Monday, April 30, 2007

Yes, I'm NOT a morning person, merci beaucoup

Any day that starts out with me waking up at 5AM is bound to be a bad one.

So what made me, Ms. Needs-3-alarm-clocks-and-hits-snooze-on-each-several-times, drag my ass out of bed at such an unholy hour? The French. The French embassy, to be more precise. My parents, my sister and I had to make a personal appearance for our Schengen visa application, for our trip to Europe in May. Based on the dizzying number of requirements our travel agent had us prepare, I was expecting a very thorough interview. I even made the effort to wear something nice, so as to make a good impression.

I shouldn't have bothered. First, they made us wait... in the parking basement of the building. There we were, seated on long benches, with no ventilation except for a small industrial fan blowing carbon monoxide fumes into our faces. THIS was the waiting area for a First World country's consulate? After some time, we were let into the building... but there was no semblance of order, and people who had arrived later than us but who dashed ahead managed to get served before us.

Remember, I woke up at FIVE.

When we got upstairs, we were made to wait some more in a room with rows of hard plastic chairs. When it was our turn at the counter, to my incredulous, sleep-deprived frustration, the guy behind the window didn't even bother asking for HALF the documents I had busted my butt obtaining for purposes of the visa application. He also asked very few questions, and barely glanced at all our faces (much less what we were wearing).
Then he asked us to go back downstairs to photocopy the pages of our passports with old visas from other countries. So Hanks and I went, and then went back up. When I approached the counter with the photocopied pages and asked the guy politely (with as much politeness I could muster with the one Starbucks latte in me keeping my brain functions going) if I could give him the papers already, he snapped at me to go sit down and wait until he called us.

May I remind you again that I. Was. Up. At. Five. A. M.

So we had to wait some more while the snappish guy processed our papers. I hated myself for not bringing a book or a newspaper to read. I couldn't even talk much because for most of the time I was seated beside my mom and another woman who's part of our tour group, and they were chatting with one another. I had to twist around in my seat just to talk to my sister and dad. Then for some reason, the security guard walks over to us and tells us to keep our voices down. WTF!?! People around us were buzzing in conversation, but we exchange only a few sentences and we get reprimanded for being noisy?

I got out of bed at effing 5AM, goddammit!!!

By the time we got called to the counter again, it was already close to 10 (we had arrived a bit before 7, as per our travel agent's instructions). We were then informed that we wouldn't know if our visas would be approved (take note, not released, but APPROVED, meaning we could still be denied) until May 14. It didn't register on us until later (after another interminable wait for an elevator to bring us down to the lobby) that May 14 is Election Day and therefore a holiday, which means we'll probably get our visas on the 15th... and we're supposed to be leaving on the 17th. I'm not comfortable cutting it that close, but we really have no choice. Apparently, it takes even longer if you apply at the Spanish or Italian embassies. Rawr.

I know I shouldn't be bitching so much because a) I'm going to Europe, which is #3 on my list of things to do before I die; b) I'm not paying for anything; and c) I'm going to Europe!! But this spoiled little rich girl tantrum is not so much because I'm an insufferable ingrate, but because I have PMS, and oh yeah, did I mention I WOKE UP AT FIVE ON A MONDAY MORNING?

*stomps off in search of a cup of coffee, or a nap*

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Coming to Alec Baldwin's defense

So he called his daughter a "rude, thoughtless little pig". So what?

I really don't see why everyone is giving Alec Baldwin a lot of flak for what was obviously meant to be a private message to his daughter Ireland, who apparently did not make herself available for a pre-scheduled phone call. It was simply a case of an angry father berating his kid for not fulfilling an obligation. From what I've heard of Baldwin's tirade, it sounds like it wasn't the first time Ireland had left him hanging. The way the media is vilifying' Baldwin is unfair, and even more unfair is how his ex-wife Kim Basinger is milking this for all it's worth. It was a very human mistake, but it's being blown out of proportion.

People are criticizing the harsh way Baldwin spoke to his child (was it really that extreme?), but I can understand how one can let loose a barrage of hurtful words when tempers are flaring. There's also the tendency of being more careless with verbal abuse (or any other kind for that matter) when dealing with those closest to us. I know I'm nastier to my siblings than my friends, and while I know it's wrong, I can't help but take for granted that at the end of the day, they'll forgive me because we're family. And Lord knows how many times I've been given a tongue-lashing by my parents, but when I'm wrong, I deserve it, so I have to stand there and take it.

The other day some hack psychologist being interviewed about Baldwin-gate said the term "pig" could be damaging to Ireland's self-esteem. I had to roll my eyes. I could think of dozens of even more unflattering words in Chinese and Filipino that parents scream at their children all the time. And most of those kids turn out just fine. I'm not condoning verbal abuse; I'm sure it could inflict certain psychological damage if the child is subjected to it frequently. However, occasionally calling him or her "stupid" or "worthless", especially when the kid has it coming, is not exactly criminal.

Although this Baldwin news story is not exactly CNN headlines material, I find it significant because it's representative of American family values. The US is a nation of child coddlers, so it's no wonder they're also a culture that raises spoiled brats who talk back to their parents, move out first chance they get, rarely call or visit their family, then eventually dump their aged parents in nursing homes. American children are conditioned to think that they don't owe their parents anything, so they do as they please, and heaven help whoever gets their way-- even the people who brought them into this world. A raised voice, a lifted hand, a simple punishment, and they're running for the phone to call child services to report their mom or dad as abusive.

Was Ireland really wounded by what her father said? If the phone recording hadn't been leaked to the media, would it be as big a deal, or just another day in the lives of the dissolved Baldwin-Basinger union? Will this sway the judge's decision in their ongoing drawn-out child custody battle? How will this affect Baldwin's revived showbiz career? Should an isolated case of parental fury be held against him forever?

All parents are entitled to their rage, within reasonable limits. Sensationalizing this particular case only reinforces the notion most American kids have that their parents have no right to reprimand them, no matter what they've done. Maybe there was a better way to have scolded his daughter, but come on, Baldwin was ANGRY. Humans get angry. When they're angry, they say things without thinking clearly. Even parents. Even celebrity parents. So cut the guy some slack already. At least he didn't bitchslap the rude, thoughtless little pig.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bookworm's progress report

Toward the end of last year, I drew up a to-read list for 2007, culled from the New York Times' annual "Best of" lists. Out of the 14 books on my roster, I've already purchased 12 and read 4. Given that I've also read a few books not on the list, I think I've made good progress, and my goal of finishing my reading list is still achievable (even though I still haven't seen a copy of Preston Falls anywhere in Manila).

Of the 4 books I've finished, I enjoyed A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers and Atonement by Ian McEwan. The latter had its "slow" moments, pages you wish you could just skip to get to the juicy parts faster, but for the most part the story of false condemnation and painful redemption moved along with the help of strongly drawn, sympathetic characters (although I really wanted to strangle Briony, the conflict-causing protagonist, many times throughout the novel).

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud was an easy read, but disappointingly lacking in depth.
It reminded me of a more somber, less glamorous Sex and the City, the story being set in New York around the time of 9/11. The problem was. I didn't feel any emotional connection, not only between myself and the characters, but among the characters themselves. They all struck me as oddly cold and vacant... or was that the portrait of New Yorkers Messud wished to paint? In any case, it would have taken more than a pair of Carrie Bradshaw's Manolos to bring some color to this book.

Best Friends by Thomas Berger fell flat as well. There was barely a plot, and character development was weak. By the end I couldn't even determine if the resolution was happy or sad, because I was fed up with all the characters. The only positive thing about the book is that it's relatively short, so I finished it quickly. I couldn't believe this was a New York Times "Best of" book. Goes to show that even the best critics can be off the mark.

Right now I'm plodding through Philip Roth's The Human Stain, and while I can see how the plot is compelling in that it deals with complicated social issues (the usual tricky triumvirate of race, gender and age), I am deriving little pleasure from reading it. The novel is undeniably well-written, and the foreshadowing is quite effective, but midway through, my primary motivation for finishing the book is to get to the next title on my reading list. I haven't decided which, but I do know it has to be one of the smaller volumes in my bedside pile, because most likely it will be the book I'll be bringing with me to Europe next month... IF our visas get approved.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I hate being a sentimental fool, but...

I cried myself to sleep last night.

But it wasn't a bad kind of cry. It was a very, very good kind of cry. And I woke up today feeling uncharacteristically chipper for a Monday morning.

This is what prompted my sniffle session last night. When I came home from dinner with my cousin Abi, I spotted an old journal of mine lying on my desk. The notebook contained entries written during a period when I was very angry, very confused, and very hurt by certain circumstances in my spectacularly messed-up life back then. But as I read through the entries, I realized that so many people had helped me get through it with their friendship and concern and support, that I was just overwhelmed, and
I cried out of sheer joy and gratitude and love.

So today, I want to say THANK YOU to those wonderful friends, to whom I never fully expressed my appreciation, at a time when I was too wrapped up in my own misery to notice the people around me who were holding me up when I was down.

To Chris: You gave me your loyalty and trust, and you gave me John Mayer. :) It meant so much that you were there for me through the entire rough patch. Thanks, Dee.

To Mark: Years later, we still haven't had that long talk. :p But I hope you know that I respect you a lot, and that I'll never forget all your unexpected kindnesses towards me.

To Gerry: You were there with me from beginning to end, and you never stopped being the Ahia I adore. :)

To Pia and Jehan: Those 3-way phone calls helped preserve my sanity even when I wasn't aware I was losing it. Thanks a million girls! Love and hugs.

To Angge: You are my rock. In times of crisis, you are an incredible source of strength for me. For that and more, more than I deserve and more than I'll ever thank you enough for, I love you so, so much.

To Sir Tirol: I don't know what I would have done without my Harry Senate. You shared your time, wisdom, humor and sympathy with me when you could have been attending to a million other more important things. You have played a huge role in my life, and I am privileged to have you as a confidante and friend.

To Raqs: You are my true north. I love you, in this lifetime and all the lifetimes to come.

These people were the brightest spots in my darkest days, and looking back I feel none of the pain and anger, only an amazement at how blessed I am to have these friends in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you guys.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

V Tech POV

For the past two nights, the Virginia Tech massacre has come up in conversation, during our recent TRAK meet and my guama's 80th birthday dinner. When a tragedy like this happens, particularly in the US, it's bound to get talked about a lot, and it's interesting to note the varying reactions and points of view from people who live half a world away. There's sympathy, there's anger, but mostly there's criticism, and an underlying sense of smug gratification in seeing a First World country suffer.

My uncle Biao (Abi's dad) related that some South Koreans were being interviewed on TV, and when asked for their view on their fellow Korean Cho Seung Hui's murderous rampage, one of them retorted, "He's not Korean. He's American." Another reportedly said, "In all the years of Korea's history, this has never happened here. Only in America." Touche.

My dad went on to opine that gun laws in the US make it ridiculously easy for people to buy firearms. Even if there are psychos in other countries, it's harder for them to get their hands on guns, so you don't hear of school shootings like what happened in Columbine and now V Tech. He said it's the Bush administration's fault for not passing stricter measures regulating the possession of firearms.

My mom then commented that it's going to be hard now for the many Koreans living in America, because for sure there's going to be some sort of racial backlash, overt or otherwise. Anyone with an Asian face is now going to be regarded in a different light. Since the shooting happened, many Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese are by now probably sick of hearing "Hey, you're Korean right? What was that kid thinking?" It might even stir up the hornet's nest that is the issue of illegal immigration (never mind that Cho had a green card and was legal).

Dad, who has never been a fan of journalists, also disgustedly recounted how he saw a reporter hounding a student who had survived the shooting. The kid and another student had used a desk to block the door of their classroom, so Cho hadn't been able to enter, and everyone in the room was saved. The reporter kept trying to slap the label "hero" on the still shell-shocked student, and finally when asked "Do you feel like a hero?" the kid burst into tears and said, "I'm just glad I'm alive."

As I listened to my dad talk, I realized, that's what gets lost amidst the media frenzy and the political furor: the human element. We tend to focus on the killer and his psychological state, on the lapse in campus security, on the racial aspect, on the government's fault, on inspiring portraits of heroism and touching stories of young lives cruelly cut short, that we forget that there's more to those lives than a juicy news feature or another tearjerker episode of Oprah. Real kids were in that school, trapped and terrified; real parents were at home worried sick that their children could have been one of the casualties; real lives were lost in a senseless, brutal way.

So while I agree with some of the criticisms my uncle and my parents voiced out, I would much rather not harp on those right now. This was an educational institution, a place where parents send their children to make better, brighter futures for themselves. A school is supposed to be a place of hope, a haven for learning, a venue for growth, and a symbol of human progress and development. A massacre would be tragic anywhere, in whatever country, no matter who the victims, but this one seems more painfully so because it happened in a school. Perhaps it's the former teacher in me talking, I don't know.
But for all the many angles to this incident, the V Tech story that struck me the most was about the professor Liviu Librescu, who blocked the door of his classroom to protect his students, buying the kids enough time for them to jump out of the windows. One student remembers that right before he leapt from the window sill, he turned his head to look back as the gunman burst into the room, and he saw him kill his teacher.

How's that for perspective?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Kill 'em with kindness

Two separate and unrelated incidents last week made me reevaluate how I deal with situations where I am being picked on. Since both matters are of somewhat sensitive natures, I won't go into specifics. Suffice it to say, I was among some who were on the receiving end of some rather shabby treatment.

I actually surprised myself by reacting rather calmly in both instances. Instead of my usual flare-up-and-fight impulse, I took a long hard look at the blow dealt, mulled over what I should do in response, decided upon what I felt was the RIGHT thing to do, and went and did it. That doesn't mean I wasn't angry; heck, I was livid over the second affront, as several long, rage-filled text messages to my friends can prove. But I realized that lashing back would not help any, and in fact might make things worse. Civility was my weapon of choice. I figure, not only is it less exhausting to wield, it can be just as effective (if not more), and when the skirmish is over, I can trudge off the battlefield with my head held high, knowing I engaged my adversary like a decent human being... even if the same consideration was not accorded to me.

I believe strongly in basic courtesy and respect. Even in conflict, I will not wage wars using low blows and cheap tactics. I will stand up for myself, but I refuse to do so while pushing someone else down.

Besides, some battles-- and some antagonists-- are just not worth fighting.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Attack of the YM virus

I need to get my office PC reformatted because it got infected with a worm that came from a link sent to me via Yahoo Messenger. I didn't even click on the link in the message, but I think I may have clicked on the link in the person's status message as I was closing the window. Suddenly, I was sending weird links to everyone in my contact list every 10 minutes or so. I tried running an anti-virus scan (twice, and using 2 different programs), deleted some suspicious-looking files in my Messenger folder, reinstalled YM, and even tried System Restore. Nothing worked! My YM kept on sending out the links, and I frantically told all my contacts not to open them. Eventually I had to exit from YM to prevent anyone else from receiving a link and getting infected with the same virus (although I think I did pass it on to someone, sorry Gwyneth :( ).

It was infuriating, the feeling of being victimized by some punk-ass web hooligan out there who has nothing better to do with his time than create viruses and spread them around. What kind of sick, messed-up bastards come up with these viruses anyway? What joy do they derive from knowing some obscure person in some obscure Southeast Asian country would be inconvenienced for hours trying to repair her computer? I wish someone would invent an anti-virus that not only got rid of viruses, but the evil scum who produce them in the first place. Imagine all those malicious geeks sitting on their fat asses in front of their computer monitors, their heads violently imploding... or better yet, getting infected with a real virus that will slowly, excruciatingly, painfully eat up their insides until they beg for death. I'd pay good money for that edition of Norton.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What dreams may come

Since I was still recovering from my 5 sleep-deprived Holy Week days, I hit the sack unusually early last night. I don't know if it was because I had had a carbo-loaded dinner or because my body was unaccustomed to the early bedtime, but I ended up having a long, vivid nightmare wherein one of my students of whom I am particularly fond died in an accident. In the dream, I was crying non-stop and inconsolable almost to the point of lunacy. I remember calling Kat and breaking the news to her, and hugging the student's mom at the wake (which oddly enough, was held in a house in North Greenhills... and this student doesn't even live in Greenhills). I wouldn't quit blubbering, and by the time I woke up, I was feeling more exhausted than rested from the 10 hours of sleep I had gotten.

I texted the student this morning and was immensely relieved to find out that she was ok. She even said that it's happened several times already, people dreaming of her dying and then calling to check if she's all right. I found that kind of freaky, but she said that probably means she's going to live a long life. I certainly hope so.

It may seem like I'm overreacting, all this over a silly nightmare, but I was really shaken by the idea of losing one of my kids. I had entertained the notion a few months ago when the Corinthian fire happened, but it didn't hit me as strongly as last night's dream. The pain felt so REAL, and I know for sure that if it really happens, I'd be a total mess. It just seems to violate the natural order of things for my students to go before I do. I suppose that's why it's more tragic when parents lose their children, compared to the other way around.

I've written in this blog before that I've never been good at dealing with death, simply because we've encountered so little of it in our family. Contrary to appearances, I value my relationships a lot, and I imagine losing someone dear to me would hurt tremendously. My nightmare gave me a glimpse of just how much. And although I've been reassured that my student is fine, and the details of the dream are fading in the light of day, the terror still lingers.

I really shouldn't mess with my body clock.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Making up for lost time

I spent Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in Tagaytay Highlands with my high school barkada (pix can be seen at my Multiply site). It's the first trip we've taken together as a group, and predictably, we had a blast. It was like reliving our high school days, and replaying 10 years' worth of memories, cramming everything in the almost 3 days we were together. What with the mountain of junk food, bottles of booze, stacks of DVDs and CDs, and Travel Pictionary, we didn't get much sleep (our first night, Jenny and I stayed up chatting about pseudo-relationships and nightmare kaisiaos until 5AM), but the puffy bags under my eyes were just proof of how much fun I had with the Family. The Tagaytay trip reminded me of how wonderful it is being around people who knew me from way back when I was still a big, awkward nerd with godwaful fashion sense and stunted social skills, people who know my past and all the silly, stupid things I did involving my teachers, parents, and guy friends (ahem), and feeling a sense of security in the knowledge that they accepted me for who I was back then, and still accept me for who I am now. To still share a bond with these dear people after a decade, years in which we each did our own thing and barely saw each other, is truly remarkable. I know that even after another 10 years, we will still be friends, and hopefully, taking more trips more frequently. :)

On Easter Sunday, my cousin Abi and I flew to Cebu, and for the entire time we were together, we literally did not quit talking unless a) someone else was talking to us; b) we were chewing food; c) one of us was in the bathroom; or d) we were asleep. We even chattered right through Gail's wedding ceremony (sorry Gail :p) and the reception (which made it easy to pretend to not hear my name being called for the bouquet game, wehehe). Abi didn't even stop being her loquacious self when we met up with my college blockmate Daisy and when we had lunch with my dad's cousin's family. I have to marvel at the fact that for more than 20 years I was under the impression my cousin was QUIET and SHY. To think of all the talk-time we wasted! I love how our conversations jump from topics as diverse as the merits of capitalism, Chinese family values, the shortcomings of an Ateneo education, sibling/cousin rivalry, the dearth of decent husband material, dating dos and don'ts, fashion disasters, and Gerard Butler's abs. What could easily have been a dreary trip filled with air kisses and polite pleasantries instead became enjoyable quality time between 2 cousins/friends that zipped by in a blink. As Abi said, we could go to BUKIDNON and still enjoy ourselves with just our incessant stream of girl gabbing. I'm really glad and grateful she decided to accompany me on the trip when she could have easily been shopping in H&M in Hong Kong with her parents. We'll just have to plan a shopping spree in HK by ourselves... say, next month? ;p

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Another Bar hurdled

Congratulations to my friends Angie, Yang, and Jen, henceforth known as Atty. Chong, Atty. Quimson and Atty. Ang, for passing the 2006 Bar exams! I'm so proud of you guys! =D

Last night over dinner when my family was chatting about the Bar results, my mom kidded that I should go to law school after all and become a corporate lawyer so I could be our company's legal counsel (this, from the woman who discouraged me from becoming a lawyer back when I was still considering it). I made a face in reply and went "Ugh, 4 years of studying? No thanks!" I really can't imagine surviving 4 years of the grueling, backbreaking work my friends had put in, not to mention the additional pressure-cooker months of reviewing for the Bar. I have nothing but the highest respect and admiration for my amazing friends and their amazing achievement.

Besides, who needs to study law when you have so many lawyer friends from whom you can get free legal advice anytime? :p

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

There's a kind of hush

Ever notice how a peaceful sort of quiet creeps into Manila during Holy Week, even before Maundy Thursday? The streets aren't as congested with traffic, the malls aren't as full of shoppers, and there's not even much news in the papers or on TV. It's probably owing to the gradual exodus of its denizens, who customarily head to the provinces or other countries for family reunions, retreats or vacations. Soon the metro will resemble a ghost town; this year, the malls and department stores will be closed on both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and most restaurants too, which leaves pretty much no reason for people to leave home on those 2 days.

I, for one, will be heading to Tagaytay with my high school barkada. We'll be staying at a unit in Belleview in Highlands, and I expect to do nothing beyond eating, sleeping (but not much of that), drinking, talking (definitely a LOT of that), camwhoring, and lounging around. Then on Easter Sunday, I'm flying to Cebu with my cousin Abi to attend a wedding, inspect some store spaces being offered to us in SM's expansion mall, and interview sales assistant applicants for our soon-to-open Ep Espada store in Ayala Center Cebu. It's really more work than play (even attending a wedding counts as work =S), but as long as Abi's with me, I'm sure we'll manage to have fun on our overnighter. Plus I may meet up with 2 college friends while I'm there (Daisy, Mike, I'll text you guys =D).

So as quiet as Manila will be this week, I actually won't be around to appreciate it (or get bored out of my skull). However, as early as now, it's nice to feel the metro's tension easing up as it settles down for a few days of well-deserved rest.

Have a good week ahead, everyone, wherever you will be.

P.S. I just realized my blog and my friend Fara share a birthday. The View From Saturday turns two years old today, and Fara... Fara would rather I not disclose her age. :p

Sunday, April 01, 2007

For future reference

Today's our Angkong's 7th death anniversary. This morning, before going to the temple to light incense for him and Amah, my family went to the Chinese cemetery to visit the grave of our Taima (great grandmother) and bring offerings. It was the first time for me to participate in the ritual, which consisted of the following:

  • light 2 candles and 3 incense sticks for To Ti Kong (the god of the underworld)
  • place food offerings for TTK beside the candles (today it was a can of fruit cocktail and a bag of cookies; apparently, the god of the underworld has a sweet tooth)
  • place food offerings on the shelf under Taima's portrait (mamon, pork barbecue, tsang (sticky rice wrapped in leaves), siomai, misua, and of course, good old Savory chicken-- no offering's complete without it)
  • light candles and incense sticks for Taima
  • paste paper money on Taima's marble grave
  • fold different kind of paper money for TTK and Taima
  • when the 3 incense sticks for TTK burn out, burn a binful of paper money for him
  • burn another binful of paper money for Taima
  • light another batch of incense sticks for Taima
  • clear up the food offerings, leave only the paper money stuck to the grave

I've enumerated all the steps because as Hanks and I were helping our mom and our aunt fold paper money, I mentioned that someone should be taking down notes so that we'd know what to do in the future when the adults aren't around anymore. As it is, our family's not a stickler for these rituals (often our aunts and uncles find themselves befuddled and asking each other what to do, or debating whether it's 2 incense sticks or 4), and for all we know, we've already offended some god somewhere by shortchanging him a stack or 2 of paper money. Our Aunt Lechu jokingly said that it's ok to screw up the rituals as long as you say "sorry" out loud as you're doing something you're not sure of. :p

In any case, it's good to have a rough guide for when we need to do the same things in the future and there's no one to consult. A tad morbid, but it's better to be prudent. Besides, we don't want to piss off TTK. He may like his fruit cocktail, but that dude's a badass.