despite everything I should be content with. Maybe it's the infinite number of possibilities ahead that cows me so, the unsettling notion that my life could be more, that I could be more. After all, I still haven't been to Europe, I'm still not completely financially independent, I still want to return to teaching, and yes, I'm still single. I have yet to write my great Chinese-Filipino novel, get my driver's license, and work in a foreign country. There are Broadway musicals and rock concerts and Olympic events to watch, books to read, stories to write, parties to attend, and people to meet. There's actually so much I haven't done, even after 25 full years of living.

So maybe it's not that I'm getting old. It's that I'm just getting started. And I had better start making more out of my life before I DO get old.

With that said, I think I'm going to make lunch plans for Saturday after all, instead of puttering around the house like some tired grandma. And there's nothing like a nice, noisy get-together with friends to chase the birthday blues away. :)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The profanation of Paolini

If it weren't for the popcorn I was mechanically munching, I would have fallen asleep in the middle of watching Eragon. The film adaptation of Christopher Paolini's celebrated debut novel-- which I didn't like to begin with-- exceeded my expectations... by sucking even more than the book. I don't know if Paolini's youth and inexperience led him to be bullied into surrending to the creative control of money-grubbing Hollywood honchos, but it was really sad to see his work (never mind that it smacked of LOTR and Star Wars) mangled into a misshapen mess by director Stefen Fangmeier. It was if Fangmeier and his crew stole a car, took it to a chop shop, stripped it and removed all the serviceable parts, and attempted to build another car out of the bits and pieces. The result? A soulless Frankenstein of a vehicle that sputtered to a weak start, rolled forward a few feet, coughed pathetically, and died.

I don't know whether to feel sympathy for Paolini for the sacrilegious slaughter of his book (they should call screenplay writer Peter Buchman "Buchman the Butcher"), or disgusted at the young author for being such a spineless sell-out. The movie haphazardly fast-forwarded through key events that should have given the characters' relationships more meaning: farm boy Eragon painstakingly caring for the dragon hatchling Saphira as she grew
(in the film, she grew to full size within a few minutes of learning how to fly); Brom training Eragon in the ways of the Riders (the extent of his invaluable lessons? 4 handy-dandy magic words); Eragon forming a mental link with Arya (why bother when love at first sight is SO much easier?); Murtagh earning Eragon's friendship and confidence (the movie makes Eragon out to be the most trusting idiot in all of Alagaesia, blindly following anyone who happens by); Eragon finding the Varden after an arduous search and assimilating into their community (instead, he arrives on their doorstep and immediately joins Ajihad's gang, no questions asked from either side). As if that weren't enough, the transitions between scenes were abrupt and sorely lacked cohesion, and anyone who has not read the book would probably get lost at several points in the movie.

But the most obvious, and most appalling, liberty taken by the filmmakers was the complete omission of Paolini's Tolkien-inspired elves and dwarves, his sorcerers and werecats and other creatures. Arya was relegated from elven royalty to human princess; the Urgals looked not like frightening beastly foot soldiers, but primitive WWE wrestlers; instead of crashing at the dwarves' pad, the Varden had their own mountain digs; and Angela the funky bohemian sorceress was Joss Stone in a costume that looked like it was borrowed from a Thai transvestite, doing nothing more impressive than a Madam Auring fortune reading. Stripped of its mythology (as unoriginal as it was in the book), Eragon was flat and flavorless as a film, even with a cast boasting the likes of the great Jeremy Irons (hey Queen Elizabeth, knight the guy already, would 'ya?), the fabulous Robert Carlyle (as the Shade Durza, he would have been much more effective if his makeup hadn't kept changing from scene to scene), and the awesome John Malkovich (I wonder how much he got for sitting on a throne and reciting a few menacing lines? probably more than what Paolini got for the rights to his book).

The only good that came out of watching Eragon was that it made the novel seem much more entertaining, in hindsight. I am currently reading Eldest, the second book in Paolini's Inheritance trilogy, and I haven't been liking it very much. But given the sorry piece of cinema that was produced from its predecessor, I think I'm going to start appreciating the little enjoyment I can derive from it... before it too gets desecrated by Hollywood.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

All that you can leave behind

As a favor to Maddy, I agreed to be 1 of the judges for the extemporaneous speaking contest of ICA's annual Speechfest. For under an hour, I sat in the MPH listening to 4 seniors deliver their speeches. I was actually quite impressed with the girls' performances, considering a) the nerve-wracking pressure that generally comes with public speaking; b) the added pressure of time constraints; and c) the even more added pressure of coming up with coherent and profound answers with no or little time to think. Plus, it didn't help that the questions were kinda lame (absolutely no disrespect meant to Ms.Sia, coordinator and grand dame of the high school English area).

Of the 3 questions posed to the contestants, 1 did strike me as interesting: "What do you want people to remember you most for?" Although it sounds very Ms.Universey, and it could have been phrased to sound less cliched, I liked the theme of legacy, and it also got me thinking how I would answer the question. 1 contestant, who gave my favorite answer of the afternoon, said she wanted to be remembered as a storyteller, as someone who spoke about life and its truths (I could tell straight away that the kid was a writer :) ). That answer and the question lingered in my mind even after I left ICA to go back to the office (I had taken a 3-hour lunch break-- COO prerogative ;p).

I suppose there's really no easy answer to the question of how I want to be remembered by people. I play so many roles in life that I could point to any of them and say, "I want to be remembered as a good..." and finish that sentence with "daughter", "sister", "friend", "teacher", "writer" (and perhaps someday, "wife" and even "mother"). And I could go on and expound on each of those roles, the qualities of a good daughter/sister/friend/teacher/writer, but even before I've barely begun, by then someone would be ringing a bell and telling me my time is up.

The shorter, simpler answer would be that I want to be remembered as someone who loved deeply, someone who cared about her family and friends, and who was passionate about teaching and writing. I don't even want to be remembered as the best in anything, or be credited with great achievements, or be lauded by millions. I just want the people who matter most to me to remember me and how my love touched their lives in some way. I don't know if that answer would win me any extemporaneous speech contests or beauty pageants, but it's sincere (though not exactly spontaneous, since I had more than 3 minutes to mull it over, plus the luxury of rereading and editing my words).

Thinking about the kind of legacy I want to leave leads me to a question I've been asked before, but never could give a definite answer to: "What words would you want engraved on your tombstone?" A morbid question, but a revealing 1 nevertheless. I've heard many different answers to this question (my favorite being "Buried alive"), and I've read of many notable epitaphs (John Lennon's "Imagine" is always mentioned), but my own has always eluded me up 'til now. In the middle of writing this blog post about what I want people to remember me for, my epitaph suddenly came to me: "She loved; therefore, she lived." :)

Perhaps they should have just asked the epitaph question in today's Speechfest. It would have led to pretty much the same answers anyway, and it sounds so much more intriguing. Besides, you'd never hear the word "tombstone" used in a Ms.Universe question.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Failure to launch

I have been in agony the past week for 2 reasons: I caught another monster cold that I can't seem to shake off (the kind that comes with an ugly, raspy cough and calls for a large supply of Kleenex), and I couldn't access Blogger because of the DSL troubles we've been having (you have no idea what a relief it is for me to be blogging now). So far, 2007 is not getting off to a pleasant start. In fact, within just 6 days of the new year, I've already had 2 unwelcome kaisiao offers. Mercifully, I have managed to dodge both, 1 thanks to my being sick, and 1 thanks to my mom's birthday. However, I don't think I can run from them forever, so there's this sense of dread hanging over my stuffed-up head, making me feel even worse than I already am with this goddamn cold.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still open to the idea of meeting people (as my dear cousin Abi says, at the very least, you get a free meal out of it). I'm just really tired of getting set up every other week, as if I'm on this merry-go-round from hell that's stuck on hyperdrive, and I can't get off. I may be single and available (and it may be stamped on my forehead for all to see), but "desperate" and "running out of time" are NOT implied, never mind that I'm turning 26 very soon. But I digress.

Thanks to my cold, I also had to cancel a dinner on the 4th with my student Jo, whom I haven't seen in ages, before she flew back to Boston (I'm sorry Jo! =( next time you're in town, ok?). Then on the 6th, my first day of Business Chinese class at Ateneo's Dela Costa campus, I spent the 3 hours intermittently blowing my nose and accumulating a horrifyingly huge pile of balled-up Kleenex in the shelf under my desk (my classmates must think I'm some gross carrier of germs). The following night, I barely tasted the food I ordered during my mom's 50th birthday dinner (we ended up not throwing a surprise party anymore, because we were all so drained from entertaining guests over the holidays, especially Mom). It doesn't help that whenever I get sick, my parents revert to treating me like a 6-year-old, forcing me to drink warm calamansi juice or ginger tea, telling me to go to bed early, making me wear a jacket even if I don't feel cold. All this parental concern is smothering me. It's a good thing my mom's in Bangkok this week (she took 1 of our brand managers with her instead of me, thank God), at least I'll have 1 less parent fussing over me.

If I don't kick this stupid cold, I may have to postpone some engagements I've got lined up this week, but I am determined to feel better by Wednesday night at the latest. I'm not going to let a bug bully me into completely surrendering my social life. 2007 has to start improving at some point, and it should begin getting better with me getting better.

At least I'm able to access Blogger now. Now that's a start.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Year reflection

The new year started with not so much a whimper as a sigh. With the tragedy of the Corinthian Gardens fire hanging over the Chinese community like a grim, dark cloud, celebrations on New Year's Eve seemed muted somehow. Because our family was so preoccupied with Guakong and Guama's party and entertaining our guests from abroad, for the first time in the 21 years we've been living in Greenhills, we didn't buy any fireworks for December 31. Close to midnight, my family went outside to watch our neighbors' fireworks displays, only to find that our street was practically deserted, and almost eerily silent. The shrieks and booms were all coming from a distance, and while more festive fireworks could be seen being issued from somewhere in the village, they were few and far between. Our next-door neighbor, who usually prepares a wide assortment of noisy firecrackers, just had a limited cache of low-flying baby rockets, and lit only 1 short sinturon-ni-Hudas as the clock struck 12. Surveying our street, my mom commented that for once, there would be no debris to sweep the following morning. I don't know if it was due to the fear of fire or just plain old indifference, but the disconcerting quiet gave off a somber vibe that heralded 2007.

The fire that consumed the Yao residence and took the lives of 3 members of the family may not be such a big deal to the general public (after all, how often do we hear of houses of much poorer families being burned to the ground?), but I think it struck a nerve in a lot of people from the upper echelons of society precisely because it shows that money can't protect them from everything. Personally, I found it disturbing for several reasons: because I can't imagine the father's grief at losing his wife and 2 sons; because I refuse to imagine what it would be like to lose 2 siblings in 1 day; because the 2 boys were so young; because 1 of the boys was the same batch as my Fyrinx, and if it had been 1 of my Fyrinx, I don't know how I'd have taken it; because I don't know which half of the family I'd rather be; because it could just as easily have been my family. Also, ever since the fire, I've been more conscious of my attachment to our house-- not just the sentimental, this-is-my-home kind of attachment, but a heightened awareness of its age, its vulnerability, its flaws... as if it were an extension of myself and I could feel all its aches and pains. It has sheltered our family for most of my life, and it has always felt like the safest place in the world. To think that it could betray us at any moment is quite unsettling.

A few days after the fire at Corinthian Gardens, we received word that a 20-year-old Xavier alumnus hanged himself on New Year's Eve. Speculations are swirling around his reasons for committing suicide, but whatever the real reason, I'm saddened that he felt there was no other way out of his troubles than ending his life. The Yaos didn't have that choice, their lives were taken from them by a tragic accident. This young man had his whole life ahead of him, and he just forfeited it. As a troubled teen (who wasn't 1 at some point?), I used to harbor crazy ideas of offing myself as well. Then I progressed to believing suicide is the coward's way out (this was during the peak of my moral outrage-ridden early-20s). Now I just think of it as a choice some people make, and it's not my place to judge it as right or wrong. However, I still find it sad that there are those who voluntarily shuffle off the mortal coil, when so many others would be grateful for a few more years of living, pain and suffering be damned. True, life ain't pretty, but it can also be very, very beautiful.

I suppose that's why these 2 different stories of death are bothering me so much at the beginning of this new year. We celebrate new years for all the wonderful possibilities they offer: chances to right wrongs, to better our own lives and the lives of others, to grow and learn, to share and nurture, to laugh and love. Hope should be the prevailing mood, yet here we hear of despair and mourning at the turn of the new year. It's easy to get affected by the doom and gloom of it all and enter 2007 filled with paranoia and dread, but I'd rather take it as a bucket of cold water to the face-- the chilling realization that the future is uncertain, so it's what you make of the present that counts. Most importantly, it makes me all the more grateful for what I have in my life-- that I am alive-- and that I have many reasons to go on living, regardless of how bright or bleak the year dawns.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Best of 2006

It was a year of transition, a year of revelation, a year of reminiscence, a year of transcendence, and a year of serial blind dating (a.k.a. my endless string of kaisiaos). And like my blind dates, 2006 had its fair share of hilarious, boring, surprising, disappointing, pleasant, painful, memorable, forgettable, defining moments: Hanks spent 5 months in Beijing, leaving me roomie-less; my Fyrinx graduated from ICA and went off to college; TRAK was born; I vacationed in Singapore and Malaysia with my friends; the Mall of Asia finally opened; my family was infected with American Idol mania and World Cup fever; Amah passed away; the Ateneo Blue Eagles made it to the UAAP Finals only to lose to the UST Tigers; Guakong underwent brain surgery; my anti-plagiarism crusade led to a teaching job offer from the Ateneo JGSOM; Pau gave birth to AP-Annex’s first baby, and Vina gave birth to the Family’s first barkada baby; and the Go clan celebrated Guama’s 80th birthday along with her and Guakong’s 60th wedding anniversary.

It wasn’t the best of years, but it was certainly remarkable, for many hilarious, boring, surprising, disappointing, pleasant, painful, memorable, forgettable reasons.

Here are some more things that stood out in 2006:

Best day: January 20 (my Openness babies always know how to make my day =D)
Best life-altering decision: resolving to return to teaching someday
Best family vacation: Hong Kong
Best traveling companion: Abi
Best long-distance relationship: Mini-me ;p
Best wedding date: Shereen
Best second date: Fara :)
Best surprise: Openness early morning birthday ambush
Best gift received: LOTR DVD box set from Abeth (woohoo!)
Best gift given: a scrapbook for Auntie Nene’s 50th birthday
Best party: AP-Annex Xmas Xtravaganza Year 2
Best family affair: Guama and Guakong’s 60th wedding anniversary party
Best luxury item purchased: Coach Legacy stripe top pouch
Best TV show: House (His Snarkiness rules!)
Best sitcom to share with shobe: Frasier
Best reality show result: Taylor Hicks winning American Idol
Best movie: Brokeback Mountain
Best movie trailer: Happy Feet
Best actor: Jake Gyllenhaal
Best actress: Meryl Streep
Best book: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Gregory Maguire
Best author: Daniel Handler (better known as Lemony Snicket)
Best CD: Continuum, John Mayer
Best song: Original of the Species, U2
Best LSS (last song syndrome): Dancing in the Dark, Bruce Springsteen
Best band: still U2 (when Bono sings, I get chills)
Best radio program: KLITE 103.5’s now-defunct Morning Brew (I miss Vito :( )
Best local object of lust: Marc Nelson
Best imported object of lust: Jake Gyllenhaal
Best pedophiliac fixation: Freddie Highmore
Best inspirational figure (and weirdest fixation): Odysseus
Best miracle moment: Doug Kramer’s buzzer-beating shot in Game 1 of the UAAP Finals
Best fashion trend: city shorts
Best fashion staple: jackets
Best caffeine fix: Starbucks almond soy latte
Best sweet tooth craving: Holy Kettle Corn
Best cookie: Brent & Sam’s Raspberry Chocolate Chip (highly recommended to all cookie monsters out there!)
Best (or worst?) addiction: Grey’s Anatomy
Best vicarious achievement: the Fyrinx graduating from ICA
Best quasi-teacher activity: serving as a panelist for Ateneo OpMan defenses
Best healthy pasttime: um… ok, so 2006 wasn’t a very health-conscious year for me
Best unhealthy pasttime: Yahoo Messenger
Best new online preoccupation: Multiply
Best blog post: I’ll let the fans decide this one :)