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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I had hoped that sexy British author Morrissey’s ‘List of the Lost’ would be similar to ‘Infinite Jest’ (athlete friends getting high and saying clever things 24×7), but it wasn’t and that’s okay. What it is is a peculiar novel that manages to be everything that Morrissey the vegetarian-atheist-sexy person wanted it to be and more. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before (maybe).
It’s about four fabulously built athletes who play some sports things (javelin running or something) and their deadbeat coach Rims who likes to make speeches in italics. I would say he’s like a character in a Thomas Hardy novel except that I’m not sure whether or not that makes sense because really, he could be from any planet from any century, and he would still be special.
The finely musculatured foursome Ezra, Harri, Justy and Nails do, say, and feel things like most characters in many novels, until one day they run into a preachy hobo who manages to give a rousing monologue about sexual morality, police brutality, the imprecision of memory, and government greed among other things before dying in the hands of Ezra, the novel’s Hal Incandenza. And in the words of some youthful characters on Twitter, ‘sdsklskdlskdlsdksl’
The dialogue may be bad (I’m too busy to type the excellent sex bits but they’re hilarious and worth reading) but at least it doesn’t waste your time — it’s only 117 pages! There’s a special message for pork eaters, too. And if Jonathan Safran Foer can’t turn you into a vegetarian, don’t you worry because this won’t likely hypnotize you into giving up meat and dairy. Morrissey will only shame you and your pork-eating habits. You’re likely going to feel spiteful for that and continue being a carnivore. Meanwhile, some of you will be amused.
‘List of the Lost’ is clearly a comic novel that Steven Patrick took a week of his life to entertain you, Morrissey fans, and everyone else with the good sense to pick it up, and if you can’t see that I feel sorry for you. Don’t believe The Guardian who viciously urges its readers not to read this wacky book. Or believe them but read it anyway.
‘Don’t Tell Anyone literary smut‘ was supposed to be an erotica anthology featuring both straight and gay stories. But because the stories submitted by the straight writers weren’t bastos enough, the book project ended up being a gay collection written by gay persons, Ian Rosales Casocot and Shakira Andrea Sison. In short, the gays won because gays follow rules. If they are tasked to write erotica, they write ones with unflinching smuttiness.
‘all my broken i love yous’ begins with ‘how to melt stone,’ which I presume is an accurate depiction of lesbian courtship and climaxes. It starts out coyly, telling a certain ‘you’ how to act around a Drakkar Noir-wearing lesbian lover. It’s short and sweet, and for a moment, I thought the stories would all be this saccharine.
It’s only a matter of time, though, before “bare crotches,” “proud clits,” and “shiny thighs” begin to take center stage. You’d be foolish to expect a moment of rest from really hot lovemaking because from the second story, ‘short,’ onwards, it’s all steamy sexing with only a few pillow talks in between.
By the third and fourth story, I needed a reprieve so I jumped into the Casocot side, ‘all the loves of my life.’ And I was rewarded with stories that are sexy but also have characters who communicate. In fact, I recommend switching from the lesbian side to the gay side to avoid fatigue. Whereas Sison’s stories are truly erotic, they sometimes get to be too much.
That said, it helps that:
-the writing is superb; you won’t get lost mapping the geography of Laurie, Lana, Teresa or any of the ladies’ bodies because Shaki is an expert navigator and she makes sure you don’t get lost. But I couldn’t help but giggle at the many colorful ways in which vaginas were described, which include ‘my half’ (or something), ‘mound,’ and more. I realize these are standard descriptions of the female organ but they sometimes elicit laughter instead of something else.
-lesbian sex is rarely described in any piece of art, unless you seek it out. If you’re reading this because you’re curious or because you need to know, consider your curiosity satiated (although it’s really not in my place to say whether or not this is accurate).
-the characters, when they get a chance to speak, are articulate. They’re very horny but also very smart. In “The Teachers,” professors Lena and Carla discuss the finer points of lesbian sexuality and attraction, which intelligently raises misconceptions and confusion about the way lesbians perceive attraction amongst themselves.
Reading the lesbian stories first, gay ones second also works. The women in the lesbian side are, I feel, too serious and intense, and only pause briefly to catch their breath, smoke, or negotiate with pervy campus security guards who catch them humping.
Casocot’s stories, on the other hand, are quite conservative, and the characters are easier to remember. For example, you can tell the boys from ‘the boys from Rizal Street’ apart: Samuel is the douche with the huge d, Tobias is the cold top, and Joseph is the map enthusiast who says things like, “But sometimes even a fake map is a good measure of the real borders we believe our lives to be contained in. Their (they’re ?) renderings of our imagined places—and for that, they’re beautiful.” He gives the narrator named ‘Ian’ a hard-on.
This is why I love this story: I love that the author doesn’t even care that his name is Ian and his story’s protagonist is also named Ian. Some works of fiction are very thinly veiled personal anecdotes and to me that’s okay as long as they’re good stories.
‘the thank you girl’ is a lighthearted and engaging romp about two guys who met on Grindr and found themselves in too deep talking about an acronym you may or may not have heard of, OGT, which stands for Obviously Gay Trait. Their chat inevitably leads to a necessary Miss Universe strip game. I see a movie on the horizon starring two heartthrobs, preferably ones with great comic timing.
‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ is a breath of fresh air. I had to look up ‘smut’ because I thought the gay side was not sexy enough. It turned out I’ve equated smut with porn. Smut is, per Urban Dictionary, a work of fiction that includes one or more sexually explicit scenes, with a thin plot and lots of romance. And because Ian and Shakira follow rules, they’ve created really good smut. ‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ is an exhilarating (the lez side, especially) good time that titillates, tickles, and educates.
Someone from the BBC World Book Club got wind of my 5-star review of ‘The Line of Beauty’ in Goodreads dot com and asked if I wanted to send in a question (and more) to an episode they’re doing with Alan Hollinghurst, who won the Booker Prize in 2014 and who wrote all those stunning novels about gays (mostly British gays) and more (he’s not just a gay writer; there’s something about British writers, I don’t know what it is, but many of them have it whatever it is! Ian McEwan, David Mitchell, Ali Smith, etc.).
And although I don’t really chase after literary prize winners, I’ve always thought the Booker Prize nominees and winners are enjoyable and excellent which are two very important book qualities, in my opinion.
I didn’t really know what to ask AH so I just told him I’m ‘disheartened by the
homophobia that’s pervasive even in supposedly progressive countries.’ I just read some tweets about Australia’s vote on gay marriage and thought, hmm, maybe I should let him know about that, and find a way to work that into a question. I thought it would make me look both ‘socially aware’ (I’m not) homosexual who, incidentally, is unlike the characters in his novel, Nick, Wani, Leo, etc, who are gays in the 80s, gays who are living in a bubble, living like princes within their posh communities.
Funny aside: Karen from the BBC had to ask me what I meant by ‘woke,’ a word which I used in my message and which she had to change to ‘socially aware’ because that’s not a word that adults in the real world use. From now on, no more saying things like ‘woke’ and ‘shook’ and using abbreviations like AF and WTH and WTF and NVM.
I have now gathered my wits about me and await with bated breath the airing of the episode in November. If I had had more time to think about what I really wanted to ask Alan Hollinghurst, I would have asked any of the following questions instead of what I ended up asking:
1. If Nick, Leo, or Wani were living in 2017, what kind of gays would they be? Grindr gays, drag race gays, Britney gays, Gaga gays, or Kylie Minogue gays (the 5 kinds of gays)?
2. Would a gay like Leo have lived longer had he been alive in 2017?
But anyway, I never thought I’d ever speak to a Booker Prize winner.
I’ve been reviewing books for years as a hobby and this is one of those times when I imagined having a conversation with an author I admire (or whose 1 or 2 books I love) and what he/she thinks of what I think of his/her book. AH and I didn’t really have a conversation but what a nice feeling that was to have asked him a question.
It just goes to show that when you write a 5-star review of a novelist’s work, you get invited to a book club radio program to ask a thoughtful, insightful question about homophobia in 2017 or something equally thrilling.