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


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.