Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas!

It was the day before Christmas, and I did not realize that fact until the day was halfway through. I guess my Christmas enthusiasm this year is very subdued, which is perhaps to be expected with a growing age. After all, I have experienced over 20 Christmas Eves in the past.

I had myself a merry little Christmas nonetheless. Our family Christmas party was happily enjoyable. This year's modest Christmas gift haul: House slippers, three polo shirts, a sizable chunk of money, and a nice jacket to wear in the office. :)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas songs in the Philippines

There are three types of Christmas songs:
  1. Religious songs related directly to Christianity and the birth of Jesus. (e.g. Silent Night, Joy to the World, O Holy Night)
  2. Secular songs that concern mostly Western Christmas customs and traditions. (e.g. Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)
  3. Seasonal winter songs that don't really have anything to do with Christmas. (e.g. Let It Snow, Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bells)
It makes perfect sense to be hearing religious Christmas songs in the shopping malls and on the radio-- besides, that's what Christmas is supposedly all about, and the Philippines has an overwhelmingly Christian population. And I can excuse the fact they they play secular Christmas songs even though most Filipinos don't know much about many of the non-religious Christmas traditions like Frosty and Rudolf and maybe even Santa Claus.

But why do they play songs that are purely about winter and snow? I look at the lyrics of Winter Wonderland and there's nothing in there about the actual holiday. And I don't think many people are even aware of that fact. It just peeves me somewhat the Filipinos are so culturally chained to the US that we hardly realize that the song isn't relevant to our Christmas in any way.
When it snows
ain't it thrilling
Though your nose gets a chilling
We'll frolic and play
the Eskimo way
walking in a winter wonderland
Speaking of Christmas... in a few minutes I will be heading home for the holidays to stay until January 2. I will leave the office at 5PM and take a jeep to my place, quickly pack up some clothes and things to bring with me, take a taxi to the south bus terminal, and hopefully get there before the 7PM Dumaguete-bound bus fills up with the hoards of other homeward bound Christmas travelers.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Casino Filipino

My mom and sister and a few relatives from Bacolod are in Cebu for a couple of days, and yesterday I went with them to the Waterfront Hotel to try out the casino.

This is the first time I was old enough to actually enter the casino. They are surprisingly strict about the age requirement there. It's strange that once you're 18 you can work, drink, smoke, vote, marry, and view or star in pornography, but you need to wait three more years before you are allowed into a casino. You need to be at least 21 to get in, and I just happen to be 21 years and 8 months old. :) Outside the casino entrance there were a few not-yet-21-year-old people sitting around the fountain looking bored, and I walked past them feeling very smug and satisfied.

My mom is no big gambler, but since we were in a casino it would seem prudent to make the most of the opportunity. She exchanged P1000 for casino chips and split it evenly with me, so I had 5 chips worth P100 each. These chips are plastic and colorful, and probably designed to make you forget that you're dealing with real money. In that sense they serve their purpose very well.

I came to a table of Big/Small, apparently known in Chinese as Sic bo. In this simple game, three dice are rolled and you bet on what the outcome will be. You can place your chips on Big (11 to 17) or Small (4 to 10) and if you are right you get back double what you wagered. There are a lot of other outcomes on the table to bet on, such as a specific triple combination where the odds are something like 50-to-1, but the promise of higher winnings was eclipsed in my mind by the much diminished possibility of winning. I stuck simply to the Big and the Small.

So here goes: I first lose P200 betting on Big. More cautious this time, I win P100 betting on Small. Invigorated, and telling myself I'll just win back what I lost and then stop, I lose P200 on Small, and then I lose another P200 on Small. If you're doing the math, yes, that left me with zero. Elsewhere, my mom had the good sense to win P200 and stop at that.

I guess you could say I had some degree of "fun" with my first casino experience, but I can't help but think that there are so many more cost-effective ways to have fun with P500.

Afterwards, I went to my sister (still too young to be allowed into the casino) who was waiting at the restaurant. We ordered ice cream, which was quite expensive, but at least everyone is a winner with ice cream. ^_^

Monday, December 18, 2006


I went home last weekend. This morning I was taking the bus back to Cebu, and looking out the window one thing I notice is that the province of Cebu in general is a lot dirtier than Negros. And not the kind of dirty that poverty can excuse. You don't need to have money to not dump your garbage onto just any open area along the side of the road.

You especially don't need to have money to not spray paint every spare wall with pointless graffiti. I don't know if it's some kind of coded message, or they just want to show their friends how rebellious they can be. In any case, I wish they would stop, because they've managed to make Talisay City look like utter garbage.

Somewhere on the sidewalk curb in Asiatown IT Park, somebody used a permanent marker to simply write in plain letters "DISOBEDIENCE". Nothing more. How appropriate!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Philippine politics

The Filipino people are not really divided into liberal or conservative, socialist or capitalist, communist or fascist. Sure there are religious and ethnic and linguistic groups, but for the most part these are groups that can get along with each other.

One would think that without any of these divisive ideologies cutting through the social order, we would have one united population happily moving the country forward. But no, Philippine politics is divided as well: The two political groups we have are the administration and the opposition.

Neither of these two have a coherent political ideology that they stand for. One of them concerns themselves with administering the government and moving the country forward, and the other gains political points by hindering progress and moving the country backward (ironically, so that they may someday be the ones moving the country forward). Once in a while, the opposition succeeds in bringing down the administration, then the two groups exchange roles and the cycle continues. Make no mistake, both of them are driven by personal ambition and self-interest, though neither group recognizes it in themselves.

I could blog every single day about all this political noise that goes on (it's tempting!), but I feel I'd only be contributing to it without making a hint of difference one way or the other. Although the economy actually is moving forward quite nicely and things seem to be getting better all the time, the political situation is the same today as it was 10 years ago, and will be 10 years from now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

An arm and a leg

At the jewelry section of the SM Cebu Department Store there's a necklace with a price tag of P330,000. And a pair of earrings with a price tag of P285,000. I wasn't there to actually buy jewelry, but I just happened to pass by there while doing some other Christmas shopping.

This is probably the first time I've come face-to-face with such expensive stuff with the full perspective of comparing those prices to my own salary. Hah, It's well more than what I make in a year. With that much money you could make perhaps a dozen of those Gawad Kalinga houses for the poor. That kind of extravagance in a third world country just doesn't make sense to me. They didn't even seem that nice to me, actually... it's that huge garish shit that Imelda Marcos puts on herself.

I guess the saleslady could tell that I wasn't actually the type that would be interested in buying any jewelry there, because she didn't bother attending to me aside from giving a lazy "Good evening, sir". Maybe my scruffy hair and the fact that I was going around the mall with a backpack gave away my intentions. Or perhaps the look of horror on my face when I saw the prices.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Big fire

Loren and I were coming out from Ayala last night at around 8:30PM and we were approaching the jeepney terminal when we saw a huge plume of smoke rising from a big fire that seemed to be not too far away. We couldn't see much of the fire itself aside from a few flames reaching over the tops of trees, but we could see the flying sparks and the orange glow of the fire reflected on the tower of smoke. In any case, in was obvious that something big was on fire that shouldn't be.

A large fire at night is a spectacular sight, with the contrast of orange flames against the dark violet night sky. As much as I did sincerely hope that nobody was hurt, I just couldn't resist the chance to see a big destructive fire. We were in Cebu Business Park, so maybe the fire was coming from something big! Maybe even a high rise building! Maybe some terrorists were in Cebu for the (postponed) ASEAN Summit and decided to blow up something anyway! It sounds horrible to be excited by the prospect of destruction, but, well, that's me.

So, as if it was the most natural thing in the world (and without even knowing exactly where the fire was coming from), the two of us walked towards the direction of the fire to hopefully get a chance to see more of it. We walked for a few minutes passing over a grassy and slightly muddy area beside the Ayala Center, and encountered a security guard and asked him what he knows. It turns out the fire was probably coming from a squatters area behind a wall. I guess the prospect of making our way towards a squatters area dulled our excitement, because we gave up trying to reach the fire. Besides, we could hear sirens and the fire was probably being put out already.

I guess nothing too important was burned, since I can't find anything about the fire in the newspapers (even in the local papers). Oh well.

Update (December 12, 2006, 1:57PM): There's an article about the fire in today's Sun.Star Cebu. It lasted 8:08PM-9:44PM, razed at least 20 houses, caused P280,000 in damage, and left 3 people with minor injuries.

Friday, December 8, 2006

City under renovation

You know that feeling you get when you're rushing a major project at the last minute to meet a deadline? As the due date approaches you're suddenly becoming a monster of productivity, in the last two days you find yourself accomplishing more than you've done in the past two months, and you think to yourself "If only I had another day or two, this thing could be more than adequate, it could be incredible".

I felt that all the time in college. And with the ASEAN Summit suddenly postponed due to bad weather, I'm sure Cebu is feeling it too.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Cebuanos are not competent enough to be hosting an international event like this. The government has been extremely diligent and thorough with it's preparations with the whole thing. All the bases seem to be covered and everything is set to impress.

Cebu is looking far cleaner and more beautiful than I've ever seen it. Practically all the major roads have been given a fresh layer of asphalt and lane markings, new lampposts and road signs have been installed, a lot of cracked up sidewalks have been cemented and had their curbs painted, and they've finally cleaned up the trash and rubble all around the place (most of it, at least). Most visibly, perhaps, the Cebu International Convention Center (built specifically with the ASEAN Summit in mind) is a beautiful and imposing structure. Even private businesses are sprucing themselves up to put out a good impression. I love the optimism in the air... Cebu's "We can do it!" attitude is so much healthier than Manila's "No you can't and we're all doomed!" pessimism.

We hear so much about how the government is so buried in red tape that it takes forever to get anything done, but the renovation of Cebu is a success story that makes me feel a lot more optimistic for the entire Philippines. The amazing thing about all this is that so much of it was completed just in the past few months or so. I've only been living here less than 3 months and that's been enough to feel Cebu's transformation.

Despite all the detractors, everyone seems to be putting in that extra burst of last-minute effort to make the event a success. Now with the summit postponed just a few days before it was scheduled they have that extra time that I have dreamed for with all those school projects that were a last-minute race to the finish. They can all breathe that sigh of relief knowing they have an extra month to polish Cebu to everything it can be.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

A moment of truth

I just went over to the cafeteria to get some snack from Dunkin Donuts. A strawberry filled donut and a pineapple filled donut, together worth twenty pesos. I gave a 50-peso bill to pay for the donuts, and the lady gave me two 20s and a 10 as change. I took three steps away before realizing her mistake, and then in a knee-jerk reaction I turned back and returned the extra 20-peso bill. I heard the lady make a positive comment about honesty as I left.

Hey, there is still goodness in humanity's instincts! Or at least, in mine. :->

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Casino Royale

I've never been a big fan of James Bond movies, but I've always felt an obligation to watch them since they are part of such a well-known and established franchise. And so I headed to Ayala to watch Casino Royale. Besides, I had been hearing that this one is different.

There's been a lot of negative talk in the past year about the casting of Daniel Craig as Bond ("more liek james blonde! har har!"). Goldeneye was the first Bond movie I ever saw so Pierce Brosnan is practically the only Bond I've ever known. I've long wondered what it would be like at the changing of the guard when some new face finally takes over the part, and Daniel Craig seems to fit into the role just perfectly. This fits my hypothesis that when a respected company does something that seems completely crazy, they just might know what they're doing.

Casino Royale is to the James Bond series what Batman Begins was to the Batman series. Less focus on the girls and gadgets and special effects, more focus on the character and the starkly realistic action. James Bond is a real character this time, not just a caricature. This is a real movie, not just another episode in a long-running high-budget TV series.

Star Movies seems to have gone Bond crazy these past few days, so after watching Casino Royale I've been able to watch some of Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Die Another Day. I never thought there was anything particularly wrong with the movies before, but watching them again made me realize how cartoony they are in comparison. In Die Another Day, Bond has an invisible car and windsurfs on huge CGI waves in the arctic without getting wet. In sharp contrast to Die Another Day's relatively sanitized torture scene, Casino Royale's villain strips Bond butt naked and goes straight for the balls. :/ It's a painful scene to watch, but the grittiness is appreciated.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Happy Feet

Now here's a movie that depends on technical achievement and cuteness to win over audiences. Take that as both compliment and criticism-- altough this is one of the prettiest movies ever made, it's clear that they didn't put nearly as much effort into the plot as they did with the animation. Case in point: The movie's climactic ending relies on the premise that the cuteness of a million tapdancing penguins can charm the human race into stopping Antarctic fishing. If you think I just spoiled the ending for you, don't worry, you won't watch Happy Feet for its story anyway.

You will want to watch it because it's beautiful and adorable. It's fun watching penguins sliding down icy slopes, diving off enormous cliffs, zooming through the water. A better story could have made Happy Feet memorable, but the charm and eye candy is enough for me to consider it enjoyable. :)

It seems not everyone was captivated by the movie's charms though. Some wacky American conservatives are calling Happy Feet "far left" liberal propaganda. Perhaps they see an echo of themselves in the humans that were exploiting and destroying the environment, and in the stubborn elder penguins that were distrustful of foreigners and afraid of change.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Caffeine rush

Over the two months that I've been working in Cebu, I've gradually developed a daily routine and learned to make the most of the perks that come with the job. Among these is the use of the free coffee in the office pantry.

Although "Coffee" is the screen name I've often used for myself on the internet, I don't think I drink coffee that much more than the average person. I adopted the alias for myself at GameFAQs around 1999, when I was just 14 years old. Sometimes I tell people that I came up with the name because of a coffee mug that happened to be on the computer table at the time... though that would be a cute story, it's probably not true. I just chose it because it sounds like a nice, friendly name-- and also because I prefer a simple screen name without numbers and stuff. When I registered at Wikipedia it evolved into "TheCoffee" (because "Coffee" was already taken).

Anyway, these days I generally have one serving of coffee per day, usually in the morning. And when I say one serving, that's probably more like 1.5 to 2 cups due to the rather large company mug we're given here (all part of their sinister plan). It wakes me up when I'm feeling sleepy, heightens my senses, and keeps me alert.

Trouble is, although the caffeine rush keeps me moving, it doesn't make me any more willing to do what I'm supposed to be doing. So here I am, wide-eyed and tapping my feet, surfing the internet and passing the time and generally procrastinating at a frenzied and furious pace. Vvroom!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The first post


I don't see much benefit in keeping my identity secret, so allow me to lay out my cards on the table upfront. To the uninitiated, here's a quick introduction of myself: I am Michael Gonzalez, a Filipino from Valencia, Negros Oriental with a degree in Computer Science from Ateneo de Manila University. I'm currently working as a software developer in Cebu City. I was born in New York City in 1985.

For a long time I have resisted the temptation of making a blog. Although there were some inspired moments that I wished to have a venue to vent my mind to the world, for the most part these times were few and far in between. If there is nothing to post, a blog would just lay idle and eventually be forgotten, and I really don't want to have the shadow of an abandoned website hanging over my head. Anyway, hopefully I can muster enough energy to post here on a somewhat regular basis (just give me some time to figure out how "regular" this basis will be).

Actually, I did once have a blog-like site long before the word "blog" became widespread, and even before the very concept of the blog became popular. Back then it was simply called a personal website. People had to build their layout from the ground up, update pages by editing the HTML, and manually add timestamps to posts by looking at a clock. These days, the novelty of simply having a website has worn off. In order to get people listening, you need more than just a venue, you need to have something to say.

With that said, I hereby inaugurate this little corner of the internet. :) *cuts ribbon*