Wednesday, January 27, 2010

To my former students, from your (finally) former teacher

"I have loved being your teacher."

That line struck a chord in me as I was watching the pilot episode of Glee (yes, I only started watching it recently). As Mr. Schuster bid farewell to the ragtag group of misfits who comprised his glee club, I couldn't help but feel a pang of sorrowful empathy. I know what it's like to have to say goodbye to teaching, a job that isn't so much a job as it is a vocation, a calling that requires passion and dedication unlike any other occupation. And I know full well how painful it is to give up something you truly love doing, something you feel like you were truly meant to do, as a sacrifice for family, as a difficult grown-up decision.

Last week I was in Hong Kong on a business trip, and as I was filling up the immigration departure card at the airport, my pen hovered a few seconds above the blank under "occupation", and I finished filling up all the other fields before returning to it and reluctantly writing down "businesswoman". I've been doing this ever since I stopped being a teacher and joined our family business, skipping "occupation" and leaving it for last. It's as if something inside me has never fully accepted that I am now "businesswoman" instead of "teacher". The perfect phrase to describe it would be "labag sa loob"-- there's a nuanced difference with "against my will" in that the Filipino "loob" seems to encapsulate it more accurately. The compulsion comes from deep inside my core, within my soul, for teaching was the one thing I've ever done that has resonated so profoundly with my inner being.

This year, most of my last batch of students are graduating from their respective universities and colleges. And in the same way that their graduation from ICA was bittersweet for me because it marked the end of my emotional involvement with the school I taught at for 2 years, this new milestone seems to be signaling another end for me as well. The kids I knew and loved as high school teenagers are now moving on into the world as adults, armed with BS and BA degrees, and fueled by an idealistic enthusiasm as they apply for jobs or grad school/med school/law school/fashion school. While it gives me pride and joy to see them grow up, it also leaves me with a pang of melancholy, a sense of no longer being needed, a loss of identity. When the students cease to be students, so does the teacher cease to be a teacher. Although I technically stopped being a teacher almost 5 years ago, in spirit I never really stopped feeling like theirs. Now, however, it seems as though it's time to really let go.

I still hold on to the dream that I can one day go back to teaching, even though realistically that dream seems more implausible with each year that passes. In the meantime, I have my memories, and I have Glee. And whether or not I ever return to
the profession I miss so dearly, I would like to say to all my former students: I have loved being your teacher.

Say good-bye to not knowing when
The truth in my whole life began
Say good-bye to not knowing how to cry
You taught me that

And I'll remember the love that you gave me

Now that I'm standing on my own
I'll remember the way that you changed me
I'll remember

I learned to let go of the illusion that we can possess

I learned to let go, I travel in stillness
And I'll remember happiness
I'll remember...


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What the fuss?

My bloghounds may be wondering why I didn't write a review of James Cameron's ballyhooed blockbuster Avatar. Truth be told, I wasn't as blown away by the movie as most people were (including the two I saw it with, who liked it so much they went to see it a second time, in 3D). I was very impressed with the stunning visuals of course, and I give props to Cameron for producing such a spectacle of a film, combining state-of-the-art digital effects and cinematography to create a thoroughly believable and beautiful world of blue-skinned humanoids and alien flora and fauna. However, as a writer, I tend to put more weight in the narrative elements over the visual elements, and Avatar simply did not have a compelling, original enough plot (Disney's Pocahontas, anyone?) for me to take it seriously. The screenplay, penned by Cameron himself, was weak, and a lot of lines came off as lame, doing a disservice to what is an otherwise well-made movie. Which is not to say I did not enjoy it-- I did. Though the story was disappointing, the artistry more than compensated for it, and I do believe with Avatar, Cameron has taken movie-making standards up to an entirely new level, which is an awesome achievement in itself.

All that said, I find all the flak Avatar's been getting kind of ridiculous. In spite of breaking box office records and receiving critical acclaim, Cameron's opus has come under fire for different reasons. Some critics claim it's "racist", American conservatives bash it for being "anti-military", and now the Vatican is criticizing Avatar for leaning towards what the Pope calls "neo-paganism". I do see how the movie can be viewed as having racist undertones, or conveying anti-war sentiments, or even-- for the sake of humoring the old dudes who run the Catholic Church-- promoting nature as "a divinity to worship". But all this backlash just makes me think, "jeez, lighten up fellas!" These same critics blasting Avatar are the kind of nitpickers who could find politically incorrect details in children's nursery rhymes or in the nutritional content table on the back of a cereal box. In these supposedly enlightened times we live in, no one can say or write or do anything without running the risk of being labeled offensive in some way. If you don't support the war on terror, you're being unpatriotic.
If you eat veal, you condone cruelty to animals. If you wear Nikes, you're funding child labor in some Third World Asian nation. If you refuse to let your date pay for her dinner, you're sexist. If you were rooting for Kris Allen over Adam Lambert during last season's American Idol, you're homophobic.

Even if James Cameron had purposely set out to make a racist, anti-imperialist, anti-military, neo-pagan movie (just like he had set out to make a blatantly anti-iceberg movie when he filmed Titanic), let's not lose sight of the fact that IT'S A MOVIE. Not everyone who watches it would be so stupid or overly sensitive as to mistake it for propaganda or a frickin' documentary. Of course there are exaggerations and caricatures. Of course certain liberties are taken. Of course there's a "message". But really, how many idiots stepped out of an IMAX theater brainwashed by Avatar into devoting their lives to save the Amazon rainforests? Stripped of its bad dialogue, high-flying action sequences, hunky leading man (P.S. I love you Sam Worthington), and
ultra-fancy special effects, Avatar is merely James Cameron's idea of a good movie that would make millions. Let's save the intellectual and political debates for issues pertaining to the real, not the reel, world, shall we?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Much more than elementary

When I was in high school, I went through a massive Sherlock Holmes craze. I read all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 56 short stories and 4 novels featuring the detective of 221B Baker Street, and since then I've always fancied myself the Sherlock Holmes expert (although with my spotty memory I really can't lay a firm claim to that). So when I saw the trailer for the new Sherlock Holmes movie directed by Guy Ritchie, I was totally psyched and couldn't wait to see it.

After watching said movie last night, I was reminded of everything I loved about the stories I read over a decade ago. Ritchie stays faithful to the spirit and soul of Sherlock, showing modern-day audiences how his brilliant mind-- as well as his vaunted ego-- works. Holmes (Robert Downey Jr., no shades of Tony Stark here) is portrayed as mentally sharp, emotionally unstable, and socially inept, as hinted at in Doyle's Sherlock Holmes canon, but he
is transformed from the traditional image of scholarly London gentleman into a street-smart, bad-ass brawler. Ritchie also does a fantastic job of highlighting the now not unfamiliar "bromance" dynamic between Holmes and his trusty sidekick Dr. John Watson (Jude Law, suddenly hot again). The chemistry between Downey and Law is capital, and more than anything keeps the movie fun and light-hearted. But the overall feel of the movie is unmistakably, purely Ritchie: the gritty cinematography, the dark art direction, the smashing (pun intended) action sequences, the fast-talking "street" characters, the sardonic humor. Reminiscent of Ritchie's previous films though not as hard-hitting, as a result Sherlock Holmes is an edgy, engaging crowd-pleaser (if the loud guffaws from the boors seated behind us in the theater were any indication).

While I thought RDJ did a bang-up job of playing SH, accent and all, I couldn't shrug off the nagging thought that it's an American dude playing an iconic English figure. But though the casting of RDJ didn't sit well with me, his acting prowess was faultless. Another thought that kept running through my head was, Jude Law's BACK. Sometimes when an actor's personal exploits blemish their reputation, the public tends to forget about his talent.
Sherlock Holmes reminded me why I used to crush on Jude Law, and with both this project and the upcoming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, I daresay his career's right back on track.
His Watson was the perfect straight man to RDJ's rough-around-the-edges Holmes, and the good doctor came off as sympathetic, charming and funny. I found myself missing him whenever he wasn't onscreen. As for the lovely Rachel McAdams, whom I adore, I actually thought she was ill-suited to play the cunning Irene Adler, Holmes' adversary/love interest. I'd always pictured Adler as a more mature woman, sultry rather than flirty, sexy rather than cute. Someone along the lines of Catherine Zeta-Jones or Jennifer Connelly would have been a better fit. No similar complaints about Mark Strong, who is fast becoming a reliable supporting actor to fill in the shoes of the menacing villain. His Lord Blackwood was equal parts intimidating and intelligent, smooth and sinister.

One last observation, on the plot: I wasn't expecting the "practical magic" element (Lord Blackwood is convicted of murdering 5 women in his practice of the Dark Arts), and coincidentally I had just been discussing Susanna Clarke's book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell with someone the day before I watched Sherlock Holmes. I wondered if the screenwriters had been inspired by Clarke's premise, or if they had based it on historical research. In any case, the black magic theme matched the macabre mood that I've always associated with Doyle's stories (The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles gave me serious heebie-jeebies).

In summation, the Sherlock Holmes buff in me was pleased by this latest incarnation and adaptation, and it bodes well for 2010 that I kicked off this year's film-viewing and -reviewing with a well-made, well-received movie. Bloody good show, chaps.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A PR nightmare of Pacific proportions

Last December, the cabin crew of a Cebu Pacific flight bound for Manila from Hong Kong attempted to refuse passage for a mother and her son with Global Developmental Delay (GDD), citing company policy of not allowing 2 special children board the same flight. Apparently, a child with Down's syndrome had already gotten on the plane, so they couldn't accommodate another special child. The mother, Mylene Alcantara, is now slapping civil and criminal suits against Cebu Pacific for discrimination and for publicly humiliating her and her son.

When I saw the news report on TV last night, my mouth was actually agape in shock. What kind of flight attendants could be callous enough to approach a mother with a special kid and ask them to get off the plane? How does one even phrase that? "Um, excuse me, we need you to disembark because we've exceeded our limit for special children. Very sorry for the inconvenience, but we're just following airline policy."? And for that matter, what the hell kind of company policy is that anyway?? Is limiting the number of passengers with special needs common practice among airlines, or is it only Cebu Pacific that enforces this insensitive and unconscionable rule? Moreover, even if that rule weren't so obviously offensive, don't the passengers at least deserve the courtesy of being given prior notice, and not just be informed of it AFTER they've boarded the plane?

Then again, we are talking about the airline infamous for its countless delays, bump-offs and cancellations. I suppose it shouldn't surprise anyone that they'd have such a thoughtless and heartless policy in place. It lends a bitter irony to their slogan, "It's time everyone flies". Apparently, they don't really mean everyone.

To add insult to injury, Cebu Pacific didn't even issue a formal apology to the Alcantaras. They only reportedly sent a text message to say sorry. What kind of respectable company TEXTS to wronged customers? Would it have killed them to send an email or place a phone call, offer them free plane tickets? For crying out loud, they tried to kick them off a plane for no good reason! If it had been me, hell yeah I'd sue their politically incorrect asses off.

I've never flown Cebu Pacific before (given their infamy for countless delays, bump-offs and cancellations), and after this incident I'm even more inclined never to do so. It will be interesting, though, to see what kind of damage control their PR people do now. Perhaps the first step should be to change their company slogan.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Healthy habits for 2010

Because I was pretty successful achieving my sort-of new year's resolutions last year, I've decided to draw up another themed list for this year.
  • Drink more water (at least 8 glasses a day).
  • Eat more veggies (salads over pasta!).
  • Get more exercise (walking, swimming, maybe yoga?).
  • Go to sleep earlier (will shut off my netbook at midnight).
  • Limit ice cream intake to once every 2 weeks (harder than it sounds, for someone whose favorite food is ice cream).
Since this is the last year of my twenties, I figure I should try to lead a healthier lifestyle before my aging body goes all to hell (if it hasn't started doing so already). I could also stand to lose several pounds and inches, as well as improve the condition of my skin, and all of the above should be able to help. Here's hoping I'll be able to stick to these resolutions for the duration of 2010, and who knows, perhaps even beyond.