The Absence of Maps

>> Sunday, September 30, 2007

I arrived from school one afternoon and found my stand-in grandmother pedaling her sewing machine, piecing together random fabrics to make a quilt. My 8 or 9-year-old mind could not establish the connection between "Singer" and "sewing" and thought that maybe for some people, like my stand-in grandmother, the annoying clang-clang of the machine's wheel was music to their ears.

We called my stand-in grandmother "Nanay". She took on the responsibility of raising my mom (her niece) when my mom's mother went to the States. She was never married and never had children. I assumed that her vitiligo made it impossible for her to find a mate. She had white patches all over her body as if the melanin got confused whether she was Asian or Caucasian and it decided to give her the best of both worlds, except that she ended up looking like a freak. I always thought of her patches as continents--her skin a map--but I never mentioned it to her because she might not like the idea of me naming a patch of albino skin as some secret paradise island.

The rest of the neighborhood also called her "Nanay" because she was a retired nurse who became the midwife to all of the baranggay's pregnant women. This irony was last seen in the Star Cinema movie A Love Story. Nanay, however, didn't have her own Aga Mulach.

As soon as I entered her room I collapsed on the floor together with my big backpack filled with thick textbooks which could have been thinner and lighter if it weren't for the large elementary font. My teacher referred to those books as our future. Each day, I carried my future on my back, quite certain that the only future in store for me was a trip to the chiropractor.

I tried to look pained to get some sympathy in the form of Jellyace or Mallows, but a heavy bag could not compete with the troubles of war that Nanay had to endure as a little girl. She was also stingy. Either way, it was a lose-lose situation.

"We are going to write a letter," she told me that afternoon I arrived from school. A grimace from me. I was looking forward to cartoons on our black and white TV especially when rumors went around at school alleging that the Smurfs were blue! I had to see it for myself and letter writing would ruin the investigation I had planned.

We always wrote to her sister, my real grandmother, who lived in Chicago. Lola Chila, name derived from Kastila (Spanish), seemed to answer our letters in dollar cheques and this encouraged Nanay to write more often than she should. When Nanay ran out of sad stories to write, she turned to me.

Nanay put aside the unfinished quilt and converted the ugly sewing machine into a table. She took a couple of onion skin paper and told me to sit on her lap so that we could begin writing. Onion skin paper was invented for old, stingy, single women who went to great lengths to save on postage stamps. There was no clear use for it other than to reduce the weight of an already seemingly weightless mail. You'd think that with all the dollars her sister sends her she could at least buy some scented stationery but Nanay valued every centavo that not even Hello Kitty could sway her. She'd even use onion skin envelopes if they were available, or onion skin stamps for that matter.

"What am I going to write to her?" I asked Nanay although this question was just a formality since she'd do most of the writing anyway. I sat on her lap, she folded the paper in half, took my small hand, put the pen in my hand and began writing using my hand as if it were a large deformed pen. I don't know how she got away with it, saying to her sister that I wrote the letter when the handwriting looked a lot like hers only chunkier. I did not even dictate to her what I wanted to write and she did not even bother to choose words that a third-grader might use. The situation transcended any acceptable form of ghost-writing.

Towards the end of the letter she asked me if there was anything I wanted from Lola Chila. "Toys! Lego! Tonka trucks! Matchbox! GI Joes!" I exclaimed, finally feeling that I was part of this activity and not just a dummy. She hesitated for a bit and as she led my hand on the paper, I got confused because she spelled 'toys' as 'B-O-O-K-S'. My hand wanted to write a comma after 'books' but she already lifted my hand to a new paragraph. As early as 8, I already knew I had to fight for press freedom.

We ended with "I miss you" and "hope to see you again soon". I haven't met my Lola Chila. She left way before I was conceived. Still, we closed with those words and Nanay moved my hand to sign my name. Looking back at it, the letters that "I" sent to my Lola Chila when I was a kid were 50% Nanay's perception of me, and 50% fiction.

The only thing I looked forward to the letter writing was the mailing process. I liked lick-sealing the envelopes and the stamps. I liked dropping the envelopes at the post office mailbox. I liked our trip to the post office that ended with a quick snack of puto-cheese at the Central Market plus a take-home pack of pinipig. If I behaved, the pinipig would be the cold variety produced by Magnolia Ice Cream.

When we got home, I heard the only clang-clang sound that pleased my ears, one that came from a sorbetero. I asked Nanay if she could give me 50 cents so that I can grab a cone of the most delicious treat that came from a cart loaded with dry ice, salt, and a creamy blend of skimmed milk, sugar and traces of amoeba. She called it dirty ice cream but for me, dirty was a small price to pay for something so delectable.

She did not give me the measly 50 cents. I pleaded, negotiated, begged, cried, wailed. The fainter the bell sounded, the louder I cried, hoping that if Nanay wasn't about to give in, at least the ice cream man would hear an interested customer and turn back while I continued to convince her. She held her ground and I eventually accepted that she was the most inconsiderate stingy spinster in the city. I entertained the thought of her dognapping a hundred and one dalmatians but that might be a bit over the top.

Several months passed. After mailing yet another letter, Nanay flopped on the sofa as soon as we got home. She did not get up since. Her diabetes got worse in the following months. I wasn't at the hospital when she died but the people who were there said that she kept on asking for me and my brother during her last few hours.

Aside from the modest savings account, her quilts were the only possessions she passed on to us. Months following her death, I'd play with the sewing machine trying to recreate the clang-clang sound that I associated with Nanay. It wasn't music but I somehow found it comforting.

When I was 8, I regarded Nanay as a difficult person. But now, her ways seem sensible and fair. She had been difficult for the right reasons. Her guidance played a big part in shaping my mom into a strong-willed and independent woman. Her strictness towards me made me self-reliant instead of a whiny spoiled brat. She provided the map for our growth as a family and had she lived longer, I'm positive that she would've continued to guide us to the right path.

Nanay has moved on and there's no question as to where she is now. Her patches as white as an angel's wings; her destination etched like a map on her skin.

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Nan's Song by Robbie WilliamsOUT

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This Season at the Office

>> Friday, September 28, 2007

The cliffhanger (if there was any) for last summer's run of the office left my cult following at the edge of their rotating computer chairs. OK, sue me if I'm hyping my office like a TV series but I can't help it. And besides, things are heating up, ironically enough, just when the first mild chills of winter are in the air. Summer saw the entry of Edmar into the office. He provided the comic relief as Khalid and I stood our ground against the resident villain Mustafa. The season ended with Khalid flying off to Sudan, still uncertain of his return, while I was left to confront the newbie Hosam in an all out cubicle war.

This season, expect more twists: Edmar's character evolves and becomes more shady. He starts to befriend the dark side. Is he spying for the force? Is he a confidant of the villains? Or is he a bored freak who wants to see if we blend when he presses the pulse button?

Khalid returns this season. A bit of a spoiler since I already mentioned him in a previous post, and already, he and Mustafa are at it again. With Hosam and three other new Mustafa recruits strengthening the Egyptian team, it will be interesting to see whose dick has the most piss.


Office relationships will be stirred as Khalid will question Edmar's loyalty to the force, the boss will doubt which people are loyal to him, and a new Filipina secretary will be the object of desire for some of the men or man or Edmar.


Meanwhile, a new Indian driver, whose name is too hard to pronounce or spell, will provide the brief moments of laughter ie: "When wife and Edmar fight in street and mobile hit the head up and I am tension".

For subplots, Edmar's wife is four months pregnant, the Indian classes resume, and I'm down to my last 4 Gigs of hard disk space.

As for me, I will have a minor role, one that will focus on a new sideline. But I'm telling you now, even with that small role this season, I will set the cliffhanger as the series closes--will I stay or will I go?
OUT

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Dusk

>> Sunday, September 23, 2007

It's exactly 6PM as I write this. I've pressed the play button on my walkman phone and it's now playing Paul Weller's "You Do Something To Me" off the playlist I entitled 'Dusk'. 'Dusk' was previously known as '6PM' but since I rearranged the tracks and added more to the list, I decided to rename it. And what's this fascination with this time of day? 6PM is not just a playlist, it's a realm of memories.

How I came up with a 6PM playlist was easy. I remember as a kid, I'd often walk home at dusk, because any minute later would mean an angry grandma. I'd pass by sari-sari stores or houses with men out on their front yard drinking Gold Eagle Beer or Tanduay Rum (you can tell by these drinks what kind of neighborhood I grew up in), and they'd always have a radio on. This was pre-videoke. What amazed me was the kind of songs these radio stations played. At 6PM, it was always classic slow rock and power ballads like those from bands like Styx or songs like Caravan. Jukebox music right in your own home. Since then, when dusk comes, I'd always crave for songs that have a distinct guitar riff or a lonely bar room feel with an affected lounge singer. A bit bluesy but not quite, more like dreamy. To give you a better idea, here's a portion of my playlist:

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Or better yet, here's a close enough clip of what I mean (the song is in the list too). It's a scene from Y Tu Mama Tambien, just before the threesome did the nasty. The song is called Si No Te Hubieras Ido by Marco Antonio Solis.



It was dusk when I met my first lover. We were both 15 and in love and nobody knew about it. It was a summer affair in which I learned how to drink beer, smoke, and dance. I didn't flip out when it ended. I considered it as my initiation to a mysterious world and I passed with remarkable colors, that I never knew existed. I remember writing an uplifting short story when we ended our relationship. I also remember that it was when I started to write about people without using pronouns.

It was dusk when Ryan, my best bud in high school, and I would go to Capitol Lagoon and talk the night through because none of us wanted to be home. We'd exchange mythologies of the doomed love affair of the two golden statues that marked each side of the Lagoon's pool. The lovers are so close yet forever parted because some artist thought it would be dramatic if the female statue would eternally wait for her hero.

It was one of those talks when I first came out. It was also the last of those talks. Years later, I'd disproved my own mythologies about those statues and instead thought of them as a haunting metaphor for all my relationships--whether it be family, friends, or lovers, we'd always be parted by bodies of water.

It was dusk when I'd drive the long highways of Davao and find myself in different cities in an hour. Aimless driving, aimless thoughts. I remember that the goal was to chase the horizon until it was time to go back. With only a good soundtrack on board, I'd make my way through towns that shrunk smaller and smaller with each mile away from the city. Seeing those towns, I thought I didn't want to go back to my life. Simple living meant simple problems. But then the tape runs out, the last stick of cigarette evaporates, and perhaps the last can of beer turns into burp, and I'd snap out of it, drive back home and try to catch Frasier on cable.

It's that lazy guitar riff that brings back a thousand memories. It doesn't matter now if it was happy or sad. It's just memory. Neither a positive or a negative. And the songs, they are notes that mark the sunset--the very moment when we stop to think: what have I learned today?OUT

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Two in One

>> Thursday, September 20, 2007

For lack of anything better to write, I'm going to bore you with two self-indulgent tag games (aren't they all? as if blogging in itself isn't egotistic enough =P). One's from Jay and the other from Joey. I'm not tagging anybody else after this because I'm a member of the Chain-mail Death Squad. I'm not a spoil sport that's why I'm doing this now, but, let this be an advisory, this is the last time I'm doing it. Tag games might be fun for some but it just isn't my thing, I don't dig it. And the only digging I'll give it is a grave. Anyway, thanks to Jay and Joey for thinking about me after they did the tag. I know it's not your fault, guys. It's a conspiracy, I know.

5 7 weird things about me:
1. I'm convinced that I go mad during full moon.
2. I am aware if and when I snore.
3. I count random things when I wait.
4. I tremble when I'm angry.
5. I often contradict myself.
6. Because I often get nosebleeds, I know the instance I get one even before the first drop of blood escapes my nose (I can actually hear my veins pop).
7. And probably because of my frequent nose-bleeding, I'm not grossed out by blood, in fact, I'm fascinated by it. A bleeding corpse by the side of the road, I can handle...but I don't have the guts to see a well made-up body inside a coffin.

Three things that scare me:
1. Spiders
2. Scorpions
3. The Exorcist

Three people who make me laugh:
1. Yeric
2. Pooh (not the bear)
3. Conan O'Brien

Three things I love:
1. Camera
2. Computer
3. An audience

Three things I hate:
1. Sugar (trying to avoid it)
2. Spyware, Adware etc
3. Organized Religion

Three things I don't understand:
1. Accounting
2. E=mc2
3. Jealousy

Three things on my desk:
1. Candles
2. Printer
3. Neck tie (yes, it's not on my neck!)

Three things I'm doing right now:
1. Talking to Khalid about a just-concluded stand-off between him and Mustafa
2. Tag 'game'
3. Holding pee.

Three things I want to do before I die:
1. Write or direct a full-length film
2. Write a book
3. Fulfill at least one dream for each of my loved ones

Three things I can do:
1. Write
2. Sing
3. Swim

Three things I can't do:
1. Balance on a tightrope (or any circus act for that matter)
2. Part the red sea (or any miracle for that matter)
3. Suicide

Three things I think you should listen to:
1. Your conscience (not the Safeguard kind)
2. Your ancestors' spirits
3. Trip hop music

Three things you should never listen to:
1. Your ego
2. Your cool rebel friend (ie me)
3. Voices inside your head (except for your conscience)

Three things I would like to learn:
1. Mind-control
2. Taoism
3. Capoeira

Three favorite foods:
1. Baby Back Ribs at Bob's Bacolod (I gave up pork, but I'll eat this one!)
2. Chicken Inasal at Chicken Deli also in Bacolod
3. Triple Mousse at Calea in Bacolod (the City of Smiles should be renamed City of Great Food)

Three shows I watched as a kid:
1. Regal Shocker
2. John en Marsha
3. Todas

Three people I'm tagging:
1. Ryan Gosling
2. Ewan McGregor

3. Colin Farrell
OUT

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Riding with Strangers

>> Monday, September 17, 2007

A few weeks ago, I started to ride the bus. I avoided it for good enough reasons--I didn't know the routes and it didn't look comfortable since it was full most of the time. But my cash was depleting faster than the ozone layer so I swallowed my pride, marched to the long line which pretty much became an informal free-for-all wrestling match on desperate humid nights, and found out that riding Qatar's public transport wasn't as bad as I thought, especially if you have Elton John's Tiny Dancer on loop during the ride.

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It turned out that I can get a bus from the office direct to the end of Corniche, where I frequently go to anyway, and save 12 QRs - just enough for cafe latte at nearby Costa Coffee.

Going home was a risk though. Since I usually go out late at night, there's no way I can get a bus back to the office because the last bus leaves at 11pm. This means I'll have to take the cab, but, for some reason, all Karwa taxis disappear after 2 or 3 am. There's another alternative: private cars that moonlight as cabs. But this is tricky because you never know who's the driver or the pervert.


At around 2:30 am last weekend, a guy, probably in his late 40s driving an old SUV stopped beside me and asked if he could give me a lift somewhere. Pervert, I thought. I was certain about this because his longing eyes were short of a wink to be officially flirtatious, more so because it was his second time to stop and I pretended I didn't see him the first time that he did.

But I looked at the time and I knew this was my chance to go home. I asked him how much he'll charge me for the fare just to make sure he understood that I needed a ride and not an orgasm. He laughed it off and told me it's free.

"Where are you from?" he asked "Philippines," I said "and you?"

"Lebanon."

"I've recently found out that pure Lebanese people are Catholic, is that true?"

He made the sign of the cross and smiled "Well, 50% of pure Lebanese, probably. What's your job?"

"I'm a secretary. You?"

"An engineer."

"I thought so. Engineers have a way of dressing up. Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot to ask your name. I'm Jake," I lied.

"I'm Basil," he probably lied.

After a few roundabouts, the conversation became interesting and sensible. Small talk about family, work and fate. Small talk but talk nonetheless. And how I missed talking.

When we were near my office, I told him if there's anything I can do to repay him. I was hinting at shawarma or cold drinks beside the office, anything to keep the good company and conversation longer. He said no as he would hope that somebody would give him a free ride in the future should the need arise. Good man. Great heart. And he believes in Karma, too.

I asked him to stop a block away from the office. I told him thank you again and found myself stalling as I put on my headphones, all the while looking at him, this time with my longing eyes, to which he softly replied: You're welcome, good luck on your journey. Now you might wanna get out now so I can go home. (And that's why I believe in Karma).OUT

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Monobully

>> Saturday, September 15, 2007

When I'm on the road or at a coffee shop I sometimes check on my Yahoo! Mail account using my mobile phone (since I'm poor and can't afford a laptop). Anyway, last week, I saw an ad on the newspaper about QTel offering premium services for Yahoo! and Gmail starting at QR50. I didn't understand what the fuss was all about since Yahoo! and Gmail emails are free. That was until I tried to check my email two days ago. To my surprise, Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Messenger won't open.

The price of monopoly. It seems that QTel and its newly-launched Mozaic mobile internet service blocked access to these email giants in order to cash in on a service that's supposed to be free! And this is on top of the charges you get from opening these web pages on your mobile. Unbelievable.

The same is true for the taxi service. One ride could cost you up to QR20, almost equivalent to a car's full tank.

If this happened in the Philippines, expect to see mass demonstrations throughout the country the next day, or at least a flood of txt protests. But in rich Doha, the locals couldn't care less. What's another QR50 for the affluent anyway? Most of them have cars anyway. The underpaid expat is the one affected.

I can hear them say, 'then go home you silly expat, we don't need you here'. But I think they do. Who else would run out of the shops to get their orders when they honk? Who else would wash their clothes, making sure to separate the whites from the blacks? Who else would water the pathetic grass to make this place look less like a desert? Who else would answer their homework and take home exams? Who else would pour cement on their walls or detail their cars or pave their roads so they can effortlessly crash their cars?

That's right. Think about it. Without me, life will still go on for them because they are rich. But at least without me, that's one less customer for QTel.OUT

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Ba De Ya

>> Monday, September 10, 2007

I remember watching When the Wind Blows when I was younger and I remember imagining how peaceful and quiet the world can become after a nuclear bomb explosion--total destruction equals peace. Last month was crazy and I think it's all downhill from here. And while I struggle to fill this blank space on my screen, I say to myself that this is not a block but a sense of peace (or emptiness) and surely, I can write about that.

I remember November last year when I started this blog. We were trying a new coffee shop called Barista and I took a picture of Yeric and Ezer using my then new Walkman phone and bragged how I've instantly uploaded the photo to my blog. It was one of the last few nights I'd spend with them before leaving for Qatar and it was the start of Like Clockwork Orange.

I remember quitting smoking after breaking up with my lover. I figured that if I was going to quit one bad habit, I might as well quit smoking too. And eating pork. And taking sugar. I patched things up with my lover not long after the breakup but it was only a month ago, after effortlessly avoiding cigarettes for almost two years, that I started smoking again.

I remember my short-term plans and how my future seemed sad but bright at the same time. It's almost a year now and the bright part has somehow faded. I fear that I may have wasted a whole year for nothing--not even the simplest of targets achieved.

I remember thinking a few nights ago that maybe I am wrong--that there is no plan, there is no destiny, that life is, unfortunately, random and all of us are just waiting to win the lottery; while those who have already won might be so arrogant as to say that it is all their hard work and not luck.

I remember now that Jayclops commented in my last post that "(Office politics) sounds familiar". After he confirmed that he wasn't talking about himself, I began to think that maybe I'm repeating myself. My whole life is a déjà vu, constantly looping like an overused character in one too many Stephen King novels.

I remember realizing last night before going to sleep, that I don't have one thing that I am very good at.

I remember wanting to write a poem about my dreams and how I think these will never happen because maybe I'm part of the other half of the world's population that will serve as the example--the sin, the ugly, the lesson to be learned.

I remember how me and my friends loved to sing in videoke bars (or was it just me) and somebody may or may not sing one of the videoke anthems, Earth, Wind and Fire's September, and depending on our mood we'd either love or hate both the song and the guy who did the number.

I remember just now that I'm supposed to make up a moving excuse for not posting for so long when the truth is I was doing back to back marathons of Six Feet Under and Weeds.

I'll save some of my memories for future posts or for when the time comes for an inevitable montage like the my-whole-life-flashed-before-me kind of thing.

Ba De Ya, it's September, do you remember?OUT

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Abre Los Ojos

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Thirtysomething educator who holds the secret to the meaning of life. =P

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