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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Britney Spears is not the first artist to lip sync on her world tour and she won’t be the last. Beyoncé will lip sync in her upcoming world tours, but her people will be smart enough to know that she has a reputation to uphold. That means she will lip sync but will perfect her craft: acting like she’s running out of breath for flawlessly dancing and singing. And people will eat up the deceit.
Britney and her people couldn’t be bothered to record ‘live’ vocals because she has had it. She can sing but her priorities now lie not in showcasing her stellar pipes, but in putting on a show. People will keep complaining like live vocals are super important, as if it’s the year 1997 or 1998 when artists must be able to both belt and bop or perish.
Britney is on a world tour, carrying around her 10 and 20 year old babies… her songs. She hasn’t been performing songs from ‘Glory,’ her last album. It’s an excellent album that’s considered a flop because it was hitless. I blame ‘Britney Jean.’
Britney Jean is one of the very few remnants from my childhood that I can fully enjoy (and have people know about such enjoyment) without coming off like an old man. The other remnants are Megaman and Archie.
I was at a newly opened chichi Italian-French restaurant called La Casa Nostra when the official announcement was made. On my way there, people on the MRT were noticeably extra-attentive to their phones. That has always been how people behave in Bangkok trains, ie, glued to their phone, but on that afternoon the air was thick with worry, anticipation and grief.
La Casa Nostra is one of those restaurants that are annoyingly dim. The lighting is so minimal that you would have to squint your eyes to read the menu, and when the food arrives you’ll have to use your phone’s backlight to see if your food is as you ordered it. The restaurant’s design calls attention to its classiness and for a brief moment, I considered roaming around as there were only a few customers. That night, though, it was impossible to think about anything other than what Twitter already knew at least 3-4 hours in advance.
The staff were wearing all black but it could have been their normal uniform. I was halfway through my meal when Richard Barrow tweeted the inevitable. I was ready to be ushered out of the restaurant and be told to go home and respect the people’s mourning. I had expected a lot of unrealistic scenarios upon the announcement. I expected most of the staff to break into tears and kindly show the customers out, but even more people came in. The photographer who was taking photos of the neatly lined wine glasses on the bar counter seemed unmoved – a true professional. Despite the room’s dimness, we saw a waitress break into tears. Customers were not asked to leave but were left alone with their meal.
The king’s death reminded me of Cory Aquino’s death. I remember the collective sadness that swept the Philippines when she died. That was before the country was divided into ‘yellows’ and ‘rainbows’ (hindi yellow), which let the observance of her burial be peaceful and free from the ugly taint of politics. But that couldn’t possibly be the same as what just happened to the people of Thailand. They have just lost a king, the only one they’ve ever known and revered in their lifetime.
As foreigners, we are expected to behave in a strictly respectful manner during this period when the country is experiencing its greatest sorrow. That means refraining from engaging in any festive activities. Smiling in public might even be frowned upon. Black shirts should probably not contain any unsavory graphic.
It’s not uncommon to see expats expressing their sympathies online, although there are those that can’t be bothered. And because people want to know things, they are probably asking themselves and others like themselves these questions: Am I supposed to demonstrate full-on commiseration or should I take it easy with the sympathies? When going to Tesco, should I wear black or should I save those for the malls and office?
The last thing an expat would want to be seen as is unsympathetic, although it must be said, failure to show an aura of being deep in sorrow won’t likely to get one in trouble as long as the line between nonchalant and disrespectful isn’t crossed. It wouldn’t be outrageous to think that some expats are feeling the need to be extra-sympathetic and may be compelled to overdo it. They are in a very safe place. At a time like this, one never knows of one is in the company of a mourner who would look down on your refusal or inability to wear black. Some might not be too concerned about what color garment you wear, but some might be too concerned.
Because why would they? Nose bleed is what happens when a person gets punched in the nose, or when the brain is too stressed beyond human capacity, so blood can’t help but ooze out. It’s what happens when you’re Carrie and teenage girls are mean to you. Nose bleed happens in other instances that have nothing to do with speaking a certain language imperfectly. Thais don’t have the jokey nose bleed the way Filipinos do when they are suddenly made aware that upon speaking to someone who speaks English beautifully, they, native Tagalog or Filipino speakers, fail to match the proficiency and the beauty of the proficient English speaker, which is such a Filipino thing to do and feel.
I have to say, though, that there is nothing wrong with feeling inadequate with one’s unspectacular English-speaking skills, which compels one to make a nose bleed joke. I’m saying this because I’m a coward who feels the need to make a disclaimer, and also because I really think there is nothing wrong with coping with a perceived deficiency. That coping mechanism happens to be cracking a nose bleed joke which I’m not sure if people are still doing. I sure heard a lot of it in my former office when certain native English-speaking (sometimes, non-native speaking) executives pay us a visit for the sole purpose of hearing us speak English beautifully. Of course, they couldn’t care less about how we speak (or maybe they do which should explain the visitations), but that joke got cracked a lot (eg, ‘I have to take Katarchina to dinner tonight. Nose bleeeeed!’ etc.).
I’ve thought about it, deeply, and realized that being good English communicators does great wonders for the country and its people. If it weren’t for our relatively stellar English proficiency, we would probably be less adaptable as a people who feel the need to grace all corners of the earth with our presence. We probably wouldn’t be one of the most human resource-exporty country in the world, which we are. More importantly, I probably wouldn’t be here in Bangkok doing what I’m doing and loving the shit out of not being in the Philippines where things can be sometimes not so great.
It’s frightening to imagine Filipinos not being such good English speakers because if we didn’t have that, we would have much less, but maybe we would have something else. All that would be left would be our world-class resiliency and singing voice. Horrific. We would just be hospitable islanders who make laughable signages that other excellent English-speaking people would ridicule us for. Since we are such great communicators, we do this to ourselves. If we weren’t the occasionally vicious grammar Nazis that we often are, we would probably find alternative ways to be cruel to each other. The nose bleed joke is therefore essential in perpetuating our strong English communication culture.
I sometimes fantasize about a Philippines that is peopled with Pinoys who would speak Tagalog at least 95% of the time, the way Thais, and presumably other Asian nations, do. I just wish we were less obnoxious about this proficiency.
But who am I kidding? I used to find hilarity in those emails passed around containing jpegs of atrociously worded signs in China or any other country that doesn’t revere English the way we do. But I have changed and my humor leans towards other brands of jokes now. I still find hilarity in playing with open and closed vowel sounds and that might never fade. I used to sing LFO’s Summertime for this very reason (‘New keeds on the black had a banch of heets, Chinese food makes me seek. And I think it’s fly when the girls stop by for the sammer, for the sammer.’).
Thais, and presumably other nationalities who don’t give much thought (ie., give zero fucks) about their English proficiency, don’t have nose bleeds of the variety that is caused by English-speaking deficiency. In place of petty nose bleeds, they have hypertension when some foreigner has the nerve to engage them in conversations that would require more than yes or no answers which, in the absence of English language knowledge, they opt to answer with a nod or a shrug. This is wise as it keeps them healthy and free of nasal blood flow.
In truth, non-native English speakers (eg., Thais) might only be slightly peeved, or some of them might actually feel like this lack of superb English communication skills poses a major barrier to achieving potential greatness. I once asked a Thai if non-excellence in English is something that can get you ridiculed in Thai society, a reason to have your Facebook post screencapped and showcased to ridiculer’s own feed to be liked because shittily-worded compositions in Facebook are hilarious. I forgot his exact words but the meat of what his answer was that Thais ridicule fellow Thais for other reasons. And even though he was just one person, I believed him even though he was attractive and probably doesn’t get ridiculed for much so embarrassment is probably not something he experiences regularly.
Some Pinoys, on the other hand, make cracks about lost apostrophes and misplaced commas. Sometimes it’s well deserved such as in instances where the grammar crime is committed by someone with heinous thoughts. Sometimes, you can’t help but be on the side of the grammar criminal. It’s strange but an understandable phenomenon. Think about it: If little notes about turning off the faucet in our public bathrooms were heinously worded, where would we be?
Is a question I should have prepared for but didn’t. I’ve always had an idea of a typical Thai as aloof to the idea of a foreigner. I’ve always thought of them as unlike most Pinoys whose hearts melt when asking foreigners about their estimation of the Philippines and upon hearing something that vaguely sounds like affection for the country, pass out from a wave of tremendous patriotic pride. I think that when a Thai asks me that, it is really just out of plain, unobtrusive curiosity. But then of course, Thais would be unlike most Pinoys in that regard because in the first place, there really is no one in the world quite like Pinoys.
There is nothing wrong with Pinoy Pride, I know it, but I’ve always been unable to relate to this raging nationalistic fervor. It’s fine, though, because I can just feel that the Philippines also doesn’t care about my lack of love for it, and maybe my indifference towards it may not be intense enough as to seriously wound the quite fragile Filipino Pride.
Maybe I never bothered to think about the answer to that because the question ought to be Why did you leave the Philippines? because that is really what I did. Maybe I would have had better responses to that question had it been phrased differently, say, ‘Why did you decide to get away from all the horrendousness brought about by a Manila existence?’ or ‘Why did you think it was smart to leave Metro Manila, shitty Metropolis?’
But Thais are not like that. They’re so great and kind and so they would only ever ask about moving and not about the leaving.
Had the questions been phrased differently, I would have had to prepare a pageanty answer because as much as I would love to point out the positives first (ie, ‘Because I simply love Thailand!’ etc.) I wouldn’t want to be perceived as a shit-talker of his own country and of shitty things, in general. Talking behind the Philippines’s back, even though it sometimes deserves it, does not feel good, knowing that not all people who migrate feel the same way as I do. Also, it would feel very silly and embarrassing if I talk ill of a country I know I would have to go back to sooner or later. If it’s any consolation I have Palawan Pride. I think Palawan makes all other beaches look like swamps.
That is maybe why I never bothered to devote an hour or so of my life to list the plentiful reasons why I decided to move to Bangkok, Thailand — because the question needs to be rephrased. But every time I get asked that, I am tempted to give the following stock answers:
1. Because there’s nothing in this world I would rather be than here.
2. Because the trains here are so great. So great that I would never shut up about their greatness, ever.
3. Because I love spicy food and it feels so great to be eating them here instead of some ‘Authentic Thai Food’ restaurant in Rockwell, Makati.
4. Because you can mall-hop abandonedly thanks to the wonderful, great trains.
5. Because I’ve read in some tourist brochure or magazine that Bangkok is a city where ‘culture meets commerce’ or something and I wanted to soak up that culture-commerce atmosphere aura.
6. Because I hate our trains and 80% of our roads.
In short, I moved here because it’s so great being here, which I know tells the interrogator nothing. Noticeably, however, hate will have a major role behind the reasons.
It’s not an easy question to answer. If I say something about ‘loving the culture’ and be asked to be specific, I wouldn’t be able to articulate the *culture love* because my idea of culture is hazy and will always involve thoughts of the DVDs being sold at Lido Theater. Great variety of DVD titles would always mean, for me, an act of culture fortification, because making available to the masses these wide variety of movies, not anymore accessible in the Philippines, could only mean that the ministry of culture, specifically the DVD-importing and printing department, cares to have its people have access to these cinematic (and musical) treasures. The DVD and CD selection in a lot of Bangkok stores are truly remarkable and, like the rest of Thai culture, so great.
But I know that that is not what makes a city so highly cultural.
In some faint way, I could say that this is a city that wouldn’t make you feel as if you’re only doing these cultural things as a duty but because there’s actually so much culture to take. And because the trains, those great, great trains, and the boats, let you hop from one place to another without feeling contemptuous of the sickness that is the modern day transportation.
You go to museums because they’re pretty, they’re very accessible, and the restrooms are gleaming works of architectural marvel. You don’t go to Bangkok Art & Cultural Centre because you feel like your Instagram needs to have its periodic culturification because in the last few days all you’ve had are pictures of your photogenic meals and you feel like the commerce-culture balance must be achieved.
I could say that I love the people, but which people exactly? I could support the *people love* claim by saying that the people who make this city so thoroughly livable deserve all the love it can get and so I am professing and freely giving my love to those people.
I could tell them that I love not being impelled to treat the whole office to lunch when it is my birthday, resignation day or baptismal day which is what sometimes happens back home. But deep down I would know that that’s not really it.
Maybe, Why did you move here is a question asked by anyone who has encountered a Pinoy anywhere in the world and it is in fact one of the most common questions ever asked. Maybe there is an idea of a Philippines, especially from those who have never been in it, that is filled with images of fun if over-crowded, party beaches and bountiful coconut trees, and smiling, charming locals, that the idea of someone moving away from all that could only mean insanity. I go to work every day not having poisonous feelings about life, ie, with a song in my heart, but when I dig deeper, I find ‘great trains’ as not being a very compelling reason for loving where I’m now living.
Next time I get asked that, maybe I’ll just say, Because the internet is fast, which I think could perfectly capture the essence of my real answer which is ‘I’m not sure’.