Skip to content

Wound ‘Round the Axle

Methinks it was Ernest Hemingway who once said that there’s no better way to experience the contours of a country by sweating up and coasting down its hills through a bicycle. It’s as if a bicycle leaves an imprint of sorts in body and mind: the wind in your hair, the brush with bushes and shrubs, the mere manner of riding and balancing can take you memorable places a car won’t. And on that day that I trucked my bicycle off to a friend who bought it from me, a little twinge triggered in my cold, cold heart: that in three or four months of trying to learn to ride that bicycle every day, I could never seem to get the hang of it. The bicycle deserved more than I could ever give it: a familiar feeling, an elegy of sorts that I gave it as I gave it one final tap on its handlebars.

My bicycle wasn’t just any other bicycle: to call it a “bike” is to lose a bit of its sense of beauty. It’s a lot like that scene in De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves where he looked for the stolen family bicycle in a row of so many. It had 24″ wheels, thick enough to withstand potholes; and had the novelty of being easy to fold. Among so many bikes in the store – Dahons, Bickertons, other new brands that came in – that Tern was the one that beckoned to me: shiny fenders, high-tech handlebars, Shimano groupsets, and finished in black and bronze. There will be many like it from wherever they make it, but at some point, it was my bicycle.

Pandemic doesn’t leave a lot of options for people in their mid-30s to pursue whatever is in the throes of one’s midlife crisis, without the benefit of vaccines or RT-PCR tests or the rash of documents required to do something. A bicycle makes sense: the government made lanes for it, the stores are awash with people looking to buy one, and you don’t have to worry about contracting Covid from a passenger. Plus, “everyone knows how to ride a bike.” Until you realize that “everyone” does not include you, and riding astride a fat self-balancing motorcycle doesn’t count when it comes to bicycles.


Breathing it all in

It rained a little hard this afternoon: the sort of rain that my parents usually warned me about as a kid. Summer rains brought with it all manner disease. Summer rains brought out the woolly caterpillars from their burrows underneath the trees: the sorts that would give you rashes and sore eyes at the slightest touch. Summer rains brought out the heat trapped beneath the soil, and breathing in the thick air would bring about influenza. Summer rains can shock your system, causing wheezing and sneezing and coughing.

It didn’t rain as much on this day last year. I remember doing some last-minute shopping at the nearby Korean store, buying just a little more of the dumplings and meats and kimchi that I usually bought in the middle of the month. The lines at the supermarkets were just a little too long for me to bear. Somehow I cannot blame the panicked buyers for piling grocery bags high with all sorts of canned goods and rice bags and rubbing alcohol bottles: after all, we were just a few weeks removed from a volcanic eruption that covered Manila in fine, gray ash.

Just a few days before all that, all we were asked to do was to wash our hands, and maybe cough and sneeze on the crook of our elbows. It has gone through many versions since then: using a very particular kind of mask, wearing an acrylic face shield on top of it, installing plastic films inside public utility vehicles, and staying at home. A thing that was supposed to last just so, until we found ourselves exactly where we are today.

It rained hard this afternoon: March 15, 2021. It’s been 365 days since lockdown. And in those brief moments that I spent waiting for the rain to die down before I can head back over to my apartment, I wondered—briefly—if the summer rains carried the coronavirus, too.


A matter of exhaling

“Restarting” is preceded by a halt of some sorts.

A few weeks ago, TBWA\SMP and T3 launched “Ingat, Angat:” an initiative that sought to bring many brands in the country to rebuild consumer trust, and restart the economy. It’s not every day that you see competing brands work together to create a compelling—and inspirational—message to get people moving again to restart the economy, nevermind the conditions of the New/Next/Better Normal. And as is expected of ads with this message, the production values are ripe for awards and recognition, too.

I certainly am not going to be the guy who would critique the work of another agency, much less brands: that would be completely out of place for me. But if anything, this ad makes me think (albeit belatedly) about a few things about where we are now, seven—going on eight—months of lockdown.

Despite that encouraging tone to get us all back to help restart this nation, there’s that disconsolate, unsettling feeling as one exhales.