Monday, November 29, 2010

Old Man

Manila City Hall in the absence of heavy traffic.

It usually takes me around fifteen minutes to get home from school. But last Monday, it was four times the duration spent in the jeepney. The traffic at sundown that day actually made the news. Here in Manila, like the decrepit sewage system that forms an underground city in itself, the roads are just as easy to clog with cars. It only takes a little fall of rain before the streets are filled with enough water to reflect the sky or the gloom. With it, all commuter life comes to a halt and the ruckus begins; the honking eventually becomes a collective tidal wave of sound massive enough to last for several hours and reach the heartlands of neighboring provinces. I'm exaggerating, of course, but you get the picture.

My previous record of 45 minutes, caused by a similar incident two months ago, just as easily fell apart, sat upon by an extra quarter of an hour. And as any loyal follower of this blog would now be able to deduce, I'm not here to talk about the traffic. (I think I already have... haven't I?)

In the world of jeepney-riding, 'full' and 'over-capacity' are virtually unheard of. My side of the vehicle was already stuffed by enough people that movement was already restricted. Out of the blue, with droplets of rain gently falling outside amidst a faint sunset, this old man climbed aboard and squeezed himself between me and the guy to my left. Exclamation point. Insert expletives.

One of the mortal sins that I recognize in riding a jeepney is squeezing oneself inside a vehicle that is already full. (Though I am guilty of this once.) I hate it/ abhor it/ detest it/ consider it an abomination to create for onself an imaginary space for seating where there is none! If he weren't only old and I, bound by culture, and if I hadn't been that weakened by the weather and the preexisting spatial arrangement, I might have had the balls to tell him off. But again, this paragraph contains incomplete information as to what really bothered me about the man.

One, he was emaciated. Seriously, gravely, seemingly dangerously emaciated. I could actually trace his jaw. His forearm was thinner than mine (no, his was centimeters thinner), and the muscles that hung onto it looked as if they haven't been fed for decades. The orbit of his skull seemed to me the winner in a competition as to which bone seemed the most obvious to the naked eye and least covered by skin. With what little hair he had, his cap made equally no effort to cover his balding head.    

Beyond the physical, he had a stench clinging onto him. I am describing him, thus, 'undesirable' adjectives cannot be avoided. If you think you would be offended by the end of this post, it's best to leave now. As I was saying, he smelled - and it wasn't the usual musk that a sweaty guy would emit. It was terrible, I tell you, and even the most accustomed noses of the 21st century would have noticed something eerie.

His clothes were also really wet. But that's not the bad part; it was that he did not make any effort at all to keep the wetness from crossing over towards the people beside him. I did not expect him to do so, of course, since I would not have expected anyone else to have done so given the situation. I myself would not have been able to do so. I realize at this point that I have been straying from the point. 

Anyway, he slept throughout his ride, or he seemed to be making an effort to fall asleep, and every time he'd go whoopy away from consciousness, he would fall over me like I'm some wall. That was the worst part of the ride for me. None of us would want a random stranger to fall asleep in the jeepney and make us their air bag. That's plain rudeness.    

He woke up after the third 'fall', and we were already at the Manila City Hall area. Then, he calmly asked the guy to his left where the jeepney was headed to. "Divisoria," the man said. Divisoria, the ever famous retail kingdom in Manila. He calmly stood up and got off - he had boarded the wrong vehicle, after all. He left without paying (because that's somehow what one's supposed to do after having been on the wrong jeepney for nearly half an hour). 

He just left. I got home after an hour, bothered. Was the man dying of some disease, was he plain penniless and starving, or is there a more mystical explanation to this?

Today, we remember the birthday of Andres Bonifacio - the Filipino revolutionary who was, to my kindergarten self, one of those Ninja turtles. I may be right.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Three idle weeks. I surmised this afternoon I better kill the silence already, else netizens who would chance upon this artistic haven find nothing of interest. But who's to say 'interesting' comes at the price of silence's death? Words have come and go, yet that which captures the reader's attention forever remains elusively unspecific. 

* * * * *

Exactly a week ago, I found myself traversing the capital by means of mass transit a.k.a. the LRT. The plan was supposed to go something like this: Go to Greenbelt ahead of time, get tickets for Harry Potter, wait for the ladies, watch and have dinner together. Problem was, tickets for all of that night's showings were virtually sold out. In the layman's term, I went train-hopping for nothing.

The experience is what matters now, of course. It's something I place in between priceless and unnecessarily necessary. Until then, I'd never been on the EDSA line by myself, though I pride myself in being an expert of the Taft Avenue line.

There is a moment during rush hour that every Filipino must experience at least twice in their lives: once, to get the first taste, and second, to look forward to tasting it again. As the train approaches, a cloud of anticipation shrouds the entire station, the breathlessness audible throughout the hall. The doors open, and it all happens so quickly, one would think Mufasa died an easy death. One need only stand near the doors of the train with the rest of the eager crowd on all sides, and go with the flow. The choice of not entering instantly turns to dust. You are pushed inside like a wave pushes the tiny floating things toward the shore. Then, you find yourself whizzing past the setting sun.

What rush hour looks like.

The sweat, musk, and breaths are to die for. To not brush sticky arm against sticky arm, damp shirt against damp shirt, would be an abomination in the world of LRT travel.

* * * * *

Despite the fact that I watched it on its opening weekend, the seventh installment of the Harry Potter film franchise has yet to lick my opinionated knife. All thanks to three things: that Robinsons Manila's old cinemas are simply terrible; that we entered the cinema late; and that the screen projection made me dizzy. Ergo, a second broomstick ride is in order.

* * * * *

What we are going to do in this year's TRP - Tao Rin Pala, where students of the UP College of Medicine try to prove for one night that they still possess some semblance of normality - is sacrilege. At least, I see the sacrilege. I don't blame them though, whoever them refers to; the theater is not for everyone. You either love the stage or live the rest of your life pretending to love it, and the former are a rarity.

Cats is currently one of my top five musicals (but this deserves an entirely different post), and I'm sad to say that I'm taking part in the desecration of the fearless felines. I am sorry.

This is way out of Imed's league, anyway.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dripping with the Aftertaste

It's not the last day that hits the hardest. It's the day before that, when the thought of that last day starts to form in the mind, conjuring wispy shadows of the shoulds and musts which would have to take shape in the next expected cycle of light and dark. 

I've been struggling with all this since last night. Past midnight already, and I found myself staring at the ceiling, trying my best (and failing in the process) to empty my mind of all that should remain in the future. Now, here I am, stuck in the same albeit slightly graver predicament, grasping in hand what is hopefully a more concrete version of the things that should come. 

If it's any consolation for pragmatism, I never mean to drag this palette of mixed emotions back to my canvass every single time. It's the colors that come looking for me, or less pretentiously, I who get drawn to the colors, like a sailor who unwittingly follows the deathly call of the siren. Only, in time, the colors wash off, and I'm again this mundane, black-and-white figure as nature intended, neither wrecked nor slain by the mythical temptress. 

Maybe it's that unspoken need to escape the humdrum of earthly banality that's at work. Or, more likely (and therefore, less melodramatically), it's the fact that one never really knows what the final day will be like until it comes. More so with the day of departure. I'm probably waxing melancholic at the moment, but departures always need some preparation, and part of the preparation is anticipating and overcoming the eventual melancholy. 

In many ways, nostalgic may even be a better description of the state I'm currently in. Looking back, the past three weeks have been one fantastic train ride across town, a road trip encompassing multitudes of friendships and endless troves of memories once more unearthed. Faces again converged in front of mine, betraying years of experiences and deep-seated relationships. The ride was as scenic and colorful as I had envisioned it to be almost a month ago. 

I need to sleep. Perhaps this is the only way to finally douse the fires of fresh memories seemingly burning to no end within me. It's high time as well I attempt to reverse my body clock, though this would definitely be a futile one, an aimless effort to return to a lifestyle that now seems so distant. Dreaming may well be the solution, unreal as it is.

P.S. The Rule of Four is indeed a magnificent read. It's the kind of novel that sucks the reader in, drawing him to the lives of its fully developed characters, leading him to somehow doubt in the end the fiction in the very hearts of the people he'd supposedly just brushed arms with. I am, as one has seen, dripping with the aftertaste that the book leaves the reader.

Princeton University's Ivy Club, where the climax of The Rule of Four is set.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Body Clock

So I went nature tripping again this afternoon.

I was scanning pictures from the Beijing trip I had with a couple of high school people way back in first year as a prize for our winning a national "All About China" contest. When we went there, it was already midway through the beginning of the winter season; snow fell only during the first night, but the wind and air were cruel. Being the supposedly naive and clueless thirteen year old that I slightly refuse to believe I was, I was not allowed to bring the then-brand new digital camera. Ergo, I went to see the Great Wall with a traditional manual camera - and in a vicious turn of events, I somehow managed to delete all pictures in the roll of film that I'd brought to the Wall. I've somehow forgotten how it happened (there was a button I believe).

 The author at the Great Wall of China, Jan 6, 2006.

Anyway, the power (unsurprisingly) went out after the 8th photo. And as any rational person who'd been living in Manila for five months would do during a blackout in the provinces, I decided to get in touch with nature. But it's not like this was the first time I'd done it this semestral break. The power basically goes out for two short periods almost everyday here.  

So I first took the garden trail, and Troy was again happily keeping me company. He walked me all the way from the backyard to the front lawn, and stayed with me as I took in all the green Manila will never have to offer. Fluffy the Bitch was doing her weird stuff again - brushing herself against a bush or the leaves of a plant. It's just... eerie... like she's doing some sort of ritualistic love dance with the plant.

After the garden trail, I went to the rooftop. A slight commotion ensued, as Elphaba was blocking the stairs with her humongous, stinking brown body while licking a dead pig's femur. She had to be taken care of, meaning lured to the backyard, through ways our household helpers have mastered time and again. Just like Elphaba the Witch, I was free to head to the rooftop and do my own Defying Gravity (the dog doesn't have a broom, of course).

The first thing I noticed upon entering the rooftop was a peculiar brownish dot on the wall. It was an insect, I realized at first glance, but the body was simply a freak of nature. A closer inspection revealed something as nature had all along intended: a jumping spider clutching a dead thing with bee stripes. It was so beautiful, I nearly cried. The sun, though, prevented that.

The author at the Summer Palace, January 6, 2006.
* * * * *

The one thing I'd been so determined to do when break was still in the near-future was to fix my body clock. The first semester of year level 2 is evil, so they say, and it will twist your sleeping patterns in ways you can hardly imagine. Twelve becomes ten and ten becomes... well, still ten.

At this very hour, however, I grievously announce to the world that I have failed. Instead, I have done even worse damage to my body. Ever since I got here, I've been sleeping somewhere between twelve to one. Which is why I need to sleep now.