Monday, December 31, 2007

Highlights from 2007

Year after year when New Year's Eve rolls around it's standard for people to get together and remark about how the year went by so quickly, how it seemed like just yesterday that we were doing these same old rituals and bidding our farewells to the year that had gone by before.

But my 2007 actually felt pretty long.

It's not that I was bored or impatient with life-- quite the opposite even. I just can't really remember much what I was doing on New Year's Eve one year ago. So much has happened since then, so many events and adventures and experiences to fill up my head. Last year's New Year's Eve doesn't feel like "just yesterday" at all. It feels like a whole year ago. That is a good thing.

It was a great year for travel. I got to set foot for the first time on the islands of Bohol, Panglao, Malapascua, and a tiny unnamed island off of Boracay. This brings my Philippine-islands-I-have-been-to count up to 11.

Most significant of all was my three-month work trip to Atlanta. So significant was it, in fact, that it makes it difficult to write this year-end retrospective without the trip completely overwhelming things. Driving in the interstate, using a dishwasher, walking through the park, filling a tank of gas... even breathing the cool autumn air is an experience in itself.

In March I got a digital camera, which has seen constant action since then and has been faithfully documenting my experiences. In October I got a Wii, which promises all new realms of videogaming bliss and many happy experiences to come. In November I got a laptop, which I am using this very moment.

This past year was a good one in terms of celebrity deaths: there weren't many. The only one I could name off the top of my head is Anna Nicole Smith, and I have only a vague idea of why she is famous in the first place.

So in summary, it was a good year, just like all the others. Onward to 2008!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hello Philippines

It was actually two weeks ago that I returned to the Philippines after a three-month stay in Atlanta. The trip, by the way, was undeniably one of the most awesome things to ever happen to me. So awesome, in fact, that I almost completely neglected to bother blogging any of my journey. It's the kind of awesome trip that gives a prolonged sense that there are so much bigger things to be doing with my time than struggling to put the experience into words.

Aside from having the time of my life, those were three months preparing myself for a depressing sense of misery when I returned home. As I have said before, the Philippines is an acquired taste. As much as I'd like to consider myself a patriot and a staunch optimist, the last time I returned to the Philippines from a foreign visit I couldn't help but see the worst in everything that surrounded me. The air was too hot, the streets too dirty, the people too ugly... just everything.

To my surprise, this time around I've found things pleasantly... acceptable. The streets are still dirty but there are signs of progress all around (especially in Asiatown IT Park, where I work, which is experiencing an utter boom of construction). Even the temperature-- though I'm sweating for the first time in three months, it still feels as though I am in a hospitable environment. Of course, this country of ours has its flaws, but it doesn't deserve the loathing that Filipinos give it. It makes me proud to be able to say that, freshly coming from America. Things aren't so bad, and I'm optimistic that the future can only get better.

Maybe it's just that I haven't been getting my news from The Inquirer. In spite of everything, it is good to be home.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Trillanes Strikes Back

What happened today in Makati affirms what we should have deduced four years ago: Antonio Trillanes just wants attention.

When learning about their silly little escapade today the gut reaction is a swift palm to the face. What the hell are these guys thinking? How could they have been so stupid? Do they really think any good can come of this? And how many of the hapless stooges he brought along with him actually believed they were out to accomplish something? But of course they're not really out there to accomplish anything, just to make a lot of noise. No one is in the mood for this shit right now. Surely he realizes that he's trying to fan the flames at a time when there's barely a hint of smoke.

In the end, the merry band of rebels were arrested, as all but the most dense of observers surely expected. But the loser here is not Trillanes or his knuckleheaded disciples, just the Filipino people who work so hard to project an image of stability that has eluded us for decades. It is such a waste that a spoiled brat with a tantrum can do so much harm.

Trillianes a two-dimensional caricature on our political landscape. He's not a lawmaker, not a statesman, and he is certainly no patriot. History will remember him not for his accomplishments or vision, but for his destructive and insatiable ego.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pumpkin

Once again I find myself with so much to say that I am effectively speechless. Whatever I say at this point will be utterly dwarfed be the significance of the circumstances that surround me.

So here's a picture of me with an awesome pumpkin:

Check it out, it's me and mah' pumpkin.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Wii Love

In an email inviting me and my Filipino workmates to a birthday party last Saturday, one standout item on the itinerary was a few hours of "Wii". I overheard many asking each another What's Wii?, and the reply came that it's Nintendo's game console, their version of the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. *wince*

Of course as a lifelong Nintendo fan I know all about Wii, and plan to get myself one for Christmas or sooner. It has dominated its competitors worldwide in sales and headlines since it was released last year, but for reasons that are beyond me our Philippine mainstream public seems so far more in tune with Sony and Microsoft's consoles.

What sets Wii apart from its predecessors (and competitors) is the Wii remote. Nintendo's controller is a motion-sensing wand that looks more like a television remote than the typical button laden gamepad. To swing a sword, you swing the remote; in a game of tennis, you hold the remote like a racket. It reinvents gaming, making it more immersive, intuitive, and social.

So anyway at some point after dinner at the party last Saturday, a couple of people had snuck away from the karaoke-singing crowd to go upstairs. I followed them and found a group already engaged in a game of tennis, one of the five simple sports games included in the Wii's pack-in game. Within a few minutes we've gathered a crowd, and a short while after that most of the party was packed into the room, enjoying and laughing and taking turns at the remote. Gamers and non-gamers, male and female, all were at a level playing field, and were equally as immersed in the game. On how many occasions since the 1980s has video games gathered people so effortlessly?

By the time we packed up and finally went home at midnight, I had lost track of how many people had been introduced to the Wii and made up their minds to get one that very night.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Brasstown Bald

Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia, about an hour's drive north from Atlanta. Far from being a towering Matterhorn, it's more of a sloped hill on a rather gentle rolling mountain range. Its elevation was enough, however, to make my ears pop on the uphill drive, and to keep me chilly in my short-sleeved shirt when I went there with a group of around 20 of my Filipino workmates last Sunday.

The road to our destination was very twisty and steep by American standards, though it was a pleasure to drive compared to the highway through the Philippine mountains of Negros or Panay. The drive included the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway through the Chattahoochee National Forest, with a neverending barrage of picturesque oaks and other wonderful views. Perhaps everything is relative, but I find it hard to imagine an American being as enamoured by our endless coconut and banana trees.

For the last leg of the trip to the top there was a hike of about one mile. That is not much of a distance to conquer, even when going slightly uphill. But to our underworked and overpampered Filipino infantry the uphill climb was an opposing army, pressing at us with its artillery, and before long some of our tribe had succumb to enemy fire and had to reteat to the base. Luckily there was a shuttle available as an alternative to the hike.

We made our way through the foresty trail flanked by majestic trees with leaves that had just begun to evidence the symptoms of autumn. Surely the fauna is commonplace to those who have experienced the fall year after year, but coming from a tropical climate even the slightest detail is magical.

Suddenly the tall trees lining the path came to an end and gave way to the cool, clear blue sky as we reached the highest point in the state of Georgia.

It was beautiful. There was not a cloud in the sky in any direction for as far as the eye could see.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The New York Times opens its archives

A few days ago the New York Times did the internet a favor and opened up a lot of its archives. We now have free access to all their news articles from 1987 to the present, and those written from 1851 to 1922 (those articles have lapsed into the public domain). Yeah, articles as far back as 1851! There are still charges for some of their material from 1923 to 1986, though some others are free.

These old news articles give a whole new context to the historical things we know all about. Time has a way of shaving away the details and eroding the roughness. With history books what we absorb is the condensed and sanitized version of the story-- the number of people dead, the results of the election, the outcome of a war. With news articles you can get down to the nitty-gritty and bring yourself to the time the event happened.

This isn't to imply that the news article context is better (because it is very often not), but it's just fascinating to see things through the eyes of the people who lived at the time and were learning about the events for the first time.

I can foresee myself spending hours browsing these archives just to soak up all the history. Especially with the Philippine-related articles... they seem to give a more balanced view than our locally-written news articles and even history books. It would be better if the 1923-1986 stuff was free too, a whole lot of interesting stuff happens in there.

Some of the stuff I've found in the past days:
  • A 1865 article announcing Abhraham Lincoln was shot and is likely to die.
  • A 1898 article where Emilio Aguinaldo says Americans have accomplished their mission and should leave Manila.
  • A 1912 article saying the RMS Titanic struck an iceburg and rescue ships are on the way.
  • A 1916 editorial arguing that America's role in the Philippines is not yet complete.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Shining city upon a hill

Last weekend, for the first time since I arrived in Atlanta 3 weeks ago, I found myself sitting in the passenger seat of the car. It's a very different experience from being in the driver seat, bearing the burden of maintaining peripheral vision and worrying about things like changing lanes and such. In the passenger seat you're free to just look out the window and admire the view going by. The view out the window was mundane by most standards, but... it's what so many people aspire for. Just... just everything.

Just like that last two times I went out of the country, the people I'm with put into words the things that fill my head about how things here are different from things back home. You can hear the ironic disdain in their voice, how they look down on their own race and country. How the streets here are clean, the drivers stay in their lanes, the people are courteous, the rules are enforced, and the rulebreakers are punished. Those are things that can't be blamed on poverty or corruption, because it doesn't take any money. It's in the culture. I don't know how we're gonna change that.

I don't like to think about it. The Philippines, for better or for worse, is always going to be home. It's an acquired taste, one that I have acquired with much effort.

While looking out the window of the passenger seat, all of a sudden I came to the lonely realization, as I do every now and then, of how far away from home I am and how lucky I am to be all the way out here.

I wonder how long it will be before I take it all for granted like any other American.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I am in Atlanta

Specific places and events make more interesting blog post topics than the everyday affairs of people. I prefer to think of this blog as more of an editorial column rather than a personal diary... That is why ideally I would prefer to write numerous blog posts focusing on specific topics, rather than the rare blog post about a whole bunch of stuff from the past week. The difference is that specific blog posts bring the reader to the experience, while the compilation blog post (I make up this term myself just now) focuses on the writer. And really, who wants to read about ol' me? Hmm, does that make sense?

The trouble now is that I haven't posted an entry in a week, and I have actually been here in Atlanta for nearly two weeks now, constantly going on all sorts of story-worthy adventures and building up a bloggable-topic backlog so large that I no longer have the time nor the inclination to write about it all, so I'll have to get all caught up with things right here right now.

Actually technically I'm not staying in the big city but in Duluth, a suburb of Atlanta about 12 miles northeast. It's a very suburby-looking suburb with wide soulless boulevards, immaculately clean deserted sidewalks, and practically mandatory car ownership (since the street layout is designed to keep car movement flowing, not to minimize travel distance). But it's a great place that's close to all the malls and other necessary shopping destinations. There's the Toys R Us, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Gamestop, Fry's Electronics, and of course the omnipresent Wal-Mart (which I have been to at least 6 times). The only time we'd need to travel far distances is for sightseeing and recreation on weekends.

Speaking of travel, I'm the assigned driver for the group of five. Driving on the interstate at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour is a frighteningly far departure from creeping cautiously down Dumaguete's crowded two-way streets. At the night of the first day we arrived we went out to Wal-Mart, a 5 minute drive away from the apartment. At one point I turned my head to my companion in the passenger's seat and said "Haha, hey, I think this is the first time I have ever stopped at a traffic light". I think he was more horrified than amused. The following day there was a two-hour company-arranged driving session, so I think I've gotten the hang of things.

The apartment I'm staying in is shared with five other workmates of mine, fully furnished with all sorts of essential American appliances that we had no idea how to use. It feels so uncivilized to be so clueless, gathered around the dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, furnace, washing machine and clothes dryer like the apes surrounding the obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Utterly bewildered.

The temperature when we arrived here two weeks ago was disenchantingly warm. Heck I'd even say it was as hot as it is in the Philippines, maybe even hotter in the afternoon (though with the occasional cool wind). The discrepancy between morning, afternoon, and nighttime temperatures is significant though. And the sun sets at around 8 in the evening, Things have gotten noticeably colder over time though, and today for the first time I came to work in a light sweater. Hopefully by the time December rolls around it will be cold enough to have gained the privilege of saying I experienced cold winter temperatures.

To be honest I have only had the chance to go to downtown Atlanta once, last weekend (not counting the time we drove through downtown coming from the airport). Unfortunately nighttime was already creeping up on us by the time we arrived there so things were not ideal for wandering and picture taking, not to mention that the city is not quite a safe place to be at night with all the, umm, unsafe people wandering around. Our ever-helpful tour guide Kuya Vic probably would not have even allowed us downtown after sunset if we were not all together in a large group. But we did get to see a whole lot, since a whole lot of the major stuff seems to be concentrated in a small area surrounding the Olympic Park.

I typed up most of this entry in a hurry and if I keep this up I'll move closer and closer to rambling, so I shall continue next time. I haven't even touched on so many other fun escapades like.... Anyway, next time.

The picture accompanying this post is of me sitting on a marble ball outside a Fry's Electronics store in Duluth. Considering all the places I've been that picture is downright mundane, but I like it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Trip

Yes yes that's not a picture of Atlanta... I'll get to that in a bit. Tempting as it is to exaggerate a horror story of my sensational voyage across the world, my trip from Cebu to Atlanta, though tiring, did more than satisfy my expectations.

Hong Kong has a spectacular airport, impressive enough to even overcome its desolate window view. Looking down the length of their terminal is like staring into an enormous, unending tube of silver and pearl. It is like glaring at a portal into the future, complete with flying cars. Boutiques sprinkled throughout the terminal sold all sorts of tempting souvenirs that I had neither the time to consider, nor the currency to purchase. Unfortunately the layover in Hong Kong was hardly an hour and there wasn't time to hardly time to see much more than our surroundings while walking from one gate to the next.

I got no sleep whatsoever on the 13-hour flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco. I'm not even sure if it was nighttime during the trip. The flight attendants got everyone to close the window shades and darken the cabin, so they could dim the lights to wordlessly tell everyone that it's time to sleep. But so rare is the opportunity to fly across the Pacific Ocean, it seems such a waste to spend the time unconscious. There would be plenty of time for that once I've arrived at my destination. Besides, I had no problem keeping myself occupied with the in-flight entertainment, the airline meals, and Final Fantasy VI Advance.

As you may very well have noticed, the handsome man standing in the photograph at the upper right is not in Atlanta. My 10 hour layover in San Francisco was not spent wallowing in boredom at the airport as I had predicted. As it turns out, one of my workmates travelling with me had relatives in San Francisco, and one of them was lucky enough to have the spare time to give us a lightning quick driving tour of the city. This included seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Coit Tower, Alcatraz Island, Fisherman's Wharf, City Hall, the Transamerica Pyramid and downtown San Francisco. And all the while I'm thinking to myself how fortunate and unexpected this all is.

The next step of the journey was the 4-hour nighttime flight from San Francisco to Chicago. It was definitely night this time, and with over 24 hours of awaketime behind me I could no longer resist the urge to slip into blissful slumber. When I next awakened the plane was descending towards Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

The surprising characteristic I notice in all of America's airports is how spartan and utilitarian they are. They don't reach to the skies to impress with high ceilings and flashy architecture like you'd see in Asian airports. It's relatively very plain, very simple, and it works. That's the frustrating thing about America... it's the richest country in the world, and they make it look so easy. Chicago's O'Hare International Aiport is by some measures the busiest airport in the world, but the terminal was so ordinary-looking that I didn't muster the effort to look around the airport at all during my one hour layover.

The last leg of the trip was the quick flight from Chicago to Atlanta. Compared to the others, this one went by in a flash, and before long the plane was back on the ground in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. There we got our rental car, headed north on I-85 passed downtown Atlanta and finally arriving in Duluth.

Yeah, so that's my trip.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I'm going to Atlanta

I have held off announcing anything here until the last minute to minimize awkwardness and confusion and embarassment just in case there were delays. I prefer to avoid disappointment rather than brew high hopes, so when good fortune falls into my lap I will refrain from counting my chicks until they have hatched. And I was right, my departure date was delayed three times. But now that it is less than 24 hours away, I can be reasonably confident that, withholding any catastrophic disasters, I shall be departing at around noon tomorrow.

The Company is sending me over to Atlanta for three months. Three months. I shall be undertaking an epic 34 hour voyage to get there, passing some of the world's busiest airports and most awesome places. Though it would be more short-term convenient to take a more direct flight, I'm actually pleased that my travel itinerary is so convoluted and weird. 1) In the long run I can brag forever about the cities and places I've been to. 2) Airports and airplanes, despite the popular perception, are some of the nicest places in the world. 3) Plus, maybe I could probably get something extra out of the additional airline miles.

At around noon tomorrow my flight shall leave Cebu for Hong Kong. After an hour I shall be lifting off again for the long cross-Pacific trip to San Francisco. There I will hang around and wallow in boredom for ten hours. The next flight will bring me to Chicago. After an hour there I shall be taking off once more for the final trip to Atlanta, finally touching down at the final destination on Thursday at 10:10am (that's 10:10pm Philippine Time). Total travel time, by my reckoning: 33 hours, 40 minutes.

It will be my third time out of the Philippines since 1995, and by far the longest. In 2004 Ateneo sent me on a four-day trip to China to represent the school in the ACM programming contest; In 2005 I went on a month-long family vacation to the US.

So, if all goes according to plan, the my next post shall be from the Estados Unidos. I will return home to the Philippines in December.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Philippines posts 7.5% GDP growth in 2nd quarter. Yeah, really!

I wish there was someone with whom I could share my enthusiasm over the Philippines' second quarter year-on-year GDP growth of 7.5%.

Receiving news like that gives me such a dumb uplifting rush. It combines analyzing numbers, following the news, tracking developments, and hoping for the Philippines prosperity. How dorky is that? Sometimes I take a step back and listen to my own thoughts from an objective point of view and realize that they are so geeky that even the run-of-the-mill geek would toss me disappointed looks of incredulity.

To the uninitiated: Economic growth of this level is something the country has not seen since the post-EDSA euphoria of 1987. It is well above the high end of the government's targeted 6.1-6.7% GDP growth for this year-- and even the low end of that target was previously considered a lofty pipe dream by economists and observers. This isn't just a one-time fluke. The country has averaged 5-6% growth since 2002, without once having a quarter of negative growth. We hear so much hot talk of China and India and Vietnam's soaring economies... 7.5% GDP growth, if it could be sustained, would put the Philippines right up there in their league. That's the kind of development that makes other countries jealous. It means that the economy is on the right track.

And the flood of economic good news just keeps on coming. In a country where the currency's exchange rate is something that has always depreciated, the peso has strengthened more than 20% off of its all time low, and is cited as one of the best performing currencies in Asia for the past years. Last year's budget deficit was an 8 year low, and next year should bring us the first balanced budget in a decade or so. The country's balance of payment surpluses are always exceeding expectations. The debt-to-GDP ratio has gone down significantly, and in 2009 it will be down to levels considered manageable. Naysayers said the EVAT law would send prices of goods spiraling to apocalyptic levels, but inflation decreased drastically and is steady at ~2%.

I could go on and on with the numbers but you can see in the streets that things are getting better all the time. Roads are being improved, airports are being built, businesses are popping up, companies are expanding. It's still far from perfect, of course, but anyone that goes out into the world with their eyes open can see the improvements. Every time I go home to Dumaguete once every few weeks there's another establishment or improvement to greet me. All the naysayers have to do is watch (without their heads up their asses) the presentation at the SONA, and see a great lineup of infrastructure projects that are sure to keep our train chugging along.

Although our predictable airheaded media will fire off their tirades of "lies lies hurf durf there's still a poor guy over there", the economic plan is undeniably working, and with every day that goes by we have more developments and numbers that prove it.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Silliman University Founder's Day Parade

Silliman University isn't a big tourist draw but it gives Dumaguete City its sense of identity. Its annual founder's day celebrations are a big deal for the city. The parade passes through the main street, pretty much shutting down most downtown traffic.

On Monday afternoon I just happened to be in Dumaguete when the parade came passing through. And, thank my good fortune, I happened to have my camera at the ready. My shots had to be chosen with care since the memory card was nearly full.


Marching bands with their miniskirt-wearing, baton-twirling majorettes.


The College of Business Administration's inexplicable random robot.


Representing the college of diabetes.


This unhappy-looking girl is holding a pig's head.


Healthy lungs woman.


...and her arch-nemesis, poison cigarette man.


Mosquito.


I believe these people were either performing surgery or delivering a baby.


The domestic violence caravan. What you can't see in this pic are the husband and wife arguing violently on the back of the truck. (Not kidding)


And finally, Silliman's salute to the armored car.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

New pants are great!

Here's a fun fact: In the 22 years of my life, I have never on my own accord bought myself a pair of pants.

It has just never been a necessity for me before. I look into my closet and there has always been an ample supply of pants acquired as birthday gifts or Christmas gifts or graduation gifts and other gifts from such happy occasions. And I'm not a fashion-conscious person either, so as long as the pants do their job of covering up their assigned body parts I'm all set. There has been little necessity to do the work of stocking my closet when generous relatives have been eager enough to do that job for me, and thus I have never had the need nor the desire to actually go to a store and buy myself pants.

Until now!

Last weekend I went out to the Levi's store at the mall. There the pants are significantly more pricey than other brands, but with an already decent wardrobe I shall go for quality over quantity-- and get myself a pair of Dark Stonewash Levi's Regular Fit 505® Jeans. I don't know what that number means (and the Levi's website doesn't do much to answer my questions), but I am very much satisfied with my purchase. When I wear my new pants the sun shines brighter, food tastes better, and even the rainbows gleam with a previously unseen vibrancy!

The problem is, my new pants are so good that everything else pales in comparison. I'm currently wearing my last-week favorite pair of pants, and it feels old and shaggy, and I am not as pleased with them as I used to be. My standards have been raised so high by my new pants that they have become my only satisfactory pair of pants.

On the bright side, of all the problems there are in the world, "New pants too awesome" is quite an acceptable burden to bear.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I shook Manny Pacquiao's hand

It's no secret that Manny Pacquiao has been in Cebu lately training for his upcoming October fight with Marco Antonio Barrera. I read a report in the local newspaper that he's been spotted jogging early in the morning in Asiatown IT Park, where my office is. A few days ago I even saw a group of girls picnicking at 5AM in one of IT Park's grassy undeveloped lots, undoubtedly hoping to catch a glimpse of Manny making his early morning rounds (they were probably disappointed though, since it started raining a few minutes later).

So anyway, I was in Waterfront Hotel last night attending the opening of an art exhibit. I'm not some big art exhibit fanatic, but my girlfriend's sister was an exhibitor and the emcee of the program so I came along for a show of support and to partake in the free cocktails and bask in the aura of the elite.

Things were wrapping up and we were getting ready to leave... and there was Manny Pacquiao seated at one of the tables in the lobby restaurant. Just sitting there, as though he were a mortal man! He was having a conversation at the table with two women. One of them might have been his wife, I don't know, I wouldn't recognize her if I saw her, but she seemed the right age, I suppose.

If I were alone I would surely have kept my cool and abided by proper etiquette and good senses, but luckily I was amongst a group of giggly starstruck girls that only briefly hesitated to go over to Manny and ask to have our picture taken with him. He totally obliged... he should be used to it all by now, shouldn't he? So we all crowded around the table and had our picture taken with The People's Champ and his two unnamed companions. I need to remember to ask that girl who owned the camera to send me a copy of that photo.

After the picture was taken a few of us tossed him some awkward smiles and well-wishes, to which he smiled and nodded with equivalent (and deserved) awkwardness. And as the group scuttled away, I extended by hand to Manny for a handshake, because I knew in an instant that I would always regret it if I didn't. For a second he didn't notice me and I worried it wouldn't happen, but he did see me, and he did return the handshake. And I shook Manny Pacquiao's hand-- the hand that, with fingers clenched, becomes the fist that has laid waste to so many and made him a champion.

It was a moment of impropriety on our part, and a minor inconvenience for Manny, but totally worth it for the bragging rights.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

It is very much preferred to see The Simpsons Movie in a crowded theater. A real-life laughtrack would make the experience more enjoyable-- and I can confidently say that the audience would indeed be laughing out loud. But instead, when I watched the movie alone in Ayala Center Cebu last week, there were just about fifteen other people in the place. There's a slight twinge of sadness in the experience of watching the movie on such a large screen in a large room and having hardly audience to be part of. I was seated just a few seats away from a pair of girls, and I suppressed my own laughter to avoid giving off the creepy impression that I was this loner guy that pays money to spend the afternoon watching a cartoon movie alone and laughing my head off (and yet, that was exactly what I was).

When I was a young one my parents didn't allow me to watch The Simpsons because of its reputation for relatively adult humor. That reputation seems to have fallen away over the years and now it's praised by everyone as the pinnacle of... I dunno, something. I don't think the series has toned down it's humor, but that the society we live in has just learned to catch up with it. Anyway, my parents couldn't stop me from watching The Simpsons when no one's looking over my shoulder, and I'm proud to say I caught the premiere of Who Shot Mr. Burns? way back in 1995.

So, as for the movie: My least favorite parts were the jokes that were already spoiled for me by the trailers and ads. That's why I don't want to even mention any of the jokes... spoiling the humor of the movie is far more damaging than spoiling the plot. It wouldn't just shave off some of the enjoyment of the gags, it would spoil them in the truest sense of the word. I'll just say this: The beginning of the movie is the best part, when the writers are free to throw all their best jokes and Bart's penis at you. Things start to lose some steam when the actual story comes into focus, but always stays well within the range of funny.

It is tempting to think of myself as a Simpsons fan but the truth is I haven't watched The Simpsons on television for years. Luckily most of the Simpsons references that everyone knows seem to be from the earlier seasons. Watching the movie made me want to catch up on all the years of Simpsons that I have been missing. Only recently have I bothered checking out recent episodes (hooray for the internet), and I'm glad to know that the humor is still sharp. In recent years when someone mentions The Simpsons my reaction is "Wow that show is still going?". And yeah it's still going after 17 years! Most TV shows would be considered dinosaurs at half that age, but The Simpsons remains an old show only in form but still fresh in substance... it will be a solemn day when it finally goes off the air.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Top 5 not-so-great things about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The book was terrific, but it was not perfect, and here are five reasons why. I have to stress that overall I thought the book was a fantastic and worthy end to the saga, and it was more difficult for me to come up with 5 negative points than it was to come up with 10 positive points as I did last week.

I'm going to be spoiling the book again here, so turn back now if you haven't yet read it.

5. Wandering aimlessly
In a draft of the script for The Empire Strikes Back, one of the characters aboard the Millennium Falcon had a line saying "This is boring". This line was removed, because when the characters start to believe that their adventure lacks excitement, the audience will believe the same. Though its necessary in Deathly Hallows to have periods of idle time in order to stretch the book's timeline to one whole year, it doesn't inspire confidence to make the lack of activity and direction a significant plot point. When Ron and Hermione express disappointment on Harry's lack of direction in their quest, the reader starts to have similar doubts with the direction of the story.

4. Action scenes
I hate to admit it but Rowling isn't sufficiently good at writing coherent action sequences. I'm sure I'm not the only person that had a "Wait.. what the hell just happened?!" moment when Nagini popped out of Bathilda Bagshot. While nothing in Deathly Hallows approaches the chaos and confusion of the battle in the Department of Mysteries in Order of the Phoenix (the chapter where Sirius dies), there's a lot of action scenes in this book and a lot of opportunities to be bewildered with everything that's going on.

3. Sudden death
The death toll rises alarmingly in this book, with at least a dozen named characters wiped out with sudden, almost casual swipes. That's the way it is with war: Deaths are horrible, pointless, and plentiful. There's a death of a previously unknown teacher in the first chapter, and our beloved Hedwig dies in the fourth chapter (presumably to send a message of imminent danger-- if Hedwig can die, anyone could be next!). But there's no way to hide disappointment with the way that Lupin and Tonks were wiped out. "Oh look, there's the bodies of Lupin and Tonks. They're dead. Well, carry on...". Lupin was way too major and cool for such a forgettable throwaway death.

2. Deus ex machina
I didn't realize this one until it was pointed out to me, but the plot relies way too much on deus ex machina-- improbable plot devices introduced suddenly to resolve a situation. Wasn't it just a bit too convenient that Dobby appeared in Malfoy Manor at the exact situation where Harry needed a house elf to save him? And the Deluminator being a device to bring Ron back to Harry and Hermione, that was pulled out of nowhere. Even the Deathly Hallows themselves, the pillar holding together the second half of the book and the key to Voldemort's defeat, were never mentioned or hinted at before. If you look at it that way, the whole plot starts to look shaky.

1. Epilogue
Almost everyone I've talked to has something to say about the epilogue. Rowling mentioned years ago that she had written the final chapter of the epic tale of Harry Potter long in advance, and it shows. The transition from basking in the euphoria of Voldemort's death to the relatively routine banalities of "Nineteen Years Later" was way too sudden and jarring, and the effect had the epilogue just looking cheesy, even mundane. There should have been a Chapter 37 where everyone could finally come together in peacetime to mourn the dead and toast their success and generally to just cool down. Instead we suddenly have middle aged Harry and friends seeing their kids off at King's Cross station, living the pedestrian lives that normal wizards presumably lead. It certainly is a convenient way to end speculation of a "Return of Voldemort", but the end effect is disconcerting, and that is not the ideal emotion to have at the closing of such a grand and epic saga.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Top 10 best moments in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I'm gonna be spoiling the book here, so if you haven't read it yet but plan to, you should turn back now.

10. The locket tortures Ron
When the time finally came for Ron to destroy the locket-horcrux, it taunted and tortured him as it's final desperate act, exploiting all his insecurities and forcing him to overcome them. Also thanks to the locket, Emma Watson will get kissing scenes with both of her co-stars for the final movie. Hurrah!

9. King's Cross or whatever
This chapter reminds me a lot of the scene where Neo meets the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded. I don't completely comprehend it, but I understand that it is a pivotal chapter, and I can conclude that it was very cool. Plus, it closes with such a classic Dumbledore line: "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?"

8. Escape from Gringotts
After breaking into one of the most secure vaults of the wizarding bank Gringotts, how do you escape with all the alarms set off and all the angry goblin security forces in your way? By launching gloriously into the sky on the back of an uncontrollable dragon.

7. The death of Dobby
In a book with more than a dozen deaths, it's weird how the best death and the only proper burial goes to the house elf. It feels like a scene that's written with the movie in mind, and it plays out just as well as it should. An epic death, in a nerdy sort of way.

6. Harry visits the graveyard
For Harry to finally get to stand there and see his parents graves was a relief, even though nothing particularly important plotwise happened. Simply seeing the names and dates of birth and death on the white marble tombstone made the reality of the death of Harry's parents much more potent.

5. Mrs. Weasley and Bellatrix
During the ultimate climactic chapter of the series, of all the people to face off against Bellatrix Lestrange, nobody expects Molly Weasley. She calls her a bitch, shows what's she's made of, and then kills her. It was icing on the cake having Bellatrix' death echo Sirius' death.

4. Harry calls Voldemort "Riddle"
In Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore refused to call Voldemort by his chosen name, and it was painted as an act of defiance. In the climactic battle of Deathly Hallows, Harry bluntly calls Voldemort "Riddle" to his face, repeatedly, giving him a verbal thrashing and subtly reminding him of his own humanity.

3. Neville and the snake
The image of that forgetful and clumsy boy from the first book are all but a distant memory by now. Now Neville is the leader of Dumbledore's Army at Hogwarts, keeping the resistance alive and rallying the students. He finally gets the chance to prove his worth and stand up to Voldemort himself, then heroically charges forward to behead Nagini with the sword of Gryffindor.

2. Harry accepts his fate
That whole chapter, "The Forest Again"... Harry just came to the realization that he was never meant to ultimately survive in the fight against Voldemort, but he was to walk calmly into the arms of death. He isn't even angry or confused about it, but totally accepting that he has to do what he has to do. The way it was handled was very subdued and emotional and well done.

1. Snape's memories in the pensieve
In a book filled with revelations, this was the revelation chapter to top off the entire series. We learn that Snape loved Lily Potter, that he tried to stop Voldemort from killing the Potters, that Dumbledore's death was part of a greater plan, and that Snape had been helping Harry all along. Then you look back at Snape's death in the previous chapter and realize that Snape was looking into Lily's eyes as he died. So much of what we've already known is cast into a new light that it brings a huge wave of appreciation for how much thought and planning went into the entire epic tale.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Learn Filipino, by Victor Romero

This blog entry is long overdue, but I have to give my big thanks to Mr. Vic Romero, author of the Learn Filipino books.

Being the dork that I am, sometimes during vacations I take digital camera pictures with the express intent of uploading them for use in Wikipedia articles. Earlier this year Vic emailed me asking my permission to use some of my Wikipedia photographs for a book that he was writing. The pictures are actually published under the GNU Free Documentation License, a free license, meaning he could have used them even without asking, but he was considerate enough to contact me and ask for permission anyway (which, as always, I am more than happy to give).

Anyway, last month, Vic sent over to me one copy each of the fruits of his labor: Learn Filipino, Book One and Book Two (plus another copy of Book One to donate to the local library). Amazon.com lists the value of each of the books at $29.95, and getting anything at all of that much value is a treat in itself. Plus, peppered throughout the pages of Book Two are nearly a dozen of the maps and photos that I contributed to Wikipedia-- all with clear and well-placed attribution. I've sort of grown used to big companies (The Inquirer, Cebu Daily News, ABS-CBN News, Cebu Pacific, among others..) using the photos without bothering to credit me, so getting to see my work and my name appear in a real-life published book is quite a delight.

The books themselves are quite nice (and, for myself, so coincidentally appropriate!). It's got lessons and exercises and happy illustrations that make the gargantuan challenge of actually learning Filipino a bit less intimidating. I haven't seen many books like this that do their best to hold your hand and walk with you into discovering the Filipino language, without assuming that another person is available to guide you through the book.

Vic tells me he has several more books in progress, including a Learn Filipino Book 3 and a book on Philippine history. Keep it up, good sir!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Too much drama

Here's something that happened months ago and it isn't related to anything, but I'll tell the story anyway.

Late one night I was walking down the path back to my apartment, and since I walk pretty fast when I'm alone I caught up with my housemate and his girlfriend who were walking in the same direction. Actually I didn't realize it was them until I was pretty close, as in, right beside them. And they were having an argument. The guy was all agitated and crying, and he shouted at the girl (in Cebuano) "Don't you see Mike over there?!", and he stormed off to the apartment. I had no idea what that was about, and I was too nervous to even face the girl, so I just kept walking on my own pace. That was awkard enough, but when I actually got to the apartment he was waiting in tears outside the gate, because he didn't have the key. I unlock and open the door and say "Umm.. here you go" and he says "Naw that's alright" and I say "Ok I'll just leave it open", so I do, then go on inside.

About an hour later he knocks on the door to my room and apologizes, and I'm like "Yeah whatever man, it happens, I understand". But really I don't understand, and we never mentioned the incident again. Haha...

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

My original intention was to make a blog entry with just my impressions of the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie, but as I went along constructing my thoughts I realized that almost everything that I wanted to say could be applied in a more general sense to any of the other movies in the series. It's nice how the series has been molded by the hands of two screenwriters and four directors (and counting) but still forms a pretty cohesive whole, at least so far.

I don't even really remember much of the first four Harry Potter movies actually, except that they were generally faithful adaptations of the books. Naturally a whole lot of the source material has to be left behind in the translation to a 2-3 hour movie, that is necessary and forgivable-- and in the case of the fifth movie, preferred. That book had a lot of not-quite-necessary subplots that happily prolong the reading experience, but would just bog down the story in movie form (I'm thinking of Hermione's house elf crusades, Neville's parents at St. Mungo's, Percy's estrangement, etc). The longest Potter book at 896 pages translates into the shortest Potter movie at 138 minutes.

What I do clearly remember from previous movies are the things that were different from my memories of the books. Like the basilisk being Godzilla-sized, Ron's dance lessons from McGonagall, and Dumbledore being batshit pissed at Harry for his name coming out of the Goblet of Fire. I don't know if these are necessarily improvements or whatever, but they stand out in my mind because the books are already so deeply imprinted in my memory.

Sometimes I wish I could just forget everything that I've read so I can judge the movies on their own merits instead of constantly comparing them to my preinstalled mental image. All the while that I'm watching a Harry Potter movie I'm thinking to myself that certain things should be more emphasized, or they should have given more context. I keep worrying that people that haven't read the books are going to be so hopelessly confused. I maintain that the movies work better as visualizations for people who have experienced Harry Potter properly as books, rather than stand-alone experiences for people that haven't read them.

Other observations on Order of the Phoenix: Poor Cho didn't get another word from Harry after the hyped up kissing scene. Umbridge was perfectly cast with her scene stealing mixture of sweetness and cruelty. Luna was weird as she should be but creepier than expected. Overall it is perfectly decent but my least favorite in the series, and I could say the exact same thing for the book.

The day after watching Order of the Phoenix, I watched another movie, Die Hard 4.0 (see my impressions). Now that's a movie made for the movies, and the difference shows. It doesn't have to worry about being faithful to its source material, or setting up essential clues and plot points that'll be used in future sequels. I wonder if it would have turned out as enjoyable if it was based on a hit book with a pre-installed fanbase of millions.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Die Hard 4.0

Just like the rest of them, Die Hard 4.0 (Live Free or Die Hard in the US) is about the right guy at the right place at the right time (or was it wrong place at the wrong time...), stumbling across the plot of an evil genius and doing what it takes to save the day. Bruce Willis kicking ass and taking a beating at the same time. That guy is so cool.

I loved how only minimal computer generated effects were used for this movie. Either that or the CG people have just gotten so good at what they do that I can't tell the difference anymore. Well there actually are digital effects especially towards the end but overall there's a gritty old-school feel to it so it feels right at home with the rest of the series. Spielberg could learn a lesson from this and apply it on Indiana Jones 4.

The movie is aware of how crazy ridiculous action movies can be, knows that the audience expects nothing less than that sort of outlandishness from a Die Hard movie, and then takes advantage of this liberty to push the envelope and give us some of the most awesomely preposterous action sequences imaginable. So when John McClane, faced with a massive collapsing highway interchange, jumps off of an exploding truck and onto the wing of an airborne fighter jet-- just moments before the pilot pushes the eject button! -- it doesn't draw a dismissive reaction of incredulity, but is welcomed into open arms with a big stupid smile on my face

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Anti-Aries

I have this bookmark which I have been seeing a lot of lately (since I am rereading the sixth Harry Potter book). My birthday is April 9, and the text on the bookmark is as follows!

Aries
March 21 - April 20

You're a leader,
an initiator,
and a risk taker.
You see the big
picture and make
quick decisions.

Energetic · Warmhearted
Adventurous · Assertive
Enterprising · Generous

Usually these horoscope things are vague enough so that just about anyone can apply it to themselves, but this one is totally off the mark. It is as though they extracted the essence of my personality and enumerated the characteristics that it is not.

The few times that I do go out on a limb to assert or initiate are those times that I am confident that there is minimal risk involved. Because of this low risk tolerance, I wouldn't consider myself very enterprising at all. I only make significant decisions after careful and drawn-out deliberation. I tend to micromanage and take charge of projects on my own, but I do not put myself in a position of leadership (though others sometimes would make a leader out of me).

While I'm no coldblooded moster, "warmhearted" and "generous" are not among my more prominent traits.

The "you see the big picture" part is accurate though. I like to think that I see the big picture. :->

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

4 AM rant

You know what's a stupid word? Isthmus. Who comes up with these abominations? How the heck are you supposed to make the sthm sound? I guess you should just pretend the th isn't there when you're saying it out loud, but in that case they shouldn't even have put it into the spelling in the first place. Whenever I encounter this word I'm mentally pronouncing it in my head and feeling retarded, or like I have some kind of mental lisp.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Oriental Negros bliss

Sometimes the Philippines can be better appreciated in pictures than in real life. There's something in the heat and humidity and heaviness of the air that breeds pessimism.

Take a look at this photo, for instance. I hardly paid any attention to the surroundings when passing through this area, but I like how the photo turned out.

This picture was taken earlier this month somewhere between Tanjay City and Bais City, Negros Oriental. It has a backdrop of gentle rolling mountains, a majestic cloud-draped sky, and vast fields of... what is that, sugarcane? Anyway, it's a pleasantly genuine and understated landscape. Like a less surreal, more easy-on-the-eyes version of the default Windows XP wallpaper, "Bliss".

Click here for a full-sized 1600x1200 pic.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Segway in Cebu

The future is here. A couple of days ago I saw a guy casually cruising down the street aboard his Segway, eliciting turned heads, dropped jaws, and other expressions of awe.

This is on Salinas Drive in Barangay Lahug, not far from JY Square mall.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Zodiac

The trouble with a movie based on a true story is that it's also a movie bound by a true story.

Zodiac kicks off with a sadistic murderer doing his thing, then taunting the police with mysterious letters and cryptograms. The movie's tagline ("There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer") promises another dark crime thriller like Se7en, also by director David Fincher. This is the interesting part, but it only lasts for the first 1/3 of the movie, and then the reality kicks in-- the reality of a long winded and confusing investigation that spanned decades and never conclusively ended.

The second half of the movie felt a lot like, of all things, All the President's Men. That's another movie that's mostly a lot of investigating and talking. They do their best at trying to add a sense of tension by having Jake Gyllenhaal scrambling through evidence, banging on the police station door in the middle of the night, and always talking like he's out of breath and nearly out of his mind. It does work to an extent, and you often forget that years have gone by with nothing happening. It's probably as well executed as it can be given the source material. But when it's all done I can't help but feel a bit let down.

But of course, you have to respect your source material. In real life the cryptograms didn't actually mean anything, but it would have been more interesting if they did. In the end, they didn't even catch the killer, and the movie can't totally even commit to the guy it wants you to believe is the killer, because the guy wasn't convicted in real life

It would have been cooler (or at least more entertaining) if they took the premise from real life, then threw the facts out the window and decided to just run free with the concept... give it an injection of sensational cinematic spectacle, topped off with a head-in-a-box ending. I guess you have to wait 2500 years before you can do that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Maguindanao or something like it

As always, the latest report on the status of the election results in Maguindanao talks about it as if it's a distant planet rather than a province in Mindanao.

The province has a population of hundreds of thousands of people, but I have yet to hear a news article that reports from their point of view. It's all about inane accusations of cheating from politicians in Manila, calls for calm and sobriety from the government in Manila, and feeble attempts to paint a picture of competence from bureaucrats in Manila. And today, more than a month after election day, after fact-finding missions and investigations, the most palpable quote from the today's news article is an election lawyer saying "We do have proof now that elections did take place". Hurrah.

Forgive the geeky analogy, but it's like in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace when Queen Amidala goes to the Galactic Senate to seek help after Naboo is invaded by the Trade Federation's droid army, but all the Senate can do is squabble and debate among themselves on whether any invasion actually took place. In the end the best they can do is agree to send a delegation to investigate whether an invasion took place. Sheesh, can't they just make a phone call and ask?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Letter to the editor

In "The Real Problem With Pakistan" (June 25, 2007 issue of Newsweek), Fareed Zakaria claims that the United States "helped usher in democracy" for the Philippines in the 1980s. This is incorrect. The United States supported our dictator Ferdinand Marcos out of a mutual opposition to communism during the Cold War. This support contributed to the longevity of Marcos' 20-year reign, and prevailed nearly up to the last minute, when American helicopters evacuated Marcos to live out the rest of his days in Hawaii. As it was then and is now, the mission to spread freedom and democracy is only a facade. Like any other nation, America's foremost priority is to protect its own interests.

Michael Gonzalez
Negros Oriental, Philippines

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen

It was weird enough that they made a sequel to a remake of a 1960s movie, now they have gone ahead and made it into a trilogy. I liked this one more than Ocean's Twelve, which was a bit too clever and snappy for its own good, but not more than Ocean's Eleven, which was quite good though not exactly good enough to mandate a sequel, let alone two.

This time around the premise goes like this: Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) has some kind of stroke after being cheated out of a Vegas casino partnership by bad guy Willie Bank (Al Pacino). To square things up, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his boys (Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Matt Damon, et al) scheme to infiltrate the casino, rig all the casino games, and take off with hundreds of millions of dollars in winnings.

This series is all about style. It has a very lighthearted breezy cool feeling to it, as if Steven Soderbergh got the inspiration to make the movie on a whim, rounded up his ensemble cast in an afternoon, and whipped together the entire movie in a week or so. But I mean that in the best possible way... some of my proudest work, of any form, is produced when I just let things go and allow nature to take its course. When too much thought goes into something it often turns out anticlimactic, clunky, unnatural.

Maybe the trouble is that since the series is defined by its lightheartedness, a lot of thought has surely been put into ensuring that the movie maintains that distinct style. The form seems to be all good, but there's that indefinable substance that seems to be somewhat off, and while the movie turned out to be good in all respects, I get the woeful feeling that it is distinctly forgettable.

By the way, to the three girls that were sitting in the corner of the theater, chatting and giggling loudly throughout the movie: There are a billion other places you can do that for free, with the added bonus of not pissing everybody off.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Somebody stole my trash can

I don't mean that in a lighthearted way with any sprinkling of humor and folly. It's not like "haha my trash can is gone now which one of you rascals did it". That was a perfectly good big trash can and it was stolen. I am a victim of a crime.

In fact that trash can was better than perfectly good, it was great. Got it at Ace Hardware for something like 300 pesos, hardly more than two months ago. I didn't even ask for anything in return from my housemates, it's the one thing I donated to the apartment out of the goodness of my own heart. And this is what I have to show for it.

It happened a week ago when the water system at the apartment was busted for some reason. A bunch of guys were doing some construction work outside to get it fixed, and somebody asked if they could borrow the big trash can as a container. Later on the water is fixed but the trash can is gone. We ask around to everybody that could possibly be involved, but not a single person has a clue about what happened to it.

Grrr. Assholes.

Monday, June 11, 2007

"Cebu Daily News" is a misnomer

Here is the start of the headline story of today's issue of Cebu Daily News:
DON'T TAKE FUENTE OSMEÑA

By Chris Ligan, Jhunnex Napallacan
Cebu Daily News
Last updated 04:05pm (Mla time) 06/11/2007

Cebu City, Philippines - Fuente Osmeña rotunda should remain with Cebu City.
The capital letters and bold red text are not a stylistic decision on my part, that is actually how it appears on today's front page. I don't care what the news story is actually about, professional newspapers are not supposed to be taking sides like this. There is a line between news and propaganda. It is not a thin line, and Cebu Daily News is on the wrong side of it. It annoys me greatly that even the most apparently-respectable of news sources has to be dissected with a critical eye and taken with a grain of salt. Even more annoying is that hardly anyone seems to be as vexed about this as I am.

Blame Wikipedia for raising my standards to expect and demand a higher standard of neutrality from mainstream news sources. One of the five essential pillars of Wikipedia is that it has a neutral point of view-- and one obvious shortcoming of Wikipedia that people often point out is that, being editable by absolutely anyone, it is prone to abuse by drooling idiots and point-of-view warriors. This is a valid point... often when not enough people are watching, an article can start to look more like a fan page. The commonly percieved solution to this would be to limit editing to a much smaller establishment, a group of people that simply have to be trusted to provide balanced news (of course, this would never happen to Wikipedia as it contradicts its very foundation).

But, oh, what to do when the point-of-view warriors are in the establishment...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lost in translation

Last weekend I went on a surprise post-election family vacation to Boracay. Maybe I'll blog about it sometime. Maybe not.

On the two hour barge trip from Negros to Panay there was a television showing what initially appeared to be some big-budget foreign language film, but upon closer inspection it revealed itself to actually be Casino Royale, a movie that I have watched before, except here it was dubbed with French dialogue. I could tell it was French because of the minuscule comprehension of the language that I've carried with me from my college French class (Plus, James Bond is still "James Bond" no matter what the language). Of course, the DVD was pirated, but surely there should be no shortage of pirated DVDs of movies in a language that can be, well, understood by the the audience it is intended for.

To make matters worse, the English subtitles that were displayed on screen seemed to be coming from a completely different movie. This made it hilariously watchable for a completely different reason, but I have to feel sorry for the other 50+ people on the barge watching this thing that actually thought that M was telling Bond that "Frequent urination is common among pregnant women". >_>

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Miracle?

The Philippine Daily Inquirer doesn't even bother to try keeping up the perception of being unbiased anymore. Today's headline (ironically hardly an inch below their slogan: "Balanced News. Fearless Views") is "MIRACLE IN PAMPANGA", referring of course to the priest that won the election for governor in Pampanga. Of all the news stories in the world, this is what they deem worthy of an all-caps headline? "It's a mircle!", the article starts! Doesn't make sense why the Inquirer would be so ecstatic about this particular race, until you realize that the other two guys running for governor were both staunchly pro-administration. They just couldn't resist.

I can't personally say anything negative about Fr. Ed Panlilo since I hardly know anything about him, but having priests in government sounds like a bad idea to me. If honesty and good intentions were all it takes to build a nation, then Fernando Poe Jr. and Manny Pacquiao would make good politicians. But obviously, obviously they don't.

*takes off gloves*

Way too many people in the Philippines are quick to blame the government for everything that goes wrong even when there's not a shred of evidence to back up their accusations, but nobody in the Philippines criticizes the Church when they exploit Christianity and abuse their positions in plain view.

When the First Gentleman sues journalists for libel, everyone is crying foul as if he has broken the law in some way. Never mind that it's perfectly legal for any person to sue another. Never mind that it's the courts that make the actual decisions as to who did wrong. And never mind that the media in the Philippines is among the most rambunctious and irresponsible in the world. Just because he's in a prominent position, he's attacked as abusing his position of power.

And here we have a priest that ran for and was elected governor. Priests are innately loved people in the Philippines. They're invited to every party, showered with gifts, and clothed with an impenetrable blanket that makes them uncriticizable-- all because of the fact that they are priests. For a priest to run for public office is (probably) legal, but it gives this huge instant advantage of being automatically loved. Yet hardly anyone is willing to call him out for abusing his position of power.

It was only a few months ago that the Church was rallying against charter change as if it were inherently evil, saying that the constitution is so sacred and all that. Never mind Article 2, Section 6 (that's separation of Church and State, for those that give a damn... not many, really).

The intention of this rant is not to convince that the Church is bad. But if you take off that velvet blanket of immunity, you'd see they're not the inherently perfect supermen that our culture would have you believe.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Team Unity in Cebu

I attended Team Unity's Cebu City miting de avance rally at Fuente Osmeña circle last night. They closed off the whole area to traffic and diverted vehicles to the surrounding streets. The rally itself took place in front of Robinsons Cebu, on a stage constructed entirely of garbage. Well actually it was a stage covered with campaign paraphernilia, but the untrained eye would hardly be able to tell the difference!

Today's newspaper says that the crowd was estimated to be at around 40,000 people at its peak. I had no idea it was that big... my guess would have been much smaller. But of course, I'm in no position to estimate the size of the entire crowd, being part of it myself.

The rally started at around 7 PM, but because of some unfortunate timing with work obligations, I was only able to get there at around 9:30 PM, so I only got to see the speeches and presentations of Mike Defensor, Migz Zubiri and Cesar Montano. The rest of the candidates were sitting on chairs on the stage (except for Jamalul Kiram III, who was in Sultan Kudarat because of a recent bombing). Joker Arroyo seemed to be pretty bothered by the heat, and kept wiping his face with a handkerchief.

The large majority of the rally was dedicated to showing off the Team Unity senatorial candidates. When that was done, there was a brief presentation of the local candidates for Cebu City. There were also intermission presentations by Sarah Geronimo and Alessandra de Rossi. They mentioned that John Prats and Camille Prats were there too, but I didn't catch a glimpse of them. Of course, rallies like this are always more rhetoric and spectacle rather than substance.

Unfortunately, GMA wasn't able to make it to the rally because she was sick. Apparently it was a last minute decision and was announced by Cebu City Mayor Tommy Osmeña at around 10:30. He said she was resting at the Malacañang of the South, and was watching the rally on TV. They even had the podium prepared with the Seal of the President of the Philippines, but I noticed later on that the seal was removed. If the crowd was disappointed, they didn't show it, and still gave big applause for the president when the mayor called for it.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Haha, it's like I know what I'm talking about

Rey Gamboa came out with this editorial a couple of days ago about government budget deficits, inflation rates, debt management-- the kind of economist stuff that would bore a normal person to tears. However... I, much like the guy that watches too much House and starts to think he's an actual diagnostician, pay close enough attention to the business section of the news that I begin to get delusions of knowing much more about economics than I actually do. Or maybe I actually do know some stuff, who knows.

At the end of his column, he invites readers to email him should they have any insights to share. And that I did.
Subject: Bizlinks comment

In your article you're eager to point out that the P52 billion budget deficit in the first quarter is more than 80% of the government's target for the whole year, but you neglected to mention that the government's spending target actually anticipates that the large bulk of the deficit will come in the first quarter. This is due to increased spending on infrastructure before the spending ban during the election period. The second quarter, if I recall correctly, is projected to have a small surplus, followed by small deficits in the third and fourth quarters. It is a mystery to me why the government has not been more aggressive in pointing out this fact to quell fears over the country's fiscal situation.
An actual reply is not something that should be hoped for or expected, but a reply did come within an hour. What a cool guy.
Dear Mr. Gonzalez,

Thank you for your email and reaction to BizLinks. Let's see whether the 2nd, 3rd & 4th qtrs will be able to compensate the huge deficit of the first qtr. And your point is well taken.

Regards,

Rey Gamboa
Not the most insightful of replies, but it's cool to know my email was actually read by the person that it was addressed to. Plus, the fact that I wasn't berated for my precociousness makes me feel like less of a dunce.

Maybe people actually can become diagnosticians by watching a lot of House. ^___^

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Spider-Man 3

Oh right, so what was I doing spending my Labor Day morning in Ayala Center? Why of course, watching one of the first screenings of Spider-Man 3 on its worldwide opening day! A good three days ahead of its US release, I must add! The line at the ticket counter was almost as epic as the movie itself.

It brings me sadness, however, to I admit that this third outing is not as great a movie as Spider-Man 2. But then again very few things are. I loved Spider-Man 2 with the sort of childlike zeal that I didn't even realize was possible at my age. It's the same kind of admiration I felt for The Lion King and Jurassic Park, movies I fell in love with when I was 8. Everything about that movie just felt so right. It would have taken an act of divine intervention to live up to a benchmark set that high.

But Spider-Man 3 actually is a good movie, all things considered. It takes all the ingredients of the previous movies and multiplies them. More action, more humor, more heroes, more villains-- though not everyone will see this as a good thing. Some of the things worked out really well, like the special effects and action scenes and much of the humor. Some things didn't work out so well, like MJ's singing, or Peter's dance sequence (yes, really). And I kind of longed for a centrifugal threat like Doc Ock, rather than juggling the three or four villains along in the story.

I worry that if I elaborate on my thoughts and opinions much further, I'll be giving out a negative impression. For some reason it feels easier to point out the flaws rather than the positive aspects, so I'll leave it at that. In any case, this movie is sure to break all sorts of box-office records and kick a wide variety of ass.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Gringo Honasan was in Ayala

Today I came face-to-face with a real life villain!

Gringo Honasan, the Philippines' ever-dependable coup plotter and occasional fugitive from the law, was wandering around Ayala Center Cebu this morning with his gang of around ten campaign workers clad in Honasan t-shirts. Fresh out of jail, and with no political party or campaign machinery, he has apparently been reduced to prowling the shopping malls in hopes of being mobbed by adoring star struck fans. It seems like a very crude way to campaign for senator, but I guess he does have more experience in this field than I do.

Surprisingly, he did not even come close to being mobbed by fans. Although people in his direct vicinity came over to have their picture taken with him, and several others would come by to shake his hand, he always had a generous amount of breathing space and his campaign workers and photographers often outnumbered his audience. Quite a few people seemed to notice and recognize him, but kept at a safe distance anyway.

On one hand, I felt the urge to go up to him and shake his hand because he is famous and that would earn me some shallow bragging rights. On the other hand, I wanted to run up to him and give him a firm punch in the gut because... you know... I hate him. He led a series of deadly coup attempts against Cory Aquino, escaped from prison a few times, probably led multiple destabilization attempts in the last few years, and used his infamy to become a senator. It is a wonder that an asshole like him is treated with any more respect than a common criminal. And it is quite possible that he will win the senate seat he is seeking. He represents so much that is wrong with our political system.

Anyway, I did not go up to him. I briefly considered shaking his hand insincerely and saying into his ear "You should still be in jail you son of a bitch". That would have been pretty cool. But I just contented myself by keeping my distance and wearing a weird expression of displeasure.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anybody out there?

There's never been much of a question as to whether any of the stars out there have planets. Our sun alone has, umm, eight of them (sorry, Pluto), and there are billions of stars in the universe. I was surprised when the news came years ago that astronomers found a planet outside our solar system-- not surprised that they found one, but that they didn't find any sooner. Since then they've discovered lots more.

And the latest one is the best!

It orbits a comfortable distance from its sun, has a surface temperature that we would be comfortable with, and conceivably could have water. According to our earthbound cookbook, water and warmth are the first ingredients in the recipe for life.

Best of all, this New Earth only 20 light years away! This means that if we begin sending our signal at the speed of light right now, and they send their reply at the speed of light right away as soon as they get our message, humankind can make first contact in 2047, when I am in my 60s.

Then I can live out the rest of my days with the knowledge that we... are not alone...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The relationship between intelligence and wealth

Well, the bad news for us underachieving geniuses is that there is no relationship between intelligence and wealth, at least according to this recent US study. Apparently, people do not become rich because they are smart!

Naturally, this revelation is going to shake up some priorities. Being smart allows people to sail through high school without really trying, waddle through college while having a good time, and build up a sizable ego along the way. Sadly, it seems it's not going to help me make my millions.

When I saw the headline "Intelligence not linked to wealth", I was actually thinking that they were looking at wealth as the cause rather than the effect. Meaning, people being smart because they're rich, rather than being rich because they are smart. Either way, it doesn't seem totally crazy to assume that one goes along with the other. How else did rich people get to where they are? What sets them apart from the less-fortunate masses? There's got to be some kind of relationship between wealth and intelligence-- I can't bring myself to accept that the world doesn't reward smart people with any financial success. It's... not logical!

Of course, surely there are smart poor people who can't afford the quality education to reach their potential. Life can be sincerely unfair to good people like that. That is a fact of life, and it is very unfortunate. But totally discounting a link between intelligence and wealth is like saying there's no relationship between tall people and basketball. Tallest doesn't mean best, but it has to count for something. When poor people stay poor because they produce a large family they can't afford, or choose not to send their son to school so he could sell newspapers on the street... that is a sign of less intelligence, is it not?

Maybe it's just that the US has worked out such a high level of development that their system allows people to get rich anyway even with a total lack of intelligence. That doesn't seem to be the way things work here in the Philippines.

They should do another study checking out the relationship between poverty and dirtiness. Those two certainly have a relationship between them, and I see it on the streets every day. They seem to go hand in hand, and often with no good reason. Like the guy that pees on the wall beside a busy street... is he peeing on the wall because he's poor, or is he poor because he's peeing on on wall? Or maybe is there an external factor that causes both. Intelligence, perhaps? Aha..

Friday, April 20, 2007

It is hot in the Philippines

Last night I slept with an electric fan pointed in my direction, wearing nothing more than boxers, yet I still kept sweating onto my pillow enough to require me to shift positions every few minutes.

Perhaps worse than the heat is the constant sticky feeling in the air that makes even breathing a less pleasurable experience. Sometimes I begin to consider the possibility that the Philippines, much like the Sahara Desert or the South Pole, is simply not a suitable natural habitat for the human species.

Damn you, equator!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Getting the grade

A few weeks ago I went through the two-page history reaction papers that I wrote in college to see if I could post any of them verbatim as lazy blog entries. It seemed like a good enough idea... I can be a really good writer if I put enough effort into it, and I know I put a lot of effort into the essays I wrote in Ateneo.

In the end, however, I ended up finding none of them really suitable to post as blog entries-- not because they weren't written well enough, but because a lot of the stuff I put into them doesn't actually reflect what I believe. They were assembled by my brain with the goal of getting a good grade, not truly poured from the heart as a reflection of what I actually felt. Whatever topic I was writing about at the time became the most important issue in the world, and I'd compromise my opinion in favor of constructing the essay that I thought the teacher wanted to read.

For the final paper in my first year English class, for instance, we were made to make a paper to debate one side of an argument. The first few topic proposals I submitted were rejected, so I ended up arguing for something I didn't really care about: Teaching the vernacular as a subject in provincial Philippine schools. This topic was proposed almost out of exasperation. Heck, looking back on it now, the position I argued for isn't even the position I agree with.

I fulfilled that teacher's requirements and put together a well-referenced and meticulously written paper. In the end it did turn out to be pretty good, and it did earn me the grade. Sure it would be ideal (idealistic?) to be able to look back at what I wrote years later and see my mind accurately reflected, but I got the job done, and I can't say I feel much regret.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Manila can actually be a pretty nice place

Last Thursday I found myself alone and with a full vacant afternoon ahead of me, so I treated myself to a walk through some of the landmarks of Manila. The city is so often scorned as a disorganized urban mess that it is easy to forget that there's much positive stuff to be seen.

In the late afternoon I found myself at the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex in Pasay, which is not really a tourist attraction in itself but I can appreciate the buildings and architecture. I saw the haunted Manila Film Center, the CCP Main Building, the Philippine International Convention Center, among other things. I'm sure most of these were criticized as white elephants when they were constructed, but I have to admit that they are at least impressive structures, and most of them are not totally useless.

I happened to come across this little place beside the CCP seaport called Harbour Square. It looked new, and probably was new since I never heard about it during my four years in college. There are some nice restaurants and coffee shops, a clean walkway by the sea, and best of all a spectacular view of the Manila skyline. It seems I happened to find this place at the perfect time... At sunset the buildings take on a golden orange color and they're reflected clearly in the sea. It's a pity this stretch of seaside in the reclamation area isn't better developed and promoted. If I had tourist relatives visiting Manila, this would be the one place I would not neglect to bring them for picture taking.

From there I walked over to Roxas Boulevard and traveled the entire stretch of the Manila baywalk along the sea. It surprised me... it's a pretty nice place. It has open air bars, live bands, public art, and-- if my sources are trustworthy-- hundreds of thousands of people soaking in the sunset ambiance. I've heard much about this place and how it was redeveloped while I was in college, but never visited it before since it seemed so far away. Whenever I hear it mentioned, Mayor Lito Atienza's name isn't far behind, so I guess he deserves the credit for it all. In that case, well done, sir.

Eventually I reached the end of the baywalk, passed the US Embassy, and reached the Philippines' kilometer zero: Rizal Park. From here I could look one way and see the Quirino Grandstand and the huge parade grounds in front of it, and I could look the other way and see perhaps the most well-known sculptural landmark in the country, the Rizal Monument. Unfortunately by this time it was a bit dark for taking good pictures, so I just found a nice place to sit down and allow the sky to change color.

After the sun set completely and the sky turned dark, I took a walk through Luneta where hundreds of families were having picnics and sitting in the grass. It was never developed into the grand civic district that Daniel Burnham envisioned, and it doesn't hold a candle to the urban oasis that is New York's Central Park, but measured on its own merits Luneta is a perfectly respectable and decent public park.

Walking through the park at the end of the day, passing by happy Filipino families relaxing in the grass and impressive civic statues on both sides, it's easy to forget that the Metro Manila I am surrounded by is so often disparaged as a sprawling anarchic gallimaufry without a soul. Right then I felt very positive and proud of the Philippines. If you give it a chance, Manila can turn out to be quite a nice place indeed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

People will be pushy when they need to be

In the past couple of days I have been on enough adventures to fill up dozens of potential blog entries. I have gone from Cebu to Manila to Dumaguete and back to Cebu in the course of just a little over a week. But I am currently extremely tired and sleepy so for the moment I'm just going to focus on today.

I wasn't able to take the overnight boat from Dumaguete back to Cebu last night because the tickets were all sold out. Apparently I underestimated the post-Easter exodus of people traveling to and from the big city. On usual days, and even on weekends, there are tons of extra vacant cots on the boat so it was easy for me to assume that these accommodations could handle the massive holiday crowds. That assumption was, most unfortunately, very incorrect.

So the only other option for me (and for the doubtless dozens of other people who were unable to get a boat ticket) to get to Cebu on Tuesday was to take the bus. And since I have a scheduled time to get into office in the morning, I planned to take the bus at the ungodly pre-dawn hour of 4AM.

There was already a small crowd waiting when I got to the bus terminal 30 minutes early, when the bus to Cebu had not even come to the loading area yet. As the minutes ticked by, more people arrived and the small crowd became a rather large one. We could all tell what the outcome of this was going to be: The bus can seat only around 45 people, and the waiting crowd was growing steadily larger than that. The procedure for loading the bus was simply first-come first-serve, and if you wanted a seat on this bus you will need to fight for it.

The crowd, myself included, immediately stood up when the bus started to arrive. When the bus door opened, what ensued was a gentle stampede. People are generally civilized around here-- there was no shouting, no outright shoving-- nobody wants chaos, but in the absence of an alternative people will push and squeeze their way through the mass of bodies to get where they want to go. There's something really stupefying and degrading about being forced to resort to such uncivil behavior. I'm sure everyone in that crowd knew that this was not the most appropriate or efficient way to go about things, but what can we do.

I am normally one of the most accommodating people in the world, but dammit, I will do what it takes to get what I need. Amidst the squeeze of the crowd, I pressed myself forward to urge along a guy in front of me that seemed hesitant to intercept the flow and get into the bus. I only barely made it in there in time to get a seat at the very back. If I was an ounce more hesitant I would be stuck sitting on a stool in the center aisle.

This chaos could be avoided, of course, if they would just sell bus tickets ahead of time instead of letting everyone push their way in. I guess it makes no difference to them though... a full bus is a full bus, no matter how inconvenient it is for people to get on. Even in the City of Gentle People, people will be pushy when they need to be.