Makati, Paranaque

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Near the Jaime C. Velasquez Park at Salcedo

I was stunned by the efficiency of things. But first, I was stunned by the candor of the Starbucks barista at Leviste, who remarked that I still wanted hot coffee despite the heat wave. I didn’t tell her that I was buying coffee because my body needs it, and that I woke up from a room that wasn’t too hot. But more importantly, I bought coffee because my body needs it.

Salcedo Village on a Sunday is a world in itself. You can walk around the well-manicured lawns, text while crossing the street, do similarly risky things, and be fine. I imagine there are people who live here who rarely set foot outside the village because they think that to do so is to court danger. Unlike them, I’m in Metro Manila for a reason, so I stepped out of the utopia for a few hours.

I went to Paranaque to check up on people and things. I expected the Skyway toll fee to be around 150 pesos, but it was only 72. Once again, stunned. I thought prices of things would have doubled, tripled while I was away.

There were the same old shops along Dona Soledad Avenue, which wasn’t comforting. Comforting would be seeing the Zagu store near the Sunville entrance. The BPI and the Mercury Drug branches were right where they’re supposed to be. It’s always comforting to see BPIs and Mercury Drug stores. New restaurants have opened; there’s now a Chowking in the spot where a bakery used to be. It was a bakery that looked like it sold only two types of bread, ones you wouldn’t eat. Not pandesal because obviously you’d eat that. If there are restaurants in Betterliving that you love, you better appreciate them while they’re still there because they’ll be gone soon. You can’t expect shops and things to stay in Betterliving forever; only the BPI branches and Mercury Drug stores do.

Annex 35 is still cramped and difficult to drive in. I remember Jom teasing me about it several years ago. He was hoping I’d be offended at his observations that our subdivision is inferior to the other subdivisions because the streets are narrow and most of the homeowners’ cars are parked where they’re not supposed to be. But what made it all ridiculous according to him was that the security guards at the entrance were insanely strict. The punchline he was probably going for was: Who would want to rob this village!? I didn’t have the heart to tell him that unambitious robbers would.

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I regret taking off F&Z’s plastic cover

People are welcome to help themselves to my college textbooks. It’s tough to declutter because people nowadays like fewer books in their homes. That’s not an opinion. Everyone wants digital versions of everything, which to me is not the best way to live. If you’re not spending on physical books and music CDs, what is it that you do for fun? I could never give up my book and CD collections, but I know that the lack of storage will always be an issue. I almost gave away many of my books a year ago because I thought they were just going to rot in their poorly ventilated, cramped shelves, and I knew I had to do something. So, I could never be accused of being unevolved. But I’m glad I didn’t give them all away! They are to me what children are to straight people. I’m not proud of the fact that I used to cover my books in plastic, but that corny habit turned out to be hugely beneficial to some of my books that have been saved from quick degradation. I’m very sorry I took off Franny & Zooey’s cover. It’s not too late to save her, though.

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Manila!

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I was furious at the Grab driver who went to the wrong pick-up location, so I left a nasty comment about why I cancelled: “The driver went to the wrong location and asked stupid questions”, which was stupid feedback because it was I, in fact, who misused the app and pinned the wrong location. I rarely take cars for transportation for this and other reasons.

In the Thai Airways flight, I noticed how Pinoys often have to be told what to do and what not to do (eg, don’t stand up while the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign is on, remain seated until the plane comes to a complete stop, etc.), but I’m pretty sure this happens a lot on flights with non-Pinoys. I should stop obsessing over Pinoys’ behavior on flights.

NAIA 1 looks brand new and no longer repulsive. I wondered how DDS peeps feel about landing in an airport that was named after an Aquino.

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7-11 Hotdogs and their soggy bread – I don’t miss them!

We went to Marikina for Lei’s mom’s wake. I didn’t peep at the remains because I… didn’t want to. Her son Khalil has grown facial hair and hips. He didn’t recognize me — as he shouldn’t! — so he didn’t make mano. That’s alright, I don’t look like someone you would mano.

Program scheduling idea for future wakes:

-Put a podium near the casket. Don’t come out until there are enough guests to entertain.

-Hand out leaflets with details on how the person died. If possible, include information about the deceased’s “journey”, from the first signs of the illness to the hospital admission to the doctors’ final diagnosis, to the present.

-Field questions from the guests. There should be no more than 10 questions per session, or it could go on until the wee hours of the morning, which would exhaust you and defeat the purpose of holding such a session in the first place.

-Huge crowns of flowers almost always look gaudy and probably cost a lot. Ask guests to just give monetary donations. Cash is the ONLY thing that will help the deceased’s family. Kind, consoling words and hugs are okay. Flowers are just future trash.

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In front of Goto Bob in J. Molina Street

After the wake, we went to Goto Bob, a karinderya that serves exquisite-tasting goto. I have no words for how good the goto was. It was creamy, warm, and brothy, and the beef bits were tender. The calamansi made it even more exquisite. The tokwa’t baboy was cold, so I ate only the tokwa. Goto is 25 pesos. It’s a meal I truly won’t forget.

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On the Grab Car on the way home, the radio station was playing the same old ballads. Realization: This is why legacy artists like Barbara Streisand hold concerts in far-flung countries like ours; our radio stations play their songs for years because there is a demand. “I Finally Found Someone” by Barbara Streisand and Bryan Adams was a #1 hit during the early ‘90s. It’s not my favorite Barbara Streisand song, and guess what? I don’t  have a favorite Barbara Streisand song.

Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer is Sick But Not That Sick

Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer was banned in the US and the UK in the ‘60s because it was “obscene”. I think HM got lucky because without the infamy, it probably wouldn’t have attracted plenty of attention; it would just be a novel with a central character that happens to be fascinated by cunts. It’s interesting that in the ‘60s, books have the power to scandalize people. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine people being outraged by a book’s luridness. What’s not difficult to imagine though is some people disliking its self-indulgence and lack of a story. Henry Miller isn’t the loveliest of humans but it’s silly to dislike the book because he’s occasionally vile and a cynic.

The novel’s narrator Henry Miller would like you to think that he thinks about nothing but food, sex, and writing. But he thinks about a lot of things, too. He’s a penniless writer in Paris, which is exactly what you should be if you want to write a semi-autobiographical novel about being down and out. There are long, beautiful paragraphs that are at once hypnotic and exasperating. Reading about writers is fatiguing me a bit, but Henry Miller’s prose put me into a trance. Also, I hate starting books and not finishing them. I’d also give any book about the expat life a chance. I liked JM Coetzee’s ‘Youth’ because it had the nerve to touch upon visa problems. But HM’s too cool for that. He’d rather write about the ‘Paris that grows inside you like cancer, and grows and grows until you are eaten away by it.’

To him, being a vagabond who’s consumed by thoughts of how to get fed day by day is more compelling than worrying about visas and immigration officers. The men are  degenerates, foreigners like him who find sanctuary in whorehouses despite being penniless, and the women exist solely for the men’s pleasure. There is not a single interesting person because the narrator is too fascinated by his own thoughts to create one. Not that he hasn’t any right to be! It’s his book, and readers are entitled to certain authors’ masturbatory leanings. Ultimately, Henry Miller is just like one of the guys he hung around with in Paris. Sometimes they do and say interesting things, sometimes they’re just happy to ramble and exist. And you, the reader, is just happy to get to the next page and experience more of his being, that is, precious, poor and a man who has needs.

Books, Bookstores, CDs and More UK Things

An Oxfam store in York

Ads for books
The streets of London are filled with ads and billboards, but there aren’t a lot of ads for iPhone X, cosmetics, and skin clearing products, which is a shocker. Instead, there are many, many ads for plays, movies, and books.

My most precious book find was ‘Butt’, a compendium of Butt magazine’s most intriguing interviews, which I found in one of the Waterstoneses (the five-storey one, the one where I could spend the rest of my life).

Fun fact: the United Kingdom, not Kinokuniya, has all the books you could ever want. But I could be wrong. Hearing strangers talk about books in the bookstore was a heart-stopping experience that has never happened to me before.

In Bangkok, we have Dasa, secondhand book and CD sellers. In the UK, they have Oxfam. Oxfam is better because every penny you spend goes to charity (and to the salary of Oxfam employees). When you buy a bunch of books, CDs, vinyl, or DVDs from Oxfam, you’re not really hoarding but donating and living your best Christian life.

HMV
I posted a photo of myself browsing CDs at HMV on Instagram and it came off sounding a bit shady because I captioned it with ‘I love museums’. I didn’t mean to imply that CDs, DVDs and Blurays are relics from the past. If you know me, you know that I am never shady toward anything that I hold dear. I need to explain this.

I spent around 4 hours in HMV stores – one in London and another in York – an amount of time that could have been spent in more ~important~ places or in other horror tours. But, to borrow a phrase from tour brochures, no visit to the UK is complete without a 4-hour stop at the local record store!

And what a record store. They have CDs from 1997, one of the best years in music, and DVDs and Bluray of movies and TV shows that you will never find in Asia. I bought Jeff Buckley’s ‘You and I’, which is probably the 57th Jeff Buckley posthumous live album release. It is the rare Jeff Buckley album that’s properly mastered, ie, doesn’t sound like it was lifted from cassette tape recordings like the albums ‘Live at L’Olympia’, ‘Grace Around the World’, and ‘Mystery White Boy’. Jeff Buckley died in 1997.

Only those who remain fascinated by physical media would see the wonders of such a magical place like HMV. Having visited a 1st world country for the first time, I was stunned to see a record store like HMV whose continued existence in the UK can be explained by two things:

1.) Piracy is a serious offense

2.) People consume culture by the bucketful, and we all know that the best way to consume things is by the bucketful. I only stayed for a week but the Brits seem very, very cultured. It’s very nice.

Whenever I go to an exotic country like the UK, I try to visit a record store and look for Jeff Buckley, Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan albums. I collect things, I don’t know why! But here’s a nice Italo Calvino quote from his essay “Hermit in Paris” which explains this mania of mine:

So now we are entering into the limitless Paris adored by collectors, this city which invites you to make collections of everything, because it accumulates and classifies and redistributes, where you can search as in an archaeological excavation. The collector’s experience can still be an existential adventure, a search of the self through objects, an exploration of the world which is at the same time a realization of the self.

Thanks, Italo.

Asian Food
European food is blandish but some sausages are scrumptious. I say this as a very Asian person who has only stayed in the UK for 7 days. Asian food is so good that you can’t not have it for more than 3 days. It seems silly to eat Chinese food while in Sheffield but on your 3rd day without an Asian meal, you start yearning for Asian soup and other Asian dishes that assault your Asian senses.

Harry Potter shops
There are plenty of Harry Potter stores in York which JK Rowling probably liked. York was exquisite. It’s no wonder pubs are a big thing; they’re warm places filled with stone-cold foxes, a great variety of beer, and human warmth. Yes, human warmth. Everyone knows everyone, and if you don’t know anyone, you could try butting in a conversation, or go with someone like our friend Aya who’s the mayor of Sheffield‘s London Street pubs. She could really rule that pub circuit.

If I were a Potter person, I would have died on right there on The Shambles, a quaint little district lined with wizard and witch-themed stores with names like ‘The Store That Shall Not Be Named’ and such. But what I am is a Chucky stan, which is why I was more excited about the HMV stores where all the Child’s Play movies are sold along with many horror movies, including the elusive ‘Cult of Chucky ‘ and ‘Halloween H20’.

I have a suggestion: The Philippines should market Jose Rizal’s novels ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and ‘El Filibusterismo’ like York does JK’s Harry Potter. Then, we shall put up Noli Me-El Fili stores all over the country, so someone could die in our streets out of sheer joy of finding a store that sells exclusive Ibarra collectibles.

Dreamgirls would never leave you
I was stunned upon realizing that the ‘Listen’ number in the ‘Dreamgirls’ movie was turned into a Beyoncé solo performance. In the play, it’s a Deena and Effie duet about listening to the girl you originally were, before you turned into a duplicitous, scene-stealing broad. I bet they changed it in the movie to make sure Jennifer Hudson doesn’t out-Beyoncé Beyoncé, which she ended up doing anyway. The West End play was very good. The Curtis character, unremarkable in the movie, is a commanding charmer in the play.

Trip steps
I fell down the stairs in the Air BnB apartment where we stayed, and it’s not even one of the trip steps which the Scottish peoples deployed in the old days to trick burglars into killing themselves. No one can be sure that the ‘trip steps’ were designed to kill burglars, rather than just seriously injuring them, but given the Scots’ fascination with killings and executions (at least in the old days), that’s probably the real intention. If you’re walking around Scotland, watch your steps.

Could I live in the UK?
I probably could, but I was told that the cold can be unbearable. I have no doubt that’s true. And for a thin-skinned skinny Asian like me, it could be a big problem.

I thought, yes, I could live in the UK because the people are polite, and as we all know all we really need in this world to survive is the warmth of human friendship and to be treated with politeness at all times. Living in a cold country like England sounds exciting and if things don’t turn out well, I could Down and Out in Paris and London myself and write a bad memoir about my difficulties with visas and things. I’d like to see a movie where someone moves to another country and shows how difficult it is to legitimize one’s residence. London has Waterstones and HMV, — also things necessary to survive — but for now we stay put.

A horror tour that works despite/because of an unlively tour guide

Greyfriars Cemetery

We went on a ‘dark side’ tour of Edinburgh’s freezing, history-rich streets for the low price of 10 pounds. Paula the tour guide wasn’t as compelling a storyteller as Adam, the Scottish-Czech guy who took us around town for an animated two-hour Edinburgh history tour. After the tour, you’d want to hug Adam and wipe the dribble of spit on his chin, and give him all your money. Listening to Paula meant working up the appetite to be scared, which was totally fine by me. I suspect a lively ‘dark side’ tour would have been cheesy.

At various stops, she told stories about grave robbery, infanticide, and serial killings committed by Edinburgh’s murder icons William Burke and William Hair, buddies from the 18th century who made easy money selling murdered harlots and drunkards’ fresh cadavers to medical schools. The two were eventually caught, and the neat semi-twist is that when they died, their bodies were donated to the medical schools at no cost. It was a good story that could have been corny if told in a costume, maybe.

Old Calton Cemetery

Paula also took us to the Old Calton cemetery which would have been frightening if there were less than 10 people (there were 16 of us) in the group. She made us step into a random mausoleum to tell the story of a woman who was buried prematurely and had her finger cut off by grave robbers who wanted her precious rings. And because it was told by Paula in her decidedly unthrilled, slightly snarky manner, you have to decide whether it was tragic, comedic or both. I chose tragic.

At other stops, Paula told stories about the witch trials which Adam had already covered with greater verve. The phrase ‘witch trials’ makes much more sense to me now thanks to the Scottish snack’s little history lesson.

The last stop was about the enduring impact of Akasha, the Queen of the Damned. It’s about a guy who wanted to become a vampire so badly that he ate animal liver for a year and murdered his best friend who called him out on his folly. Unlike the subjects in the earlier tales, the killer in this final stop was caught because his DNA was all over the corpse – an obvious detail that would have been completely boring in a modern era ‘horror tour’. This Akasha-motivated crime happened in the ‘00s, so…surprise! She saved this story for last for twist’s sake, which was very Paula of her.

The lesson of the horror tour is, probably, depravity, corruption of the soul, etc, can happen in any era in Edinburgh. Thanks, Paula. It was a very cold tour, but I think that was the intention.

Casual Fun Idea: Read David Sedaris’ Theft By Finding, Diaries 1977-2002

As expected, the book is a delight. Imagine taking a peek at David Sedaris’s diaries and reading about stuff that happened to him in real life, from the ‘70s through to early ‘00s. Of course, these had already been edited, but they’re ‘raw’ compared to the finished and/or stylized essays in his other books.

Some observations, thoughts, feelings:

1. He’s a well-known author with a huge following, so of course his diaries would be of great interest to millions of people who’ve read him and love him. But a book filled with seemingly nondescript, humdrum entries would have to be extraordinarily entertaining to be worth buying. So thank goodness his diaries are funny. I think it’s difficult to fake funny.

2. It’s great to read a famous author’s diaries and not have it be packaged as an ’insightful peek’ into his inner life. It definitely is that, but it’s terrific that it’s just really a collection of his diaries, like, ‘here are David Sedaris’s diaries, culled from his years of diarizing, transcribed from his numerous notebooks. We think you’ll enjoy it, and some of you, we’re pretty sure, will do find it immensely readable, enjoyable. Some of you will not, and that’s okay.’

3. Some of the most interesting, life-changing events happened in the ‘90s. It’s when he moved to New York. It’s when he ‘decided’ to have a crush on his long-time partner Hugh. It’s when he found work as an Elf in Macy’s, which resulted in the hilarious ‘Santaland Diaries.’ Thank you, ‘90s.

4. If you’re thinking of keeping a diary, try to leave out most of your thoughts and feelings. Just tell your notebook what happened and see how it turns out after several days’ or weeks’ entries. Hilarity, comedy, drama, tragedy could still ensue if you diarize well.

5. You really could make something out of your diary entries, compile them and turn them into a bestselling collection of essays. The ‘trick’ is to buy small notebooks that you can carry around wherever you go.

6. It’s difficult to determine whether he knew his diaries would be read by the general public someday, and whether that line of thinking was a contributing factor in creating what is now ‘Theft by Finding 1987-2002.’ He just kept writing and look how that turned out.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ is the Complete Fantasy

Elio and Oliver live a life of privilege. Elio is young, free, gorgeous, and has parents who own a charming Italian house. Oliver, a guest of his father’s, is likable, smart, and sexy. They’re two guys who fall for each other in a lovely Italian suburb and they both play at being strictly brotherly toward each other. They can do whatever they want except be romantic in public.

Elio may be too young for Oliver, and their romance could have come off as predatory, but it’s very clear (in the book and in the movie) that Elio desires Oliver as much as Oliver likes the taste of Elio’s peach-housed man juice. Elio and Oliver. Oliver and Elio. Nothing and no one’s being corrupted except for a piece of peach.

But still, they have to keep up appearances that everything in the world is as straight as they should be. This is why when Oliver gives Elio a playful massage, it has to appear perfunctory. It’s why Elio has to take Oliver to a secluded pond for a grope and make out session, and why they have to wait for midnight to consummate a fantasy.

It seems perfectly alright to let the world know; the story is set in 80s Italy when gay unions are tolerated. Elio’s parents would have understood too because they’re the intelligent and uncruel sort. But it’s two guys in love. Whether it’s in 1983 or 2017, you know there are barriers and those barriers are great.

And so they do what they must do. They escape to the mountains where they can yell each other’s name abandonedly, go to town to puke in the streets, and wild it out to ‘Love My Way’.

When Elio and Oliver share a tight hug and bid their wordless goodbyes in the train station, I got dehydrated. When Elio’s dad tells him to nurse his pain, and that he envies their beautiful friendship, I turned into a prune.

As an expert in this sort of thing, I can say with some authority that this is really how it happens. That is exactly the way it happens in trees at midnight when we have to be quiet and pretend like we’re just friends with that person with whom we climb the tree. Some of us get over that phase where we climb trees in our parents’ Italian summer house to make out with the house guest, but we never forget the bittersweet memories of these unforgettable late-night climbs.