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.


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.