Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Almost



Previously: Ice Block


Shifting tide, it will always be, the events of February 3. He showed up unannounced, and the rest, as they say, is history. I trailed behind for a whole month. Searched for his footsteps and adored them to no end. I looked for ways to get close. Dropped the armor that sheathed me from pursuers. I was hoping he would notice, and maybe, resurrect once was, an emotion that he had already put to rest. 

It is for this reason I overlooked the epic fail that was the Hopia caper. I could have retreated, or maybe, set my eyes elsewhere. But there was a word to keep, an invitation I personally set. On the night of our re-encounter, I promised a dinner on the eve of Lunar New Year. He was gracious with the accommodation, and despite the absence of labels, the caresses of the nippy air, as fireworks lit the skies of Binondo, tells of a romantic evening. 

A moment, I wish not to forget. 

It was followed by an unplanned day trip at Intramuros. He was there, waiting, as his siblings took the entrance test at the state university. The pangs of attachment pinched, and despite having to deliver work for the Raketship, I choose to see him for reasons the heart will never speak. Over a shared breakfast meal at KFC, we spoke of what ifs - Chinese Junks mounted with cannons to aid the aging Galleons at the Battle of La Naval. Omitted in history to glorify the feats of Imperio Espana; Left-hand traffic in the streets of Manila before the Postwar returned American cars in the black market; the Tranvias and the question of the hours they operate; and the uprisings of the Chinese in Binondo, and how, despite the bullying of Beijing, we will never extract the race from our blood. Such trivial things we would talk to no end. 

How unfortunate that I realized too late. 

That me and him speak a common tongue.

Looking through a rose-stained glass window, the events of February would have ended positively: that he would recognize the mended bonds; that he would show reception to the prospects of trying again, and he, at the receiving end; that we would have spent the hours thinking nothing but our lofty dreams and silly imaginations. I would have love that mirrored reality, and savor the fictional narrative, but the present divergence speaks of one thing:

My time is over.

If his brief re-entry meant something, it is to prove that I am capable of feeling - of being selfless and perfect, for the person I would like to spend my days with. Of letting go of some breakups, so I may look into the unresolved hang-ups that will forever scar the heart. And of telling some once-upon-a-time story that may never find a happy ending. I had so much plans in store, ideas he may find amazing knowing I can dip my hands into what he enjoys contemplating. But I appreciate, too, what preoccupies him at present: his devotion to his faith, his family, and his artistry; his solitude and love of sunsets; his liberty to choose who he wants to spend time with. And for all the past I regard as legend, I might just be an abstract in his very interesting life. This, I now embrace with humility, and resolve never to take against him.




The second book of the Weatherman ends here, with me, stepping back but never forgetting who we are in each other's life. And if in some future, fate affords another crossover, it is my hope that the affections I still cradle today already disappears, only for reasons of enduring a lifetime of friendship.  



Miao Cat Café





Imagine going to a place where you can sit next to a coffee table, occupied by a fur ball taking a late afternoon nap. He cannot be disturbed. His feline companions, meanwhile, scurry under the chairs, hoping not to get noticed. Then pick a spot where you can have a sip of your strawberry smoothie, while doing some office work, when, a sudden appearance of an Exotic Shorthair gets your attention. It wasn't her intention to distract you, really, but her cuteness demands you abandon your laptop, as you are now spellbound to stroke her fine fur, until she walks away to charm another guest.  

It can only happen in one place in the metropolis, where cats and baristas conspire to make guests feel cozy with good food and awesome company, at Miao Cat Café in Quezon City.  


The idea behind the coffee shop isn't really a novelty as there are hundred of kitchenettes in the country that employ cats as pest control and leftover eaters. There's an eatery behind my workplace, where an elder cat serves as comic relief for hungry patrons. I also knew, thanks to the power of the Internet, that such cat cafés exist around the world. Japan has dozens of them, and so is Korea.

What makes Miao different is the pioneers behind it. Not one cat lover had the entrepreneurial spirit to set up shop for a niche market for feline worshipers before. And it shows, with several TV programs doing a feature about the place, and fully-booked days with eager guests waiting for weeks just to have a slot to socialize with Scottish Folds, Puspins (Pusang Pinoy) and Long-Haired kitties. 


Miao isn't really your ordinary café, where guests simply drop by, order something to eat, and pet the animals to their hearts' content. One must keep in mind that those cats are prone to human-borne viruses. Therefore, around 15 guests are let in, including random walk-ins like me, to have a 2-hour communion with the pussies. There is a P300 pesos admission fee, which includes a choice of sweet treats, pastas, and ice cold drinks, as well as slippers, that you have to return after you exit the room. Picking up the cats and carrying them around is forbidden, so is the strong urge to squeeze and poke them, especially when they look at you with their droopy eyes.  

One-hour breaks are enforced, and guests have to leave as well, for the attendants need to clean and sanitize the place. It is also the time for the cats to rest before another batch of visitors make their way in and become the kitties' object of fancy. I am sure the resident mimings know the drill: "Pretend not to be interested no matter how the poor humans try and try to get our sympathy." 

"No doubt, they will return and try to pet us again. And when they fail, they will come once more, and this time do our bidding."



Being a cat person, however, makes me feel a little uncomfortable at what the animals have to go through. While I find immense joy being surrounded by felines, the unwanted attention bought by their unexpected fame somehow diminishes the snug atmosphere, the owners of the café might have envisioned at the beginning. There is no doubt, the enterprise is booming, and in the months to come, someone will set up another coffee shop with the same idea of letting these four-legged creatures roam freely to draw guests. 

By then, I'd return to Miao Cat Café, and lay down my life's burdens at the same spot at the Al Fresco where I first fell in love with the place:

--

In my head, I see myself in front of the laptop, writing essays like this, as the same cats strut by pretending not to care still, even when I reach my hand to touch their fur. Behind the glass window, and occupying one of the indoor wooden tables is an elderly woman, spending the last years of her life petting animals that help overcome her diminished health. They say it's for therapy. There are few loyal patrons as well, reading novels, talking to fellow cat people who have suspended their urge to hide behind their impenetrable walls, reaching out and conceiving artistry, without really violating personal spaces. With the litter box, finally hidden from view, the strong smell at the Al Fresco no longer bothers the olfactory senses. A garden full of herbs now shroud the row of houses at the back of the coffee shop. Well tended with hands that grow greens, they sometimes use the leaves to flavor the homemade pastas and sandwiches. With the fancy and curiosity now over, guests can stay beyond the 2 hour limit. Hygiene remains the first rule upon entering, but with true cat seekers forming the bulk of the patrons, the rules have been relaxed, so is the atmosphere, that has become more inviting.  




As I sip the strawberry smoothie, which still is my favorite drink, the same Exotic Shorthair, jumps on the nearby table to make her presence felt. It is the same clumsy cat I helped get out of the cage she tried exploring the first time I set foot at Miao Cat Café. In that brief moment of connection, where once more I get to stroke her fur, a familiar feeling emerges: something light, and almost fuzzy. 

There and then, I realize, this place has now become home.



Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Fading of Bright Stars




After Nicky Garnace



In the years we shared work spaces, seldom did our hours crossed. She worked night shifts, while I move across different time zones to meet the demands of my profession. She was a luminary; a survivor of countless excisions when the demands of work is lesser than what is required of human resources.  And if not for the months-long infirmity last year, she would have endured the most recent culling. She became part of the statistics, only to return when a colleague flew abroad to get married and live with her fiancé.

A fine lady in her early 30's, one would easily mistake her for an East Asian. Her eyes disappear when she smiles, and her porcelain skin is the envy of many. Her gauntly frame, albeit a cause of concern, hardly bothers any. Colleagues would tell she eats nothing but Chippy and Coke. But who are we to forbid her of such pleasures? She delivers, and for all we care, satisfied are we of her job performance.

Talk is an avocation the two of us hardly engage. Reason lies in office hierarchy, but more so, because we respect each other's solitary leanings. But this doesn't mean ambivalence, or hidden disdain. Words may have never articulated what my thoughts were, but I've always regarded her in high esteem.  

Gnaix as she is known by her pen name is a profound writer. I have gleaned some of her works, beautiful and elegant pieces of Fan Fiction. While her subject dwells with K-Pop and scenes from that part of the world, I would never deny her gift for weaving stories. They are written with so much passion. Dream-like. As if the author is yearning to become one of her beloved heroines. No wonder, when one tries to ask where she draws inspiration, a journey to her soul leads to answers.

Her talent for crafting narratives made me pay close attention to her after-work occupations. For one, she is a compassionate angel who never left her mother's side. I was told both of them go to events, when Korean celebrities make time to meet and greet their fans. I also know she's a voracious reader of Rom-Con and Young Adult genres. I could just imagine her laid splayed in bed, reading novels that gave her idea to create her own. Finally, for all the impressions that she appears distant and reclusive, whispers tell of her attempts to connect. People in the office, the same workmates I find joy watching from a distance tell anecdotes of their conversations: Lively, life-like, and replete with aspirations and struggles. Same with friends, who now pour loving words they might have never said when Gnaix is a polished gem who used to shine among us.

"Don't worry, yeobo. I will be back in no time." Leeteuk said and gave Sora a sweet kiss on her lips. 
"Just look at the sky and think of me every time."
- Signs of I Love You, Asian Fan Fic website

Gnaix was taken away from this earth, much like a ripening fruit snaps from a healthy tree. It was swift and unexpected: Devastating for those who believed she had already overcame the life-threatening affliction. She had many plans in store, like learning how to drive and cross-stitch, and meeting new friends now that she has regained her weight. I recall her mother at the wake, calmly saying how she had devoted her life to looking after her. "Ang unfair naman," she said, as daughters are supposed to send their elders to the grave and not the opposite. Looking at her lifeless body inside the coffin, her face tells of no regrets. Perhaps, she knew all along that her time is limited. That all she needs to show is she can do things - like earning to pay the bills, like finding ways to immortalize her memory through writing, and like aspiring big things, despite her near brushes with death. And much as it hurts knowing she no longer breathes the same air that fills our lungs, it is with deep honor coming across such an amazing woman, whose online fiction stories end with a promised love the author never waited to come.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

At Puñta (Little Stories Pt. 1)





Every Monday, the team and I are needed in the office for the product consultation with the client. The Skype sessions last less than an hour, after which, we are free to return home to resume work. Tonight would have been one of those random audience with our stateside associate, except that the CEO of the company we render work apparently got disappointed with our shabby customer service. 

We were prepared to state the chronology of events, and if necessary, admit our incompetence. 

To our collective relief, the email was addressed to another department, and that, we are still under the good graces of the big boss. The meeting was adjourned after the run through of this week's list of items to be resolved. But instead of heading home, I invited my junior officer for a drink.

What began as casual talk at Puñta, while gorging on Piel de Pollo, (chewy chicken skin topped with herbs and spices) turned rather somber when my colleague made a disclosure about his future career plans. Before he joined the management two years ago, he used to work in Singapore. He was laid off before his first year and had to return home. Now his ex employer went the extra mile to find him, and get him back. 

Another job offer awaits in the city state.

"Kung hindi lang 20K ang maiipon ko kada buwan, ayaw ko sana umalis." He confessed while downing our second bottle of sub-zero San Miguel Beer. Inside the upscale bar, Latin Samba music layers a merry vibe to sleeve our rather glum talk. 

Understanding his reason, I gave him my blessing and even offered to help compose his resignation letter. He worries, our boss would not accept it.

I promised to intervene.

Keeping my thoughts to myself, though, so as not to weaken his resolve for a better life, I would have said his departure would be a big loss for everyone.



Thursday, March 19, 2015

Celebrity Skin




Her star power is recognizable, even for a showbiz illiterate guy like me. I may have no idea what movies she made when her career was at its peak, but it doesn't matter. I wouldn't care given my lack of interest in the subject. For the longest time, I used to confuse her with another celebrity - Gretchen - whose younger sister was stuff of showbiz news after her well-publicized meltdown a few years ago. Little do I know about this artist, and my preoccupation would have kept her out of my consciousness. But in social media, where people (living and imaginary) break the social divide, the degrees of separation is tampered by the association of the minds.

I recall stumbling into her Twitter account last month, when she spoke her thoughts about the martyrs of Mamapasano. Like everyone, she demanded accountability from those responsible for the deaths of 44 police officers. She would have wanted heads to roll. including the President. This, I wouldn't know for sure. Back then, her little-known social media account was a mere blip in my radar. Glancing her feeds one early morning, I snickered upon reading that she exchanged banters with the President Nixon account, a bot, as far as I'm aware. I would have moved on and write her off as one of those silly has-beens

Until she starts re-tweeting feeds from NASA.

Overnight, I was raving about her. Here is a film and television actress who is fascinated with trivial facts and science. And she doesn't hide it from the discerning public - this woman would even share her newfound knowledge with her followers. And unlike some celebrities who would use their Twitter accounts to promote their projects, or un-sheath some personal anecdotes about their mundane lives, this artist breaks stereotypes to show that she is well-informed, and always interested to learn. I was so impressed by her re-tweets that I posted on my microblog my wish for more celebrities to be like her.

Geeky.

For all the efforts to evade her attention, (by refusing to tag her name while I shower her with praises) common online friends with direct connections found it fitting that my tweet gets to be read by this actress. At the same time, non-showbiz online associates keep telling me how she is in real life: beautiful, down-to-earth, smart. No wonder even if her golden age has long passed, there remains thousands of admirers who hang by her every word.

Did I mention that she replies to tags as well?

It was a rather simple encouragement to stay on Twitter that lead her to finally recognize my presence. She was musing about removing her account as it already consumes most of her free time. All I said was "please do," to the question if she should go on posting updates on her timeline. Tagging the "favorited" icon to notice my words of support would suffice. But her reply not only made me blush, it felt like rubbing elbows with legends.



  

And for the first time in a long while, I learned how it feels to be a fan.



Monday, March 16, 2015

Soulmates







"Play the video again." 

The Weatherman instructed when I made a comment on one of the Vimeo links he shared on Twitter. Someone had created an animated clip of what the Skyway 3 would look like upon completion. It shows the entire length of the elevated highway, from Buendia to Balintawak, and it includes a portion in Santa Mesa that used to baffle me when news came out that the project was approved. I cannot picture how the engineers and designers would construct a motorway when homes and motels block that section of the passage. The video clearly shows how it will be done.

"I-mute mo, then play this song."

I obliged, at once.


--


The video shows an engineering marvel that would bisect the heart of the city. There are sections of the Skyway where bridge decks are stacked on top of the other, and are supported by single massive columns below. There are also entry and exit ramps, for god knows how, would be built in places where buildings now stand. Once the project is finished, the elevated bridge would look like a concrete serpent slithering across a blighted urban landscape. 

It will be a sight to behold.

What makes this short clip truly groundbreaking is the promise it brings. Seldom do I weave dreams for souls other than those of my blood. Should I succeed in getting my act together, and if such time happens when I remain under the initiator's spell, this blog entry may well be the beginning of that journey with the person who made it all happen:

"Nandito na ako sa labas ng building ninyo." I would SMS the guy shortly after parking my Chevrolet Spark. After waiting for almost an eternity, he would finally show up, sit next to me, and buckle up the seat belt before the long drive.

"Did you bring your camera?" He would nod before rolling down the car windows for some breathtaking panorama of the Laguna de Bay and the Fort Bonifacio skyline on the horizon.

And as we go up the concrete ramp, I would connect my phone to the hatchback's sound system. We would cruise the entire length of the newly-constructed motorway for some road trip my heart yearned to happen. He wouldn't know this, for sure, and should this time happens, I would play this song for him, the same Progressive House Music he once instructed me to listen, not knowing I would loop it over the years, while conjuring scenes of us riding into the sunset. 










Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Pasig River Ferry Trip




Previously: Day Off (Last Part)





It was the construction of the Skyway Extension from Buendia to Balintawak that forced the government to take action. Expecting the mayhem the project will create, they came up with the idea to move people across cities without devising schemes that would worsen the rush-hour traffic problem. With spare resources, they re-opened the Pasig River Ferry service. It aims to move commuters from Escolta to Guadalupe by coursing them through the serpentine waterway of the metropolis. 

The last time I rode the ferry was in 2007. Back then, the service was run like a private company. They had air-conditioned speedboats that carried more than 50 passengers at a time. It was not as efficient and timely as the MRT, but it transported people nonetheless. Unceremoniously, the ferry service ceased operations, and for seven years, tugboats and barges reign over Manila's main watercourse once again.




A barely thought-out plan, such as the resurrection of the ferry service accomplishes little, when one keeps in mind that it was supposed to serve the masa passengers. The motor boats are very much smaller now, and the tickets a lot pricier. A trip from Escolta to Guadalupe cost around 50 pesos.

Jeepney drivers charge half the price. 

The idea for this trip was to get off at Pinagbuhatan in Pasig, where the last station perched along the riverbanks. But boat captains, eager to get their pay, refused to sail further upstream. Also, the 3:30 pm arrival of the ferry was moved by an hour. Such delays, turn off commuters. No wonder, people who buy tickets do it for fancy. I was told tourists from Intramuros go round-trips as part of their travel activity.




The captain wasted no time at the jetty as our ferry had now become the last trip of the day. The co-pilot, meanwhile said little about what not to do inside the moving boat, except not to take photos as we pass in front of the Malacanan. He said, it was to protect the occupant from possible incursions. A soldier had even boarded the craft near the Ayala Bridge and accompanied us until we docked at the PUP Station - the next stop after the palace. The relaxed atmosphere inside the open cabin allowed me to stand up, and even transfer seats to take pictures without calling the captain's attention. However, since only steel barriers separated us from the currents below, jet sprays of foul-smelling liquid hit my arms and even my face. Such was the trade-off of sitting in front of the boat to get an unobstructed view of the city.

The other passengers, mostly well-off curiousers from their stroll in Binondo and Escolta made the late afternoon trip a little less like a rush-hour commute and more of a sightseeing tour for the moneyed. There was the quiet Caucasian who stayed at the back of the boat. He spoke often to the co-pilot who swapped stories about the river. There was also this middle-aged woman with her pre-school daughter. Together with a nanny, they occupied the middle seats and covered their garments with small, silken blankets. Another passenger, an old lady, sat next to me. She was the reason I refused to leave the front seat. Without my blocking, she would get sprayed by the river water as well. Finally, there was the Korean I met at the Intramuros ferry station. He was a professor in Incheon, and would leave Manila the following day. While we talked little as we waited for the boat's arrival, I later pointed at him the disused passenger boats that once plied the same water route. At the mercy of the elements, these abandoned vessels are a sad reminder of how some great ideas get wasted because governments refuse to lend support.

Before disembarking, the Korean asked our picture to be taken. When he gets home, I wonder what stories he would tell about his trip.




The Pasig River, whose ever-flowing currents, hides nothing from eyes that see within. The most glaring are the glitzy apartments rising near the waters' edges. Gone are the postwar metalworks and factories that used to dominate the riverine skyline. The windfall trade they spurred, and the people who suckled on the boundless providence, now displaced from their old homesteads. Those who stayed behind squeeze what little sustenance remains. You will catch them standing along the riverbanks, searching for Tilapia and some other edible fishes.





Except for the near confiscation of my camera phone - after I mindlessly aimed it towards the direction of the Palace - the rest of the trip was replete with moments of contemplation. And while brushes of despair remain the undercurrent of the entire journey, a silver lining appears, when you disprove the common belief that you are traversing a body of water that is biologically dead. Accounts of local dwellers claiming fishing grounds downstream, as well as flocks of egrets soaring overhead are the most telling signs that life flourishes beneath the tidal estuary. My hope is that with the surge of high end homes along the river's edges, the less sewage gets into the water. Someday, I wish children who would take this cruise would find a much more verdant waterway.

Like what the Weatherman said, after I sent him a photo of me and the old lady who gamely joined my selfie, the river has stories to tell: There was the foul-smelling sludge flowing from the confluence of the San Juan tributary; the condemned tenement housing, that stubborn dwellers refuse to leave; the dramatic sunset at Punta, where custom-built pump boats ferry passengers from the peninsula, to the public market of Santa Ana on the opposite side of the river. Also telling are the new towers being constructed at the Rockwell Center. The stark difference between the surrounding neighborhoods and the high-end conclave makes you wonder if the residents of the luxury lofts ever thought of the lives of hovel-dwelling people below, and finally, just when you wish the trip would go beyond the Edsa Bridge, you return to rush-hour scenes at Guadalupe: the people shoving, the bus chasing, the long queues at the MRT station nearby, and the stream of red lights that stretches on forever, the same everyday hell commuters in this corner of the city have to endure every passing day.

There and then you realize what real purpose the ferry serves.





But first, the enclosed boats need to sail once more.

    

Monday, March 9, 2015

By The Bus Station






By some stroke of instinct, the countryside escape would have gone according to design.

I was given approval to enjoy my vacation leave, not just at my day job, but at the Raketship as well. The latter, affording me one week reprieve from catching up with the rest of the team, as we attempt to hit the mandatory production demands for the week.

The matriarch, despite her apprehensions, gave her blessings. The destination might have been unclear, but I promised to return in two days.

At past midnight, four hours before the last Genesis bus leaves for the east, I was almost done with my work commitments. A quick packing of my belongings and off I go to the bus station, where the motorized coach would take me beyond the mountains and into the shore facing the open sea. I have articulated my yearning to be as far away from the urban landscape, even promising friends that for once, I will wander to feel once more the sublimity of solitary travels. It would have been a humbling learning experience.

But omens, mind-made or not, yanked me back to home. Perhaps, this is not a trip for the faint-hearted.

And so, at past 2 in the morning, after seeing to it that my side work is accomplished, I sneaked out of the house to be at the station where the last bus going to Baler was parked, and gathering passengers. It would have been a fitting and symbolic send-off to the dream of having a solo backpacking adventure - where, after the haphazard preparations to secure my provisions, I would hurl myself into the unknown, without even the most rudimentary idea where to stay, how to eat, or even check the landmarks to visit.

All I ever wanted is to be in communion with the sea.

Perhaps, in another time. Maybe with a companion who will share this great journey, I will make an attempt unannounced, and never heeding what dreams tell. But for now, without even lamenting the chance to get acquainted with the survivor in me, I will walk the streets of the city, and savor this one-week absence,

From the life I must lead.



Sunday, March 8, 2015

Just A Subconscious Manifestation



Previously on: A Little More Time
                   Finding Neverland


All I remember now is sobbing in front of the nurses' station as reality finally sinks in. She passed away from some untold disease, and I was trying to call the help desk of the agency where I bought her memorial plan ages ago. With the rest of the details, now beyond the efforts of retrieval in the memory banks of my head, there is cold comfort knowing it was just a creation of the subconscious. But I've learned to heed dreams as they sometimes masquerade as omens. Never will I forget that it is in the depths of slumber that events surrounding my grandfather's passing was shown to me by fates.  

Waking up distraught and confused, the plan of leaving the city to unwind had to be scrapped.

Permanently.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The SEB







Some things never change.

Like when I spend more for the people I care, than for my own needs; Like when I desire to love more, than be loved by someone I don't feel; Like keeping this blog, without ever telling publicly its existence. Ideas and habits may be glossed over by fanciful trends, but when stripped down, the essence remains; like the need to express this carnal yearnings - even at the cost of doing it with someone, whose shadow you will never see again.

Just like last night.

The skirmish ended long before I was able to absorb what had taken place. It was a war I never really intended but did it anyway out of restlessness; At two in the morning, I found myself walking the empty road of our neighborhood, with my phone in my right hand, to check if there are new SMS coming from the stranger, and to access Google Maps in case I get lost in the maze of streets. There he was, wearing a yellow shirt standing outside a darkened apartment. His sight long familiar, for I have been doing the act long before the need to chose my debauched battles.

The method of distraction was already pre-arranged, in a Social Dating App* very similar to the Blue Planet. A head, with the possibility of getting impaled.* In return, all I asked was a tender kiss, and perhaps a cuddle. And if I'd push the envelope farther, maybe even a feeling of not being an object of someone's promiscuous needs. 

But who am I kidding? I'm horny, and that's all.

No hesitations, just a sudden veer from the straight path. And off I went to the black hole, together with the guy.

To be in touch with that repressed humanity.

To let go finally, and accept; the verve of February is over.



*The gates held firm. No battering ram tried to force it open. 

*Save for the 30 minute blowjob, I got my kiss, a hug, and my precum left a taste on his mouth.

*Like it has always been, the app has been erased. A repeat performance not forthcoming.