Monday, July 31, 2006
ESPIRITU SANTO CHURCH
Yesterday, as the rains swept Metro Manila, I donned my rain gear and dragged my nephew to come with me to Espiritu Santo Church — right on the corner of Rizal Avenue and Tayuman Street in Santa Cruz, Manila.
I was amazed to find it just as beautiful a church as during the days of my youth.
It recently made the news when its priceless monstrance made of gold was stolen — a symbol of the Holy Spirit; usually left at the altar to symbolize the presence of God in the church. It was supposedly taken by a group of unidentified robbers very early on the Sunday of July 2nd.
I have very fond memories of this church. Being only a few blocks from our house, this was where we went to every Sunday. I had my first communion here, as well as my baptism and confirmation. Actually, I was baptized twice on that very same Sunday — the first was at 10 a.m. and the second was just before noon.
What happened was my godfather’s car broke down while they were en route to Manila from Magdalena, Laguna. He was then the mayor of that town. My parents — suspecting he got tied up in some official business which may have prevented him from attending — went ahead and took me for the 10 o’clock ceremony.
About half an hour after coming home from church, my godfather arrived with his entire family and some friends. It was a convoy of about four vehicles filled with people intent on having a wonderful time. They also brought along a whole roasted pig. My parents were too embarrassed to tell what had happened earlier so, I was rushed back to the church along with all these people to be baptized a second time. I don’t remember ever meeting my godfather while growing up, but he would always send me two bushels of lanzones every year when in season.
Having been baptized twice, I would occasionally tease a devout Catholic aunt, that I was assured a ticket to heaven. But she would quickly argue that had I been truly touched by God while going through those two baptismal rites, I would have been busily pursuing priesthood, or at the very least, had grown up to become an ideal Catholic. You see, something happened when I was about twelve that she did not approve of.
The elementary school I attended had its Catholic pupils taught religion by teachers from Espiritu Santo Parochial School. We were also to go to confessions and receive communion at this church, only a short walking distance from school. Our class was scheduled for Wednesday afternoons for confessions, but one particular afternoon, while sitting on a pew waiting for my turn to walk over to the confessionary box, I was hit with what seemed like a foreboding gloom; making me slowly got up and walked home.
That following Saturday morning, while on our way to his office, I told my father that I didn’t feel comfortable going to confession anymore. And much to my surprise, just like that, my father said, “Okay.” And no further words were ever spoken about it.
Nonetheless, I waited another week, and when assured that it was, indeed, all right with my parents since no other discussions ensued about it, I announced to my brothers and sisters over dinner one night about my decision and our father’s approval of it. No one bothered to make any remark, which I attributed to their lack of desire to question my father’s consent. However, there were giggling from two of my brothers which were quickly halted with just a menacing glare from my eldest sister.
When my eldest brother asked what led to my decision, I said that it just didn’t seem proper that I must confess my sins through a priest — a man. And if I had, in fact, sinned, I should at least have the decency and courage to admit it directly to God and place myself at His mercy. My two brothers were about to giggle again, but beat them to it when I said that masturbation had nothing to do with it — for which I got a slap at the back of my head from my eldest sister for uttering such a vile word as deemed by her.
Incidentally, our dinner table at that time sat eight; just perfect for us eight kids who would eat first while my parents, aunts and household help would eat next. My eldest sister was the anointed disciplinarian whom we called Fraulein behind her back. Such moniker was inspired by her Gestapo-like expertise to instill fear and extract information sans the physical torture; even my eldest brother, only a year her junior, would succumb to her authority.
And so it was, at the age of twelve, I started — which according to my aunt — a life of being a less than ideal Catholic. But, unbeknownst to her and me at that time, it marked the beginning of my long arduous journey towards spiritual search and fulfillment.
All those fond memories came back to mind as I sat there in church yesterday during another rainy Sunday morning.
Labels: Growing up memoirs
Sunday, July 30, 2006
NYC YELLOW CABSNo, this is not about the local pizzeria here in Metro Manila; rather, about New York City's yellow cab taxis. Since I had posted an entry about our local jeepneys the other day, felt compelled to feature its infamous New York counterpart. Originally posted on October 17th last year, thought I’d re-post it for this purpose
Some of the more perplexing yet, intriguing characters you can meet in New York are its cab drivers; not those who work the daytime shift, but the ones at night (they seem to have more of an edge about them).
One I came across was an Israeli. Since a teenager in Tel Aviv he aspired to join the Mossad. With military service a prime requirement for applicants, he signed up for a stint with the Israeli Air Force’s pilot training program. It was so intensely gruelling — intellectually and psychologically — that afterwards his frailed nerves suggested kibbutz management after his discharge might be a more suitable career choice.
At one solo flight exercise — he related as if pained by the memory — he was to fly sideways underneath a bridge; its clearance allowed just enough space for the aircraft to go through without clipping a wing.
I could only imagine that a couple of years of excessive adrenaline rush from his training turned him into a reluctant addict that upon immigrating to New York, he was immediately drawn into the perilous excitement that city cab driving offers – dodging holdups, outsmarting theft of service scams and coping with incorrigible New York pedestrians and passengers; all that while negotiating hair-raising overtakes and evading the unmerciful men in blue.
The next day, over lunch, I mentioned to one of my best friends who is Jewish how badly I felt for this man who was so rattled by his air force training that he failed to realize a teenage dream. He retorted that the driver was not so much tormented by the grim prospect of crashing a million-dollar jet into a bridge and die in the process as to be overwhelmed by guilt for having wasted millions of dollars for destroying both the jet and the bridge. Guilt, he exclaimed, is a major issue to the Jewish psyche. I guess he meant to be funny.
The other memorable cab driver I chanced upon was a struggling artist from Madison, Wisconsin. He was so new in the city that I had to navigate our entire journey from midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section. He was so dazed and confused – not with the city streets but in his entire demeanor. I figured he was either an innately brilliant artist or just took fine arts because he didn’t like math. A couple of months later, a friend dragged me to a gallery exhibit opening at the Lower East Side. While working the room, so to speak, I was surprised to run into this artist/cab driver. He didn’t quite remember me but told me anyway that he had just started working for Mark Kostabi. I didn’t know whether to be happy for him or not.
A cousin's wife was insisting on hiring a personal driver for when she and a couple of their kids visit New York for a month. She must have asked every one she could think of who might know someone from over there who knew anyone willing to do the job. She finally trashed the idea when I told her the average per hour rate for a personal driver in New York is $30.00 for an 8-hour period; beyond that she will have to shell out the usual time-and-a-half per hour overtime rate. That is, of course, if the driver would be willing to work overtime. She pays no more than P10,000.00 a month for her live-in family driver here in Manila with only a single day off every week.
One of my friends in New York does that but for only one client -- a rich couple from Madrid who would fly to New York twice a year. They would rent a sedan while my friend would drive it for them for the two week duration the couple was in town. He gets $30.00 per hour plus a generous tip when they depart, which supplements his regular income as a freelance personal trainer.
Labels: Life in New York
Saturday, July 29, 2006
People I Admire: GEORGE GERSHWINHailed as one of America’s important composers, George Gershwin (1898-1937) along with his brother, Ira (1896-1983), collaborated to create timeless music for some of Broadway’s remarkable musicals – Lady Be Good, Strike Up The Band, Showgirl, and Funny Face. There was also their folk opera Porgy and Bess which produced the hit song, Summertime, as well as George’s orchestral works, Rhapsody in Blue and An American In Paris.
His music had become classic standards and no respectable jazz artist would be without a Gershwin in his repertoire. Balladeers from Frank Sinatra to Tony Bennet, as well as song stylists from George Michael to Rod Stewart had delved into the Gershwin catalog. And filmmakers like Woody Allen had used Gershwin's orchestral work as soundtrack to his film Manhattan.
His songs — such as ‘S Wonderful, Our Love Is Here To Stay, Someone To Watch Over Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It, and But Not For Me — will remain forever etched in most music lovers’ hearts.
According to Jane Erb’s biography of this great American composer, “He never experienced a dry spell or the composer's equivalent of writer's block, and he was equally adept at composing music to which words were added or fitting music to book and lyrics already written, as he did in Porgy and Bess.” And always a self-promoter, “He loved nothing more than parties where he could (and did) monopolize the evening at the piano, playing and singing his own works for the friends who adored him.’
George Gershwin (named Jacob Gershovitz at his birth on September 26, 1898) was the second of four children born to Morris and Rose Gershovitz, Russians who had immigrated to New York and married in America. He died on July 11, 1937 of brain tumor.
Photo credit: Bellevue Chamber Chorus
I thought posting an entry about George Gershwin would be a fitting tribute to this legendary American composer and to commemorate my father's death anniversary today. My father adored Gershwin's music immensely -- both in standard and jazz forms. Suffice it to say, it was Gershwin's music that marked my introduction to jazz while growing up. When I started singing as a youngster, my father played me Frank Sintra’s recording of Someone To Watch Over Me and asked me to learn it. Since his death, every time I find myself alone and in desperate situations, I would sing this song to myself to alleviate my anxiety.
My most favorite version of this song is the one recorded by Heb Alpert as sung by him and embellished with his haunting trumpet solo.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
JEEP MEMORIESCertainly, anyone who grew up in the Philippines has distinct memories of riding jeepneys. I have two, which happened when I was still in grade school — one was with my sister, the other with my father and uncle.
My eldest sister who was 13 years my senior used to drag me along to Divisoria and Quiapo when bargain-hunting for shoes. Whether she intended to buy a pair or not, the salespeople weren’t spared the agony of bringing out several boxes of shoes for her to try on. I was the one who would get embarrassed for her, but learned soon enough to just bring a comic or pocket book to cover my face with, while she tested these people’s endurance.
One afternoon, after handing me my usual wage — a half a dozen mini hopia* — as her reluctant shopping companion, we boarded a jeepney to take us home. It was empty, for the evening rush was still two hours away. She took the seat right by the steps while I sat on the opposite side but more towards the middle.
The driver was waiting for the light to turn green, my sister was in some deep thought and I was about to take a bite out of my first piece of hopia, when a teenager nonchalantly walked by and snatched my sister’s brand new Bulova watch. She turned pale and I froze in mid-bite. Before we recovered from our shock, the snatcher had disappeared among the throng of pedestrians. Although neither one of us said anything else until we got home, but there was one word that remained prominent in my mind — karma.
On another occasion one Saturday morning on our way to my father’s office (he used to take me along on Saturdays when he worked only half a day), my uncle got on the same jeepney my father and I were on. He chose to sit directly in front of us — within arm’s reach of the driver.
A couple of blocks into our stop, both my father and uncle — as if engaged in a duel — vigorously insisted to pay for each other’s fare. As both these grown men shoved their money towards the direction of the driver who turned his head to check out the commotion, one of them accidentally poked him in the eye. When he winced and jerked his head back in pain, he momentarily lost control of the jeepney and slammed it onto another ahead of us.
Luckily, he wasn’t going that fast so no one suffered any harm, but the driver was so enraged he yelled for all of us to get off his jeepney — and fast.
It must be true what experts say; that our psychological make-up basically stems from childhood. Perhaps, this explains why, later on in life, I’ve become quite adept in negotiating my way out of accompanying any female on a shopping trip. Moreover, I’ve also become somewhat of a risk taker; that is, I’d rather be thought of as a cheapskate than insist on paying for another’s fare while aboard a jeepney.
(*Hopia is a pastry of Chinese origin similar to moon cakes filled with sweet bean paste, sometimes flavored)
Labels: Growing up memoirs
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
MIRA, ZULEYKA, BENG AQUI!
According to a Los Angeles Times’ report, the audience at Sunday’s Miss Universe pageant held at Shrine Auditorium — although all glammed up in slinky halter dresses and suits — treated the event like a World Cup final. There were lots of boisterous cheering and vigorous waving of national flags. Supposedly, they had to be admonished at the beginning of the evening to not blow their air horns.
An 18-year-old Puerto Rican — Zuleyka Rivera Mendoza, a 5-foot, 9-inch dark-haired aspiring actress — was crowned Miss Universe before a crowd of thousands, including a few hundred partisans of her country, screaming and waving Puerto Rican flags.
Besides the allure of Filipina women, I think Puerto Rican women are among the most beautiful, though they can be feisty at a fault. A word of caution: they tend to involve their family against a lover during quarrels, which means not only will you explain yourself to her, but also to her father, uncles, aunts and at times, close friends of the family. But Puerto Rican moms are the best provided you eat their home-cooked meals (always served with rice and beans) with gusto.
Following the brief Spanish-American War, the United States acquired Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and other colonial possessions from Spain under the Treaty of Paris.
Photo credit: LA Times
TAGGED BY MAJOR TOM
A year ago, I would have shied away from participating in a meme chain, because I didn’t know other bloggers well enough to sustain its thread. Tet of Penovate tagged me once; with great embarrassment, I declined citing this reason. However, now I know some fellow bloggers so, when Jairam tagged me the other day, I gladly obliged. It was something fun to do on this rainy day.
With great surprise, Major Tom also tagged me but his was of a completely different theme, Six Weird Things About Myself. Although I accepted it with enthusiasm, it just made me wish that I were just as amusingly weird these days as in the past. As you will see, today I'm merely boringly weird.
For example, in New York, when I was in my early 20s, whenever bored and stuck in the apartment due to a snow storm, I would do weird stuff like call the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, not to have some food delivered, but to ask if I had called the Suicide Prevention Hotline. I stopped doing it when Mr. Sam the manager began to recognize my voice. Another was whenever a girlfriend began to leave a more than usual amount of change of clothing in my apartment, I would suddenly break up with her. There was also the time I never allowed my gay cousin and his friends to hang out in my apartment without my being there, because they tend to rearrange my furniture, as well as immaculately clean up the entire place — for fun. Not sure in this case, though, if I were the weird one, or my cousin and his friends were. Oh, well...those were the days.
Moving on forward, here are the six weird things about myself these days:
1. Since 9/11, I am petrified of high-rise apartment living.
2. Overwhelmed by the sight of so much food at buffets, I tend to just eat the desserts.
3. In foreign places, I’d rather meet and talk to local residents than go sightseeing.
4. I subscribe to the idea that we are spirits first, human beings second.
5. To this day, I will eat cold leftover pizza for breakfast.
6. Whenever I call a local customer service and speak Tagalog, but the rep would keep talking back to me in English to impress me or something, I’d switch to English but of the Ebonics style as learned from my uptown brothers in New York. Sho’ nuff she be jivin’ back in Tagalog in no time.
I am tagging the following bloggers with the hope that they, too, will reveal some of their weirdness:
1. Irene aka Niceheart
2. Melai of Manilenya
3. Jhay of Pinoy Explorer
4. Ted of Penovate
5. Jepaperts of Dubai Chronicles
Hey guys, for the rules of the game, please click on Cogito Ergo Sam.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
TAGGED BY JAIRAM
Some THREE's in my life:
3 things that scare me:
- nuclear waste and armaments
- religious fanatics
- provincial bus drivers strung out on crystal meth/shabu
3 people who can make me laugh
- anyone caught lying
3 things I love:
- a bamboo bed under the shade of a mango tree on a lazy afternoon
- stories about people who, against all odds, emerged victorious
- babies (before able to ask for a trust fund and power of attorney)
3 things I hate (hate is a pretty strong word, which I’ve learned not to succumb into. For this purpose, I will replace hate with avoid):
- people who get stupid on me
- driving alone in Metro Manila
- local folks who justify their erroneous ways or procrastinations by exclaiming, “but this is the Philippines”
3 things I don’t understand
- adults who promulgate the idea that alcohol consumption among our youths increases their masculinity
- grown men who believe the use of an umbrella on rainy days decreases their masculinity
3 things on my desk
- unpaid bills
- loose change
3 things I’m doing right now:
- doing this meme
- deciding where or not to play badminton because of these heavy rains
- listening to B52’s first album
3 things I wish to do before I die:
- sky jump
- travel to Antarctica (though I despise winter)
- accomplish something to leave behind that will benefit my fellowman even if only on small scale
3 things I can do:
- play tennis and badminton quite well
- articulate my thoughts/feelings when aggrieved
- approach any favorite music artist and hold a brief conversation with him (did this a lot in NYC)
3 ways to describe my personality:
- at peace with myself
3 things people might not know about me:
- I was a jai-alai amateur player at fifteen
- curious about things paranormal
- joined and took many classes in the famed Art Students League of New York just for the heck of it
3 things I can’t do:
- skate (roller, in-line or board)
- drive big bikes (Harley Davidson)
- toy with people’s emotions
3 things I think you should listen to:
- own intuition
- someone alluding to committing suicide
3 things I don’t think you should listen to ever:
- other’s idea of what you ought to be as a human being
- other’s private conversations
- horrendous singing at a karaoke bar
3 of my absolute favorite foods:
- desserts of any kind
3 things I’d like to learn:
- play the xylophone
- write a poem
- do the tango (ala Pacino in Scent of a Woman)
3 beverages I drink regularly:
- mineral water
- Coke Light
- decaf coffee
3 shows I watched when I was a child:
- wrestling from America
- Warner Bros. cartoons (where I started to appreciate orchestral music)
- lots of movies (my father took me to one whenever I went with him to his office on Saturdays and during school breaks)
3 people I have tagged to do this meme:
- Senorito Ako (who is in New Zealand and feeling horribly homesick)
- Major Tom (who can use this meme as a respite from his serious writings)
- Rey Villegas (he may get a kick out of doing this meme)
WEATHER IN THE NEWSIt has been nothing but continual rain here since Sunday. By Monday, classes were suspended in all elementary and high schools in Metro Manila and in other areas affected by public storm signals. Typhoon Glenda hit Batanes with maximum sustained winds of 150 kph and gustiness of up to 185 kph. Heavy rains affected Cagayan, Apayao, Ilocos Norte, Ilcoso Sur, Kalinga, Abra, Mt. Province, Benguet, Ifugao, Isabela, La Union, Pangasinan, Zambales, and Bataan. Although schools resumed their classes today, Tuesday, the rains have started once again early this morning due to another incoming storm.
Over in southern Japan, the heavy rains that fell over the past week triggered numerous mudslides and flooding that were responsible for killing 21 people with several still missing. The worst affected region was Kagoshima prefecture, on the southern tip of the island, which has been battered by rain in recent days.
In Montvale, New Jersey, Lee Weisbrod, 19, of River Vale, and Steven Fagan, 18, of Woodcliff Lake, died at a local hospital Saturday after suffering severe burns and trauma from a lightning strike. The two other teens with the victims, identified only as 16- and 19-year-old Montvale residents, were treated at a local hospital Saturday night and released, authorities said.
The four had arrived at Montvale Memorial School around 6 p.m. Saturday, but waited for a rain storm to let up before taking the field to play soccer, police said. When a violent storm swept back in, the two unidentified teens ran for shelter while Weisbrod and Fagan decided to walk off the field and got hit by the lightning.
Whereas, the recent string of odd weather reports in the northeast region of the United States stir global warming debate — the floods that forced up to 200,000 evacuees from a historic Pennsylvania coal town followed a year of erratic weather in other parts of the region, including record rainfall in May and June in Massachusetts, a spring-like January in Maine and Vermont's worst autumn foliage in memory.
Photo credit: NASA
Sunday, July 23, 2006
HELL'S KITCHEN, NASA and KYOTO PROTOCOLThere are times I would come across a bizarre news item and not know exactly how to react — with sympathy or inappropriate laughter; the latter due more to my nervous trepidation than mean apathy (but have recently discovered a method to combat it).
Take for example this news report by New York Post which occurred in the Hell’s Kitchen section of West Side midtown Manhattan. Frank Frias, 44, was crossing 10th Avenue at 51st Street at 10:35 p.m. Wednesday when he was hit by the driver-side mirror of a black SUV and fell to the ground.
According to witnesses, the driver stopped and got out of his SUV, took a quick look at Frias, got back in and fled the scene of the accident. Immediately afterwards, a shuttle bus slammed into the injured Frank Frias. The driver was quick to blame Frias for running in front of his bus.
What’s even more disturbing about this tragic incident was the inaction of the witnesses. No one came to his aid as he groggily wandered across Tenth Avenue after getting hit by the SUV. Jeeez! I know most New Yorkers often walk briskly and oblivious to their immediate surroundings, but this incident was too freakish not to command serious attention. I lived in New York for many years and based on personal experience, New Yorkers are, in fact, a curious lot and oftentimes eager beavers when it comes to giving a helping hand. Alas! Not in this case, I suppose.
Meanwhile, on a much broader spectrum, is another alarming news item about the altering of NASA’s mission statement. In 2002, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents are the words, “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.”
However, as the New York Times article points out, in early February, the statement was edited without consulting NASA, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. The current budget and planning documents, “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research” has become NASA's primary focus.
This surreptitious editing job surprised many NASA scientists, who argue the “understand and protect” phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
The article goes on to cite that "since 1972, when NASA launched the first Landsat satellite to track changes on the earth’s surface, the agency has been increasingly involved in monitoring the environment and as a result has been immersed in political disputes over environmental policy and spending. And that the understand and protect phrase was cited repeatedly by James E. Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA who said publicly last winter that he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking out about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions."
Dr. Hansen perceived the change as an attempt by the White House to deflect the attention away from global warming. “They’re making it clear that they have the authority to make this change, that the president sets the objectives for NASA, and that they prefer that NASA work on something that’s not causing them a problem,” he said.
Unfortunately, this position by the current administration pertaining to NASA's research priorities mirrors its attitude towards the Kyoto Protocol.
For additional insightful reads on climate changes and environmental issues, I recommend Major Tom’s Too Hot To Handle and Going Green In A Brave World.
Incidentally, the picture above (click to enlarge) is from NASA and the point of light above the World Trade Center building tower is the comet Hale-Bopp.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
People I Admire: EDWARD R. MURROW
“Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.” - Edward R. Murrow, Broadcast Journalist (1908-1965)
Edward R. Murrow is the most distinguished and renowned figure in the history of American broadcast journalism. He was a seminal force in the creation and development of electronic newsgathering as both a craft and a profession. Murrow's career began at CBS in 1935 and spanned the infancy of news and public affairs programming on radio through the ascendancy of television in the 1950s, as it eventually became the nation's most popular news medium. In 1961, Murrow left CBS to become director of the United States Information Agency for the new Kennedy administration. By that time, his peers were already referring to a "Murrow legend and tradition" of courage, integrity, social responsibility, and journalistic excellence, emblematic of the highest ideals of both broadcast news and the television industry in general.
On the silver screen: Goodnight, and Good Luck - A terrific docudrama about the Edward Murrow and Senator Eugene McCarthy duel (directed by George Clooney)
Photo credit: coutant.org
Friday, July 21, 2006
PHOTOGRAPHERS’ HAVEN AT HIDALGO STREETSince posting an entry last June about Canon 5D digital camera, I was somewhat dispirited upon realizing that SM Department Store was the only store to buy it from. Not that I question its reputation when in comes to electronics and cameras, but SM's price tags rarely deviate from the manufacturer's suggested retail price.
For discounted prices, Jeff of Dubai Chronicles once recommended the camera stores over at Quiapo’s Hidalgo Street. However, daunted by my lack of experience with the integrity of the merchants in that district, I abandoned that prospect.
In the interim, I grappled whether or not I was willing to lug around a bulky digital SLR camera and risk attracting the attention of snatchers as I walk around Metro Manila with it. I wouldn’t want this newly-purchased camera to reside in the closet, either; only to see the light of day on certain occasions (i.e., birthdays, family outings, and etc.). So, I considered a point-and-shoot digital camera as a safer and more portable alternative, but just the same, I only have SM Department Store as its retailer.
Nonetheless, at the back of my mind was the comment made by BW of Warped Zone. He bought a 35mm SLR film camera at an unbelievably low price and instead of prints, he has the film developed and stored in compact discs. Indeed, this is a viable alternative to a pricey digital camera.
I have a Canon T70 SLR I got from my brother. Although antiquated, it still works fine and I even have a telephoto lens for it. The only thing lacking is its flash unit — a Canon 277T. There’s a few available on eBay (US) but none here in the Philippines. When I asked around where I might find one here in Metro Manila, I was once again directed to Hidalgo Street. Not knowing anything about the reputation of its merchants, as before, I dumped the idea; that is, until I came across Chris Lagman’s blog site.
Chris has posted a very interesting and informative entry — “The Hidalgo Project” — a group effort to renovate Hidalgo Street of Quiapo as a true haven for all local photography enthusiasts as spearheaded by John Chua (a.k.a. “Magic Eye”) of AdPhoto. On July 13, John together with 72 other photographers gathered at Mayor Atienza’s office to present the project.
The vision includes:
- A No Vehicle Zone – R. Hidalgo will be for pedestrians only
- It can even be a covered street, like the covered courtyard of Alabang Town Center, so that it can be easily converted as venue for lectures, seminars, product demos, product launches and exhibits. A portable stage can be provided at one end of the street.
- Outdoor cafes where photographers can hang out and mingle with each other
- A Photo Gallery can be established, where one can exhibit and sell fine art photography, posters, and other photo applications
- A bookstore featuring only photography books would be a welcome addition
- Canon, Nikon, Fuji and other leading brands will be encouraged to set up their authorized service centers in this area of the city
- Different photo organizations or photo shop owners can organize weekly or monthly photo exhibits
- Developed like Baywalk, it can become a tourist spot where foreigners and Filipinos from the provinces will come to buy equipment, learn photography and meet new friends.
- Fashion shows and other events of interest to photographers can be held in the area
- Photo store owners will be encouraged to improve their window displays
The group and its proposal were received with much enthusiasm by Mayor Lito Atienza. The Mayor said this is timely and gave the go ahead signal to one of his administrators to start clearing the street which is mostly blocked by street vendors. Completion of the physical renovation of the street is expected by the end of the month.
I immediately contacted Chris and he responded in kind with a recommendation as to where to go and whom to talk to when inquiring about a flash unit for my 20-year old semi-automatic Canon SLR.
I had also signed-up at PinoyPhotography with the intention to take advantage of its forums for photography professionals and amateurs alike. This site also has a directory of many dealers and merchants of Hidalgo Street. I called a couple and was pleasantly surprised to find them generous with their time and advice.
Once I have a flash unit for my SLR, I will lug it around wherever I go and see how comfortable (or not) I am walking around Metro Manila with an expensive-looking camera hanging on my neck.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
QUIAPO CHURCHI’m not a religious person but every so often, I stop by and visit a church; not so much to hear mass, but to seek respite. The tranquil cavernous ambience of a church is, indeed, conducive for quieting one's mind. Lately, it has been Quiapo Church for me, but definitely not on Fridays. It’s mobbed.
Quiapo Church is walking distance from the university belt area where I sometimes play badminton. The bustling commercial area that surrounds it is where I also buy my shuttlecocks at a sporting goods store over at Raon Street (now Gil Puyat Street). In the midst of numerous stores that offer affordable prices from electronics to native handicrafts, are the street vendors who sell candles, sampaguita garlands, amulets and herbal cures for a wide variety of ailments (and also from what I was whispered, cannabis).
The church itself is home to the famed Black Nazarene, a dark hardwood statue of Jesus of Nazareth. It was created by a Mexican craftsman and brought via galleon from Mexico in the 18th century. This statue is taken out of the church and paraded during its feast. Many believe that those who pray to it are granted special favors and miracles. It isn’t unusual, therefore, to see some devotees crawling on their knees from the entrance to the altar as if humbly and earnestly begging for a miracle. However, for the hurried or those overburdened with life’s daily grind, inside the church at the back, sitting on plastic stools are the women — prayer warriors — who will pray on their behalf if requested.
Everyone has a wish to make. I do, too. And I breathe life into it through my self-created ritual — burning of a candle. But inside Quiapo Church, you are no longer allowed to burn candles as a measure, I suppose, to preserve its interiors. So what I do is buy candles from one of the vendors outside. Their portable stands also provide metal boxes where the customers may light and burn these candles. In New York, one of my favorite churches, St. Francis near Madison Square Garden, much to my dismay, replaced their votive candles with electric bulbs — you slip in your contribution and then turn on a switch. However, the scent of burning candles adds to the divine ambience of a church, I think.
Burning three candles has become a personal ritual whenever I visit a church. One is to breathe life to the wishes that remain unfulfilled not only the wish made by me but also those by friends and families. Second is to honor the memory of loved ones who had passed away and whose guidance I sometimes seek. Third is to symbolize my unity with everyone on the planetary and spiritual plane, as well as ultimately with the higher creative force, I refer to as God.
During these gloomy rainy days in Manila — when these opportunistic blues seem better able to sneak in unknowingly — there’s no better way for me to spend a few minutes of some free time than to visit Quiapo Church and light some candles.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
NEIGHBORS IN CRIMEThe official report indicates one dead and two wounded due to a series of shots from a .38-caliber revolver.
Of the wounded: one was hit on the left arm (treated and released) while the other remains hospitalized but awaiting transfer to the orthopedic hospital to repair a tibia fracture. He sustained a severe hit, though not life-threatening, just below his right kneecap and now undergoing heroic doses of painkiller to alleviate the intense pain that emanates from his gunshot wound.
Eyewitness accounts claimed it was late Sunday night when five remaining neighborhood teenagers were about to disband. They had just cleaned up the area in which a party was held for another friend’s birthday earlier that evening in front of his house. Suddenly a lone gunman came rushing towards them and started firing his powerful handgun. Three were felled by the hail of bullets.
Everything happened so quickly. No one ran after the gunman even though his revolver was now empty, because everyone’s attention was riveted to the fallen victims; one was shot point blank in the chest and died in the hospital. He was a senior in high school.
Ironically, the intended target hunted by the gunman escaped unscathed. He was the triggerman whose much improved accuracy with handguns killed one and critically wounded several of the other group’s members a few months ago. And this recent shooting was a retaliatory attack; a new installment to an ongoing feud between two groups of kids who live in the same neighborhood in Tondo, Manila, just right off Jose Abad Santos Avenue.
This incident drew the attention of the local TV and print news media and was given substantial exposure the following morning. Extensive scene of crime investigations were also performed both by the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation. And although the gunman, a teenager himself, was immediately identified, he is yet to be found and arrested.
The funeral procession held a week later was pure gangsta-style complete with rap music blaring from a car's speaker system. It was one in a convoy of vehicles filled with grieving relatives and friends. And on foot right behind the hearse was a group of about a hundred or so of the dead victim’s close friends and schoolmates, as well as members of other affiliated gangs in Tondo. As planned, everyone wore a white T-shirt along with the usual silver and bling.
Although their fresh smooth-skinned faces reveal their young age, their oversized T-shirts, conceal their handguns. And beneath these masks of angelic faces is a common lust for a quick draw.
The strategy was, in case of an ambush en route to North Cemetery, the hearse and the convoy of vehicles would pick up speed and head on over to the cemetery while those on foot would stay behind to confront the enemy — to death if need be. The police was aware of this volatile situation and chose to stay away. Instead, what lined some of the streets along the way to the cemetery, were myriad youngsters enthralled by the sight of this gangsta funeral.
Possibly, just like the dead victim, some of these onlookers may have been bullied in school or in their neighborhood. And while witnessing what seemed to be a sense of brotherhood from this throng of mourners walking behind the hearse may spur some to join a similar gang for protection, or just to enhance their image of cool.
The funeral procession uneventfully reached North Cemetery, located near the border of Manila and Quezon City. However, after the customary interment ritual, all those with their 38’s and 9mm’s pulled and aimed them toward the sky as they fired three shots each as a sendoff to a fallen brother; the recent victim of this long-time series of violence between two groups of young people who are basically neighbors.
It all started way back when everyone was in elementary school. One group living in one block was constantly harassed by a band of bullies from only three blocks away. The latter, with their crudely-made single-bullet pen guns or pellet handguns would slap the faces of the kids from the other group. Sometimes they would also shoot at them as a form of amusement; to watch gleefully as their targets frantically scramble for cover.
By the time they all reached high school, the aggrieved group — having endured enough humiliation — began to fight back. Armed with guns smuggled from China and sold in the piers and with bullets from Quiapo’s underground market, they would sneak into the so-called enemy territory (a mere three blocks away) and launch surprise attacks. A month or so later, the other group would drive by on their scooters and retaliate with equally powerful handguns. At first their shots were near-misses, but eventually their aim got better, which began to produce fatalities on both sides. And so it has been for the past couple of years in this enclave of Tondo.
In yet another sense of irony, this area boasts a number of police officers as residents who appear to condone instead of condemn such violence committed if not by their own sons or nephews, neighborhood kids. And the lethal weapons brandished by these kids from both groups, other than having been bought surreptitiously, came from their kin who are members of the police force. They were unlicensed handguns confiscated from routine checkpoints or actual arrests, but were neither reported nor surrendered to their respective precinct.
There was a time when knives and arrows shot with slingshots were the weapons of choice; when horrendous crimes were confined within Manila’s indigent neighborhoods; and when the police enforced the law more so than encourage a relative to pursue a life of senseless violence. Times have changed. Most of these kids come from working-class families. Although dwelling in densely populated areas, they are not squalid shanty neighborhoods. And a fair amount of them aspire to someday travel to America or Europe to pursue a career as nurses or computer programmers or accountants.
Regrettably, these kids from both groups manifest a twisted mindset primarily fueled by a false sense of loyalty. Everyone remains inexorably determined to sustain this senseless bloodbath until the last man standing. Unarguably this is but a violent derivative of imported hip-hop culture as embodied by some of our local youth.
Labels: Local culture
Sunday, July 16, 2006
SUNDAY GOOD READSOne of my favorite pastimes in New York was going to Barnes & Noble Bookstore on Broadway in front of Lincoln Center. This is an entire building with about four floors of books galore.
On its very top floor is a café and near it is an entire wall of racks of magazines — from consumer to specialty trade. Although these are for sale, you can browse through them at your heart’s delight provided, of course, that you handle them with care and not crumple the pages.
What I would do is grab a couple of magazines after getting myself a mug of decaf coffee or green tea and then find myself a stool by the counter that runs along the immense floor-to-celing window. With Lincoln Center as my view, I would leisurely read those glossies as I sip my hot beverage. This super bookstore also offers tables and comfortable couches for its patrons, but when alone, I usually prefer sitting by the window where, after reading, I would just gaze at the Manhattan skyline and space out. Quite meditative, actually.
The magazines at Metro Manila newstands are oftentimes enclosed in clear plastic bags and sealed shut. This is to prevent passersby from making a public library out of their kiosks. Understandably so but a potential customer can only base his decision to buy on the merits of a magazine's cover (back covers are superfluous since they're mostly contracted to major advertisers). However, regular customers are sometimes privileged to open the plastic bag and quickly browse through a magazine's table of contents, as well as its inside pages prior to making a purchase.
These days, instead of Barnes & Noble or the local newstands, I go online and bloghop. Incidentally, I recently came across some fine reads that you may want to check out (if you haven’t already). On Manuel L. Quezon III's site, I discovered the behind-the-scene story about The Beatles and their alleged snubbing of Imelda Marcos during their Manila visit 40 years ago. Manolo also cited Carlos Celdran’s 2000-word essay about the Spanish mestizo's ouster from the Philippine's privileged class .
One of my favorite smart kids on the blogosphere, Jhay, has an entry that we ought to implement nationwide — ICE (In Case of Emergency). That is, in our cellphone's phonebook, we should add a contact and name it ICE. This will contain the name and number of the person we have designated for the police or paramedics to call in case, God forbid, we find ourselves unconscious in a gutter somewhere; in dire need of medical attention.
Global Voices has picked-out two entries by our fellow-Pinoy bloggers: Torn and Frayed’s circa 1762 Manila when it was attacked by the British and Synesthetique’s requests from the ghost that frequents her office.
And there’s Conrado de Quiros’ previously published, Ten Things to Love About Being in the Philippines, Part 1 and Part 2. Mr. de Quiros included the abundance of DVDs in Quiapo as one of his reasons, but quickly quips, “Those who feel like berating me for listing the DVDs from the Quiapo district in Manila among the things that make this country livable might first wish to examine whether the Windows they're using to boot their PCs and the software they're using to write their furious letters with are original or licensed.”
Oookay... I think that’s enough selection of good reads for this cloudy in Manila Sunday.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
CABIN FEVER MUNCHIES
It has been constantly raining in Metro Manila; causing flooding in some areas, as well as the closing of schools this past Wednesday and Thursday due to a storm in Masbate. In weather like this, there isn’t much to do but stay indoors. And as we all know, being cooped up inside the house can cause cabin fever, which could make just anyone crave for all sorts of comfort food.
When I was a kid growing up in Manila, champorado or ginataang mais was the usual fare. However, nowadays, much like Manhattan, most neighborhoods here in Metro Manila have numerous eateries that will deliver practically anything such as pancit Malabon, various dimsun and siopao, pork barbeque, crispy pata, lechon kawali, hamburgers and fried chicken. There are also the prepared food stalls over at public markets like Suki Market in Mayon Street in Quezon City that offer an array of various cooked meals to take home. They even have sushi.
My food of choice, especially when feeling extravagant, is the home-delivered Yellow Cab Pizza; either the all cheese (double layer of mozzarella) or Manhattan Meat Lovers (Italian sausage, ham, pepperoni, ground beef, salami and bacon). I also like their spaghetti and meatballs, the taste of which comes close to the New York-style; not sweet as in Jolibee’s.
As for its cost, an 18-inch pie of all cheese is P485.00 while the Manhattan Meat Lovers is P625.00. The spaghetti and meatballs on the other hand — good for two or three people — costs P185.00. And since the nationwide implementation of eVAT (extra value added tax), Yellow Cab’s dough had become noticeably thinner while their prices went up by at least twenty percent. But since it is indeed better tasting than those offered by other pizzerias with home delivery service, I continue to buy Yellow Cab’s. But despite its delicious taste, the prices of Yellow Cab munchies can be prohibitive, plus they can be seriously fattening — so, I don’t indulge in it as much.
Freshly-baked pandesal with Del Monte sardines in tomato sauce can be a tasty alternative, or a piece of homemade or market-bought puto, kunchinta, kakanin or sapin-sapin, which can be just as delightful as well.
Top photo was taken at the grounds of Puregold’s supermarket over at Tayuman and Pritil.
Friday, July 14, 2006
SAY WHAT, MR. PRESIDENT?There’s a module — similar to Joke of the Day and Inspirational Quote — which I have added onto my Google page. However, this one would leave me scratching my head after reading what’s on it; unsure if true or not. It’s called The Chimp-O-Matic; created by Ryan Russon, a 37-year-old Web developer and Democrat.
This module features snippets or quotes from George W. Bush’s various speeches and bantering with White House correspondents. Now, we all know George is not as eloquent as Bill — and does come off as a blubbering buffoon at times — but he is, after all, born and raised in America, as well as a Yale graduate. Therefore, he should, at the very least, have a more coherent command of the English language than someone who had just recently eluded the border patrol. Even David Letterman has a regular segment — great moments in U.S. presidential speeches — which shows sound bites or lack thereof from George's previously-recorded press conferences and speeches.
Here's a sampling I've pinched from Chimp-O-Matic:
Brie and cheese.
to reporters, on what he imagines reporters eat
08/23/2001 - Crawford, TX
We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should.
Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease.
at a news conference
06/14/2001 - Gothenburg, Sweden
I trust God speaks through me. Without that,
I couldn't do my job.
07/09/2004 - to a group of Amish he met with privately
First, we would not accept a treaty that would not have been ratified,
nor a treaty that I thought made sense for the country.
04/24/2001 - on the Kyoto accord
It's important for us to explain to our nation that life is important.
It's not only life of babies, but it's life of children living in, you know,
the dark dungeons of the Internet.
Arlington Heights, IL
I love the idea of a school in which people come to get educated
and stay in the state in which they're educated.
08/14/2002 - Milwaukee, WI
I'm also mindful that man should never try to put words in God's
mouth. I mean, we should never ascribe natural disasters or
anything else, to God. We are in no way, shape, or form should
a human being, play God.
We have a firm commitment to NATO, we are a part of NATO.
We have a firm commitment to Europe. We are a part of Europe.
I now ask you all: Is this for real?
Incidentally, there was also the recent incident in which George questioned a reporter, Peter Wallsten of The Los Angeles Times, why he was wearing a pair of sunglasses during a Rose Garden press conference; to be advised later on that the reporter is legally blind due to some rare genetic disease. This is a fact that George didn't know, or forgot, about one of the regular White House corespondents covering him for one of America's major newspapers.
If anything, it makes me wonder if George also experimented with Barrett's drug of choice during his party-hardy days.
Photo credit: political-humor.info
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMONDThe name of this blog site, Wish You Were Here, was inspired by one of my favorite songs from the album with the same title by Pink Floyd. It was written (and later recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London) as a tribute to Syd Barrett.
He was named Roger Keith Barrett when born in Cambridge, England, but at the age of fifteen changed it to Syd after a local drummer Sid Barrett. In 1965, along with Roger Waters (bass guitar), Nick Mason (drums) and Richard Wright (keyboards) Barrett co-founded a band creating a jazz- and blues-infused psychedelic music, which struck a chord with the ageing baby boomers craving for a more cerebral soundtrack for their lives.
It was Barrett who named the group Pink Floyd — in honor of blues artists Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. In 1967, the band released its first LP, the psychedelic masterpiece The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Ten out of the eleven songs were written by Barrett.
The next year, after touring with the legendary Jimi Hendrix, Barrett began to suffer from mental instability, exacerbated by his heavy intake of the psychedelic drug, LSD. Guitarist David Gilmour was brought in to provide continuity; both Barrette and Gilmour shared center stage for a few months. However, Barrett’s mental condition worsened; making him increasingly unreliable and erratic (such as frequently going on stage to play no more than two notes in a whole set). He was soon forced to leave the band.
Although his stint with Pink Floyd was brief, Barrett’s delicate and wistful songs influenced many musicians, including David Bowie — who covered one of Barrett’s original compositions, See Emily Play. In a statement on his Web site, Bowie wrote, “His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed.”
After leaving the band, he reverted to his old name Roger Keith Barrett and moved back to Cambridge at his mother’s house. He also released a couple of solo albums, but eventually called it quits altogether. Before Pink Floyd, he attended art school and would subsequently spend the rest of his days engaged in painting or tending his garden.
Rolling Stone magazine in describing his new-found lifestyle and artworks wrote, “Sometimes crazy jungles of thick blobs. Sometimes simple linear pieces. His favourite is a white semi-circle on a white canvas. In a cellar where he spends much of his time, he sits surrounded by paintings and records, his amps and guitars. He feels safe there, under the ground. Like a character out of one of his own songs.”
Through the ensuing years since his departure, out of courtesy and respect, his former bandmates saw to it that he duly received his royalties from his early work with the band. On the other hand, Pink Floyd continued to dwell on the subject of mental illness as reflected by their Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall albums. On a recent statement issued upon Barrett’s death, they said, “Syd was the guiding light of the early band lineup and leaves a legacy which continues to inspire”
Syd Barrett died on July 7, 2006 due to complications related to diabetes. He was sixty years old.
Photo credit: otowlcek.bloguje.cz
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
WINDOW DISPLAYS AS ART INSTALLATIONSIf you walk the streets of Manhattan often enough, chances are you’ll run into Bill Cunningham with his camera. And if you’re a fashionable female (regardless of your age) with a unique sense of style, he might just snap your picture to be published in the next morning’s Style section of The New York Times.
Always a true gentleman, he has been the Times’ street photographer for quite some time now. During Fashion Week, you will find him more often outside instead of inside the giant white tents at Bryant Park taking pictures of glamorous women who attend Seventh Avenue’s premier runway shows.
On his recent New York Times’ feature, Show and Tell, Bill proclaims the Fifth Avenue store windows of Bergdorf Goodman and Saks are a new kind of art gallery, with constantly changing installations. And that aspect of visual merchandising had become a form of theater dating back from the early 1900's. However, he goes on to say, "like any other art form, store windows have had their ups and downs — slumping during the Depression, revived in the late 30's." It supposedly fell again in the late 70's, during a New York recession when a number of department stores closed and the high rate of street crime discouraged nighttime strolls. And then came the 1980s when many promising display artists succumbed to AIDS.
For this article, Bill Cunningham showcased a collection of his photographs of recent window displays created by today’s leading artists at Bergdorf and Saks (e.g., Linda Fargo, David Hoey, and Tim Wisgerhof) but his question remains unanswered: Why the Council of Fashion Designers of America does not recognize these exceptional talents at its annual awards?
photo credit: Bill Cunningham/The New York Times
Sunday, July 09, 2006
A SUNNY SUNDAY
“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans” - Lennon
Things to do on this sunny Sunday:
- buy a canister of shuttlecocks at Raon Street in Quiapo
- play an hour of badminton
- lunch at mom's - lechon paksiw and pancit bihon; Fruits in Ice Cream's green tea
- go see Superman Returns movie
- grocery shopping
- dinner at Friday's (miss their chicken Ceasar salad); not sure which branch
What are your plans for this sunny Sunday?
Saturday, July 08, 2006
NO BUTTS NO MOREAsk me to talk to someone about kicking his smoking habit and I wouldn’t do it.
First of all, I was once in his position — the more people would tell me to stop smoking, the more I would light up a cigarette; not out of defiance, but because just the thought of how tough it is to quit would only make me light up another stick.
Actually, any form of challenge to any smoker, be it cerebral or physical, would be a good enough trigger to make him reach for a cigarette. When playing a pick-up game of basketball with a smoker, ever noticed the more exhausted he got, the more he craved for a cigarette? That’s the way it is with someone with a nicotine addiction.
Almost everyone knows nicotine does not stimulate relaxation; on the contrary it shocks the system. Why do you think smokers must have a cigarette when going to the bathroom in the morning? That is because nicotine jolts the system into inducing a bowel movement without resorting to the hemorrhoid-causing birthing push.
Neither does smoking make one look cool and unperturbed. Reaching for a cigarette is more often a dead giveaway that one is undergoing stress at that moment.
Nicotine addiction is not selective and would just as easily afflict anyone. I know a couple of successful doctors — one a pediatrician, the other a heart specialist — who, to this day, smoke more than a pack of cigarettes everyday. Even our young people — despite of frequent public awareness campaigns about the perils of smoking and breathing second hand smoke — would still light up or hang out at crowded arenas filled with this lethal fume.
For me, it all started back in high school when my friends and I would light up a cigarette as pang patapang or to embolden ourselves when about to meet with some girls from another school, or as a prop to our macho posturing — pang porma — at a school dance or private party. And before I knew it, it was 20 years later and now seriously addicted to it.
How bad was it? Well, immediately upon getting up from bed every morning, the very first thing I would do is reach for a cigarette. At work, there were times I would light up only to realize a couple of seconds later that I still have a half-smoked cigarette burning on the ashtray. I was to discover later on that this whole motion of reaching for a cigarette and lighting it are integral parts of the entire nicotine addiction process.
There was also the incident of once waking up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning only to realize I had already smoked my last cigarette earlier before I went to bed. What happened next, to this day, would embarrass me to share with anyone: I went through the butts that had collected on the ashtray, including the ones already dumped in the trash can, looking for maybe a half-smoked stick. When none was found, I hurriedly put on my sweater, pants, boots and overcoat to look for an open store in the neighborhood. It was in the midst of a dreadful New York winter with the howling wind dragging down the outside temperature way below zero. I must have walked an hour with about seven inches of snow and ice on the ground until I finally found a 24-hour deli.
Yet, going through that horrendous experience was not a good enough incentive for me to consider quitting; it only made me better prepared. That is, even with still half a pack of cigarettes in my pocket, I would now buy an extra pack before going home. I was, in effect, in the stocking up mode of my drug, or whatever it was that would get me through the night. In this particular case, cigarettes.
Be that as it may, like other heavy smokers, I had made a number of attempts to quit — from cold turkey to moderate cessation with the use of an electronic gadget — but to no avail. I even tried the nicotine patch but only to discover my skin was allergic to its adhesive. Eventually, I’ve become totally resigned to the idea that I would live the rest of my life as a nicotine addict — a life of incessant dry coughing, horrible skin, bad breath, smoker’s lines around my mouth and a severely cracked voice.
However, such dismal personal resolve came to a sudden end when one morning I woke up with a distinct sense that my body no longer wanted it. As if miraculously, that morning, I stopped just like that. Although every now and then, to this day, I would dream I was once again a heavy smoker and would wake up deeply troubled by it. Nonetheless, on that fateful morning, I never — not even once — craved again for a cigarette.
After about a year of being a non-smoker, while at a bar having a couple of rounds with co-workers to celebrate our bonus, I tested myself and lit up a cigarette. I immediately coughed after a subtle inhale. I held on to the stick anyway and after two minutes tried to inhale again. I coughed again in response. I realized that not only had I gotten over the psychological need for cigarettes, but my body was, in effect, rejecting nicotine altogether.
That night at the bar, I also noticed how awkward I’ve become when holding a cigarette — I was now waving it like a piece of French fry while engaged in some animated conversation; unlike in the past when I used to hold it the way Humphrey Bogart did — with an air of confidence, style and charm. At least, that was the image I thought I exuded.
It was a Friday night and before heading home from that bar, I stopped by St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue to light up a candle. It was my offering of sincere appreciation to the higher power that helped me lick my nicotine addiction. That was what it was — like someone ravaged by alcoholism, I needed help from a higher power to duke it out of my system. It was, in essence, a soul thing.
Unarguably, despite my having a history of intense addiction to nicotine, I feel it would be utterly presumptuous and condescending of me to suggest to a smoker to quit. And especially since not knowing an iota about his inner self, how dare I intrude and tell him how to deal with the vast emptiness that he feels inside of him?
It may just be a cigarette to anyone, but the grasp it has on a smoker’s life runs deep. I should know; I was once enslaved by it.
However, for those who may know someone struggling to kick his smoking habit, I suggest not to attack the cigarette itself at first, because smoking may be the symptom of the problem and not the problem itself. Instead, find a way to help the smoker sort out and resolve any deep-seated issues that may be underneath it all. And who knows? Just like what happened to me, this smoker you know might just suddenly stop one day and never crave for it ever again.
This post inspired by Jairam's Non-smoking Please
Photo credit: Baylor College of Medicine
Thursday, July 06, 2006
PROFILE OF AN IDENTITY THIEFThe New York Times describes Shiva Brent Sharma as Hollywood handsome who saw to it that he had enough gel on his mane of black hair for this in-prison interview with Tom Zeller Jr. of The New York Times.
He was barely out of his teens back in 2002 when he began picking the locks on consumer credit lines using a computer, the Internet and a deep understanding of online commerce, Internet security and simple human nature, obtained through years of trading insights with like-minded thieves in online forums.
This New York Times article, Stolen Lives, featured Shiva Brent Sharmaan, an identity thief who is currently serving time at New York’s Riker’s Island correctional facility. On his third arrest for identity theft, at the age of 20, he had taken in well over $150,000 in cash and merchandise in his brief career. He had victimized many credit card holders very much in the same way as Dondon had experienced.
While in Japan for his post-doctoral research, our fellow-Pinoy blogger, Dondon, was horrified to have discovered that $500.00 worth of online purchases were charged on his credit card. He frantically called his bank to have it terminated immediately. He said that “it was certainly Japanese language calisthenics for me trying to explain that I never purchased those items except if I had quantum power to exist in several continents at the same time.”
Dondon was but one of the many unwitting credit card holders who were victimized by identity thieves these past years. It used to be that such modus operandi would start from a lost wallet full of identification and credit cards, or carelessly tossed out bank and credit card statements. Nowadays, the baits often used to facilitate data theft are e-mail solicitations, online phishing, and phony Web sites. And every year many more get fleeced; oftentimes unknowingly until they receive their latest credit card or bank statements.
When I mentioned this to my bank manager, she suggested not using my credit card online. However, if it is absolutely necessary, request for another credit card with a much lower credit line — like no more than $200.00 — and use that for your online transactions. She admitted that a number of their clients started seeing fraudulent charges on their cards as soon as they’ve started using them online. A good rule of thumb here is always take extra precaution when using your credit and debit cards.
Photo credit: Tom Zeller Jr./The New York Times
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
PRE-WAR GAMESI read the news today, oh boy! North Korea test-fired several missiles on Wednesday.
A statement released by the State Department in Washington confirmed that it apparently included a Taepodong 2, the long-range missile at the heart of diplomatic tensions with the U.S. and its allies.
Only last week, President Bush echoed earlier U.S. threats of a harsh response if North Korea went ahead with such a launch. Japan, on the other hand, stated it would "apply various pressures" but declined to give details. In response, on Monday, Pyongyang vowed to retaliate with an "annihilating" nuclear strike if attacked pre-emptively by the United States.
On Wednesday, North Korea did go ahead with its launch of several long-range missiles.
This incident only makes me think more about the London Free Press editorial, Let's Keep Our Earth Alive, which I found out through Lorimer's recent blog post. It’s about Stephen Hawking’s recommendation that we aggressively devise plans to colonize space for the survival of the human species.
Here’s the editorial in its entirety:
In case you missed it, the oddest scrap of news last week came from Stephen Hawking, the renowned English physicist who communicates with a letter-board-rigged computer because he's paralyzed by ALS.
Hawking said human beings are making such a botch of things, they had better colonize space, and fast, if they want to survive as a species.
"It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," he said. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."
Hawking, who was greeted like a rock star on a visit to Hong Kong, urged putting a permanent base on the moon in 20 years and one on Mars in 40.
Great. All we have to do is figure out how to grow carrots on Mars. The idea is science fiction; ludicrous.
But the idea behind the idea is not.
The world is in just as bad shape as Hawking says. The dangers are real. They're immense: - Global warming is already being felt. Young people of today will live to see a world unimaginably transformed -- for the worse. - Just because there hasn't been a nuclear bombing since Nagasaki doesn't mean there won't be another. As former Prime Minister Kim Campbell pointed out in Ottawa last week, more than 20,000 nuclear warheads remain poised at hair-trigger around the world.
There could be one big Armageddon. Or a "little" nuclear war -- or several, any one of which would make 9/11 pale in comparison.
The priorities of this world are pathetically, perilously cock-eyed. The "war on terror" is all the rage, while polar caps shrink, arms bristle and the population explosion runs unchecked. Oxfam reported last week that 14 billion bullets are produced annually -- two for every person.
Hawking's right. This planet is in big trouble. Real dangers do loom on the horizon. We may be living in the century that sees the end of planet Earth as an inhabitable space.
But the answer isn't to go to the moon. It's to find solutions; to fight, and not go down without a struggle.
Where's the activism that once surrounded civil rights, environmentalism, peace? It's the people who must choose -- choose to do what must be done to keep this planet alive.
Coming from Sir Stephen Hawking, this is definitely no Cassandra-speak.
Nevertheless, those guys in Pyongyang better get their act together and stop playing this silly quien es mas macho game.
Image Credit: Taipei Times
Labels: current affairs
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
BONIFACIO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL – Part 2It was the height of the British invasion with The Beatles at the forefront followed by The Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The Kinks, Herman’s Hermits, and The Byrds.
Finally, there was music I could claim as my very own, as well as provide the soundtrack for the final two years of my life at Bonifacio Elementary School.
No longer did I have to piggyback on my older siblings’ choice of music, which, as if suddenly, ceased dominating pop radio's hit charts. Their idols such as Paul Anka, The Platters, Sandra Dee, Pat Boone, Bill Hailey, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis were being eased from their usual rotation slots; overwhelmed by the onslaught of these English rockers. A new era had begun.
As if by a stroke of luck, my vocal range and key signature matched that of Lennon perfectly and so I began to sing Beatle tunes to my heart’s content. I even auditioned for my cousin’s band. Although everyone was impressed by my rendition of I Saw Her Standing There, my image didn’t quite fit that of a real rocker. I still looked very boyish with my baby fat and crew cut (it wasn’t until high school that I began sporting a mop top). Hence, I suffered my first setback in my attempt to become a crooner. Notwithstanding, at my father’s business association dinner parties, I’d often ask the band if I could sing a Beatle song with them, which they would gladly oblige; making my father beam with pride of his youngest boy’s bravado, if not for his singing ability.
I was also of the age that my father decided to teach me how to handle a gun. He had quite a collection and enjoyed hunting immensely. His philosophy was, show the kids the proper way to handle it, as well as make them fully aware of its power to inflict great harm, and they would never foolishly touch it. He was right. It worked so well that none of us ever resorted to it or even owned one as adults.
However, I would tag along in some of my father’s hunting expeditions; not to shoot any helpless animals, but to pinch the key to one of the jeeps and teach myself how to drive while they hid behind some bush acting like big-time swashbucklers from the movie, Gunga Din. Those poor wild boars — unwillingly playing the role of the Thuggees — never had a chance from their powerful scope-equipped Remingtons.
As for puppy love, I had one earlier on; during the second grade to be exact. Unfortunately, her entire family immigrated to America and saw her no more. While during fifth grade, I had an awful crush on my religion teacher, which was doomed to be unrequited from the start anyway. So, love had to wait until high school.
All these and other personal experiences provided the material for the short stories I was tasked to write in school. My sixth grade teacher noticed my nascent interest in storytelling so she nurtured it by giving me an extra assignment — to write a short story every week to be read in front of the class every Friday after recess.
The first couple of times I failed miserably at amusing them. The entire class just sat there quietly staring at me. They weren’t transfixed by my short story that was for sure, because relief was etched on their faces as I returned to my seat. After much thought, I decided to be just my usual self and write funny stories about everyday life.
My teacher was kind enough to give me the leeway to pick and choose any subject, which included the time the designated Maria Elena at our barrio’s Flores de Mayo nighttime parade eloped, and as a last chance replacement, my brother was grabbed to step in her place. He was a small guy with handsome features so, with just the right make-up, wig, gown and borrowed shoes from an aunt, no one noticed it was him, not even my father — until the local young men who were smitten by his beauty and mystery hounded him all the way back to my aunt’s house. That brother of mine suffers from Napoleon complex and would later thrive in the U.S. military service.
And so it went with everyone in class usually ending up coiled in fits of laughter, including my teacher who was nearing retirement age at that time. To me, she was my only true audience; the rest was just there along for the ride, so to speak. To see her clutching at her belly and wiping the tears off her eyes as she laughed uproariously was worth more than any class ribbon or medal. I graduated as the undisputed Best Boy in class, not because of my dazzling brilliance, but of my talent to make my classmates laugh whole-heartedly. Actually, I felt more like a Beatle than an Einstein.
But instead of being overjoyed by it all, I felt a strange tinge of sadness — like it was about to rain on my parade.
On my graduation day at Bonifacio Elementary School, my intuition foretold the end of this fairy tale-like existence; that a more true to life human experience — replete with angst and disillusionment — was right around the corner patiently waiting for me like strangers with candy. Turbulence now littered the path of my life’s journey.
Labels: Growing up memoirs