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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

entry arrow8:53 PM | In the Age of Paris Hilton

One thing I have learned from seven seasons of watching American Idol is that there is an extraordinarily huge number of people who have an inflated sense of talent, but who are otherwise tone deaf. It's such a sad, sad thing. But you know what's even sadder? Otherwise talented people reduced to a joke in the Age of Paris Hilton.

Take the case of Julie Dubela (official website here)...

She is a well-known young singer around New England who, when she was quite young, appeared in TV talent shows such as Fox's American Juniors and PaxTV's America's Most Talented Kid. Listen to her old rendition of "Rainy Days and Mondays" and you can feel the purity and promise of her young voice. She sounded like the real thing, indeed.

She has grown up since then.

Tonight, Ms. Dubela auditions for American Idol ... and falls flat on her face. It was a horrible audition: she slurred her words, she overdramatized, she approximated a drunken gorilla who thinks she is Christina "Skank-o-Rama" Aguilera in Dirrrty. Gone is the precious precocity of her young days. And so she gets three definite no's from the judges, and she emerges from the audition room almost shell-shocked, angry and unable to believe that her "singing" did not even pass muster during the first round. Ouch.

Mark makes this observation: she now sounds like a young teenager trying too hard to seem like Paris Hilton. Listen to that affected lilt, Beverly Hills-style, of her speech, where she sounds like an annoying clone of Nicole Ritchie or Paris. Look at her vamped up appearance. Consider the effect of dumbing down Paris-style: Simon Cowell calls her precocious, and she says, in perfect character: "What's precocious?"

Look at what Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Tara Reid, Ashley Simpson, Mary Kate Olsen, Tara Elizabeth Connor, and Lauren Caitlin Upton have wrought. Stupidity and skankiness as currency to fame and notoriety. I fear for the next generation, indeed.

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entry arrow5:38 PM | Excerpt From a New-ish Story

We were going fast. I went back under the blanket, the edges of which were flapping in the wind that snapped through the car’s interiors. The cold didn’t matter anymore—but we were careful with our little noises, and I hoped, with a dash of unthinking abandon, that the purring of the engine and the crunch of the wheel upon gravel road outside could drown whatever noise it was we were making.

The ferocity of my sudden decisiveness must have surprised even him. I, too, marveled at the impulsive knowledge, screaming out of nowhere, of where my hand and my mouth could go—and what they could do. “Ugh,” Randy whimpered—but it must have been new for him as well. How many nights have I imagined something like this? My fourteen-year old brain had always been capable of kinetic imaginations, but this was suddenly it—and in the split second when I both nipped at his left nipple, and felt for his muscled entrance that throbbed with both anticipation and fear, the thought came to me that all it took, really, was surrender.

“What are you doing?” Randy hissed softly at me, even as his hands pushed my head down harder, where my teeth could do ravage to his nipple, my tongue on his chest. He smelled of bottled heat, and I did not say anything. His sphincter, too, throbbed—and that was all the invitation I needed. Remembering all this, I think now I must have been clumsy, and it must have been quite uncomfortable—our little bodies thrashing together in the claustrophobic space of the Sakbayan’s black-upholstered backseat.

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entry arrow11:08 AM | Invitation to Best Filipino Stories

The University of the Philippines Press cordially invites you to the launch of

Best Filipino Stories:
The NVM Gonzalez Awards, 2000-2005

8 February 2008
UP Press Bookstore Diliman, Balay Kalinaw,
UP Diliman, Quezon City

Best Filipino Stories contains seventeen of the best short stories in English over the first sixy years of the NVM Gonzalez Awards, and are edited by Gemino H. Abad and Gregorio C. Brillantes.

The anthology includes prize-winning works by Carmen Aquino-Sarmiento, Charlson Ong, Socorro Villanueva, Janet Villa, Ian Rosales Casocot, Angelo Rodriguez Lacuesta, and Exie Abola, among many others.

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entry arrow10:04 PM | LitCritters Dumaguete No. 25

Next week

A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury
To Build a Fire by Jack London
The Spectacles by Edgar Allan Poe
Tangled Notes in Watermelon by Diane Curtis Regan

Last week

Frozen Delight by Marguerite Alcarazen de Leon
Logovore by Joseph Nacino
A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell
A Place I've Never Been by David Leavitt

The LitCritters is a reading and writing group based in Manila (moderated by Dean Francis Alfar) and Dumaguete. Every week, we read and discuss several pieces of short fiction from various genres from different writers with the goal of expanding our reading horizons, improving our ability to critique, and learning how to write from the good texts. In addition to speculative fiction, we read Philippine literature in English, as well as world literature. The Dumaguete Group meets every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Silliman University President's Home.

The past two weeks have been a period of tying up loose ends for LitCritters Dumaguete, and we all vowed to finish what we needed to finish, as well as brush away some of the post-holiday funk that settled in -- and made us lazy. We kinda miss Michelle as well, and so five campus writers -- Celeste June Rivera, Zakiyah Sidri, Emarrah Contessa Sarreal, Eliora Bernedo, and Hannah Lynn Creencia -- have joined the LitCritters starting last week as intensive auditors, hopefully to soon fully join the group, if they can make the commitment. I've asked my graduate class in creative nonfiction -- Bron Teves, Sonia Sygaco, and Alfred Casipong -- to join in the fun as well: the tools they will learn from analyzing the craft of fiction-making they also can utilize in their own nonfiction writing, anyway. And because they have a deeper knowledge of things literature, hopefully they can help the rest of LitCritters in seeing things in newer perspectives.

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entry arrow6:53 PM | Douglas Nierras Powerdance in 'Panalangin'

Tonight, the acclaimed Douglas Nierras Powerdance Company comes to Dumaguete City to perform in a program titled Panalangin, an all-prayer repertoire that exemplifies the prayerful nature of the Filipino. The entire program depicts the essence of Filipino piety in numbers as soulful as “Requiem” and as vibrant as “Gloria,” and traces the different dynamics of the way the Filipino prays: in quiet solitude, in fervent energy, and in frenzied joy, almost to the point of cry on the mountain top. The music used in this program is a mixture of original creations of Filipino composers as well as well-known and best loved international classical pieces by respected composers worldwide.

Known as the Philippines’ premiere company in modern, jazz and show dance, Douglas Nierras Powerdance is internationally recognized and respected as a contemporary dance company. It was formed in 1988 by Douglas Nierras who had the vision of teaching, performing, and sharing the art of dance and making it more accessible to greater number of audiences, especially the youth. Receiving no regular government nor private corporate subsidy, the company aims to do its share in the promotion of contemporary Filipino culture and help develop a more sensitive public by sharing that unique dance experience peculiar to Douglas Nierras Powerdance. For the past 18 years, it has carried this vision by presenting self-produced annual concerts dealing with a variety of issues and inspirations—from the spiritual to the mundane, from the historical to the contemporary, from the global to the domestic, from the most socially sophisticated to the colloquial—all done with a brash, challenging, thought-provoking, and very distinct choreography, an edge that has been a Nierras and Powerdance trademark.

Douglas Nierras Powerdance has gone a long way from its appearance on the television show Shades in 1988, barely four weeks after it was formed. Later came the television show RSVP, and since then the company has enjoyed notable performances on television, stage, and the cinema, locally or abroad. Douglas Nierras Powerdance has represented the country on several occasions including the Festival International de Jazz de Mexico (1990), the ASEAN Festival of Songs in Singapore (1989-94), the East Meets West Economic Summit (1995), and as the finale performer for the Asia Dance Festival in Tokyo (1996). In March 1998, Douglas Nierras Powerdance performed an all-Filipino repertoire at the Lincoln Center, New York City, as part of the Philippine Centennial Celebration there. In 30 January 1999, Douglas Nierras Powerdance bested dance companies from 73 other countries to win the Grand Prix at the 10th Saitama International Creative Dance Concourse in Yono City, Japan—the Philippines’ first and only grand prize for modern dance choreography. Douglas Nierras Powerdance has also been the recipient of the Aliw Awards Best Pop/Contemporary Dance Group for 2001, 2002, and 2003, winning the Hall of Fame Award in 2004.

The company is composed of full-time professional dance artists, teachers and choreographers who, aside from being performers, produce, promote and market the company’s shows and the Douglas Nierras Pedagogy. These dancers are dedicated artists who view their involvement with dance as a serious career and have undergone extensive training in the various disciplines of dance here and abroad, honing their craft to a high technical competence and mature artistry.

Douglas Nierras Powerdance is trained, choreographed and directed by its founder.

The dance concert by the Douglas Nierras Powerdance Company is the fourth event in the current cultural season sponsored by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee. Upcoming shows include Pinky Amador and Bart Guingona in the play Love Letters on February 23, and the U.P. Guitar Orchestra on March 1. Tickets are available at the College of Performing Arts Office and the Luce Auditorium Office, and at the theater lobby before every show. For inquiries and ticket reservations, please call/contact Gang-gang at (035) 422-6002 loc. 520.

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entry arrow8:12 PM | All Shall Be Well

Each day you wake up, you quickly go about the ritual of getting up on automatic: it amazes me sometimes how we don’t really think through most of our days, our bodies used to the rote memory of the everyday. Wake up. Get up. Head for the shower. Brush teeth. Drop towel. Get dressed. Pick bag up. Hail a cab. Show I.D. to gate guard. Head to classroom. Start to speak. And then the real world sinks in, and you start thinking again. It’s the way we live now, I guess, and the best part of that daily grind are the little moments that shy away from the expected. But to trust yourself to follow that instinct to revel in that unexpected moment, it’s sometimes harder.


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entry arrow10:43 AM | The Goodnight Princes

Sometimes, from every generation, there comes an actor of such intensity that he comes to embody the essence -- the beautiful volatility and the secret vulnerabilities -- of our youths. When they die quite young, we mourn for them and we mourn for us, because it is a sudden reminder that mortality knows no boundaries, even when there is so much promise from one so young. Which is why I understand that, more than half a century later, people are still mourning James Dean's sudden passing. I'm still mourning River Phoenix's death. His portrayals of youth in tentativeness and pain -- from Running On Empty, Stand By Me, and My Own Private Idaho -- reflected the abyss I felt inside of me when I was growing up. And then to die like that... It gave me my first glimpse of mortality. Years later, and only a few weeks ago, Brad Renfro -- that embodiment of our id, from the protective rebel in The Client to the young man getting a little too close to possibilities of evil in Apt Pupil and Bully -- follows River. And yesterday, Heath Ledger -- who was our romantic heel in 10 Things I Hate About You and our closeted mirror in Brokeback Mountain -- follows suit. From our generation, only Leonardo DiCaprio, Keanu Reeves, and Ethan Hawke seem to have escaped into well-cushioned lives.

And so we mourn.

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entry arrow11:05 PM | There Will Be Atonement

And here we go again, into the Oscar circus that paints our Januarys and Februarys in cinematic sheen. For the most part, the list handed to us by the Academy is a taunt to play catch-up in our backwaters of the Philippines. (Thank God for the pirates, they who know how to slake our thirst.)

When I saw Joel Wright's film adaption of Atonement a few weeks ago, I felt it had Oscars written all over it -- it was a beautifully made film that was surprisingly faithful to Ian McEwan's very internal novel, which most McEwan fans felt to be virtually unfilmmable. I liked it very much (take note I didn't say "love") -- and honestly felt that Saoirse Ronan's take on Briony to be deliciously villainous, it deserved a supporting actress nomination (and eventually did). Still, I felt it was an Oscar-worthy film, in the vein of The English Patient -- that single take in the beach alone is worth any award, equal in power and precision to the cinematographic magic of last year's Children of Men. And yet, most people were writing Atonement off as a possible Oscar nominee ("Keira Knightley," says one blogger, "is reduced to saying 'Come back, come back to me' in the second half of the film," which is actually true -- but they make it sound soooo bad), and most Oscar watchers diluted the film to a mere admiration over Keira's gorgeous green gown. There were no awards precursors over it, save for the nod from the Golden Globes; the guilds virtually ignored it, going instead for Sean Penn's Into the Wild.

But now, it is a Best Picture nominee, alongside Jason Riteman's Juno, Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton, Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men, and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. And Into the Wild is nowhere in sight.

Being a bibliophile who happen to love movies with wild abandon, what I love most about this batch of Oscar contenders is that three of them are adaptations of literary tomes from heavy-weight writers: Ian McEwan, of course, and Cormac McCarthy (for No Country for Old Men) and Upton Sinclair (for There Will Be Blood from the novel Oil!). And it helps that Juno, from the original screenplay by ex-stripper and blogger Diablo Cody, has the preciousness of a Tom Perrotta. This writerly love in the current Oscar stretch is quite ironic, given the current screenwriters strike that threaten to overwhelm the current awards season.

I've been an Oscar watcher for many years now, ever since I was a high school kid and stumbled onto the front page of the Inquirer many years ago which carried a story that proclaimed Kathy Bates as Best Actress for Misery and Jeremy Irons as Best Actor for Reversal of Fortune. I thought: what the heck are the Oscars? Then I watched Rob Reiner's Misery and was frightened by the perverted perfection of Bates' Annie Wilkes, and then I watched Barbet Schroeder's Reversal of Fortune, and I was flummoxed by the cool (and possibly murderous) high society fox of Irons' Claus von Bülow. I thought: if this was the Oscars, I'm looking forward to it every year. And I have.

There were years of utter jubilation... Steven Spielberg winning Best Director (finally) for Schindler's List, and Martin Scorsese winning the same (finally) for The Departed... the break-the-racial-glass-ceiling wins of Denzel Washington for Training Day and Halle Berry for Monsters Ball (although both movies have since lost their critical sheen)... Lea Salonga singing "A Whole New World" from Aladdin... And there were years of terrible upsest... Crash winning over Brokeback Mountain remains anathema for many critics after all these years. Sometimes I kid myself over the silly elevations of our hopes and hysteria over what is mostly a PR stunt from Hollywood, but I guess only a film lover can understand the passion for this silly horse race. It means both nothing and everything, and for a couple of months at least we get to debate over cinematic aesthetics for better or for worse.

Today, my immediate reasons for my inexplicable (though momentary) joy, when the nominees were announced only hours ago, were: Juno's eventual Oscar finish ... the actress Sarah Polley getting nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Away From Her... Persepolis nominated for Best Animated Feature (after having been snubbed from the Foreign Language Film category) ... Laura Linney getting recognized for The Savages, and the formidable Tilda Swinton (she was scintillating in Orlando many years ago, in a role that called for her to change from woman to man in the span of a century) finally getting her due for Michael Clayton ... Viggo Mortensen finally an Oscar nominee for Eastern Promises after the inexplicable shut-outs from the three-year Oscar run of The Lord of the Rings trilogy ... and Cate Blanchett's double-whammy, including her surprising nomination for Elizabeth: The Golden Age. She joins Bing Crosby and Paul Newman as the only actors to be nominated twice for the same role. (Correct me if there are others.) And if she wins Best Supporting Actress for I'm Not There, she will be the only second actress after Linda Hunt (The Year of Living Dangerously) to have won Oscars for playing a man.

Get this though: Casey Affleck, that kid, is now an Oscar nominee. Then again, so is Norbit, for Achievement in Make-Up, which makes a historical first: a film that gets nominated for both the Razzies and the Oscars within 24-hours.

There are the eventual snubs, which create better copies for the news. Someone cried, "Where's Hairspray?" Well, I liked Adam Shankman's singable adaptation of John Waters' Hairspray, but I somehow hated, hated, hated John Travolta's uninspired interpretation of the Mrs. Turnblad character, which I think was utterly diluted by his Scientology-bred homophobia. (How do you get from Divine to Travolta?) Thank God that got snubbed.

But here are my list of regrets. The Philippines gets shut-out again, with Donsol disappearing into the doldrums. (Whatever can we do to improve our Oscar chances? It's quite strange that one of the world's oldest national cinemas has yet to crack into the graces of the Golden Guy.) There are no Best Original Screenplay nods for Superbad and Knocked Up, the funniest movies of the year. There are no Best Actor nominations for veteran character actor Frank Langella for his forgotten novelist in Starting Out in the Evening (adapted from one of my favorite novels by Brian Morton) and Gordon Pinsent for his long-suffering husband in Away From Her (adapted from one of my favorite short stories, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," by Alice Munro). Pinsent, for me, actually carried the emotional core of the film more than the beautiful Julie Christie did. (The famously reclusive actress, who won an Oscar for Darling in 1965, gets nominated for Best Actress for her turn as an Alzheimer's patient.)

There are no acting nods either for Vanessa Redgrave's pivotal elderly Briony in Atonement, Allison Janney's formidable stepmom in Juno, Helena Bonham Carter's malevolent pie-maker in Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Keri Russell's lovelorn waitress in Waitress, Angelina Jolie's powerful turn as Marianne Pearl in A Mighty Heart, Jodie Foster's vigilante in The Brave One, Mathieu Amalric's left-eye bravura in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Ryan Gosling's doll-loving lonely guy in Lars and the Real Girl, Brad Pitt's world-weary outlaw in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Imelda Staunton's evil giggly school headmistress in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Richard Gere's literary conman in Hoax, Emile Hirsch's tragic idealistic adventurer in Into the Wild, Robert Downey Jr.'s depressive detective in Zodiac, and Amy Adams' frilly cartoon character in Enchanted. (Adams? Well, think about this: she took a very, very tricky role of a Disney princess, and made it a wonderful ride for all of us -- lesser actors would have made the entire thing unbearably cheesy.) I was secretly wishing for a Staunton nod, but no go.

The Simpsons Movie gets inexplicably shafted for Surf's Up. (Whaaa...?) And there are no Best Picture nominations for John Carney's tender musical Once, Julie Taymor's Beatles love fest Across the Universe, Ang Lee's sexy thriller Lust, Caution, Cristian Mungiu's abortion drama 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, David Fincher's serial killer epic Zodiac, Brad Bird's French gourmet Ratatouille, and Marc Forster's Afghan tearjerker The Kite Runner. And there is a virtual zero take for Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

And as far as the Oscars are concerned, there is still no love for maverick filmmakers Fincher, Taymor, Tim Burton, and David Cronenberg.

But in a year full of wonderful movies, you really can't have everything, something's gotta give, and there indeed promised to be blood in the nominations.

The full list of nominees is here.

UPDATE: The popular aftermath is discussed here. Film critics Roger Ebert and Richard Corliss discuss the nominees. And YouTube has the nominations telecast.

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entry arrow4:55 PM | Man of Many Stories

Ruel De Vera profiles Philippine Genre Stories' Kenneth Yu for Sunday Inquirer Magazine. Check it out!

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entry arrow5:28 PM | Suddenly Offline

I already said I was sorry for the silence of the past few weeks. It seems that the whole of Dumaguete is afflicted with the strange status of being terribly offline, catching all of us off-guard: Globelines, we've learned, is suffering from some sort of slowdown, rendering Internet surfing to a suffering crawl. Imagine the panic. Imagine the work not being done. Imagine not being able to email or blog in two, three weeks. Imagine the helpless text messages between friends asking and advising each other where they could possibly find a good wifi. ("Don Atilano," I tell them, "but if there's nothing, Cafe Noriter is a good bet.")

I'm in Noriter right now, sipping my cafe latte, Beatles songs blaring in the background, pounding on my MacBook like an addict long deprived of Internet nourishment. Cafe Noriter is a new, quaint hangout for the city's college kids and laptop crowd along Avenida Sta. Catalina -- done in a manner of tasteful Korean kitsch that somehow works and somehow transcends to a kind of charm. And the coffee is good. Cafe Noriter is owned by a Korean guy and his beautiful wife who used to be some sort of popular model in Seoul. "I'm not going back to Korea," she told Mark last week during a television interview, "I love Dumaguete too much."

I've made plans with Annabelle to surf here Sunday with her. The Internet back home simply will never do anymore. Imagine having to load a simple webpage, only to have it take more than an hour to load fully. (That is if you don't get an instant message that "server is down.") Annabelle gave me a newsbit a few hours ago that the company's cable connections were severed for some strange reasons somewhere in the waters near Romblon -- but there is no official word yet. Globelines, instead, pretends nothing is happening. When I went to the headquarters to complain more than a week ago, I was told there was absolutely nothing wrong, that I probably had a virus (they're blaming me?), but that they would send a technician as soon as possible (who never came, anyway). Drat them.

Speaking of laptops, I have promised I shall do my MacBook the honor of not having to be corrupted by my insistent use of Windows XP anymore. My laptop, you see, has dual environments -- but years of having become used to Microsoft's decidedly unsexy OS left me merely admiring Mac OS, but still intimidated by the new interface, the new ways of navigating through unfamiliar applications. But enough. I'm slowly weaning myself away from that old MS world, to embrace this sleek new one. And have you see the new MacAir? Isn't it beautiful? Sigh.

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entry arrow10:55 PM | Get That Asian Booker

Peter Gordon, Executive Director of the Man Asian Literary Prize, will be in Manila on Thursday, January 24, to promote the prize among Filipino writers and to speak on “International Opportunities for Filipino Writers.” The UP Institute of Creative Writing is hosting his talk, which will be held that day at 2:30 pm at the AVR Room, 2nd floor Rizal Hall Faculty Center, UP Diliman.

The Man Asian—informally known as the “Asian Booker”—was established in 2006 and made its first award in 2007 for the best unpublished novel in English or English translation by an Asian. Filipino fictionist and UP professor Jose Dalisay Jr.’s novel Soledad’s Sister made the shortlist of the inaugural prize, which drew 243 entries from all over Asia. The deadline for the 2008 Man Asian is March 31.

Gordon will speak about the prize and on literary publishing in Asia in general. The UPICW is inviting all interested writers, translators, publishers, teachers, and students to attend the lecture-discussion, which will also feature Dr. Dalisay and fellow novelist and columnist Alfred “Krip” Yuson.

Peter Gordon is also a founder and former Director of the Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival (held each March in Hong Kong), founder and editor of the Asian Review of Books, and publisher at Chameleon Press. He writes a weekly op-ed column in the Hong Kong daily The Standard and is chairman of the Russian Interest Group at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce.

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entry arrow1:23 AM | Looking at the Horizon

It has become a strange habit of mine—something borne out of a newfound impertinence perhaps—to ask people, many days later after the last firecracker of January 1st had exploded: “How’s your year shaping up so far?” I say it with a nonchalance bordering on startling. There’s something in my tone that suggests a hard edge to my question, which does not seem to require a reply, and it can be strange to witness the variety of looks I get: from chirpy hopefulness to downright confusion. (My favorite is the classic blank look.) “Umm, it’s far too early to tell,” some would say, “but I hope it will be happy.”

“Well, good for you,” my impertinence would reply. And then I’d be on my way to my next victim.

I don’t know why I do this. I don’t even know why, last week, I dared myself to climb a tree (at my age!), or to spend exactly one week not logging on to my snug online life. “There has to be something nice about an offline life,” I told myself—and there was indeed: in consequence, I have gained about ten pounds, which soon had me going to the gym. (Granted, the offline experiment is also a woeful result of my current Globelines broadband connection being the worst as it had been since the underwater Taiwan quake of January 2007—it is sooooooo slow a snail can make for the moon in record time, and several days after I have complained to Customer Service, I still am in waiting for the service team to arrive. As of this writing, it has been roughly three days.)

But it has been a strange January so far, and moments of introspection tell me that I seem bent on shaking things up in my life so far, even in the ways I deal with people. Already, the twelve months ahead seem to me to be a stretch of utter ambivalence, totally unlike the fervent sureness I felt when 2007 came to take its opening bow. Once upon a time, the start of another calendar provided easy demarcation between past and future, and also remembered frustrations and renewed aspirations. This year, 2008 increasingly feels like a mere continuation of what has already gone on before. Technically, this is always true for any year, but I meant that symbolic ending and beginning that concentrates around New Year’s Eve when we get a psychological reprieve of sort.

I used to have rituals in marking that reprieve. Going ga-ga over stupendous fireworks is one. Watching the first sunrise of the year is another. The last one is a romantic, even pagan, idea of greeting the first day of the year alert and in worship: the first sunlight of the year on our face … nothing could be better than that.

But I never did see the first sunrise of the new year.

It was not the fault of an alarm clock gone silent at the appointed hour—mine did ring around five in the morning, and I did wake up to the groggy early hour, the outside still dark, the bed still inviting me with all its soft temptations. But then, in that shadowy region of half-sleep, I chose to surrender to the bed, to sleep. I guess, in that instant, I had chosen my theme for the year: to let go of what was expected and the routine, to try to court the other side of impulse.

I have never lived this way before.

Later on, when I had savored enough of my apartment’s quiet (I swear I could hear my hamsters breathe), I ventured outside and found it was already quite late in the afternoon. I like New Year’s Day in the city: the stillness from everywhere is of the comfortable sort, not the funereal silence of Lent and the high holy days. That was when I decided to go to the Boulevard, to keep a late appointment with the Dumaguete horizon, this time no longer to be the romantic sort and “see the sunrise” but to just be there, because I could, and because my feet led me to it. I thought: life is much better lived outside the tyranny of alarm clocks and schedules.

The afternoon that proceeded seemed both startling and soothing. I sat on my bench along the Boulevard paseo: under the golden sunlight streaming from the Cuernos de Negros, two boys were trying to throw a styrofoam board to the sea, only to find it dancing back to them on the shoulders of the sharp sea breeze—tottering on the ledge of the seaside brick dike like a deranged ballerina; a woman in a black coat and carrying a green parasol walked with a certain sadness to her eyes; a young family listened to music from the stereo their little boy was carrying; and an old couple in a red cap and a brown hat traversed the entire paseo, perhaps to fulfill a resolution to fitness. From where I sat, Siquijor looked blue in the distance. The sea was rough. And the sky, which was blue a few moments before, now fielded the sight of rain clouds creeping in from the north. The city was quiet.

I don’t know if there are portents all around me. All I knew was that this was me living in the moment, taking only what that moment could offer me.

Perhaps in my subconsciousness, I have realized how I may have built up a life that embraced too much the comfortable. To wake up in the first day of the year to catch the sunrise? I am 32 years old, and I am now too old to entertain empty signs. Last New Year’s Eve, I went with my mother, my brother, and his family on a short excursion by car to the Dumaguete seaside, to greet the midnight of the incoming 2008 with the sight of “splendid” fireworks, courtesy of Lee Super Plaza. What we saw was a beautiful 20-minute or so show of explosion, boom, and colors—and then, right after, there was only empty, dark skies to behold. And what was suddenly left to consider in the night skies were the almost unexpected sight of our ancient stars, which proved more beautiful, and more lasting than any fancy fire ball.

It struck me that sometimes what fills the soul is the unexpected calm after the riot of what we have sought for. What we often seek is almost always instant gratification, quick to end, and then soon lost to forgetfulness. I don’t want that anymore. I don’t want empty signs either.


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entry arrow1:58 PM | Narrowband

Please forgive the silence of the past few days. My best friend from Australia happened to be in town, and suddenly there was more to life than an online one. But that was not the most pressing thing: Globelines suck. My broadband is so infuriatingly slow, it's virtually non-existent. I practically have no Internet connection at home. But I should be back very soon.

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entry arrow6:22 AM | My Fab Universe

Jing Panganiban-Mendoza now blogs.

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entry arrow2:25 PM | The Dean of Tenors

Voice, like most of performance art, commanders the truest admiration only for the duration of the artistic act: after that, the fledgling memories of witnesses become the only record of what genius has taken place, haphazard that may be. If, indeed, to see is to believe, then the collective cultural history that came before the advent of recording devices would have been lost forever to amnesia. Fortunately, we do have cultural chroniclers who tell us of geniuses we can no longer comprehend today for ourselves. But to have seen Margot Fonteyn or Martha Graham dance! Or Jenny Lind sing! or Sarah Bernhardt set the French stage ablaze! Only history remains, of course.

The point I am trying to make is to drive home the value of seeing an artist at his or her peak perform on stage, in front of you, and playing for you—because these are moments that will be fleeting, and that one may never encounter again. One of my two biggest regrets as a cultural aficionado was foregoing seeing Lea Salonga on the Cultural Center of the Philippines stage doing Kim in the local production of Miss Saigon. I had a ticket to a great seat, but ultimately backed out at the last minute because traveling to big scary Manila on my own proved paralyzing. The second regret was foregoing a concert with Cecile Licad at the height of August during the Silliman University centennial celebration, because I was tired from work that day and needed a night to call my own. I realized much later that tiredness comes and goes, and can easily be remedied by a few hours of sleep some other time—but to see the legendary Cecile Licad play the piano in your neighborhood for the price of pittance? That opportunity comes only once in a blue moon.

Which is why tomorrow, January 11, I have marked my calendar to see the brilliant tenor Ramon Maria Acoymo perform on the Luce Auditorium stage.

The name may be unfamiliar to many, but Montet (as he is called among friends) comes to Dumaguete this week fresh from a glorious win as Best Male Classical Performer from the Aliw Awards, which was given out last December. That alone should tell us that what we have here is an emerging artist worthy of any adulation. Praise, of course, has already come from many quarters in the classical music scene, showered on an increasingly distinguished career that has seen him perform in three continents. The accolades rightly proclaim him as “the Dean of tenors.”

The nickname is not without basis given his talent. But it is also apt: he is, after all, the present Dean of the University of the Philippines College of Music. And a celebrated one at that. Consider this short list of his musical accomplishments: he is the first Filipino to graduate magna cum laude at the U.P. College of Music (after which he went to the University of Wyoming to earn his masters in Vocal Performance); he is the first Filipino classical singer to sing a recital format at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (in 2003); and he is the first Filipino classical singer to perform solo at the Alice Tully Hall of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

Impressive indeed, especially given the fact that his first calling was in biology—and actually graduated cum laude for his bachelor of science degree. Science’s loss became music’s gain.

In the United States in 1982, he took on the role of Wang Ta in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song, where he earned favorable notices. The New York Times theater critic hailed his performance as “a pleasant presence.” Other theater critics on three continents have described him as “mesmerizing” (in New York), “successful” (in Rottenburg), and “remarkable” (in Manila).

His belief in musical excellence wherever he goes stems from a personal philosophy of meeting challenges head-on, but at the same time remaining true to one’s musical roots. “Everywhere we go,” he once said, “we meet the host country in its own terms—its own brand of music, its theories, its research. But, at the same time, we make it a point to showcase the Filipino artistry.”

A first-prize winner of the U.S. National Association of Teachers of Singing Competition, Mr. Acoymo has released three CD albums in America. Among his opera portrayals have been Canio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, Tamino and Monostatos in Mozart’s Die Zauberflote, the title roles in Blake’s The Bear (which he performed with the Hong Kong Chamber Orchestra Society), Oedipus in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, and Pagong in Philippine National Artist Lucrecia Kasilag’s Ang Pagong at ang Matsing, a role which he created.

The concert by Ramon Ma. Acoymo is scheduled on January 11, and is the third event in the current cultural season sponsored by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee. Upcoming shows include the Powerdance on January 26, Pinky Amador and Bart Guingona in the play Love Letters on February 23, and the U.P. Guitar Orchestra on March 1. Tickets are available at the College of Performing Arts Office and the Luce Auditorium Office, and at the theater lobby before every show. For inquiries and ticket reservations, please call/contact Gang-gang at (035) 422-6002 loc. 520.

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entry arrow7:36 AM | The Fallen

Sunday Inquirer Magazine published my vignette "The Fallen" last weekend. Oy. This seems to be for the new literary section (exclusively for short shorts, I guess) for the magazine. Mine follows the vignettes of Dean Francis Alfar and Sarge Lacuesta. Anyway, thanks for the invitation, Ruey!

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entry arrow12:46 PM | Why I Am an Eternal Pedestrian

[an update from a previous post]

The first thing that you should maybe know about me is that I don’t know how to drive a car. I’ve promised family and friends that there will come a day when I’d muster half a decision to get behind the wheel, and enjoy the freedom that only driving a car can bring. I know the mythology: driving cars bring with it a sense of controlling destiny, a means of putting under control the tyranny of distance. In some cultures, getting a license is a rite of passage, the first mark of adulthood—a driving license is, in a sense, society’s way of conferring on you its trust that you are now a responsible citizen of the world.

I believe in all that, but I still stop short of actually wanting to learn. In my life, I can only recall two instances where friends have actually started a kind of impromptu tutorial on driving. I remember one friend suddenly stopping at a wayside one quiet day in the countryside, and then telling me to get off my butt from the passenger’s seat and take the wheel. “But I don’t know how to drive,” I told him.

“It’s about time you know,” he said.

I shrugged, and said, “Okay.”

We changed seats, and I turned on the key in the ignition. It was an automatic, and so I really needed to do was to shift gears from “park” to “drive,” and then to slowly step on the gas pedal to move. I maybe moved three or six feet. And then I stepped on the brakes.

“That’s it,” I said.

“Why did you stop?”

“It’s not my car. I don’t want to risk ramming this into anything, or falling into a ditch.”

“But you were almost there!”


But I believed in my sense of caution. If it was my car, or some dilapidated contraption that deserved retirement in a junk yard, I would have continued the lesson. But it was a new Picanto, colored blue, something my friend bought from the savings of two years. I did not want a future with this new Picanto damaged in a ditch, me behind the wheel.

Besides, there seems to be no point in learning how to drive in Dumaguete, where life is all pedestrian bliss. The short distances between everything and the unimaginable overpopulation of motorized contraptions from Japan and Korea plying the narrow roads of this city basically spell out my distinct disinterest in getting behind a wheel.

It is also safe to confess that I don’t know anything about car mechanics—how it works, how the engine runs, the whole shebang. I cannot tell a carburetor from a radiator. I cannot change tires. And I don’t know the difference between diesel and unleaded petrol. Once, driving around the city with Mark who was equally ignorant about the workings of cars, we felt we needed to fill one of our tires with air, so we drove to the nearest bulkit shop we knew, and asked for a smidgen of oxygen. The greasy mechanic who attended to us asked, “Unsay pressure?” We looked at each other’s blank faces, and had no idea how to answer.

But at least Mark knew how to drive. “It’s unfair,” Mark told me once, “you’re always the passenger.” Oh, well.

“I hate Dumaguete gridlock,” I offered. “All the bad drivers!”

“But I hate the traffic, too,” he grumbled.

Dumaguete traffic—with its serpentine one-way routes, “no rules” navigation, opportunistic “parking boys,” and bumper-car mentality in the negotiation with the ubiquitous tricycle—is also a quick study into the development of road rage. The “parking boy” phenomenon is especially infuriating. We once backed out of a parking lot around midnight, and a fishy-looking boy suddenly jumped out of the shadows and started doing his hand signals, to “ease” us into the, uhm, very quiet highway. I turned to Mark, “Does he not see there’s no traffic around?” That’s not the most infuriating. Many times we are ambushed by young boys, who must not be more than eight or six years old, blowing their whistles and making some ambiguous gestures. Mark would turn to me and say, “Do they even know what they’re doing? Does this brat even know how to drive?”

All these tell me it’s better off walking through this not-so-gentle city.

You can imagine Mark and I traveling to Valencia once, to dip in the cool waters of Forest Camp. Since the town, thirty minutes west of Dumaguete, was located uphill, I told Mark maybe we should use the “powers” of the Pajero to negotiate the climb and switch to four-wheels. He did. It was a wonderful afternoon we had, swimming in the cool river waters of the Banica. And then driving back to the city, we began to hear the car making a strange screeching noise that could be heard from miles away. “What’s wrong with the car?” I asked Mark. He said, “I have no idea.”

“Maybe we should head straight to a mechanic,” I said.

“Maybe we should call my mom,” he said.

The car screeched and screeched as we made our way back to Dumaguete. People were looking at us in a funny way. It was getting to be an embarrassment.

“This is getting awkward,” Mark said.

“Oh dear God,” I said.

“I hate this car.”

“What did you do?”

“I don’t know!”

I had an inspired idea. “Maybe we should stop by my elder brother’s place. Rocky’s house is on the way. He knows about cars.”

Twenty embarrassing minutes later, we found ourselves in front my brother’s gate. “What’s the problem?” Rocky asked.

“We don’t know. We shifted to four-wheel drive, and then it’s been screeching all day long,” Mark said.

My brother Rocky took the wheel, gunned the engine, and made a simple maneuver: he drove the car backwards a few meters. “You have to do backing to unlock the gear. It was locked all the way. That was the screeching sound.” Mark and I only laughed. It rang hollow. Such is the price for embarrassment and ignorance.

Then last December, Mark and I went to my hometown of Bayawan to act as judges (together with lawyer Myrish Cadapan-Antonio and former Miss Silliman Stacy Alcantara) in their annual search for Miss Bayawan. The saga of our very eventful journey to and from the southernmost city of Negros Oriental was interesting.

Did I say saga? Let’s just call it our purgatorial ride. See, we could have taken the Pajero, but opted instead for an old Hyundai Accent—a perfectly bad choice. Because we soon learned that for each leg of the trip, we had to stop every 20 kilometers or so. The damned car kept overheating, and we had to knock on every door throughout the Negrense countryside to ask for water, which the car guzzled just like that, about 15 liters for every stop. “Damn Korean cars,” Mark said. Once, somewhere between Siaton and Sta. Catalina, a driver for the Bayawan City Hall passed us by in his shiny new pick-up, saw our predicament, and helped us out. He spouted some helpful tips a mechanic would know, but everything he said was Russian to both of us. “What did he mean about maybe there is a leak in the radiator?” I asked Mark.

“I have no idea,” he said.

It was the longest road trip in our lives.

On the way back home the next day, it rained hard, one of the car windows would not close, and we still had to make a couple of stops along the way to quench the thirsty car—all in the middle of the rain.

“Someday, we will laugh at all these,” I told poor Mark, who was, of course, driving.

“Yeah?” he said. “Well, I’m not laughing now.”

We soon safely got home.

Three days later, we remembered all that had happened, and snickered a little. Just a little.

Moral lesson: Take the Pajero for long trips. Insight: Filipinos may be the most hospitable and helpful people in the world. Every house we called on for help did not hesitate to give us all the aid we needed. It was a humbling experience.

And I still don’t want to learn how to drive.

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entry arrow10:05 AM | Have a Hoppy New Year!

This is easily my favorite television ad from last year. The color! The sheer ingenuity! The hopping bunnies in downtown New York! Never ceases to put a smile on my face, this one...

Now, if only local ad agencies are as creative and persevering....

[via pine for pine]


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