In third grade, we moved to Manila from our little city perched on the mountain. It was the middle of summer and I had never realized how hot a city could be before. As an added insult to injury, my sisters and I somehow managed to contract lice at the same time. After a couple of Kwell baths and extensive hair-combing, my mom had had enough and decided to simply cut off my waist-length hair. (As an adult I somehow got lice from a public bus, and Kwell made a reappearance in my life. But later, I had more patience, and I didn’t lop all my hair off.). Manila also had minimal trees, like some non-tree lover had made an executive decision in the past to simply not let them exist.
School was horrid, especially at first. I was used to smaller, Montessori-style classes where I could freely leave my classroom to go play Chinese Checkers with this blind kid who would also leave his classes to play guitar in the principal’s office. This didn’t fly well at my new, strict, Catholic school.
I was also a probinsyano, which is kind of the equivalent of a redneck from Redneckville moving to New York. Like most Baguio kids, I spoke too much English and mixed it with a local dialect, Ilocano (a social faux pas, to always say kwan, which is more of a punctuation, than an expression if anything else). I could barely speak Tagalog. I had short hair, which wasn’t allowed. I was too nerdy, too eager, too something. I was also, and still am, gullible as all hell.
I felt bad because everyone was listening to Ace of Base and Wooden Heart and songs I had no idea existed. My music education was almost entirely composed of Disney and my parent’s extensive CD collection. I had just discovered the Cranberries, and I loved them. I remember bringing the CD to a school show and tell and a classmate, derisively asking, “Ano yan? Baduy.”
I did not like Zombie, which would later be the hit that they would be remembered for. The music video made me uncomfortable, but the album itself is still quite a classic. I’ve grown to like the song, but anyone who sings it during karaoke sessions instantly loses cred.
This album (which I recently listened to again) revealed sadder songs like Everything I said and Twenty-One. During long trips home to Baguio, we would sing it in the car with my parents, For this reason, I occasionally like to play it on when I travel alone.
Full of faraways and farewells, because for you it’s true. People change. If they don’t, the circumstances they face make them change. You know this now because you are old enough to know that it’s the truth.
It’s weird how easy it feels now. People move away, come back. They come back different, thinner, older, with different interests. The girl who used to hate motion now loves yoga. The boy you knew in college tells you, quietly, he really really likes boys and maybe he always did. You’ve changed, but you don’t admit it. You move quietly. You don’t feel that young urge to make people like you. But you don’t laugh as much as you did.
You try to make it better by thinking, oh, I’m not the only one in the world saying goodbye, or hello again. Or asking how someone is over miles and miles.
“Hold still, I’m taking a screenshot.”
“Okay. Do you know the sun sets at 9 pm over here? It’s crazy!”
You spent a part of your life submerged, thinking maybe this is it for you. There’s nothing else, because you can’t imagine anything else. You’ve ended too. It feels like you cast paper into the water and when you made a grab for it, it disintegrated. You can’t put anything back together. You feel like you barely remember it. But it’s not true.
He meant that he was pointless. Or I was. I told him I missed trees. But not so much. I missed the horses and being able to go out and feel grass under my feet even in the middle of the day. I was lying. I usually spent days asleep and only saw grass when we drank in public parks.
One time K and I were standing in an alley and smoking. It was dimly lit and I felt almost colorless in the dark. I squinted up at the hood of the streetlight. Someone had stolen the bulb, and someone else pilfered the copper interior from the power lines to sell off. Cigarette butts and discarded bottles created a postmodern carpet of bar filth, starting at the fire exit behind the building and cutting a path to the highway.
“It’s hot.” I said, but it always was in the way of tropical countries, that kind of seething heat that kept you from sleeping and made you sweat into your sheets. We were waiting for a band, or waiting for our band to play. Those were the days where everything blurred into everything. The days were continuous loop of two hour rides on the city bus, standing on the train, drinking cheap alcohol and fits of interrupted sleep.
Even the work I did required only a minimum use of analytical skill, so much so I sometimes dreamed of the blue glare of a computer monitor. K poked at the broken concrete with his shoes and said. “It’s pointless.” He meant the music, or the gigs, or the city. He meant the traffic and the work we did. We were 22 and already office drones. He was wearing the standard uniform of a white polo and black slacks. The only thing that gave away what he did during weekends was the long hair he kept in a ponytail and the tattoos on his shoulders.
He meant that he was pointless. Or I was. I told him I missed trees. But not so much. I missed the horses and being able to go out and feel grass under my feet even in the middle of the day. I was lying. I usually spent days asleep and only saw grass when we drank in public parks. We could hear the band inside fumbling through a cover of U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday.
I was thirsty and I hadn’t slept. It was the middle of a year I wouldn’t really remember, the year to forget, or the year that was easy to forget because of its routine, the sameness of things, the dirt, the endless waiting. We smoked a couple of cigarettes, shared a kiss and went back in.
Last weekend, we went to the 7107 International Music Festival. I’d purchased the tickets in December, before they announced the full lineup. We attended despite misgivings, rumors of a political criminal funding the show, and stupid festival rules. The diversity of the lineup and a chance to experience a first in the Philippines more than made up for it. Plus Red Hot Chili Peppers! Empire of the Sun! Itchyworms! Up Dharma Down! Radioactive Sago Project! Taken by Cars! Kjwan!
Besides, the festival had a no-refund policy except if the event was unable to push through for any reason, like a zombie apocalypse or a major storm.
A Primer on Portable Toilets
Upon entering, I stifled a gasp of horror at the portable toilets. There were dozens of them scattered around the grounds like little blue houses.
“At least there’s plenty of them. Imagine if they only had, like, four.” The BF said.
He had a good point.
Later, when I did feel the call of nature, I stood in front of one, willing it open with the power of my mind.
“This is nasty.” The girl next to me said. She seemed to be deep in the same ritual, except she had her hands out in front of her in a universal gesture that meant nope.
“Nasty.” I agreed. Inside, despite the heat, it was surprisingly clean and small. It was okay. Nothing earth-shattering marked my first time in a portable toilet. (One day I’ll tell you a story of how I almost peed in a portable toilet, by the side of a road, butt to the highway while cars passed by. I then discovered that I had lice, but not because of the portable toilet).
As the night progressed, peeing became a ritual. Girls held doors open for girls armed with tissue, phone lights/flashlights and sheer determination. You could hear girls holding their breath/speed-praying the precariously balanced plastic contraptions wouldn’t fall over. (I once read a Stephen King story where the antagonist traps the hero in a portable toilet and boy, I really regretted reading it at that point). The men, it seemed, had no issues. They simply peed with the door open and their backs to the world.
Why the ritual? The portable toilets had no lights inside. A simple, overlooked detail that turned peeing into an ordeal.
Our second thought was that we were going to starve. Food was priced at P150 and up! The cheapest thing you could buy was McDonald’s Apple Pie, which is made from sayote, anyway.
I’ll tell you a secret. One of the reasons I’m crazy in love with this man is that he seems to be unruffled by things that ruffle me, such as expensive tricycles rides and idiotic prices for food. He takes life as it comes.
I’ve never paid so much for a bottle of water (P80) in my life! If there was one thing I would suggest to the 7107 organizers, it’s this: next year, please give us refillable tumblers, charge us P300 for them and then give us water for free. In the long run, it’s more sustainable. I suspect the price of water led to a lot of dehydration incidents. Because if you have to pay that much for water, you’ll end up buying beer or going without.
(Before you comment about bringing one’s own, we had to give our water bottles up at the gate or literally empty our tumblers of whatever we had).
“Baka alak laman niyan.” It might be alcohol. Gate Dude told us on the first day. Later, during the 2nd day, my cousin asked a girl drinking from a bottle of Emperador how she smuggled the long-neck bottle in.
She shrugged. “I stuck it in my Survival Kit.” She said, referring to the kits Smart Communications gave/charged for. “They didn’t check it.”
Day 1: Vibes, Hula Hoops and Dancing
I was blown away by the stages. I think we stood there for a minute, just staring.
I loved the way they set everything up — far enough apart so the music wouldn’t mix and just close enough for you to see the overall design. Despite my complaints about the small things, the big things they definitely got right.
It was obvious that the organizers love music and love all kinds of music. To be frank, I’m not really a fan of EDM. Before the concert, I even joked that I’d go to the bathroom during Kaskade’s set. (I didn’t. I went to dance).
We arrived late on the first day due to logistics and bus trips. We set up our yoga mat just in time to hear Motherbasss. It was a good way to ease us in — the mix of beats and heavy, heart-pounding drums. After that, the vibe of the first day just got better. It felt cheerful, to say the least. People were happy! I heard the VIP people had a lot of be happy about too: free food, overflowing drinks, even a pool over at the Guess tent. (It sounded epic and yes, I am jealous. They even had PlayStations set up!)
People danced, hula-hooped, did handstands, took pictures. People strolled around lazily, smiled and waved at each other.
It didn’t matter if you were GA or VIP near the stages — the audience area was open and you could set up wherever you pleased. People brought banigs, sarongs, knocked back beers and chilled.
“I’ve always wanted to go to something like this.” The BF said, contentedly, as the afternoon grew late.
“Me too.” I said.
SCENE: EXT. FESTIVAL GROUNDS. DAY.
GIRL IN TINY SHORTS AND HALF TEE, QUITE HOT: Omigod!
GIRL IN TINY SHORTS, HALF TEE, COWBOY BOOTS: [Insert name here]! I didn’t know you were here!
There was a lot of that.
As evening fell, we met up with a group of friends. We transferred to their little camp in front of the the second stage. This stage was framed by an elaborate set of carabao horns that lit up into the night.
“Parang ASAP-shots lang though.” One friend said, laughing, referring to the camera shots of the band and crowd.
My highlight of this part of the night was Taken by Cars. We ate and get an earful of the local music scene. I’m really happy that the organizers mixed local and international talent. I’m also apparently the only person in the world who wasn’t happy with Kjwan’s set. I thought Mark Abaya was dressed like a 50’s action star and that he talked a little too much.
Eventually, the pounding beats and bright lights of the main stage drew us back. DJ Alvaro was playing by this time and it was an intense set. By now, night had fallen and the winds picked up.
We could feel the heat of the crowd and a couple of my friends even ducked into it to warm up. We danced, we partied and we went home. We were prepped. We were waiting.
Day 2: A Form of Address
To the Girl Who Tried to Use Her Looks to Get to the Front of the Crowd,
Hello. I’m sorry we denied you and really, had to elbow you out of the way. I’m sorry you had to try again and again and we just formed a wall to block you out. I know you wanted Kendrick Lamar to see you. We saw you pout and sniff. We saw you try again with the group of Canadians next to us, who by the way, denied you too. We heard dude next to us loudly and emphatically tell you: “No ******* way!”
You weren’t the only one trying to take our spot, tbh.
We lined up at 11 AM, in the scorching sun. Our friends RAN. Literally, RAN, to get to that spot.
We stayed there the entire day. It was our Thermopylae. We were a phalanx. We didn’t go to the bathroom to keep it. We were literally shaking with hunger by the end of the day.
We were trapped by the massive crowd at certain points and food/water were secondary concerns. But we didn’t mind. We had an end goal.
You see, we really wanted to see the Chili Peppers. We’re big fans. In fact, I’m still suffering from slight hearing loss.
I do have to tell you though, that it was worth it.
Next time, line the fuck up.
P.S. I rarely bring big cams to concerts, because I prefer to enjoy the vibe and music so most of the shots here were taken with my iPhone (sorry about the blurry shots).
P.P.S. If the line up is as good next year, I’m definitely going again!
I hate hipster glasses. I hate girls who wear fake, clunky, coke-bottle frames. I hate boys who wear fake hipster fake tortoiseshell glasses. If you don’t need your glasses or wear glasses without lenses I automatically hate you.
Glasses are cool now. Yeah. Now.
In Grade 2, glasses were a death sentence. They killed your social life. Even if they were fake tortoiseshell.
My mom noticed that I was sitting a little too close to the TV and that I tended to squint. I also tended to get headaches after reading. These symptoms meant a trip to the ophthalmologist and the epic cool sight test. I think my doctor realized pretty quickly that I was pretty bad.
My clearest memory of that trip to the doctor is of the hot air balloon. I sat down and placed my chin on a machine that vaguely resembled square telescope. I had to look into the binoculars and tell the assistant if I could see the balloon clearly. The yellow and red hot air balloon floated above green grass, fading in and out like movie transitions. The assistant in a lab coat tweaked it for me. All of a sudden the balloon popped out — utterly defined, so colorful I remember feeling shocked. I felt a sinking sensation in my gut.
Something really was wrong with me.
The first sign of my world changing were the steampunk glasses: heavy metal glasses that ophthalmologists place on their clients to test various grades. At first the world was a bitter blur as the doctor deftly placed in lens after lens.
“Is this better?”
“How about this?” She slipped another lens in and everything was illuminated.
I now had an intimate understanding of what clarity looked like. I understood that I had been living in a blur! The floor was tilted! Why did I feel dizzy? Plus, I could choose whatever frames I wanted! How cool was that!
I think I chose Mickey Mouse frames, cause you know, Mickey Mouse is the epitome of everything awesome when you’re 8. Or Snoopy. I was really into Snoopy.
My mom was asking if I felt okay and I said yes. My mom wears glasses too, you see. And my mom, even in her pajamas, manages to look fabulous.
At first, I was happy. I stared at our pine walls, fascinated by whorls. I saw leaves in detail. I was blind and now I could see! I could read without sticking the book in my face.
Then I went to school.
It was all pretty much downhill from there. Glasses are a sign of weakness. They were a sign that I, at age 8, would have been sabertooth food in the wild. I wouldn’t have been able to see the sabertooth, much less run from it. All the other kids knew this — and it didn’t help that in my memory, I was the only kid with glasses in the class.
Other kids automatically began to taunt me, to pull the glasses off my face, to pretend wear them.
“I’m blinnnnd.” One would say while he flailed his arms and pretended to run into walls. Whenever they pulled the glasses off my face, I would follow, because the lanyard attached them to my neck.
One charming individual placed his fingers in front of his mouth to imitate buckteeth. I don’t know where he pulled the image of a nerd from, but it was succinct and changed my social standing forever. From then on, my world shifted. It felt like the world was divided into glasses wearing people and non-glasses wearing people.
Glasses, in their small way, made me see the world clearly. It made me realize how easily your appearance can change things. I also realize that a lot of “hipster culture” is mostly about rediscovering retro or finding off-the-beaten path interests. Pabst beer, whatever, I really don’t care what you do with your clothes, your music and your life.
But I really draw the line at those glasses. I really do. Because if they’re fake, they are just fake. Hipsters (in my opinion) want the good stuff, the good memories without all the bad crap that comes with wearing glasses. They want their lovers to take off the glasses before the first kiss. They want their glasses to mist up when they cry. They want to give an impression of deep thoughts and late nights up reading thick books.
They want someone to say, “Oh, wow, you look…really different.” Because Clark Kent was right to use glasses as his only mask! People look different without them!
But they have never been teased because their glasses could be used as a magnifying glass. They have never been called four-eyes, bug-face or any variations of this term. They have never been late for appointments because they misplaced their glasses and were disabled and couldn’t see! Couldn’t see. Essentially disabled, until they realized it was under the pillow and thank the particular deity you worship.
These coke-bottle wearing fakes have never been hit in the face with a volleyball so hard the frame cracked in two. They have never gathered shattered glass lenses in their hands, shaking and crying in terror because mom’s going to throw a fit, the frames were so expensive.
They have never been called nerd, when it hurt to be called a nerd. They have ever walked around with the soft part of nose of the glasses missing, the tiny metal prong digging into the bridge. Never had to endure taped frames because they broke and well, the new pair wasn’t ready yet. This means they do not deserve the other, nicer things about wearing glasses. Like when someone who loves you takes them off because you feel asleep with them on.
Go subvert some other culture or pretend you like that really terrible indie band. Please. Just stop fake-wearing glasses. Just. Stop.