37th birthday

It always rains on my birthday. There might be some sun during the day, but my birthdays have mainly always been a day of rain. The noisy pitter-patter of precipitation signifies nothing, and I know it. The rain cannot be explained by anything other than the scientific one — the sun warms the ocean and later on delivers pieces of ocean to the land. There is no god of weather with an agenda to make June 23 wet and cloudy every year. I know this because with age comes scientific knowledge. Ernest Hemingway once saw himself dead in the rain. I, on the other hand, can only see myself wet in it.

I’ve had wonderful rainy birthdays in my 20s. There was that one surprise party on my 27th or 28th birthday. It was raining, the kind that destroys plans of being able to reach one’s home, and yet many guests were still able to come. Hard to believe that there was a time when, if you live in Metro Manila and it was raining, you could still go wherever you needed to go, including your home. I don’t think people who live in Manila are still able to go to their friend’s 27th or 28th birthday when it is raining. Perhaps if they’re going to a 40th or a 50thbirthday celebration, they will try harder and it will be a party. 

Turning 37 isn’t a milestone birthday like turning 40 or 50. No one cares about anyone’s 37th birthday — as they shouldn’t! To have the audacity to stay alive at 37 years old is just rude.

My 37th birthday happens to be the second birthday that I celebrate in my 30s that I am single. The first time was when I turned 30. Me and Allan had dinner at Tadaima, a perfectly decent Japanese restaurant in Gateway Mall. I was still struggling with work and visa stuff. I remember thinking, “I am entering my 30s unremarkably.” That was not some unbearably sad event; in the first place, turning 30 didn’t feel any more momentous than turning 21. I remember thinking that the best 30s birthdays are still to come — perhaps turning 31 will be a party. I remember thinking the future held great promise and that when I finally find a job, I can pay for a birthday dinner for two… in cash! I didn’t know yet that no birthdays celebrated in my 30s will come close to the joyousness of the 20s birthdays, especially since my 30s will always be spent in this foreign land where I have way fewer friends. I’ve learned to accept that there won’t be any more “epic” bashes, and therefore no more reason to use the words “epic” and “bash”. You turn a year older, appreciate the miracle of a still-functioning spine, and love the treats and gifts you are given especially the ones you give yourself. Still, I’d have good birthdays in my 30s, receive certain gifts that my heart desired, and more importantly, not experience the burden of having to treat other people on my birthday. Feeding other people on your birthday is a cruel tradition that needs to stop immediately. 

At 37, it gives me pleasure to tell complete strangers who ask my age that I am 37. It is just as pleasurable as telling people I was 36 when I was 36. I don’t tell people to guess. I have been in several guess-my-age scenarios many times, and can confirm that it is only fun if the person who’s doing the guessing incorrectly guesses that a person is much older than he/she is. There are other ways to be nice and polite, and fake-guessing someone’s age to flatter them for how young they look for their age is… not that fun. If you ask me to guess your age (in rare instances when I ask people how old they are), the first number I would say would be 40 especially if you look like you’re in your early 30s.

Religion

Two weeks ago, I experienced sleep paralysis. I was woken up by the heat (the fan was turned on, but the a/c was turned off) and an entity from a dream-like event that had me fighting off a formless creature that seemed intent to bury my head on the pillow and choke me using its non-hands. I also remember fighting off another formless entity that was hovering near my feet, as if poised to yank me out of the bed. The thought of being yanked off my bed was too much, so I woke up but didn’t open my eyes because I didn’t want to see whatever it was that was instigating the disorienting half-awake, half-asleep state I was in. I tried to take a peek into the early-morning dim.

Other things that I can clearly recall: I needed to pee but held it in because I was scared. I pulled up the duvet to cover my feet and to avoid getting pulled out of the bed, and I mumbled the Lord’s Prayer, which I can still recite (years of being a Catholic by default etched the words into my brain), surprisingly. I haven’t uttered the words ‘Our father who are in heaven, hallowed be they name, etc., etc…’ in years.

Then I decided to be really awake, ie, with eyes open. It was around 3:30 am, the fright hour. I tried to look up what I’ve just experienced, and all Google results pointed to sleep paralysis, which at least two articles from medical websites said was not due to psychiatric causes and was not the result of supernatural phenomenon, quashing any delusion I might have had of being special as to be visited by spirits. I would like to never be visited by any spirit (and to be fair, not a single one has, except that one time when my late mother visited me in my sleep many years ago, and she was of course wearing a white, flowy garment likely made out of 100% cotton — spirits don’t seem to like wearing anything with color unless it’s a bad spirit that prefers gray or black or off white). I had been visited by spirits that make one cum in the middle of the night aka the wet dream warriors, traitors who milk you while you are helpless and deep into your nightly imitate-the-dead routine.

I recently started updating my Facebook profile, and under religion, I stated ‘agnostic’. I wasn’t sure that I am that, but I looked it up in the dictionary, and realized that it is a perfect description of where I’m at spiritually. And yet when I had a brief encounter with a sleep paralysis demon, it was the words to Lord’s Prayer (which I am now title-casing because I owe the so-called Lord that, at the very least) that I recited, not lyrics to songs I consider prayers: “Piece of Me” or “Like a Prayer” or “All Nite (Don’t Stop)” or “Migrate”, all by divas that I claim to worship and regard as figures worthy of religious or cult-like devotion. Whether I was saved by the duvet or the Lord’s Prayer shall remain a mystery.

I did things in 2020

At the rooftop of a very Instagrammable rooftop bar (there is no other kind) in Ari

I didn’t make the most of the semi-utopic state that Thailand enjoyed amid a global pandemic, thinking it’ll last a few more months. Now, we’ve gone back into lockdown which is terrible but necessary. Thailand handled the pandemic quite competently that even when citizens (mostly the youth) were staging revolutions against the government throughout Bangkok and in some other provinces, there were no signs that a second wave of COVID-19 was imminent. I almost made plans to plan a trip to Chiang Mai, a place I’ve only been to once but claim to love. But the most I did was make reservations at nice restaurants and a café for which reservations didn’t seem necessary because few people were eating out. Being able to do things and being able to take that for granted – it was fun while it lasted!

I took a photo of the ferris wheel, but the glistening Chao Phraya river rudely photobombed.

Opera singing so good, we thought the music was coming from a CD being played (specifically, Music from the Motion Picture Only You)

Dessert at a restaurant in EmQuartier where vegan and non-vegan food do not feud.

At Funky Lam Kitchen, a Laotian restaurant in Thong Lo that’s cute and serves delicious food. I promise to come back and drag friends (just two though, and only if they feel like it) if you can promise to remain open, Funky Lam Kitchen.

The coconut panna cotta that everyone deserves.

Heavenly slabs of pork things at Funky Lam Kitchen.

Being able to go out means seeing parking space signs for flies, a Bangkok exclusive.

Rama 4 Road – it’s like Sukhumvit Road but without the malls and the BTS

At CHI, The Spa at Shangri-la Bangkok. A bathrobe is not a piece of clothing, it’s a place where the body wants to stay forever.

Those two were anything but happy together.

Sound of Metal reminds me of things

FYI: Riz Amed is a very hot and very good actor

Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is a drummer for a two-man band consisting of himself and his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). His passion, art, and livelihood depend on being able to hear and create sounds that coalesce into music which they can sell and which allows them to live a gypsy life. One day, he wakes up and realizes that he has lost his sense of hearing. The treatment, a surgical implant, entails an indefinite period of rest and huge expenses. It confuses, angers, frustrates, and frightens him, sometimes all at once. 

As he figures out a way to get surgery, in the meantime, he seeks refuge in a community of deafmutes who, unlike him, don’t see their condition as handicap. There, the community leader Joe encourages him to slow down, get in touch with his feelings by writing them down, and learn the art of just sitting and doing nothing. 

He spends a few weeks in the community and gives to them as much as he takes from them. He gets free donuts, coffee and a room while he recovers and comes to terms with his condition/new reality. He learns sign language and integrates with the folks, even teaching the kids how to play drums. He draws nudes for a lesbian member and occasionally has a heart-to-heart with Joe. A period of pleasantness follows Ruben’s initial reticence to mingle with the deafmute community. 

But Ruben is a young, attractive, and active musician who is at his creative peak. The community is just a pitstop, not a destination like it is for Joe who offers him long-term membership and mentorship. He eventually comes up with the money for the surgery and gets kicked out from Joe’s organization as a result. The surgery, sadly, only partially and imperfectly restores his hearing. In place of crystal-clear sounds of voices, music, and noise, he hears metallic scraping in his ears, effectively subjecting him to hearing screeching metal sounds for as long as he chooses to wear the otherwise neat-looking contraption on his head. He chooses to hear silence permanently instead.

This movie reminds me of Dancer in the Dark, a musical about a musical film-loving woman named Selma (Björk) who is wrongfully accused of murder and who is about to lose her sight and dies from state execution anyway. Sound of Metal is harrowing, but it is not misery-porn-like like the Lars Von Trier musical drama. Ruben’s condition reminds me of my unhealthy music listening habits too. I listen to music loud, but I suppose I shouldn’t worry too much because I don’t play drums or guitars. Sound of Metal is ultimately an excellent showcase for Riz Ahmed’s hotness and talent and a piercing reminder of the value of introspection, the unexpected beauty in settling into an agenda-free community, and Accepting Things You Cannot Change (I swear the film is not as trite as I describe it). And any film written in English, sign language, and some French deserves all the screenwriting awards.

Rewatching In the Mood for Love as an adult

I first watched Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love around the early ‘00s. A former friend recommended it, so I borrowed her VCD of the movie and copied it using a fantastic piece of technology called “CD burner”. I watched it on a chunky white computer monitor. I remember being fascinated at the Maggie Cheung character most of all. How could any man cheat on a woman this gorgeous? I also remember thinking, “This movie is so high-art and so sad and, oh, so ‘quizás, quizás, quizás’ is ‘perhaps, perhaps, perhaps’”.

I recently watched the 4K restoration of the film in House Samyan and had some thoughts and observations.

  1. Maggie Cheung is as radiant, as incandescent, and as ravishing as when I first watched the film. As a non-Hong Kong citizen who has no working knowledge of what HK women looked like during the ‘60s, I take it as a fact that a woman that beautiful can be cheated on by her husband perhaps because there are many other equally stunning women just like her. It also offers this insight on the precarity of most marriages: a married person falling for someone else has nothing to do with one’s spouse good looks and character. 
  2. It would seem as if Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) didn’t have much to do to pass the time except wait at home for their respective spouses who were eternally on extended overseas business meetings. This was what may have compelled them to spontaneously reenact how their spouses carry on with their affair. It’s not that the cuckolded pair were inherently boring people or without any hobbies (Chow, who is a journalist, writes manga comics semi-inspired by real-life events while Mrs. Chan keeps herself busy at home and takes nightly trips to her favorite noodle stall). It’s that they were pining for their spouses and have chosen to process their pain by miming their emotionally and physically unavailable spouses’ ways. 
  3. I would re-watch this movie even only to admire the many cheongsams that Maggie Cheung wore. As Mrs. Suen (Mrs. Soo’s landlady) had implied, the cheongsams are too exquisite only to be worn for nightly noodle noshing. Me and Mrs. Suen had the exact same thought.
  4. It would have made sense for the two to break it off with their spouses, but they didn’t. Maybe they knew that the snatches of time they spent together were more precious than actually becoming a couple, which, as they both knew, is rife with difficulties, temptation, and made-up business trips. And, there’d be no more goods from Japan and, worse of all, no more nightly treks to noodle alley. But, in the grand scheme of things, would it have mattered if they did end up together? Would they have been better off if they had Followed Their Heart? Quizás, quizás, quizás.

Movies I’ve watched recently: The Kingmaker, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Come and See

Imelda, Lucy, Florya

The Kingmaker
It would be difficult even for Hollywood filmmakers to make a biopic about Imelda Marcos, one of the most notorious first ladies who ever lived. I truly believe there is no actress chameleonic enough who can exude the delusional aura that Imelda possesses and no screenwriter talented enough who can write a script that can capture the inanity of every word that comes out of her mouth that spews twisted takes on truth, beauty, and their family’s supposedly glorious rule of the Philippines. But it would be interesting to see Natalie Portman tackle the role of Imelda fucking Marcos.

The Kingmaker is a documentary about Imelda, her pivotal role in shaping Philippine history, and her family’s audacious attempts to ascend, once again, to the highest government positions in the country. Imelda is a fascinating woman who will never cease to be a subject of films, songs, novels, and think-pieces. Also fascinating is how she willingly participates in these films and not think that she’d be portrayed in any way other than as a vicious monster who live —and will die — in a bubble. It could only be explained by her egomania. This documentary is so maddening and so well-made.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is about couple Lucy and Jake taking a road trip to meet Jake’s socially awkward parents. Lucy thinks out loud during the trip; in particular, she is thinking of ending things with Jake because she no longer wants to be with him. She’s narrating in her head, as one does while on a road trip to meet one’s partner’s parents. She’s unaware that Jake can hear her thoughts, which induces a pleasant kind of cringe.

It’s an interesting premise although one that would require paying very close attention (which is difficult to do considering this is a Netflix movie, and is therefore watched at home) to what soon unfolds when they reach their destination, Jake’s house, where his parents act all servile and weird. I would have been happier with a straightforward romantic comedy/drama in which a couple is about to separate, with one-half of the couple thinking out loud and the other hearing everything that’s not being said. I enjoy the occasional Charlie Kaufman mindfuck, but I was put off by the dream-like sequences in the school toward the end. It wasn’t quite clear if the person who was thinking of ending things, ended things. I think that is part of this movie’s allure.

Come and See
Florya, a boy barely out of his teens, is joining the village soldiers to fight against the Nazis. His mother is against it, but he does it anyway because it’s not as if there are many options for them; their entire village along with 600 others according to Wikipedia and history books are about to be razed to the ground by very bad people. Florya joins the troop only to be told to stay behind and give his good shoe to a veteran deemed more capable to fight in battle.

Nazi soldiers soon arrive, and it doesn’t take long for them to destroy the village and slaughter every man, woman, and child. Florya and those who manage to escape the first round of slaughter live through this long enough then promptly go mad. When everything you own and live for are taken away from you, it won’t take long before you lose your mind. Florya and some of the villagers are spared, not because they acted right and/or luckily escaped but because the soldiers needed an audience for their little fire show.

The barbarity of Nazi soldiers during World War 2 is well documented in history books, novels, essays, films, etc., but there’s something about its depiction in this film that gets under one’s skin. So many war stories need to be told, and movies like Come and See, about Germany’s invasion of the land formerly named Byelorussia, are an important reminder of the kind of evil humans are capable of, e.g., incinerating people like they’re kindling and doing it with maniacal glee, among many, many, many other acts of cruelty. This movie is a fever dream of atrocity after atrocity. It’s an Important Film, although one that’s very difficult to watch. Watch it.

Older

Big news: I listened to a classical radio station on Spotify today. It felt like something I should do more often. I also played my Kid A CD, which is a grown-up album to listen to. As you know, Radiohead is not a Dua Lipa, a Cherry Sawayama, or a Chromatica. As a gay who’s always listening to pop girls new and old, I sometimes feel obligated to listen to pop queens, but at what age must it stop? Is it okay for a mid-30s gay to listen to “Rain on Me” and “Sour Candy” on repeat and not feel like an old uncle trying to be cool? I like the aforementioned Chromatica tracks, but it’s “1,000 Doves” that I love. That’s me as a grown-up – listening to classical music instead of pop girls. But that’s not all that I do that’s been making me feel like an adult.

I eat lots of vegetables now and even find them delicious (except ampalaya, a vegetable that relentlessly assaults the tastebuds with bitterness). I also cook veggies and always look forward to the results. My cooking skills are uneven; sometimes the dish comes out decent, sometimes it’s too salty, too spicy, too peppery, or too garlicky. If I were a parent, my children would hate the things I cook for them. First of all, if I were a parent, I don’t know that I’d be cooking vegetables for their benefit or for mine. I’d probably cook lots of fried foods for those needy bastards, which would compel me to eat some of the fried junk that their young body can process hassle-free. This is why I’m so glad that in my present reality, I don’t have to. The thought of me with children will never be not terrifying. 

I also no longer put sugar in my first cup of coffee, not even “sugar in the raw” (which is Starbucks jargon for raw sugar that is barely sugar for how unsweet it is). The 28-year-old me, the one that drinks at least four cups of coffee a day and still manages to sleep like a baby, would never. 

Still on food: I sometimes insist on giving friends “adult dishes” I’ve ordered or have stocked up on. I have friends who have the palate of 12-year-olds, and may they be always blessed. Being an adult requires the utmost politeness when accepting or denying offers of food. Some people would decline the food we offer them, and that’s okay. If you don’t want your feelings hurt by friends’ rejection of your adult dishes, offer it to a religious shrine instead. Similarly, we wouldn’t always like the adult food our friends give us, but we’ll accept them anyway because it seems rude not to. Unlike certain friends, I can eat almost anything and have grown used to different foods on my plate touching each other. For example, I don’t mind the ketchup touching the kangkong. But there’s a limit to this newfound tolerance. Rice drenched in sinigang soup touching portions of a saucy dish like mechado or menudo is still abominable. Still, I don’t think I’d mind should I ever find myself in a Pinoy food buffet situation where these wildly varying dishes find themselves on my plate. I’ll cross that bridge when that bridge finds itself on my plate. 

In Thailand, we are no longer called to sit on the couch

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The lockdown restrictions in Thailand have been lifted months ago, but people are encouraged to remain paranoid. And we still are. We still wear a face mask (or just “mask” as I prefer to call it) when going out and we still use hand sanitizers after touching any surface outside our homes. There are different groups of we’s, though, and some of these groups are more brazen and less fearful than the we I belong to.

We are no longer called on to sit on the couch and watch Netflix, as a certain meme had admonished (the one that thinks it’s so clever). It was good while it lasted, but who’s to say we should abandon our couch-sitting, Netflix-watching duties (which also applies to those who don’t have Netflix)?

So I still fulfill that duty whenever I can. I recently watched Bad Genius, an extremely enjoyable, well-made Thai film about a brilliant student and the kamotes that befriend her. I wrote my thoughts about it on my notebook then I followed the actor who played Pat on Instagram. His Instagram is “lit AF”. He’s an okay actor but you wouldn’t know it from his Instagram. On Instagram, he is like most cool young Thai guys who know how to make baggy and slightly trashy clothes look elegant and immensely photographable.

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Recently, we went to the Bangkok Arts & Cultural Center (BACC) to see, gulp down, absorb, and take photos of art and oddities. It lifted my spirits somehow. The BACC is roomy, designed to accommodate crowds whose behaviors are forever changed by the pandemic. We had coffee at one of the shops, and the coffee was so excellent that I didn’t need to pollute it with brown sugar. I wish I’d taken a photo, but the thought of taking my phone out of my pocket and increasing the number of times it is exposed to the virus and having to disinfect it later was too much to bear.

We bought notepads from an artist whose current exhibit centers on 100-year-old men wearing funky, ahead-of-its-time, thong-like underwear. You’re not supposed to buy the photographs even if you had the money but especially if you don’t have enough money or don’t have money at all. Those photographs deserve to be seen by many, many 36-year old men. Those photographs are a window into (mostly) Asian men’s future as 100-year-old stunners. They’re beautiful photos but a tad terrifying. Just thinking about turning 37 next year horrifies me. It’s not the number itself but the inevitable thickening of the love handles. It’s the old-man health issues. It’s the gradual decrease in the number of push-ups that one can do in one go. It’s the further deterioration of an already-poor eyesight. I didn’t need Charnpichit Pongtongsumran’s exhibit to remind me of any of that. But I’m thankful for his useful, stunning reminders.

Red Diamond x Library Bar x Alone Together x Santa Monica Diner

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Red Diamond long black – add 50 baht for a taste of Ethiopia, Costa Rica, or Thailand. I chose Ethiopia, the birthplace of most Ethiopians (and of coffee, allegedly).

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The airconditioning units at the Library Bar were all turned off because there were very few customers. I hope this bar survives the pandemic because it’s too lovely, and I need to show this place to some friends in the Philippines who would love this place.

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Altar but make it spirited and fizzy and zesty.

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It is so good to drink at a well-lit bar. When you go here, remember that it’s not about you but the drinks you’re about to enjoy, so don’t expect the best lighting to be on you.

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This is “Aviation” – 60% gin, 40% not gin. 

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Santa Monica Diner’s coffee is 30% coffee, 70% hot water. Santa Monica Diner is not the birthplace of coffee, but their grilled chicken breast is satisfying. 

Living with a lizard

Not my apartment but Vincent Van Gogh’s

I live with a lizard who has a child, a very tiny lizardette who scurries away upon sensing my presence. No matter where I live, there’s always a lizard who adopts me. I, like many others who cohabit with reptiles, do not mind sharing a home with the yucky-looking creatures. They are harmless and unaggressive. They’re wimpy, even. Lizards are fine creatures to live with, except for several traits some of them have that border on rudeness. What truly annoys me is that they don’t ever bother to announce their presence. They always wait on you to discover them, and every time you do, they always act shocked, which has the effect of shocking you, too. It’s a situation for which the term “mini-heart attack” was invented. It’s an endless cycle of mutually shocking each other until one of you have had enough of the other and resorts to doing something drastic and may or may not regret later. I’ve done some things to a lizard I’m not proud of. In one encounter with one in my old apartment, I sprayed water on the motherfucker until it choked (or suffer some sort of water-related torture) and left my sink.

The lizards at my current place, I just yell at or shoo away. Here’s some terrific news for them: they’re all guaranteed to never ever starve. I always have crumbs lying around the house: in my bookshelves, dining table, kitchen counter, the top of my refrigerator, the tiny shelf where the microwave is. The pandemic has turned me into a hoarder (mostly of coffee beans, digestive biscuits, almond milk, and Green Leafy Vegetables), so any lizard who thinks to visit or permanently live with me is guaranteed a steady diet of cookies and a variety of crumbs. They will not suffer the same fate that the lizards in my old unit did: die of starvation and dehydration from the lack of food and liquids. I remember one fat lizard whose name is Elizabeth Anne Salander who died unnoticed while hanging in the back of a vintage art frame in my old place. I’ll never know if that was an accident or a statement, but what a poetic way to die.