Valentines 2018

Valentine’s Day is so commercialized, I scoff! I turn my nose up at the displays, at the flower market (although honestly I love the flower market). I breeze by the chocolates (cause I have a huge stash at home). Like a Valentine’s Scrooge. Scroogette.

It’s lovely though to see all the posts, the bouquets, the sweet surprises, the declarations of love and faithfulness on social media. I’m a real romantic at heart, and it’s only now that I’ve found myself dating a guy who is just as cheesy as I am.

We didn’t go out or have dinner. It’s not our thing. We didn’t even meet up.

For the record, the men I’ve dated were usually nonchalant about this commercialized holiday. I was okay with it. Sometimes. I occasionally had to demand flowers, the way really bad deities demand sacrifice. I would have also been okay with meat and jewels, and food! My dad though, who is a sweetheart, always gives me flowers.

But wow there’s such a wonderful thrill, when your phone rings and it’s a delivery service and the flowers are almost as tall as you! “It took them an hour to make your bouquet,” he says when I call to thank him. THIS MAN. I swear. Okay, enough of the cheesy. I’m going to go put these flowers in a vase now.

viber image

 

 

 

Tondo, 2002

Instead of seas, I sought the cities
overpasses and traffic snarls, a house in an old town, with old ghosts.

Spent hours watching a woman walk up and down the stairs of her home
in wooden shoes

She would tear at her hair, walk up a flight, smooth her skirt, walk down once more
stare at us through the window.

I marveled at this daily flagellation, how those shoes must have pinched her feet,
I imagined their soles as they darkened, stained with her sweat over years.

We would buy beer from the corner stores, to sit on a makeshift bench outside,
in front of the sliding door that we barred with wood at night so people couldn’t break  in

We put our feet up to drink. watching the man across the street shout at her — the lazy wife who wore paths into her floorboards  — all night

These days I no longer
indulge in  the pleasure of old streets and old walls,
speak with the men
 manning stores that sell pictures of doe-eyed, dull-mouthed saints

Count the cracking sidewalks, the odd tree root pushing up concrete
the small pleasure of things

these streets, these streets they hurt my feet and I

no longer needed the sense of loss 

January Wary

  1. you were sick somewhere, and i was worried. i’d gotten up in the middle of the night. i don’t remember where i was, only that the hotel room curtain was green, that i didn’t feel clean, that i needed to shower in the middle of the night. but you never answered your phone.
  2. i could feel you sleeping across the cities, and remember the dark, easy night of your hair, the shape of your sprawl across our shared sheets — the wind in the trees, the way the guava tree gently dropped its fruit on the roof — i remember how at night i stayed up, a guardian of our little world
  3. you talked in your sleep. you didn’t say anyone else’s name, you didn’t say a single thing that had any meaning.
  4. once we went to 12,000 children’s birthday parties. i got tired and bought the same gift for everybody. the parties all felt the same, and there was always cake, and frosting, but there weren’t always balloons. I was annoyed because you never chipped in or bothered to buy a gift, and most of the children belonged in one way or another, to you.
  5. i hold a grudge against you. i nurse it. keep it tucked next to me like a pet snake.
  6. i got tired, and you still lie to people about why.
  7. around this time, one year, we had our final fight.
  8. i do not regret that fight. it was the best fight i could have ever had.
  9. but i still blame you.

Gala (To Wander)

In a quiet room, in an old bungalow in a mountain town, I align my arms and present them to a man named Noy. I present my arms to him and he tells me “Gala ka kasi, (You wander, that’s why).

He tugs at my fingers and shows me. My arms are not aligned. It could be my posture, or the way I stand. It could be that the human body is asymmetrical at best, but he tugs again.

Then, he holds my head in place with one hand and massages the front of my shoulder with the other.

The pain is spectacular. It’s like a spaceship exploding in space.

He says “Say your name to cast it out!” Gesturing towards the door, he tells me. “Sige! Shout it out.”

The two Belgian kids with me are watching in horrified fascination. I say my name, and flick my arms towards the door. My cousins, two boys who are also watching, waiting their turns, are laughing at me.

Noy measures my arms again. “Gone.” He says, satisfied. “Next!” He slaps my upper arm and I’m off on my merry way. I’m covered in oil and I feel like I’ve been in a fight, but I feel better. The pain that’s been nagging at me is gone.

Wandering Gets You in Trouble

Gala means to wander aimlessly, but there’s a connotation that implies that you, as a wanderer, are the one who is aimless, and not the path you take. Gala is treading where you shouldn’t tread, stepping off well-worn forest paths into the actual forest, which is far deadlier.

Filipino animist belief is rife with spirits, dwarves (known as dwendes), cryptids like the Tikbalang and beautiful benevolent fairies known as diwatas. They love to bless you or play tricks on you, especially if you help them, or offend them.

For example, it is said Mount Pulag, the highest peak in Northern Luzon, is guarded by a tikbalang, who will go after you if you litter. By go after you, it means he (Tikbalangs are usually dudes), shows up in your dreams and shouts at you.

Tikbalang The Philippine Demon Horse Commons

In many cultures, crossing paths with beings brings luck. The kind of luck they bring to you really depends on the mood of the being, and the disposition of the wanderer. In many cases, they aren’t evil per se, but mischievous. They adhere to the rules of fairytales. Keep Neil Gaiman’s Instructions in mind or you can end up possessed, riddled with boils or lost forever in the land beyond.

Wandering can cause you pain

Noy says the pain in my body — my bad shoulder, the bad sleep, the weight I gained, all come from my habit of wandering. “You disturbed them, and they disturb you back.”

He pauses. “You are prone to this, being followed by spirits.”

He’s not the first one to say so. As a child, a hilot (healerused to come by our apartment in Makati. She would say the same thing – spirits follow you, they dwell in you, they are attracted to you. 

She would always start sessions with a divination, a way to figure out if there was a spirit near me, or around me.

She would give a painful massage with her scented oils (the one she preferred was sticky, and  left stains on my green bedspread). She would drip candle wax into a bowl of still water and look at what formed to — “Ah, this dwende is following you.” The water would trap the spirit, and she would slip the bowl under my bed to finish the job.

Massage-hand-4

It was a weird, and also strange way to explain why people fall sick or have pain. They like you, so they make your life painful.

The second culprit of pain is the cold in your veins – known as lamig. Lamig was responsible for the cracking, popping sounds that come when a hilot adjusts your body.

Gala makes you sick — so they say

It sounds like nonsense. I never really thought so, but like most Filipinos, I thought it was just something people believed in. Then, in my final year of high school (this was in 2002) I became ill. I had migraines that lasted for months. I’m not talking about the occasional migraines here and there. I’m talking about a forever migraine, an octopus of a headache that stayed with me forever. I woke up with it, ate with it, went on vacations with it throbbing in the background.

The neurologist called it status migronosus  – a forever headache. I was on anti-epileptic drugs, Xanor, Naprelan, every painkiller I could get my hands on. We couldn’t figure out what caused it.

The drugs weren’t working, and my mother decided to try alternative medicine. Acupuncture, chiropractors, diet changes, meditation. These sessions persisted until my first year of college.

One weekend, a year or so after the migraines started, we drove to a small house in La Trinidad, Benguet. La Trinidad is a valley nestled right in the middle of the mountains like someone jammed a bowl into sand. The mountains rise up beside it, and all you see are fields, and skies, and houses perched precariously on the mountainside like all these people decided to take off all their hats at once and strew them about. The town is cut through by long straight highway flanked and the best public market where the trucks stop after ambling down from the mountains.

Ambling being the right word, since these trucks were spectacularly slow, and overloaded with vegetables, or manure, chickens or pigs from the mountains that span the northern tip of the Philippines. We meandered our way to a small house, in a side street, with chickens in the yard and a laundry line strung up with freshly washed clothes.

The interior of the house was full of statues of saints, and candles that flickered. The hilot this time was a big woman, and we waited quietly, sitting on monobloc chairs, me dozing fitfully since my medication turned me into an almost narcoleptic.

Candle lights (565924507)

My turn came up, and I sat in front of her. Most masseuses and therapists went straight for my back. My acupuncturist went straight for my face and stuck needles in my cheeks and jaw.

She looked at me, running her thumb over my temple. “It’s someone in your family. Someone has bad intentions towards your family, and she is paying for it.” She was talking to my mother.

Instead of pressing on my back, she pressed on my pectoral muscle, above my heart. The pain blinded me. The only time I ever felt that much pain was falling off a skateboard and slamming the back of my head into the pavement.

She massaged me for fifteen minutes. “No payments,” she told my mom. “Buy a candle for the saint, light it and pray.”

On the way home, I told my mom. “The pain went away, for just a minute.” It was the first time I had been pain-free in a year.

Two sessions later, my migraines were gone. They’ve largely stayed gone, over the years. Occasionally, I will get a blinding migraine and be unable to go to work. Once every few months is better, compared to everyday, and always.

I’m still gala. I still wander into places I shouldn’t. There’s a part of me that still thinks it’s an old wives tale. But when I feel sick, or my body is in pain, I still call a hilot, or a healer before taking a pill.

 

 

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Hello 2018!

I woke up on New Year’s Day without a hangover. It’s kind of a miraculous event, considering how much I tend to drink.

For example, a fine New Year’s Day about five or six years ago, I woke up on the couch to find that most of my friends were still in the house, in various states of I really drank a lot last night, and please kill me. We were all too hungover to move. Instead, we ate and watched Peter Jackson’s terrible remake of King Kong. (Skull Island is much better, so you can gasp in horror now and leave this blog forever).

This year, I had two drinks, and spend the rest of the night drinking tonic water and making playlists. I don’t even like tonic water. Tonic water glows in the dark (under a blacklight, as a friend pointed out that the information I gave was not complete), did you know that? People shouldn’t consume drinks that glow in the dark.

Tonic_water_uv
Well, it’s a naturally-occurring phenomenon apparently.

I digress. My point is, people, even borderline alcoholics who used to wake up in skate parks and wonder how they got there in the first place (it wasn’t me…it was a friend), change. A few years ago I didn’t think that it was possible. Heck, chip-eating, beer-swilling me on the couch last May didn’t think it was possible. (This is another story, but at the height of my depression I must have consumed 100 large bags of Cheetos Puffs. Not even the flaming hot ones like any respectable person).

Not-drinking is a gradual state, but I did go from 3-4 beers a day to one or two a week. (But to be honest, fam, it has more to do with calories, that it has with anything else!) You can’t work out and keep working out and drink 2500 calories of beer a day unless you don’t eat anything else because sadly, that isn’t sustainable. As much as I would like it to be.

The wonderful thing about January gives you a nice “frame” for the rest of the year. There’s something about the death of the year, the cold weather and the sense of renewal that makes people take stock and restart.

In the winter forest (5431146866)

When I was younger, I used to make resolutions with fervor and forget about them within a month. Much like my hangovers the next time I’m faced with yummy drinks!

One thing I have learned over the years, I focused more on lifestyle changes and creating new systems for work and for life.

In 2017, I successfully made fitness a part of my everyday life. I work out 5-6 times a week (when I’m on a roll), or at least 4 times a week, when life is hectic/busy or whatever.

Setting goals helps you to create the systems you want, so I’ve thought it through and besides my normal daily tasks for life and work, this year I aim to:

  1. Read and meditate on the Bible daily. Last year, I averaged reading or even thinking about it, twice a week, if ever. It’s easier for me to meditate quietly before starting my workday, at my desk. But during hectic hours my “study time” would often get pushed to the side. So this year, a more mindful system to help me learn more.
  2. Write 1-2 articles a week, aiming for every Wednesday and Friday.
  3. Create a process where I journal on a regular basis. I used to journal almost every day, and kept up a habit of a diary/journal well into my twenties. Then I slowed down, and then eventually, stopped. I have a few reasons why, which I’ll probably examine later. Keeping a journal helps me analyse events and thoughts, and really helps with anxiety or just remembering things, which is important for writing. It’s an act of remembering, really.
  4. Track my weekly gym progress, specifically overloads/progressions. I know I’m making strides, but I would like to create my fitness feedback loop. In this case, keep track of weight/measurements + how much I’m lifting in terms of weight, all in really to improve my barbell squat and push-ups, and drop the weight I want to drop.
  5. Use less plastic, and reduce my carbon footprint by eating more vegetables/less meat, recycle/upcycle more and stop buying so much nonsense. I’ve already ditched plastic bags and straws.

I have a different set of goals for work, but this is for my personal growth and happiness. Hopefully we can check in with each other in 2019 and see how far we go!

What are your goals for the year? What are you working on? I’m super interested!

 

 

 

 

Making Traffic More Productive — For You

I drive to work everyday except Tuesdays, because we have number coding here in the Philippines, where your car isn’t allowed on the roads from 7 AM to 8 PM.

I commute on some days, usually jeep, or by rail transit (MRT) or I hitch a ride on a motorcycle, which isn’t possible now since the LTRFB has stopped Angkas, the uber for motorcycles, from operating. 

Traffic from my POV
A night scene in Manila depicting traffic

What frustrates me beyond end is the time wasted in traffic. Work has been cancelled because of the 2017 ASEAN Summit, and the roads are clear these days. It takes me 20 minutes to get home. 20 minutes! On a normal day, I spend anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a day commuting. That’s over a thousand hours wasted!

Finding a solution to traffic is problem that needs to be addressed by different sectors and in different ways. I’m not going to go into it. Right now, traffic is a reality we face everyday.

I’m sharing with you some ways I have found to help make better use of my time while stuck in traffic, waiting in traffic, etc.

Traffic at 10:44 PM :)

I am aware that some of these things cost money in terms of data use or subscription fees. Whenever possible, I’ve linked to free options, too! I hope that helps.

“Read” Audiobooks

I wasn’t a huge fan of audiobooks or thought I wouldn’t be, but I can’t drive and read at the same time. Reading books while stuck on the train is barely possible given that you’re pressed body to body, or even a jeep can be a bit of a hassle, especially if you are prone to bouts of dizziness. I have a Scribd subscription, which I tried out initially as a skeptic but so far I’m loving it. Before I bit the paid bullet, I also downloaded public domain audiobooks for free, and legally, on Librivox. The upside is it’s not as heavy as a book. It’s great for classics and poetry.

Listen to Podcasts

Another audio option, you may say? I will confess that I love talk radio, and I love podcasts. Spotify has a great list of offerings for free if you have the app on your phone, and you can download beforehand if you have a subscription. Here’s a list of the best podcasts to listen to. There are loads of different topics, and it’s a great substitute for when your playlists get boring. Right now, I’m listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series. 

Exercise

I don’t really do this. I’m lying. I occasionally stretch, but I realize it may be good to sneak in a few calf raises while standing in line, or some sit-ups while you’re stuck in that inevitable never-ending line after the Magallanes flyover, heading into Villamor.

Write

Whipping out your phone/tablet in the middle of a commute may not be the smartest thing safety wise, but if you are in a place where you can, writing on your phone is something I used to do even when my phone was still a Nokia 3310.  You could also bring a pen and paper, especially if you take the bus and have a little space to yourself (and also if you don’t get dizzy). Writing while moving is a difficult skill to master though.

Embrace your Weirdness

I talk to myself. Well, I record myself talking. It’s weird, right? But I find it therapeutic. I talk out loud about random things. Like what I plan to write for this blog, tomorrow’s work schedule, or practicing what I should have said to the person I was pissed at yesterday.

I should point out then that I am mostly alone when I drive home, though. Most people have friends or spouses or children to talk to.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

If your friends aren’t the sort to be offended, and you have a hands-free phone, give them a call. It helps to pass the time, and keeps you and your friend entertained.

Kid Friendly Activities

I don’t have kids who need to be entertained in the backseat. So if you have some good suggestions, games or apps that help keep kids quiet and engaged during the long battle of going through traffic, let me know!

Flagdown

Felipe knew he made a mistake as soon as he opened the cab door. The girl reeked of earth even if she was wearing skin-tight jeans and heels so thin he was surprised they didn’t snap in half.

Before he could say anything, she’d already slid into the passenger seat and closed the door.

Girls never rode in front.

Girls like her were taught to ride behind drivers in this country. Just in case they were rapists. They were taught never to sleep in cabs and to text their parents plate numbers. They were taught to stay alert, make sure the doors are locked because thieves board cabs.

In this small glimpse, he could see that she was dark-skinned, with bright brown eyes and salon perfect hair. She smoothed her skirt down and gave him a small smile.

The hair on the back of Felipe’s neck rose. He didn’t know that could happen. It felt like someone was biting on the back of his neck, even the muscles in his forearms contracted.

The inside of his ears filled with air, like he was riding a roller coaster. He was shaking when he turned his attention back to the road to ease the car back onto the avenue. He shouldn’t have taken this shortcut, but his last passenger lived on the outskirts of the city, and he could cut his journey short by least 12 kilometers this way.

He didn’t turn the meter on. He didn’t ask her where she was going. He just drove.

It would have been easy to describe her silence as cavernous, but it wasn’t. It was simply hollow, as if she wasn’t really there. He tried not to look at her, or at the mirrors, but he could see her reflection in the tint of the windshield.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her cross her legs. The heels clicked together. He noticed that the tops of her feet were caked in wet, fresh mud.

He focused on the road. Eventually the dark, potholed avenue gave way to a highway, and then the main road. He was never so relieved to see the city lights, the red haze of brakes. But his hands remained clenched on the steering wheel, he drove with his back straight and his heart pounding. He was sure his gearshift now had nail marks embedded into it.

When he was young, their family cat had crawled into the roof space and died. The cat had been very old, and they hadn’t noticed she was missing until she started to shed maggots into the living room.

Felipe was the only one small enough to fit into the roof space and had had to drag the seeping, leaking corpse back out with him. He’d been six or seven, and had thrown up all over himself after.

She smelled exactly like that.

“There.” She said, as they passed by small road that he knew that led to a posh subdivision. One of the dozens of a gated communities surrounded by old acacia trees. 

“Here?” He squeaked. He swung the taxi into the road so fast his tires screeched.

“I made sure to be pretty for him.” She said. 

Her voice deepened. “I always make sure to be pretty for him.” And she placed her hand on his.

Felipe made a strangled sound. It was a half-scream really. Her hand was cold, and wet, and sticky.

This time, he couldn’t resist looking at her. The quality of her voice had changed. There was a rage inside her that he could sense and it made her magnetic, forced him to turn his head until he was really looking at her. The reek intensified but instead of disgust, he felt disoriented and sad.

Her mud-coated hair was plastered to her skull. He could see the white bone beneath. He could see where her head had been bashed in, and the gaping wound that had been left behind.

She squeezed his hand, as if she was seeking comfort. “Don’t worry,” she said.

He braced himself for the unhinged jaw, the screeching halt, the inevitable rage. Instead, she smiled at him and it was the smile of a debutante posing for a portrait. She was a beautiful girl. The white flash of bone disappeared as she patted her hair into place.

“You don’t have to be afraid of me,” She said, as he pulled up to the gate. “You got me where I needed to go.”

 

The End