A Thousand Extra Lives, Please

With just over a month left for me in Manila, on the tail end of six very happy non-consecutive years, I find myself panicking.  It’s not the worst kind of panic – not, say, the panic of realizing that you’ve lost all feeling in your legs. It’s the panic of feeling like I’m about to lose a happy life I’ve taken for granted, and that I have to scramble to squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of it. I want to meet all the people I knew before, meet wonderful new people, go everywhere, and do everything.

The problem with the panicked rush to enjoy as much as possible, though, is that it ends up not being very enjoyable at all. Because I’ve also enjoyed the comforting sameness of my daily routine – the lazy morning coffee sessions at home, the ambling trips to the market, and the simple joys of spending an hour on Facebook messenger before I even start pretending to work. I want to squeeze out of every last drop of this serenity, too, but the problem is that aggressively relaxing to the max is a pretty nonsensical concept. And then again, every day spent drinking coffee with my dogs is another day I can’t spend rushing around the metropolis in search of one last dizzying adventure.


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Reflections on the Eve of 2017

With 4 hours left before the inauguration of the new year, I have opted out of all social activity to spend my night at home blogging and cooking Kerala egg curry. This is partly because my original social plans got soured by a personal boondoggle; partly because of my fear of losing a finger or two if I venture outside into the war zone of Manila on New Year’s Eve, with DIY firecracker launches taking the place of the heavy artillery; and partly because I’m just an antisocial old grouch.

A New Year’s Eve spent at home is also an ideal time for reflection, assuming one does not pass out from the firecracker smoke coming in through the window. I do not wish to reflect too much on the fact that 2016 was The Worst Year Ever, even though it indisputably was – from climate doom to the death of the most famous of all Jehovah’s Witnesses to Donald Trump and, perhaps most incredibly, the deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother one day apart. No need for another thinkpiece on that topic when everyone already knows it’s absolutely true, anyway: 2016 was the worst year ever. At least, until 2017.

And so, notwithstanding the fact that 2017 may yet bring horrors so appalling that all else will fade into insignificance,  I would like to reflect on the lessons that I hope to apply over the coming 365 days. Some of these are lessons that I only recently unearthed, while others are things I’ve known for a long time but had trouble actually applying. Either way, I believe these are principles that, if put into practice, could help me have a happier 2017 – That is, if I don’t die from a climate change nuke explosion with its ground zero located at a crowded Annual Convention of Beloved Celebrities.


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The Kalabaw Paradox

How how indeed! - S
How how indeed! – Source

Ever since the age of 14, I have devoted inordinate thought to the ethics of meat-eating. Around that age, my mother became a pescatarian; and I, being a hopeless mama’s boy at the time, was quite ready to emulate her example. It wasn’t a difficult decision, and not just because she was the only person I was living with at the time, as well as the one who cooked my meals. I had always loved animals – as a person with autism, I often found them much easier to relate to than people. And although I was certainly a gluttonous little porker, meat was never one of my favorite things to stuff into my greasy little piehole – you could’ve given me a bag of salt & vinegar potato chips over a juicy T-bone any day of the week.

My first memory of wrestling with the thorny issue of culinary ethics was from fifth or sixth grade, on the playground with my inseparable chum Dan. At the time the media was abuzz with the clubbing of baby (“baby”) seals in the arctic, and Dan indignantly declared, with a withering contempt far beyond his years, that the same people who bellyache about seal clubbing don’t care about millions of chickens being killed everyday. I had no answer to this at the time, but perhaps my eventual vegetarianism was a delayed act of spite – an “I’ll show him”, with my revenge exacted a few years too late. He did have a point, though.


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Some Positive Thoughts

Do you know someone who causes you a lot of frustration? Maybe you find them obnoxious or petty. Maybe their mere presence grates on you terribly. Maybe you have to work with them everyday, and just being around them makes you hate your job.

Or maybe you know someone who is smarter than you, or more attractive, or more charming, or who makes more money than you, or is more successful with the opposite sex (or their preferred sex, whatever that may be). Maybe the envy you feel towards them just eats away at you from the inside every time you’re around them, or even when you’re not.

Well, don’t worry about it… because one day they’ll be dead, and so will you!

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Climate Change and the Three Jewels

Source: https://www.wunderground.com/climate/greenland.asp
Source: https://www.wunderground.com/climate/greenland.asp

Climate change scares the shit out of me. I don’t think I’ve ever cursed before in this blog, but climate change scares the shit out of me. We are all… well, I don’t think I wanna use a word even more offensive than “shit”, but we are all basically doomed, unless the Chinese discover a miraculous source of unlimited clean energy or we manage to narrowly avoid utter catastrophe through some sort of wacky geoengineering scheme. Perhaps that’s why Elon Musk is working on his Mars colony?

If you want to cry, or perhaps just redouble your efforts to retain your sanity through sheer force of self-delusion, here are more reading materials to convince you that we are all fu… I mean, doomucked:

There are certainly rosier assessments of the climate situation, and the idea that we’ll all be extinct within 15 years isn’t exactly a mainstream opinion among climate scientists,  but I’m pretty sure the world will at least be a hot mess (ha, ha!) within a couple of decades. Of course, you are welcome to convince yourself that everything is fine because at least Iceland is colder than usual. And hey, El Niño! Unfortunately, your remarkable capacity for self-delusion will run out sometime before you are up on your roof with a rifle, shooting at starving looters who are trying to break into your food storehouse. (more…)

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No More Drinkin’

It’s been more than five months since my last drink, and I feel good!

I hate to disappoint you, but my last sip of alcohol was not part of a nightmarish bender. It was, in fact, quite prosaic: a bottle of San Miguel, perhaps preceded by one other bottle at most, consumed on Malapascua Island in Cebu – a pretty good place for drinking, as far as that goes. Nothing interesting happened, good or bad, as a consequence of my consumption of that solitary beer. If anything, the sheer blandness of that experience is probably what finally inspired me to stop drinking.

My drinking habit is something that formed gradually and imperceptibly. For years I wasn’t terribly interested in alcohol, partly due to my parents’ brilliant efforts to deglamourize it by offering me and my brother little sips of wine over family dinners at home, starting at quite a young age. It worked quite well, I think, until I moved 11,000 kilometres from home, and negative habits gradually began to take root.

Once I was on my own, I began to sporadically experiment with more excessive forms of drinking. Manila’s infinite quantities of nightlife, along with the overall Filipino fondness for drinking, provide ample opportunities to drink to the point of regret. But although I’ve been plenty drunk plenty of times since, it didn’t take me long to realize the limited appeal of heavy drinking. Inhibitions have long since ceased to be a major problem for me – if anything, the problem is that I tend to be too much myself – so being drunk never offered many advantages other than making boring people seem like more interesting company. On the other hand, the disadvantage of feeling absolutely terrible afterward was pretty hard to miss. Even the social advantages tended to be rather one-sided, given the fact that I am, based on my experience, quite socially objectionable when I’ve had a few too many. And the alienation I experienced caused me to get frustrated and behave more badly, leading to some experiences too awful to describe in any sort of detail. As the sad, lonely, regrettable experiences with drunkenness began to pile up, the disadvantages of heavy drinking became quite hard to miss. And although I’ve still had to re-learn that lesson from time to time, with all the subsequent occasions I’ve hoped against all odds that heavy drinking would help me cut loose, give me a night to remember, etc., it almost always led only to more reminders of why limiting myself to a couple of beers was a very good idea. (more…)

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Doing The Best We Can

When I was a teenager, I ended up in a heated debate with an older friend of a friend. This man, who must’ve been more than twice my age at the time, looked a bit like Jim Carrey and had a great deal of earnestness about him. As we sat with our larger group at a local diner, we became embroiled in an argument about whether we could really expect people to make a greater effort in their daily lives. According to him, people who were slovenly, thoughtless, or just plain lazy in their daily dealings couldn’t be faulted because they were inevitably doing the best they can. I, as an angry teenage firebrand, adamantly insisted that we could hold people to task for their failings and shortcomings, because they always had the capacity to do better.

The debate was long, interminable, and never satisfyingly concluded. Somehow, life managed to go on in spite of the this, and we continued along on our respective journeys.

Lately, though, my mind has been returning to that debate. I think about how my life has changed since then, and with it, my attitudes. When I was a troublemaking teenager, swept up in a sea of hormones and uncontrolled emotions, and picking fights with the cosmos, I was paradoxically quite convinced of my absolute mastery of myself – this in spite of the fact that I didn’t know a damn thing about anything, least of all myself. But now that I’ve quieted most of my inner struggles and molded my life into more or less what I wanted it to be, things feel a bit grey and monotonous, like there is nothing left for me to push my will against. And now, I feel like I’m doing the best I can, too. Adulthood feels like something that we shuffle our way through, trying not to trip on the speed bumps, and just doing the best we can. (more…)

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A Very Dengue Christmas

Source: http://mosquitojoe.com/author/admin/page/2/
Source: http://mosquitojoe.com/author/admin/page/2/
Thanks, Mosquito Joe!

As someone from a fairly sedate country with fairly sedate diseases, I have long felt that the tropics have a near-monopoly on the nastiest, most horrifying infections, including the ones that lay eggs in your brain.

That said, during my nine years in this part of the world I’ve managed to only be afflicted with fairly prosaic infections: a good number of bacteria have crawled their way inside my respiratory tract; I’ve had to receive enough rabies and tetantus shots to inoculate an accident-prone elephant; and perhaps I’ve had a horrifying mini-stroke or two, give or take. But as far as I know, nothing has ever laid its eggs inside my brain.

However, last week I received a bit of a crash course in tropical diseases. It started off innocently enough: at my work Christmas party on December 21, while entertaining my colleagues with my karaoke renditions of The Little Drummer Boy, The Christmas Waltz and other seasonal classics, I started feeling a bit weak. By the time I made it home a few hours later, I felt certifiably gross, and wasquite feverish. I slept until late the next morning, thinking it was one of those quick-to-come, quick-to-go flu infections – the kind where the primary symptom, extreme tiredness, leads elegant into the best treatment, bed rest. After about twelve hours in bed I did feel better, but later that day the fever attacked me with renewed vengeance. (more…)

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Buffet 101 and the Modern-Day Vomitorium

Tonight I had an experience that is quite rare for me: I ate at a high-end buffet. Given my notorious stinginess and my staunch “I don’t eat out in Manila unless it’s canteens, pizza or fast food” policy (which will get its own post, of course!), it takes some truly unusual circumstances to drag me out to the high-end smorgasborgs which have sprouted up throughout the Metro.

As it happens, this high-end buffet served as a most unusual location for a first date with a local woman off an Internet dating site. (What can I say? I’m trying to get out more.) For some reason, she decided that such an ostentatious choice would be ideal for the first meetup between two total strangers; with my usual suaveness, I informed her that I would only eat at such a ritzy establishment if it were birthday or if someone were treating me. Although I expected her to simply lose interest and find another dining companion who wasn’t a stingy jerk (or who was currently celebrating his birthday), she surprised me by insisting that she’d pay for both of us. After a few incredulous rounds of “Do you really want to pay for me?” and several affirmative responses, I finally accepted. I was pretty baffled, but since it’s not every day that strangers offer me expensive meals, it was hard to say no. So, after meeting up with her in Makati and wandering around the malls for a few hours, abusing the free karaoke machine demos in music stores and searching for a pepper mill – more of the makings of a great first date – we ended up at Buffet 101, which touts itself as the longest buffet line in the Philippines. (Incidentally, I did manage to find an inexpensive pepper mill, and I expect my nose to be very happy during the coming weeks and months.)

Buffet 101 is one of several highish-end buffets that can now be found in Manila and other major cities, along with such competitors as Dad’s, Yaki Mix and Vikings. A meal at one of these restaurants could run you between 500 and 1200 pesos ($11 to $25 US), which sounds like a pretty wide price range, but all are equally unaffordable for your average indigent rice farmer or sidewalk cigarette-and-mint vendor. These massive food-based amusement parks have popped up all over Manila, Cebu and Davao as the aspirational middle class continue to seek out new ways to celebrate the sweet life. Or, to put it another way, they provide a helpful answer to the nagging question: “Now that I have all this money, what can I spend it on so as to avoid giving it to the poor?” (more…)

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Things I’m Grateful For Today

After a two-week hiatus from blogging, it seems fitting to dip my toes back into the compositional world by writing something even more frivolous and unstructured than usual. And although my blog posts have been all roses and sunshine compared to the misanthropic bile I used to pump out during my angsty teen years (and let us never speak of it again), it still might be time to take a “positivity break” from all the death and guilt and pangolin poaching. Here goes!

First of all, I’m grateful that the last two typhoons that whipped by the Philippines brought thoroughly underwhelming amounts of rain and wind to Metro Manila. Although there were times that the nonstop cloud cover and slow, steady rain became oppressive in their sheer unceasingness, it was also a great time to be at home in my underwear, listening to the rain pour outside while cuddling with my extremely hydrophobic dogs. And now that the sun has come back, I can think of it as a familiar friend instead of just a cruel tyrant zapping me with UV rays against which my pasty skin is ill-equipped to defend itself. (If one of the subsequent typhoons during the current rainy season turns Metro Manila into a giant lake, I’m going to regret writing this.)

I’m grateful for lazy, sunny Sundays like this one – days when I can’t hear much outside my house except for the blowing of the wind and the constant chirping of birds, even as I potentially annoy my neighbours by blasting Scarlatti keyboard sonatas on my computer speakers. (Sorry – I hope it’s not too loud! It can’t be nearly as bad as the tone-deaf karaoke that blasts out from the house a few doors down on some weekends, anyway…) (more…)

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