Friday, 22 May 2015

Slippers and Cinders

We all know the Cinderella story: at the final stroke of midnight, Cinderella ran off from the village ball. The majestic carriage became a pumpkin again, and her magnificent horses turned back into mice. All that was left of Cinderella in that ball was the glass slipper left on the stairs of the Prince’s castle.

We all know what happened to that slipper, and how the Prince and Cinderella lived happily ever after.

I don’t think they did make glass slippers in Kentex: they made “Havanas,” and all other sorts of flip-flops and sandals. People weren’t running away because Fairy Godmothers will reverse their blessings on the stroke of midnight, but because they can’t leave a burning factory with barred windows and locked exits.

There was no “happily ever after:” just the pittances and indignation that came with a fire fuelled less by an errant spark from a welder’s arc, but moral hazards poured over 72 people who perished in that fire.

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Friday, 1 May 2015

On Offal


Whenever I go home to Baguio and my father’s around, I would often ask him to prepare a favorite dish: the intestines of a pig, blanched and softened, stir-fried in soy sauce and cornstarch and a bit of leek thrown in. That one simple dish of “silet,” best consumed with cold rice and copious amounts of Coca-Cola, is a reminder of home. And somehow, a reminder of being.


I think it was Roland Barthes who once said that to eat a steak rare represents “both a nature and a mortality:” in many ways, it’s a full-blooded experience. The steak is powerful: bloody, primal, “flows to the very blood of man.”


For the lack of steak – unless I’m in the mood for chops – I turn to that other primal thing in an animal. That other thing that flows to the very blood: that other thing that speaks to both nature and mortality. There’s nothing more natural and mortal than the primal, animal thing that is almost always an acquired taste. Unlike steaks or meaty stews, there is no mistaking what offal is and where it came from. It is, for all intents and purposes, the very fiber of the animal.

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Friday, 30 January 2015

Conspicuous By His Absence

The long gray line of caskets at Villamor bore more than the bodies of fallen heroes. They were fathers, brothers, sons who lost their lives in a bungled operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. They were surrounded by grieving families and mourning colleagues. The Filipino people, too, grieved and mourned. Whatever hopes for peace shriveled, whatever dreams for accord withered.

We were all moved by the stories of loss. We too, shared in the tears that welled up in the eyes of families who, in that moment, lost their sons. Of wives who became widows. Of children who became orphans.

Conspicuous by his absence: President Benigno S. Aquino III.

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Saturday, 17 January 2015

A (Brutal) Translation of Pope Francis’s Homily

Pope Francis’s homily is erudite, beautiful, and meaningful. Which means – at least in the context of everything that happens in this space – it should be translated.

Digression: I like Pope Francis. I’ll probably earn the ire of traditionalist Catholics for this, but I think he’s one really cool guy. Not that his mere presence here raised my personal faith to a saintly level of holiness, but it’s really cool to have the Pope around to, at the very least, unite our nation (albeit temporarily). Plus, based on the stories told about him, he seems to be one really awesome guy.

Anyway, I haven’t done translation (or any sort of writing) in a long while, though, which means this Filipino translation is as brutal, word-for-word, and not-definitive as it gets. It won’t be as refined or as fantastic as the Pope delivered it – errors everywhere, at that – but it’s probably worth a try at this point.

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Tuesday, 30 December 2014


Three hundred sixty days ago, if you told me I’d be riding a zipline, I would have laughed. I would have just told you that things like that will happen in the next lifetime, or an alternate universe. I would have reminded you that there are other things to do in a nature park, like taking pictures of animals, exploring food options, or – preferably – getting out of there fast.

At three in the afternoon, though, the attendants were fitting me onto a harness. The pulleys were strapped, safety checks were made, and I was lowered into position. My body was tense. I was breaking out into a cold sweat just thinking about the things that could happen. The cables could break. The safety harness could be too loose, and will snap. Either way, I figured out certain doom more than the thrillride that lay ahead.

And then, the guide let go.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

X-List: A Year of Magical Reading

I think it was Stephen King who once wrote: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” This year, I made a commitment with myself to read, and to read furiously. Reading – plus a reinvigorated passion at work, a rekindled interest in origami, and a newfound hobby in kickboxing (more on that when I feel like it) – somewhat rejuvenated me.

All that aside, I think my taste in reading has also somewhat evolved. “Dune” and “Lord of the Rings” are still up there when it comes to things that make me happy, and there was some catching up to do with Terry Pratchett’s universe after years of not reading it. I still enjoy the classics – Dumas, Goethe, Beowulf – but this year was particularly special. Enjoyable, even; lends peace to the chaos.

So much so that overshooting Goodreads Reading Challenge goals is probably one of the best things I did for myself this year.

Without further ado, here are ten of my favorite reads this year. Most of them are a little old: methinks that some of the more recent books I read still need the test of time (except for a few).

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Friday, 31 October 2014

Jumping the Tombs

For me, memorial parks are more like golf courses: manicured lawns, sprinklers, the reception area with marble floors and columns. The memorial park is like a slice of white-picket-fences America, lined with stunted and balding alder trees to give the burial grounds a more suburban, refined feel.

Before all of this, though, there was the venerable sementeryo.

I’m never sure about what to call “cemeteries” in the Philippines: as with a lot of things here, the Western ideal takes a whole new meaning. The Filipino graveyard is as much about life as it is about death: people do live in shacks in the graveyard, mausoleums become homes for caretakers and undertakers and gravediggers and their families. On All Saints’ Day, the land of the dead becomes everything in the land of the living: a marketplace, a picnic area, a park, a playground. A casket can become a photo booth (or at least one enterprising funeral home thought of that brilliant idea), just as the tombs in the front of the cemetery become sari-sari stores.

Far from the “Six Feet Under” feel of memorial parks, or notions of “the family plot.”

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