Michael Jackson, Free Will(y), and the Dark Night of the Soul – Part 1

Part 1: Michael Jackson and the Most Depressing Form of Procrastination

The Gloved One himself (glove not shown). The Man in the Mirror. The Smooth Criminal who is also a Thriller and he made a song called Billie Jean. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Jackson_(actor)

Well, I’ve certainly had a rough few days. I’ve felt sapped of motivation to do anything, my moments of joy were brief and fleeting, and everything I cooked turned out kinda crappy. My sorrow had many causes: The return of regular water cuts in my neighbourhood (though so far without any accidental flooding!), too much isolation, and my ambivalence toward my imminent departure were some of the reasons. But as is so often the case, much of my sadness was the result of reading dumb stuff on the Internet.

It all began, as all things in life do, with Michael Jackson. Like many people, I jumped on the MJ bandwagon soon after his death: I think the outpouring of grief over the death of someone who I had thought of as a washed-up joke helped alert me to his true stature as a pop musician. (Or I really just wanted to pile onto the bandwagon – either way!) In spite of the baggage surrounding him – the insane fans, the Elephant Man’s Bones, and not least of all his insecurely blackmailing the media to force them to refer to him by the unfortunate title of “The King of Pop” – I realized that he was an artist with an amazing, one-of-a-kind voice, loads of songwriting talent, and some pretty snazzy dance skills and fashion sense, to boot. In the course of a four-decade career he managed to release a handful of classic albums, as well as some inconsistent ones that nonetheless featured some pretty impressive highlights.

That said, he’s one of the biggest pop stars of all time, so I’d rather introduce him with a non-album demo track:

Like many pop music-loving sheeple, my interest in MJ was recently renewed by the really-quite-good Love Never Felt So Good from his posthumous Xscape (ugh – that title) album, especially in the gloriously pandering, modernized (because the ’70s are modern again) remix featuring guilty pleasure Justin “Offensive Wedding Video” Timberlake. (It’s certainly a few notches above Timberlake’s maddeningly anodyne Can’t Stop The Feeling, a bloodless piece of prefab pop whose #1 success eradicates any faith in humanity engendered by the success of credible artists like Beyoncé, Adele, or… Justin Timberlake in a better song.)

So last week I was doing my part by giving the song its 65 millionth Spotify play (dance… lemme see ya move…), and a few clicks through the Spotify wormhole led me to Jackson’s first posthumous release, the creatively-named Michael, an album I had somehow overlooked – probably because my life was more interesting at the time than it is now!

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Celebrating Manila’s Cheap Coffee Renaissance

Obligatory photo to accompany article: Hockey legend Paul Coffey. Source: http://hfboards.hockeysfuture.com/showthread.php?t=1641273
Obligatory photo to accompany article: Hockey legend Paul Coffey. I’m not saying he’s cheap, though; I have no reason to believe he is not a perfect gentleman. Source: http://hfboards.hockeysfuture.com/showthread.php?t=1641273

Something wonderful is happening in Manila right now – something that too few people are commenting on, even as that effervescent, unmistakable sparkle of magic fills the air! That is, cheap coffee is starting to get really good.

For too long, coffee in Manila has been divided between between the dodgy and the highfalutin. On the dodgy end of the spectrum, you could plop yourself down at the local corner store and order a sachet of 3-in-1 instant coffee mix for a few pesos, and get an incredible sweet coffee-like beverage that is more palm oil and sugar than actual coffee. (I will make an exception for Kopiko Brown and Black, two instant coffee mixes that contain even more empty calories than their competitors, and don’t get much closer to tasting anything like actual coffee, but do have the significant advantage of actually tasting really good.)

On the other end of things, there has long been no shortage of places for the beautiful people and those who wish to be seen as beautiful to plop down more than 100 pesos for a cup of actual coffee or, more popularly, a shot of espresso and 500 calories of sugar and whipped cream. When you want to take the best possible selfies while also getting a bit of caffeine in the process, Starbucks, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and their various competitors are always there to satisfy your cravings. I personally avoid these options, not just because of my pathological cheapness, but also because I am opposed to paying western prices or higher for a cup of coffee that is being served to me by people making decidedly less-than-western wages. All the more so in a country that grows a good amount of its own coffee, if only anyone would bother to drink the local stuff – which I can say isn’t the best coffee I’ve had, but is actually pretty damn good! (Please, support your local barako farmer!)

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On Animal Cruelty and the Virtues of Keeping My Mouth Shut

My neighbours a few houses down seem like nice enough people. We greet each other pleasantly from time to time, and I remain grateful for the time, back when I was originally house-hunting in the neighbourhood, that they let me step inside their house and use their landline to call up the owner of the house that I would eventually rent. They also run a tailoring business out of their house, and I have to assume they did a good job of fixing the hole in my jean pocket, although I haven’t actually worn the jeans since I got them back.

Unfortunately, my neighbours also have two medium-sized dogs that they keep confined in very cramped cages, not much larger than their bodies. I don’t think this is from simple lack of space – their house, while not lavish, looks reasonably roomy and comfortable. But the dogs probably aren’t pets in the way that westerners would understand; they’re treated more as living burglar alarms, which is a fairly common practice here. I do hear the dogs bark from time to time, as you probably would if you had to spend your life inside a small cage, but the noise isn’t really much of an issue – mostly I just feel bad every time I pass by the house and witness their deplorable living conditions. (I won’t be posting a photo here, both because I’d rather make a boring post than a painfully sad one, and also because I don’t want to make my otherwise pleasant neighbours wonder what kind of malfeasance I’m involved in.)

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In Defense of Manila’s MRT

MRT
Probably not a good photo for an article with the title “In Defense of Manila’s MRT”. Source: http://mrt3.com/index.php/news-page.html

When people talk about how bad the public transit in Manila supposedly is, they like to hold up the MRT as an example of all of its supposed dysfunctions. It’s so crowded!, they say. It’s always breaking down! Sometimes it even falls off the tracks! It’s a death trap!

Well, I came not to bury the MRT, but rather to… OK, not praise it, but at least offer a measured defense of it. So let me speak up on behalf of the MRT, since trains and tracks cannot speak for themselves:

It is absolutely indispensable. Manila’s train network may be woefully inadequate, with 14 million+++++ people being serviced by a total of 3 train lines (LRT1, LRT2 and MRT) with only 44 stations in total. (Compare Mexico City, a city not known for its cutting-edge infrastructure, still managed to build a whopping 195 metro stations.) And of the three train lines, all of which suffer from malfunctions, random aircon breakdowns on hot afternoons, and severe overcrowding during rush hour, the MRT is the worst: in spite of being the busiest of the three train lines, it has the smallest cars, and suffers from the most technical glitches. Being roughly pushed into a jam-packed MRT car at rush hour as the humble air conditioning struggles to keep up with the sheer outpouring of body heat is quite the experience indeed.

Nonetheless, the MRT has always been the most useful mode of transit for me in Metro Manila. For one thing, it runs along EDSA, a road which provides access to most of Metro Manila’s main commercial centres, and which you could credibly argue is the single most congested thoroughfare in the entire country. An MRT ride, though sometimes traumatic, can potentially reduce a 2 hour road journey to 25 minutes. The ridiculous 40 km journey from my home in Muntinlupa to my occasional workplace in a far-flunt area of Quezon City is only made bearable by the MRT, along with my dear friend the Skyway. (However, on a not-unrelated note, I’ll be quitting that job soon, because traveling 40 km in Manila will never not be hard.)

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