Sunday, October 31, 2004

trick or treat

Sage happily wore her fairy costume complete with wings as we braved the mad crowds at Megamall to visit her ninong Vin. I thought about wearing the costume I got in Florida - black cape and full mask - but finally decided that it would just be too much trouble. Besides, in this part of town, there is no true Halloween tradition for adults, unlike say, Alabang where people have a hell of time dressed as ghoulies or more pop culture personalities. And besides, Nikki and I had no plans of attending a Halloween party that night, being the slugs that we are.

Most of the shops had run out of candy by the time we got there, and those that still had them had long lines snaking back towards various points in the mall. But Vin, of course, had goodies for Sage (whom we trained to say "trick or trade" in the vain hopes of him giving her comic books) and treated her to her fill of rides at the amusement arcade across the store.

What gladdened me were the hordes of children whose parents took pains to dress up in a dizzying plethora of characters: witches, Jedi, princesses, superheroes, undead, mythological creatures. There were also adults (obviously cosplayers) who walked around as anime or Ragnarok characters. I am so tired of seeing these young people whenever there is any occassion in the mall. I have nothing against dressing up to fulfill your fantasies, but very few of them are truly inspired.

Later, I helped helm the store when Vin replenished the obliterated candy supply. A woman came in, dragging one of the tens of Tiggers in the mall, and pushed the little boy towards me, encouraging him to ask for candy. When her son's bashfulness proved imprevious to her instructions, she took matters into her own hands and said to me...

"Tricker's treat!"

And that's what you get when you appropriate some other culture's tradition without bothering to understand even the most basic thing about it.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

up and down


Once in a while, we are given an opportunity to reverse a decision or judgement. Normally, I'm against this for a variety of reasons, but sometimes it does make sense to do so, especially when you realize that the initial decision was really wrong.

It has just been emotionally taxing because I hate having to fire anyone and I had to fire two people in our household this week then rehire one of them - I actually can't explain everything that happened because it is all quite messed up. Suffice it to say that Nikki and I ultimately thought of what was best for Sage and for ourselves, hoping that we need not reverse this latest reversal.


We closed the pet store for a month while we build new counters and signage, assuming I eventually agree to the P100k being charged by our suppliers. Megamall is moving us a few meters away from our original spot, so this time we will have a wall instead of being a 4-sided kiosk.

I know that it's only temporary, but seeing the vacant space where my store once stood broke my heart.

A friend asked me what we did to all the animals we had in stock (while the shop is closed). Well, it's a bitch trying to return them to the various suppliers (we have different ones for different animals) but some did agree out of goodwill. The others are in various places (the day-old chicks are now free range chickens at my partner's backyard). Storing live inventory is never fun, since it involves maintainance and that means costs in terms of food and care. That, and the ever-present threat of spoilage (read: death).

But hey, that's the business.

silver lining

1. Seeing my name as one of the "rising writers" in Paula Guran's review of The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror Seventeenth Annual Collection in the October/November issue of Cinefantastique. I've read other reviews of the anthology online, but seeing it in print feels somewhat more real.

2. Watching Sage manipulate her Pikachu deal and make it sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" - "pika pika pika pi..."

3. Playing Carcassonne with Nikki and wrestling victory from her evil evil hands once (she beat me the other times, the witch!).

4. "Believe What We Tell You" from Sleepless' new album, rock/metal/punk goodness - thanks, Jeremy!

5. Finding Seshiro the Anointed (now my wife will tremble before our snakey wrath).

6. A Hostess Twinkie and a ciggie at 4AM (still jetlagged).

7. Thinking about the upcoming long weekend.

grafictive excesses

Yeah, I love them comics, I do. Some spoliers ahead, proceed at your own risk.

Recently read:

Essential X-Men Vol.1 TPB - Oh the glory days! From the introduction of the new X-Men to John Byrne's first issues, everything is wickedly marvelous, flaws and all. How can I not love Phoenix's first words as she rises out of the Hudson - "Hear me, X-Men! No longer am I the woman you once knew!". Thick, black and white and affordable.

Supreme Power Vol. 2 TPB - J. Michael Straczynski's pacing is slower than a crippled turtle. Blah all around.

Dreadstar Vol. 1 TPB - This reprint of Jim Starlin's 80's ouvre collects the first few issues of the series (and not the Metamorphosis Odyssey that resulted in galactic genocide) that persuaded me that scifi wasn't so bad. Admittedly, this book doesn't age well, but still, no one did cosmic opera quite like Starlin during this period.

Teen Titans Vol. 2 TPB - Great writing and art from the team of Geoff Johns, Mike McKone and Marlo Alquiza. Raven returns with the new Brother Blood and Rose Wilson becomes the new Ravager. Oh boy, this takes me back to the heydays of The New Teen Titans under the care of Marv Wolfman and George Perez - those were the days.

Runaways Vol. 2 TPB - An enjoyable second shot of a group of teenagers on the run from their villanous parents. Strong writing and characterization make for consistently good reading.

Identity Crisis #5 - I continue to enjoy this series for all the wrong reasons. I am still reeling from the distateful series of events: murder of Sue Dibny, rape of Sue Dibny (flashback), attempted murder of Jean Loring, and now the murder of Tim Drake's father. Apart from the fact that all these things should not be accessible to an impressionable reading audience (it is marked by a "For Mature Readers Only" disclaimer), the senses-shattering violence is unwarranted, even for a four-color book. But still, I'm hooked, in the same way a roadside spill with gore catches everyone's attention.

Green Lantern: Rebirth #1 - It's like this: ten years ago in real time, Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) went nuts and did a lot of bad things including eradicating both Coast City and the entire Green Lantern Corps. Then he switched identities and became Parallax, doing more nasty things in Zero Hour. He then seemingly redeemed himself by sacrificing his life to rekindle the sun during Final Night. Then he became the Spectre, the Spirit of Redemption/Vengeance. With me so far? Now he wants to go back to being GL. Trust me, just wait for the trade.

On a pure comic book lust mode, I desperately want the new Bizaaro World HC. I loved the first one, with its subversive tone and indie attitude. This one includes stories and art by Tony Millionaire, Kyle Baker, Evan Dorkin, Farel Dalrymple, Dylan Horrocks, Eddie Campbell, Harvey Pekar, Dean Haspiel, James Kochalka, Gilbert Hernandez, Peter Bagge, Scott Morse, Bob Fingerman, Paul Grist, Carol Lay, Craig Thompson, and Jaime Hernandez plus many more (sadly, it includes Andi Watson and I truly can't stand his insipid work with his sappy-happy boy-girl romances that reek with undiluted feel-good ickiness).

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

novel thoughts

With the beginning of November just around the corner, I need to start thinking about the novel I've committed to completing in 30 days. I know, I know, it's so absurd that I feel like simultaneously giggling hysterically and bashing my head against the wall - what have I set myself up to do? Don't you just love the adrenaline rush of a challenge?

No one ever taught me how to write a novel, so basically I'll have to wing it. However, this does not mean that I am completely in the dark. As I keep telling people who ask me how to write, the key is in reading what you plan to write. And I do read novels (though my appetite for short fiction has overshadowed my taste for novels) so I have a basic understanding of the kinds of structures and goals of a number of different types of novels - novels of initiation (Bildungsroman, Erziehungsroman, Künstlerroman), picaresque, historical, epistolary, social, naturalistic, regional, novel of the soil/sea/air, key novel, metaphysical, novel of manners and other "literary" novels plus the so-called "genre novels" (replete with subcategories of their own). So more or less I can structure one.

One of my issues is length. I am comfortable at the 4000-5000 word count for my short stories. It is as if my brain is locked into that mode. I know I need to change my manner of thinking and writing to accomodate my goal, but now that I begin to think about what I'm going to write about, I'm appalled. It's the equivalent of writing 10-12 short stories. Of course, I could go the somewhat easier route and write 10 short stories and link them altogether with a master framing story.

Other aspects (such as POV, tone or even authorial voice) do not terrify me as much because I make those same choices when I write in short form anyway.

I'm thinking maybe I can approach it in the way I write my plays. I write one-act plays primarily because I enjoy the the inherent challenges of the form. One time, I decided to write a full-length play and I stared at the empty screen because I didn't know what to do. Then I thought about what I wanted to write, decided to punish myself even more by making it a musical, and then structured and outlined it as a musical, then sat and began writing the damn thing. When I hit a dead end, I decided I needed a break, so I began a different one-act play, to convince myself that I was not completely inutile. In the course of a couple of days, I finished both, entered them in Palanca competition, and was flabbergasted when both won.

In other words, I'll just structure the damn novel and write in parts I am able to write.

Why am I taking this thing so seriously? Well, that's just me. I certainly don't want to write trash or just pump out meaningless drivel for the sake of reaching 50000 words. It doesn't have to be award-winning or anything like that, but it should be something I can be proud of.

Sigh. Four days to go.

Monday, October 25, 2004

back in business

We made it!

Thanks for all the prayers for our safe flight back home. It was pleasantly uneventful though long (total of about 20 hours from Palm Coast).

I was secretly worried that perhaps Nagoya was part of the areas affected by Saturdays bullet-train derailing quake in Japan. Thankfully, it wasn't.

We finally arrived at home past midnight, began to unpack, settled a heartbreaking situation (see below), couldn't sleep, and am back at the office right now with mush for brains.

Everything is intact and my staff did a marvelous job while Marc and I were away, so I think I can go home and get some sleep. I'm not usually affected by jetlag but that seems to be the case right now.

Just as soon as I check on the pet shop...

i luv jeremy

Oh my god, I just saw this package from Jeremy on my desk.

Holy cow! It's all his finalized, colored and lettered Siglo pages and they are fantastic!

Damn it, I'm in tears. Thank you, you brilliant man, you!

buddha, what have you done

And in the meantime, my best friend has been bitten by a Jeff Noon virus, as his prose dynamically metamorphosizes into this:

This is how the game is played. Names pass, (Hi! I'm Mike/Mark/Mars or May) as quickly as the DJ shifts molten notes on daisy chains of sound. I light up. You dance. You tilt your head away, but still your stolen glances inevitably come my way. I wait. The night is young and so are you. I have time on my side.

Oh, oh, oh, Buddha, what have you done?

lost cell

My cell phone got stolen so please disregard whatever messages the thief will send. It's not me, though it will appear so.

I lost everyone's numbers, so kindly email me (do not comment) your number to begin the healing process.

I'm terribly upset because the thief was one of my helpers at home, and the theft occured while we were away. Trust is hard to come by, and I let the girl go two hours after we arrived from the US.

The only positive thing about this is that it gives me a great (and real) reason to finally get a new phone. While I'm not a cell phone addict like some people, I would like a small pretty one that has a bit of funky vibe to it, which means that at last I will commit myself to a postpaid plan (yes, all these many years, I have been a prepaid card user) to take advantage of the free phone that comes with it.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

bye bye florida

In a few hours, we'll be off.

Just one very long flight and then we'll be home.

dining with bikers

October is special for bikers (the Harley Davidson types) in the areas around Daytona and Ormond Beach. Biketoberfest has them arriving in droves, tough guys and biker chicks, tattooed, bandannaed, scruffy and very cool though quite intimidating.

Our close encounter with the leather set occured when we decided to have our penultimate dinner at a ritzy Japanese resto in Ormond Beach. Shattering my perconceived notions, a large group of bikers we dining at the same resto (where our fillet mignon and lobster teppanyaki cost $30 per person - thank goodness I wasn't footing the bill, it was just too much to consider). It never occured to me that they would go for such curled-little-finger pleasures, but then again, those bikes cost a fortune. It turns out that some of them are very wealthy - doctors, internet millionaires, architects, authors - and have simply taken to living on the road with a hog between their legs.

Sage was terrified by the roar of the machines and general seeming unruliness of their company, but they were fine (though my mother-in-law couldn't help but raise her eyebrows at their presence). A ciggie's lifespan shared with a couple of these huge men proved very education to me - at this point in my life, I should know not to judge anyone based on appearances, but sometimes, ignorance has me leaning towards the evidence of my eyes.

gifts from new york

Rickey surprised us again with a box he Fedexed from NY containing porn and music discs and two Carcasonne expansions. Nikki and I are shaking our heads in disbelief, finding it hard to understand what we did to deserve such kindness - but we're not complaining, Rickey!

Thank you, thank you, thank you (first from me, next from Nikki, and third from our gang in Manila who will love playing the game).

a wish for home

Sage, who has been enjoying herself tremendously, came up to her mother and I last night, teary-eyed.

"I want to go home, Dad," she said.

And in that moment, the three Alfars bonded yet again.

I really do not beleive in lengthy vacations. Two weeks should be enough for me - unless it is mixed with some other agenda (business or authoring). There is only so much my eyes can see and my spirit can take before the siren call of home becomes irresistable.

Nikki and I absolutely certain though, that if ever we decide to move to the US and make a new life, it will be in a city - New York or Seattle or some place like those.

Home = city. City = public transpo, tall buildings, pedestrian temptations and cigarettes within spitting distance.

And bookstores, of course.

Friday, October 22, 2004


I've decided to join the National Novel Blogging Month (NaNoBloMo) this coming November.

If I understand it correctly, the goal is to write a novel of at least 50,000 by the end of November. I really don't know if I can do this - I've always felt daunted by the sheer length of the novel's form - but we'll see.

I'm not exactly sure what it will be about, though I'm toying with the idea of using The Middle Prince as a prologue and jumping off point. If that's the case, then it will be a magical novel about identity and funkiness - I'll start thinking at the end of this month so as not to cheat. The working title is Salamanca.

See how I do and be merciless - the novel will be posted daily (I hope) over at Salamanca for November.

It all depends on discipline, really. That, and a whole lot of ciggies.

If you want to join it (or rejoin, the case of the young turks in the gang), just do the following:

1. Register over at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)
2. Make a blog for your novel over at Blogger.
3. Get yourself listed at NaNoBloMo.

For more info, check out Blogger Knowledge.

I'm actually excited and quite...distraught by this thing.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

pack rats

Our return trip to Manila begins with the Jacksonville-Detriot leg on Saturday morning (that's just 3 days away and I couldn't be happier - I need a vacation from my vacation!). From there, we go to Japan then finally home to Manila.

We're in the process of packing all the loot and pasalubong (yes, we are bah-roke, not that we had that much to begin with) into balikbayan boxes. Beginning Sunday, the new policy for allowable weight is 50lbs (from the current 70lbs), so we're happy to go before the change.

A combination of purchases and gifts in our big boxes reflects the sensibilities of the 3 Alfars.

Media: Extended boxed sets of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers , the 7 disc Survivor All Stars Collection, the Aladdin Special Edition and Disney's Princess Once Upon A Dream - showing our common love for fantasy and reality (the new Star Wars boxed set, though tempting with its Darth Vader frontispiece, just had to give way to the pirate philosophy - we'll just get that from Billy).

Books galore, a mix of new and old: Power's Anubis Gate, Weir's Eleanor of Aquitaine and Elizabeth I, Mack's Field Guide to Demons, Hoffman's Fistful of Sky, Klasky's Glasswright's Apprentice, Faust's The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, Maguire's Mirror, Mirror, and the following anthologies - Egger's Best Nonrequired Reading, Kearn's Victorian Fairy Tale Book, Sarrantonio's Flights, Anderson's Tales before Tolkien, and Strahan's Locus Awards, plus the Essential X-Men Vol. 1 I've been looking for (my God, wasn't Byrne's work so easy on the eyes?). Oh, and every copy of the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror Seventeenth Annual Collection I could find, heh. I wish we got more books but we really have no money! And I just realized that Marquez's Memoria de mis putas tristes just came out. Gah.

Visits to Walmarts, Win-Dixies and sundry brought in all the geegaws, whatsits and stuff that make a trip to any foreign country worth it - crunchies, crispies, chocos, candies, and chewies; vanity stuff for skin, teeth (ever heard of the Hummingbird Power Flosser?), beard, moustache, pores, cheeks, lips, eyes and such; toys - everything Cinderella, Pikachu and funky; clothes and more food.

Nikki has taken on the Herculean task of sorting and packing everything (plus the stuff we came with), while, as usual, I am the pack mule.

I'm just happy knowing we'll be home soon.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


I have a number of good friends who are naturalized American citizens or are born Americans of Filipino ancestry. The common trait among them is that despite the fact that they pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States, they are still Filipinos where it counts, deep in their darkest recesses of their souls.

What irks me though are the Filipinos who come to the States, achieve immigrant status or citizenship, and then act as if they were never Filipino in the first place. They put on airs and painful accents, treat other Filipinos with an attitude that often goes beyond contempt, and completely turn their backs on their past, on their cultural heritage, on their inborn nature.

They act as if they've got it made, boast about their homes and cars and appliances, and move as if they're millionaires. Granted, if they convert their US$ to PHP they are millionaires, but in the context of America, they're not quite there.

Which is why I appreciate my friends who have kept their heads even as they live in America - Pauline & Dino, Rickey, Xtine, Fleece and the others who work hard, play hard, and live life without abandoning that quintessential Filipino value of knowing not to declare greatness surpassing God.

To be fair, there is another perspective. There are those whose goal is the absolute abandonment of everything that they were - citizenship, history, culture, language, everything - exchanging their brown skin for multi-ethnic rainbow skin, their puto for baked potatoes, their novenas for thanksgiving. By obliviating who they were, they become new creatures, as strong and as fragile as newly-birthed butterflies, stretching their US-grade wings in the snowy climes.

But while I wish them no ill-will, I certainly do not like them.

Not because I am being judgmental from a nationalistic perspective, but simply because I think that the labels they have placed on their foreheads like stickers are cosmetic ornaments that fail to cover their true nature.

Monday, October 18, 2004

vignette: blue, blue

Truism: people in cities never look up. Take the time to observe and you’ll see that this is no exaggeration. Everyday, millions of people wake up, get in cars or trains or buses, with their PDAs or papers or coffee, eyes on the road, on the words, or perhaps unfocused on a point just before their feet or to left of the person seated opposite. Anywhere but up.

“Because the sky is terrifying,” the old man who hawks secondhand Taiwanese computer parts once told me. “It’s too blue, too true.”

I think he’s right. That truthful hue is something that belongs to the sky and to the sky alone. It is absent in Gap, missing in the United Colors of Benneton and a confusing number in Pantone, textile or otherwise.

There is a blue that cannot lie, that foretells a day that can be rapturous or fraught with melancholia, possibilities unfolding like irrepressible blossoms, exploding and rushing away to define the faint horizon.

Underneath that blue, blue sky, one day, I met you.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

vignette: china

I wanted to go to the Merrick event out on the Tuazon Concourse but China was insistent on her new find.

“You have to hear him, Jimbo,” she said, tugging at my collar the way she does when she really wants something. Sometimes it makes me feel like a dog, but more often it accentuates the fact that we’re each other’s other. “His world is old-school, epic magic, kick-ass heroes and fantastic quests. I heard him the other day and fell in love.”

China’s like that. She likes old things.

A couple of weeks ago, she found an archive of pre-links songs, the kind that people used to make in antiquity. I listened, forced by the potency of devotion, to the caterwauling of human voices in some dead language, to the quaint beat and childlike rhythms and failed to be moved whatsoever. China, on the other hand, was on her feet, gyrating around her cubhole as if entranced, singing along to words that were uttered and sang centuries before she was born. “It’s called New Wave,” she gasped, when the photonic recordings music ended. “Don’t you just love it?”

We rode a trackcar to the Riverbanks and decided to go the rest of the way by foot. China likes walking because she gets to point out how much things have changed, how this wasn’t there before, how terrible it is that people just build things over things, things like that, as if she herself lived in times past. Me, I don’t really care. Which is why we get along. I just go where she wants and offer an attentive ear. Once, she told me “Sometimes, Jimbo, I actually start thinking you understand.”

Saturday, October 16, 2004

old friends

I happily answered the doorbell's summons and found Rickey standing there in the Florida sunshine, direct from fall in New York. After the rush of embraces, introductions (to Sage, Mom and Jack) and various "Oh my god" moments, we sat down to catch up on curve balls of the past 6 six years.

Nikki and I recounted our own personal adventures as well as the heartbreaking seal-napping of our beloved Kotik, while Rickey gave us a lesson in surviving in America.

Later on, he delighted us with a pair of presents - both games! As an avid gamer himself, and fully aware that my wife and I suffer from the same addiction, he gave us hard-to-find copies of El Grande and Carcasonne, which we proceeded to play merrily until the wee hours of the morning (Vin and Charles, tell Ralph he'll love these new games).

The great thing is that he's spending the entire weekend here with us - and oddly, it is as if very little time has passed, happily picking up conversation where we last left off, with a smug shrug at all the years gone by.

Friday, October 15, 2004

cut me

I woke up feeling scraggly and generally unkempt, untangled myself from Sage's deathgrip and trudged to the bathroom. Lights on, squinting at myself in the predawn, yawn, yawn and I see facial hair gone mad.

I miss my barber.

I borrow Nikki's Veniss - girly girl curl, brilliantine aqua, and soft - and attempt to cut through the growth. Scissors, I need scissors, to trim and shape and contour the beard, to snip the stragglers, to fix and look effortless.

Before I die a death of a thousand cuts, Nikki saves me, wielding comb and shears - snipsnip - like she's done it for a billion years.

Now I look semi-normal.

But, by Toutatis, I miss my barber.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


an embarrassment of parks

One certainly cannot visit Florida without hitting the theme parks, so we drove to Orlando, checked into a hotel for a couple of nights, and made plans while dining in one of the best Chinese restos in the state.

Ming's Garden, located along International Blvd, served near-authentic Chinese food (the problem with me is that Chinese food will always be held up to the culinary standards set by the real thing, during the time we kept a flat in Hong Kong) which was worth the ghastly cost ($160 for 4 plus Sage) - 3-course Peking Duck and the usual fare (let me tell you, this craving for rice in America can only be assuaged by Chinese food).

The Disney trademark alone had 7 properties: 4 theme parks (including Epcot, Magic Kingdom, "Nahtazu" and MGM) plus 2 water parks plus Downtown Disney. Then there's Universal, Wet and Wild, Sea World, Cirque Du Soleil, and many many other attractions. It felt like a mini-Vegas for theme park addicts.

Ultimately, Sage decided she wanted to see Cinderella, so Magic Kingdom it was. The last time Nikki and I visited the Mouse, it was in 1998 with our good friends Rickey and Richard, just after the World Championships for Magic: The Gathering. Well, this place is larger than the Anaheim park and we had a ball, even if we didn't get to see everything or ride everything - it was just too large.

But it was all worth it when Sage, dressed in her Cinderella gown, watched the parade of characters along Main Street with me. The way her eyes just lit up when she saw her faves, how she waved frantically to them shouting with her little heart filled with joy, how she said "Oh, thank you Dad!" - that's what "sense of wonder" is all about.

On a more mundane note, while looking at the map and plotting out our route, Nikki and I made sure we knew where each of the three designated smoking areas were. In a place where the waiting time for lines begins at 40 minutes, it's good to know where to go to let off steam.

It's fitting that we went to see the Mouse. Mickey is emblematic of the entire Filipino longing for America, after all. Disneyland is what America is for those who can only dream of having a better life - huge, colorful and magical, where the impossible is an everyday reality.

gourmet mcdo

We also dropped by one of the few gourmet Bistro McDonald's (hey Vin, you'll love it). Granite counters, pendant lighting and classical music, set the tone, offering a made-to-order menu including freshly made waffles, pesto/shrimp pasta, turkey roll, roast beef, grilled vegetable panini, Bucks County Coffee espresso, Hershey's hand-dipped ice cream, chicken salad and grilled chicken panini, as well as desserts such as brulee cheesecake and carrot cake - along with an expanded "traditional" menu, which includes steak bagels.

I never thought the word "gourmet" would ever be juxtaposed with McDo, but there it is. The reason, of course, is the need to be more competitive and capture more market and dollar shares.

The upscale trend is not unique to McDonald's, the world's largest fast-food company. Jack-in-the-Box and Arby's recently announced decor and menu improvements. And Burger King last year launched a fire-grilled chicken baguette and this year plans to roll out a new salad line.

Back at home, only Wendy's has impressed me with their triple patty offer - which is hardly gourmet.

All this however makes me think, if I really wanted good food, would I go to McDo, gourmet or otherwise?

Ah, no, thank you.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


with superman
and derrida
will save
us now?


The sense of community among the Filipino expats is very strong, and I experienced it first-hand when we were invited to join one of the weekly gatherings at Palm Coast.

The location, a doctor's home complete with wharf and 2 boats. The people, a family of brothers (all doctors) and their Filipino and American friends and families within a wide radius. The food, Filipino recipes ranging from kare-kare to award-winning barbeque and FilAm favorites. The drinks, beer, whiskey and soda plus red and white wine, all bottomless, all good. The talk, stories from back home, adjustments to America, local and international gossip and business. The entertainment, well, me another singer, the inestimable "M" and my bro-in-law, Rob.

We hit it off and did a series of songs (I'm just thankful that the weekly jaunts to the videoke in Manila paid off) and ended our multiple sets (haha) with a bevy of Broadway songs.

What is amazing (or not really so surprising given the Filipino psyche) is that we all ended up as if we all knew each other, with fraternal camaraderie that went beyond shared circumstances. In the end, community is important, and the need to see and be with people who understand the unspoken cultural aspect of our identity is paramount to our well-being, be you visitor, green card-holder or new citizen of the USA.

We carry our country wherever we go, and the small transplanted Philippine nations thrive wherever there is food, music and stories to share.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

the bells of st. augustine

We visited St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States (f. 1565). Walking around like a tourist, I was struck by the way the historic areas were preserved. The narrow streets, churches and old houses echoed a bit of Old Manila (but where the Americans seekd to protect the past, we only want to bulldoze and build whatever), and the lines of micro-retail along the heritage walk were all apropos - from the naming conventions to the merchadise sold.

Lunch at Cordova was the usual gastronomic feast - lamb, roast beef, salmon, oysters, prawns and a mountain of appetizers and desserts capped with mimosas and coffee.

Pushing my sleeping child's stroller, I disciplined myself and bought not a single thing (okay, I did give in and buy a bottle of water by later afternoon) despite the temptations - fudge folded right before my eyes, pastries fresh and fragrant, caramel apples and other chocolate confections. No, no.

After a while, like Sage, all I wanted was to take a nap.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

vignette: kitchen

Chen Chen spared the kitten one last remorseless glance before plunging it into the bucket of cold water. Immediately, the small animal clawed and struggled for air, gouging deep ruts into Chen Chen's thin arms. The young girl stoically took in all the pain, and did not move from her squatting position as the hisses and gasps for life ended in a dispersal of bubbles. When the surface of the water was calm, Chen Chen lifted the lifeless corpse out of the bucket, trailing water and dislodged fur across the kitchen courtyard to the where the dead dog rested, its eyes still open from the shock of betrayal.

She pushed both into an empty rice sack, grimacing at the burning lines on her arms, and hefted the dead weight onto her narrow shoulders. With her eyes on the ground before her, Chen Chen kicked open the little wooden gate and began to walk to the crossroads, whistling tunelessly and bent over like an old man who knew too much about insensate love.

In the late atfernoon, the crossroads was a dull, uninteresting place, marked only by an ancient stone etched with a number. Chen Chen selected one corner of the crossing paths, set down her burden, and began to dig with her hands, flinging away rocks and weeds and roots. When she could not dig anymore, she measured the hole with her extended arms, ignoring the throbbing of her torn fingernails, and decided that it would do.

Chen Chen dragged the dog out of the sack first, then pushed it down into the hole, its wet brown fur offering no contrast to the softened earth mute colors. Then she carefully placed the dead kitten on top of the dog, positioning the cat's little head so that it looked like it fell asleep instead of being drowned. She tried to close its eyes but stopped when the wind blew a little too strongly.

With the first part of her task done, Chen Chen straightened up, brushed away soil and grass and dirt from her heavy kitchen dress, and walked back to the old woman's house, her tuneless whistle hinting at a slowly growing hope.

When she returned, she first washed her hands and arms thoroughly before devoting her spirit and concentration on the two hundred and seventy six tasks, big and small, that she still had to do. She performed them without speaking, ignoring the presence of the old woman who woke up at the precise moment the sun set, exoriating her with words whose hooks and barbs bit deeper than any struggling cat's claws.

When she finally finished the day's kitchen tasks, Chen Chen collapsed on her frayed pallet and thought about the next day, only three hours away. That was when she could sneak out of the kitchen, run back to the crossroads, unearth the animals she had just buried, and proceed with the second step of her long plan of escape.

Tomorrow, she would catch a kitchen spirit.

Friday, October 08, 2004

12 & 35

a finer world

Each time I visit America I am struck by certain things that become more obvious as I grow older.

Discounting the time I spent in childhood in Hollywood with my then-together parents, the first real visit I recall was early in the 80's, just after Mt. St. Helen's blew up for the first time (it is a-rumbling now).

Thin as a walking stick, I was sent to visit my Dad in Washington State. I took a flight to Seattle and immediately felt the bone-chilling wind outside the airport. My father took pity on me and immediately bought me a garish windbreaker. It protected my torso but kept my arms exposed so I was still miserable, but I didn't tell him that - what was important was that he cared.

I was terrified of meeting my American step-family for the first time. On the long drive to Tacoma,he told me how great everyone was. When we got to his house, my first honest thought was how small it looked. This is because back in Manila, I was used to the sprawling houses and mansions of the exclusive villages like Greenhills. As a 12-year old senorito, used to having a batallion of maids to carry out the most banal tasks like fetching water to drink from the ref, I was in shock.

I remember being insecure about my English, despite the fact that I knew I spoke it better than a lot of people. I was afraid of what my accent would sound like, if I was so obviously from the boondocks. Speaking very little, I met my father's new wife and their 3 kids, all rowdy, healthy, white and beautiful. It made me want to shrink into my brown skin. They all had to run off somewhere but left me dinner: a huge pile of the biggest drumsticks I've ever seen. When I bit into one, I couldn't understand why the texture felt so odd, so difficult to chew. Later, I realized that each one was covered in some sort of plastic. I broke down into tears because I felt so stupid not knowing about it.

The first thing America shows you is how powerful it is. How big, how broad, how completely out of the reach of your third-world experiences. It redefines the notion of cities and provinces, being a place where cities are just places people drive to, and the suburbs existing as isolated homesteads, broken only by the occasional strip mall.

America exudes an orgulous dynamic, stretching its fatty arms to encompass all potential, all possibilities. In America, you can find anything you want if you want it hard enough and work hard enough.

Walking through the devastation of the erupted volcano, I found the land beautiful and boring, broad and ill-defined, brimming with sound and fury and (sometimes) with relative meaning, a place where big is always better and where everywhere is cold and colder.

I hated my stay - the only spark of brilliance was a gigantic comic book store and the missing pieces of the Dark Phoenix Saga - and realized that I was damn happy to be thin, brown and to live in a place where a city was a city, and where English was just another language to choose to speak.

As a boy of twelve, I realized that "a finer world" was purely subjective. In the next 23 years of going back and forth on business or pleasure, it would not change.

There is happiness to be found here by those who choose to quest here. But my heart belongs to the loud, traffic-infested, terrifying, polluted, corrupt and vibrant, wonderful and incomparable Manila.

driving to daytona

Along the long coastal road, hundreds of homes, inns, motels, hotels, restos, and sundry beach-related stores, stood like denizens of a haunted land. The last couple of hurricanes threw water and sand into the air, pushed the shoreline up and over buildings, blew away roofs and scattered broken windows. The various locales were already in the process of recovering their waterlogged lives, but all I could see was the grey-green ocean to my left, churning white foam endlessly (Nikki observed that our ocean, the Pacific, is more aptly named).

Very little traffic meant that our hour-and-a-half long drive was pure distance (unlike Manila, where it is time that is truly consumed), my restlessness relieved only by a lunch of Maine lobsters (grilled, salad-ed, sandwich-ed, caked) at a resto where Sage fell in love with a vomiting shark (plastic, hollow, filled with grenadine syrup, tilted excitingly into a glass of Sprite, for a Shirley Temple with a bite). Again, I was upset by the jumbo portions, and fought my Filipino nature ("sayang naman"), ate what I could and refused to think of starving children on Nikki's favorite Hunger Site (and the cost - Ultimate Lobster Lunch = $20).

We were looking for a place that had dresses for Sage (because ever since we got her the extravagantly-winged fairy Halloween costume, she refuses to wear anything but that or a dress), as well as a Borders or a B&N, so seeing that mammoth racetrack at Daytona meant as much to me as seeing an anthill. An offer to take a tour inside was met with polite but forceful negatives from Nikki and myself because of zero interest. Same with the poor Greyhounds racing around their racetrack (when they are retired, it is said that they make excellent pets).

Everything is so spread out, so homogenously flat and of limited color palettes - Daytona is afraid of the sky.

In the mall, I gave in to the temptation of shopping (Perry Ellis leather belt, originally $50, now only $9.99; Tommy H. slacks, orginally $120, now only $24.99) betrayed by my Pinoy nature that needs to spot a bargain and consummate it.

I was too tired to really look at the Toys 'R Us, and though Sage pushed and pulled me through the aisles, nothing registered. Maybe its because I was with my energetic daughter, lugging her bag, but all I wanted to do was get her whatever she wanted (a Barbie make-up book) and go home.

Along the way, we spotted a B&N and resigned ourselves to bookhunting in our fatigued states. I got the last two copies they had of the anthology and almost nothing else. Nikki and I were too brain-dead to perform our usual meticulous search for fantastic fiction.

The only establishments I will never bitch about in America are its bookstores and media retail spaces. These are never big enough, and excess is king, because where words come into play, we want the universe to explore.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

masayang gulay

Nakakapanibagong pakiramdam ang magpalipas ng buong araw na walang text message, walang tawag ng kliente, walang miting at walang iskedyul. Iniwan ko ang aking cel sa Maynila; kaya sayda naman itong pagkabingi (at yung pagkabulag ng isang mata ko ay gumagaling na - dahil sa walang sawang mainit na tuwalyang inilalapat ko sa agrabyadong mata).

Tahimik at maaliwalas dito, kaya parang masarap magsulat. Sa gabi, ang buan lang ang aking nakikita. Halos walang mga tala. Dadilim at nakakaenganyong magisip ng mga kewntong nakakatakot, o do kaya'y mga kwentong malungkot (hindi naman sikretong wala akong pasensya sa mga kwentong masasaya ang mga ending). Dala ko naman ang laptop, kaya nagbabalak na akong magsimula.

Kaso lang, siyempre, kailangang makisama. Kaya eto, pakilala dito, pakilala doon, kanta dito, kanta doon, kain dito, kain doon - sa tingin ko baliktad kami ng dating ni Jason (siya'y paliit, ako'y palobo). Lumalabas ang tanging pagka-Pilipino ko; kahit na alam kong hindi ko kayang ubusin ang mga dambuhalang order ng pagkain sa mga resto dito, order pa din (kasi pwede namang ipabalot at papakin sa gabi). Natatawa nga ako kasi pati yung half-and-half creamers pinagisipan ko kung kukunin ko lahat (pero hindi ko pinatulan ang tisyu paper ha). Sa ilang ulit kong pagbabalik sa America, hindi nagbabago ang ugali kong Pinoy (gustong iuwi ang lahat!).

Para akong gulay. Okey kahit saan dalhin, walang opinyon, walang angas, walang problema. Laging masaya.

Si Sage ang tuwang-tuwa, dahil pumunta kami sa tabing-dagat (Atlantic) at doon siya unang nakipagsapalaran sa mga naglalakihang alon.

SAGE: Dad, the ocean is so...big! The water, the water!

Gusto kong sabihin, "Anak, malaki ang lahat ng mga bagay dito sa America."

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

the one-eyed man is not king


The problem with Northwest (which, by the way, has apparently rebranded since our last trip in '02) is that you need to stop in Japan.

The problem with Japan is the fact that I am still traumatized by my last extended stay there. Everything was just so freaking expensive, and every move I made involved spending my dwinsling finances. It was also there that I experienced my most expensive cab ride, but that's another story.

This time though we stayed only very briefly. Sage behaved herself well, both on the trip and inside the airport.

She kept going over to peek at Butch Dalisay (it turns out that the Filipino writer I admire the most was on his way to New York and San Diego to deliver some papers) and playing with the Japanese touch screens.

And as usual, I bonded with all the other smokers, gasping for our last breath of nicotaine-y goodness before the long haul.


The philisophic struggle (to drug or not to drug) was resolved when Sage simply refused to take her "medicine". Which meant that our collective sanity was on the line for the next lifetime of the long trip.

However, much to our relief, Sage proved a cooperative passenger, demanding no more than a little girl on her second longhaul trip would demand (the first time around, she was less than a year old).

In fact, the only stressful time for me was when she decided she wanted my seat. Not to sit with me but to trade forever. I tried reasoning with her that it was necessary for me to sit along the aisle but being my daughter, she refused to budge and we had a contest of wills. In the end, her chi broke my spirit and she got the seat, and I sulked in her former seat.

My right eye (which had started to swell during our final videoke blowout in Manila) had blossomed into a full-on sty (internal and hidden) which caused me much aggravation.

The rest of the trip was just tiring - and so, dehydrated and half-blind we stumbled into Detroit.


During the new digital fingerprinting and picture-capture process at immigration, I kept hoping that Sage would say anything untoward about the nice Afro-American who handled our entry (or at least not aloud). She didn't, and we went through the rest of irritating (but necessary) steps they added since the terror thing began.

Ultimately, we gravitated to the only smoking area in the entire smoke-free Detroit airport (Fox's Club) and paid $7 to smoke. While Nikki and Sage explored the huge airport, I felt like one of the pack mules on the Amazing Race, staked out an area near our connecting flight, spread out and slept, zombie-fashion.

I was so exhausted I didn't care. And it felt good to just stretch my cramped limbs. Besides, the Evil Eye of Orm-by-Gore had progressed from irritant to Medical Concern by that time, and all the Visine in the world could not help. My girls found me and protected me from theft and rape and whatever.

Sage was already on her inner reserves when our flight was finally called.


As soon as I sat down, I fell asleep like Sage.

Neither of us were functioning. Nikki was in charge of our lives. Like the three crones of Greek myth, I gave her my one good eye.

My brain was mush anyway.

jacksonville-palm coast

Literally unable to read signs because of blindness, I staggered to find our luggage. Thankfully, Jack and Mom found us and rescued us from collapse on the conveyor belt.

I quick steak meal and a cigarette fortified me for the drive to Palm Coast (recently hit by the hurricanes) but all I wanted to do was to rip my eye out.

We stopped by an all-night pharmacy because I wanted muriatic acid to pour into my eye to melt it and make it pay for all the anguish it caused me. But better pharmaceutical minds prevailed. I was advised to apply warm compresses.

ME: Okay. so what do I buy?

PHARMA GIRL: From us? Nothing. You need nothing.

ME: Nothing? But you're a store! And I want to buy something for my eye.

PG: You'll be fine in a couple of days.

Dejected and empty-handed, I got back into the car looking like Mr. Miyage from Karate Kid and feeling like a random character from one of Hieronymus B.'s paintings.

And then we were home. Happily so. Before we realized that everyone in Florida keeps their homes as cold as upstate New York in winter.

happy hands

And I finally got my hands on the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror with my story in it.

My swollen eye forced itself open to read the words, my words, those wonderful words that no longer felt like mine at all.

I can't believe it - all over again.

Sunday, October 03, 2004


Nikki, Sage and I are flying off to visit family in Florida for the next three weeks.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to update but will try my damn best.

I hope to do some writing (yeah, right) while I'm away, but most likely will take this chance to just veg out.

Bye for now. Be good.

siglo: passion - batangas, 1935

"Batangas, 1935"
Words by Paolo Manalo
Art by Andrew Drilon

Paolo, lauded critic, poet and author, pulls out all stops and shows us the terror of tongues.

Young artist Andrew's independent touch infuses his pages with haunting moodiness in this, his first (to be) published color work.

siglo: passion - talisay, 1928

"Talisay, 1928"
Words by Vince Groyon
Art by Hai Ibardolaza

One of the notions I wanted to deflate with this series is the mistaken belief that the best stories and art come from Manila. This is absolute bullshit borne our of misplaced pride in Manila-centrism.

Vince's novel, "Sky Over Dimas", won both the Palanca and National Book Awards for Best Novel, and Hai is a multiple awardee himself, most recently for "The Greediest of Rajahs". Both books are available in good bookstores.

Vince and Hai are both from Negros, and it is that province that becomes the setting for their tale of passion - wrapped in a banig.

siglo: passion - malacang, 1968

"Malacanang, 1968"
Words by Quark Henares
Art by Tobie Abad
Color Assist by Ma-an Asuncion

*Argh! Like Carl's art samples for Siglo: Passion, this blog refuses to show Tobie's.

Quirky and awarded filmmaker Quark tells a story about a psychic dwarf during the Marcos years (you read that right).

Tobie's energetic linework captures the oddness of the story (and man, I wanted to show you the last two pages), with some color assistance from painter Ma-an.

Friday, October 01, 2004

siglo: passion - manila, 2019

"Manila, 2019"
Words by Luis Katigbak
Art by Jonas Diego
Colors by Joel Chua

Luis writes one of the two stories in Siglo:Passion that is set beyond the century, showing us a Manila swathed in virtual realities.

Jonas's art is at once both vibrant and textured, allowing for the mood of the piece to come to fore (just look at this kick-ass sample).

Joel's colors bring the entire sequential tale to life.

fiction: lisa listens

Forget the past

Do you remember the first time he kissed you? Of course you do. It’s not something easily forgotten. How his lips touched yours, the expected softness, the unexpected harshness, the darting of his tongue. How your mind spun out of orbit into the infinity of his taste: risotto, white wine, cigarettes. And his tongue, his tongue, his tongue.

Don’t deny you liked it.

It’s all right, we all fall in love.

The secret apocalypse

When things end for you, they end very badly, wouldn’t you say? Not in a spectacular display of nova brilliance but rather in helpless sinking implosion, quiet as it is potent, silent as it is final. You never choose to show your pain because you think something so private should be kept hidden from everyone else’s eyes: your ex-lovers, your friends, your family, yourself.

Many times in history, people predicted the end of the world. It was greeted with a certain sense of desultory anticipation. Some people partied, some people sold all they had and covered themselves in ashes, some people stayed in bed waiting for the end. But the end never arrived.

The lesson, I suppose, is that every apocalypse is personal. Choose your own adventure and helplessly pursue the inevitable ending.

Is it that way for you?

Do you think you can change it?

That’s how love goes

Let me guess how it goes. After all, all love stories have been told, so it isn’t rocket science, is it?

Girl meets boy. Girl falls for boy. Some fucking or tenderness or whatever. Girl gets dumped.

It’s a story, I grant you. It has every hallmark: beginning, middle, end. The question is, is it a good story? Was the audience prepared for the ending? Was the principle of rising action observed? Was there enough verisimilitude? Is there closure?

You know the answers. They’re the same for almost everyone like you.

So by now you should know this is nothing personal.

The story of the perfect garden, part one

There once was an empress who could not abide imperfection. She summoned the wisest men in her domains and commanded them to build her a garden and to fill it with only the most perfect examples of things. This they did, determining a patch of earth of the perfect size and surrounding it with walls perfectly crafted. Then they set out and about and beyond the empire, seeking and taking things that were perfect. This they did for seven years while the empress fretted as she walked the empty garden.

Soon they began to return and presented wonders for the empress to marvel at and set within the perfect garden. Things she approved: a clockwork wisteria that bloomed at the third hours of day and night, a great tiger with emerald eyes and catercorner stripes, a statue of a gilded horse that allowed no rain to touch it, and a ceramic jar that foretold earthquakes, eclipses and tidal waves. Things she disallowed: a song that grew in the singing, a bird with a tail colored with six rainbow hues, a book that never told the same story twice, and a handful of pearls that were proof against poison.

The thing about pearls

Even if you swallow one, you can still die by allergies.

But the important part is that you at least tried, don’t you think?

In a world where people take poison as a matter of course, those who refuse have already won some small victory, don't you think?

I know you agree. Nod if you agree.

My first love

We were both seven years old.

We played at each other’s place, alternating days: Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays were at my place. We cut paper and jumped off roofs. We built houses and made them tumble.

Puppy love, what can I say?

The story of the perfect garden, part two

In the years that followed, both the contents of the perfect garden and the warehouse of unwanted things grew until both were filled to the point of bursting. It became impossible to even enter the garden, much less walk in it. Famine and plague and all sorts of tragedies struck (the warnings of the miraculous jar went unheard, smothered by the weight of all the perfection above it) and the people grew to be unhappy with their empress.

There was talk about revolution but no one dared to act. She was that feared, even if her eyes watched over only her incomparable treasures.

Your guardian angel

I’ve watched over you for years, you know. Don’t act surprised. I know you know.

When you were twelve and you thought you had lost your parents at that amusement park, do you remember who helped you find them?

When you were fifteen and desperate to be accepted by the popular girls in school, do remember who told you what to do?

When you were nineteen and so stoned you couldn’t move away from the sudden headlights, do you remember who pulled you away?

No, no, please don’t start crying. I might get started too.

Whatever happened to Prince Charming

There is no prince in this story.

The sad truth of the matter is that he’s forgotten you by now.

That’s what happens when love ends. Dumper leaves dumpee and walks forward.

Memory is like that, you know.

He won’t rescue you.

You don’t need to be rescued.

You don’t need him, never needed him.

You know this.

I know you know this.

The story of the perfect garden, part three

One day, the empress died.

The imperial chamberlain, her most devoted aide, had the empress’ body washed with the most perfect liquids, anointed with the most perfect perfumes and covered in the most perfect silks, all taken from the towering heights of the piles in the perfect garden. He commissioned an orchestra to play the most perfect dirge on the most perfect set of instruments known to man, each one plucked from its place from the wonderful garden.

Then he had the perfect corpse thrown into the warehouse of useless things, which was then set to flames, along with its perfect neighbor, the perfect garden.

The moral that accompanies the tale

You can’t take it with you.

You know you can’t.

Now, what have you learned?

Instructions for a better life

1. Love is learned.

2. There is always a choice.

Happily ever after

Can you see it?

Open your eyes and see it with me: sunsets, shared cups of coffee, snuggling in bed with a book each, a soundtrack everywhere we go.

Can you see it?