Saturday, December 07, 2002

Virramall: Same Name, Different Place

When one mentions mall, the first thing that comes to mind isn't Megamall, Robinsons Galleria, or even Glorietta but Virramall. I remember frequenting the place often, going to National Bookstore to buy school supplies or taking the escalators up to the third floor to watch a movie, buying some cheese-flavored popcorn before entering. It was a time when SM stood for Shoe Mart, Robinsons Galleria wasn't existent yet, and who would go all the way to Makati? Of course the Virramall back then isn't the Virramall now.

When I was a kid, Virramall was the one place I thought I could find everything, at least in my eyes at age four or five. I wasn't interested in clothes or shoes, although my parents would take me there in the event that I needed some. To a child, entertainment is everything and Virramall provided that. Aside from the movie theater that used to reside on the third floor, video game stores were everywhere, selling Famicom games at various prices. Soon, I would go to Virramall not just to buy games but to play them there as numerous arcades started popping up. And of course, me being the video game buff that I was, I visited a magazine shop by the fire exit at the second floor whose name I didn't know until several years later despite the fact that I was purchasing computer magazines from them every month.

Eventually, I would pursue other interests like PCs and comics. I would still go to Virramall to pursue my needs. The second floor was where most of the computers shops were, although the ground floor did have a few, including the one where my computer was being serviced. I quickly found out where Filbars and CATS was located, which was vital in my need to collect Marvel Comics and Dragonball comics.

The route I'd take to enter Virramall wasn't via the main door but through the back entrance. It was convenient since closest way from Unimart, where our family bought our groceries, to Virramall was through that route and the car was also parked near that area. What is now a jumble of bazaars and stalls used to be a grocery shop called "Mom and Pop". Eventually, it shut business and a comic shop replaced it but that too didn't last until the area became vacant for quite awhile.

I guess I didn't appreciate Virramall until I was grade seven, when no one was chaperoning me wherever I went. I was free to explore the corners of Virramall without the supervision of maids or drivers. The architecture of the place, especially in comparison with today's malls, might baffle some people but I became acquainted with it, knowing where the shops were, including the obscure ones like the weapons shop on the second floor.

And then Virramall caught on fire, charring the right side of the third floor. It was the talk of the town, something that shocked a lot of people, especially us students who depended on Virramall for leisure. It was some time in 1995 or 1996 and I had just gotten into the Magic: The Gathering craze. People were collecting these cards that you played with skill, strategy, and luck. While most of our hangouts were unscathed, a frequently visited shop, at least by others, was Comic Alley, which was located on the third floor. Despite me roaming around Virramall, I never did explore the third floor much since there were only a few shops not to mention that there wasn't a movie theater anymore. After discovering that Comic Alley was still existent, especially after the fire, I decided to find out just where it was located.

Sure enough, my friend Timothy took me to the place and introduced me to the store manager, Carol. The place became a hangout for me since I could meet fellow Magic players and challenge them to an impromptu game. I basically lived my high school life in that small corner of the third floor where the world seemed to revolve around. Suddenly, network gaming (the evolution of arcades) centers sprouted around the vicinity. With the cellphone craze, stalls were set up selling mobile phone paraphernalia and buying a prepaid card was as easy as stepping out of Comic Alley. And of course, this was the time when CD piracy began. First it was music CDs and Playstation games. Soon, it turned into PC software and VCDs. What used to be empty lanes now was filled with mamke-shift stalls and crowds staring at the wares. The third floor seemed to me the most visited place of Virramall. I never thought it would change.

Last year, it did just that. It took a tragedy to change my outlook of Virramall. A fire sprung and enveloped the left side of Virramall, consuming Jolibee, Comic Alley, and several network gaming centers in the flames. It also affected a few shops on the second floor and Virramall was closed for a time. When it finally did open, the already feeble air conditioner was non-existent and there was a prevalent smell of burnt plastic.

I thought that Virramall would never get rid of that smell. I was wrong. Several months passed and it was back in working order. Granted, the third floor that got burned was closed but a lot of shops were open again and some relocated to the second floor. Of course now, I rarely visit the place. Maybe it's due to the fact that where once you could peacefully browse through the many shops, now you're pestered with men selling pirated VCDs, DVDs, and porn. Nothing drives you away more than a guy uttering "Boss, X, X. Bili na kayo," whenever you pass a staircase or stand idly around.

So is Virramall still the same place I knew? Well, the architecture remains to be one of the most bizarre and I still know the quirks of the place but the atmosphere is different. I mean one of the biggest jokes I saw there was when JV Estrade put out a banner by the main entrance saying "not to buy pirated products" but once you stepped inside, people would be infringing on copyright laws left and right. And of course, there's just something not right when on every floor you are in, someone will begin to nag you (to the point of following you around) to buy their porn for dirt-cheap prices.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Mobile Phone Culture

Here in the Philippines, it seems that nearly everyone has a mobile phone. Look at a corner and the man in a suit has one. Look at another and the saleslady is fiddling with one. Even students have cellular phones in their bags or purses. You're certain that cellphones are so popular because even street vendors are selling phone accessories. For a third world country that has trouble feeding and housing its masses, it's a surprise that a lot of its population manages to own a mobile phone.

Yes, I'm one of the many people who owns a mobile phone. This wasn't always the case though. Around five years ago, the cellular phone craze slowly started to creep into the Filipino consciousness. I was but a high school student back then. While pagers were the norm, the majority didn't own one. We were stuck with phone cards and coins to make calls.

And then, the mobile phone industry got revolutionized. A big issue before then was clones: people who stole your account and would make calls that would reflect on your bill. That was virtually eliminated by the introduction of digital technology. People couldn't steal your account like they used to using the analog airwaves. Another factor was the presence of new, sleeker phones. You didn't need to carry a suitcase anymore to store your phone, its battery pack, and the other accessories that came along with it. Your pocket would do. And with Nokia phones, handling a phone was easy. You didn't need to bring along the instruction manual to operate.

Of course I'd also like to credit Nokia with adding something previous phones didn't have: games. I mean is it really a surprise that many Filipinos bought Nokia phones just for the games it contains like Snake? A few years back, Filipinos were buying brick games and other Tetris-clones from the malls and stalls and brought them everywhere. With Nokia phones, you didn't just have a phone. You also had a built-in entertainment system. We may have progressed with our Playstations and Gameboys but the simple, portable games seem to have a charm we can't resist.

Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if telephone companies didn't introduce the Short Message Service (SMS) or "text" as we call it here. Globe had the idiocy to charge a flat rate to consumers. Suddenly, mobile phones weren't being used to make calls. Tons of text messages were being sent everyday and most of them were forwards much like the chain letters or SPAM we receive in our email inboxes. Heck, one of the best-selling books here are text jokes and quotes. And since the numeric keypad is no match for a keyboard, a new language was born with the popularity of text. Words were shortened to the point that it would take no more than seven characters and even simple words like "Okay" was reduced to one letter. Not only were people trained to type words with alarming speed using a numeric keypad but minds had to be equipped with built-in dictionaries that deciphered slang bordering on jargon.

Of course the telecom people smarted up and started charging people for each text message. This gave rise to the advancement of microcurrency we call prepaid cards. A prepaid card could be bought for P300 and it would give you that much amount in credit. For each message you sent, it would deduct P1.00 from your balance. Since many Filipinos use phones more to text than to call, this suited them just fine. I mean why pay P8.00 just to say hi when it would just cost you P1.00?

By this time, people were too attached to their mobile phones. I mean in my classroom of 35 students, more than half the class owned and brought their phones to school despite the fact that it's illegal to bring one (because of the alarming rate of phone thefts, among other reasons). Teachers nowadays even have to make spot-checks just to make sure that students don't bring their phones to school.

Of course me being the self-righteous and law-abiding student, I didn't bring a mobile phone, much less own one, to school. Not that I didn't have to use one. I'd usually ask one of my classmates to text a friend I needed to come in contact with. While I didn't own a phone, the people I needed to talk to did.

My older brother always had the latest phone and soon, mom and dad had mobile phones of their own. I refused to own one on the grounds that I didn't need one and since I was spending one third of my day at school, it would be totally useless to me. Of course my mentality changed when I needed to get in touch with a certain crush of mine who owned a phone and was often busy to take house calls.

Once I graduated from high school, I "conceded" to my parents and let them buy me a mobile phone. I accepted it mainly because I wanted to greet my crush a happy graduation since it was my last desperate plea to talk to her. Not that it worked but I was stuck with a phone for the rest of my life.

Soon, my friends were sending me text messages and vice versa. Somehow, from the anti-phone person, I was slowly being dependent on a mobile phone. I didn't go out without it. I mean perhaps my greatest fear is being alone and owning a mobile phone bridges gaps between people. The Internet connected people from different countries provided they have an Internet connection. A mobile phone connected you with people who owned phones. Day or night, rain or shine, they were just a text message away. And with the popularity of cellular phones, you were virtually connected to the entire Metro Manila.

Mobile phones were a boon and a bane to communication. On one hand, you can easily greet an acquaintance with just one message or forward. You can set up entire meetings and eyeballs through the use of this nifty gadget. And perhaps it's make courting easier. For one thing, people aren't attached to their mobile numbers as they are to their landline. Asking a person's mobile number is no big ordeal. Asking their home number is since it usually connotes courting or asking the girl (or guy) out. For another, you come in direct contact with the other person. No intermediaries such as maids or parents go between you and the other person. Guys don't have to sweat in anticipation whether it's the general father who's going to answer the phone or not. Lastly, a text message is just text. Whether you're nervous or not, it won't reflect on the other side. All they see are dots on a screen, not the tone of your voice.

Of course on the opposite side of the spectrum, mobile phones have caller ID so the person can just ignore you when you call. There's really no guarantee if the other side will answer, especially if they have a reason not to. And for all the portability mobile phones have, they're seldom noticed, especially since they're often put on "silent mode". You call the person and expect them to answer. But they don't because it's in their purse and they don't hear it ringing. Or it's in their pants and they don't feel a thing. And of course, since a text message is impersonal, it's easy to reply, or not reply, to it. I mean one of my classmates was advising my friend not to ask a girl out to the ball using a text message.

"It's easy to decline the other person through text. It's difficult when you're on the phone and even harder when you're face to face but when it comes to text messages, nothing is easier."

Of course that's not the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario would be the person on the other line not replying at all. You're left to wonder whether the person got your message or not, if they still have credits or not, or if it's the right number or not.

Still, owning a mobile phone has proved handy especially when dealing with large groups. When attending an eyeball, finding the other person couldn't be easier than through the phone. And you can easily notify people of any last minute changes.

It's sad though, that of all things, mobile phones have become an obsession to Filipinos. Money that could have gone to healthcare or next week's grocery goes to purchasing a new casing, a new prepaid card, or a new phone.

Monday, September 02, 2002

One Last Show

I'm at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) in front of Melchor Hall. Today, August 24, 2002, is the fourth anniversary of Anime@Arki (A@A), a group that hosts anime screenings regularly. I'm one of their volunteers. Today might also be the last time I'll ever attend such an event.

It's 11:30 am. The show is one and a half hour away. I remember the first time I was here. It was a normal Saturday and Matthew, a friend who also happens to like anime, was with me. We were both high school students back then and I had read in an email about the anime screenings that were going to be held here. We were at U.P. by 12:30 pm but we didn't know where to go. The campus was huge and Melchor Hall was a needle in a haystack. There were several buildings all over the place and the streets intersected with other streets. The signs scattered around did little to guide us so we had to ask a pedestrian for directions.

Melchor Hall was apparently the building for engineering and architecture students. It was five stories high and students sat at the red steps which seemed to divide the building into two. At the fifth floor was the Audio Visual Room (AVR) where the show was supposed to be held. It was a daunting ascent as five flights of stairs are enough to tire anyone who's used to elevators and escalators.

Even after four years of coming to A@A, climbing up to the AVR is still tiring. I finally arrive at the fifth floor and try to open the doors to the AVR. It opens and the room is cool and dark. Looks like I'm early.

I lean on one of the windows and look down. Sitting on the steps was a guy wearing a white T-shirt and holding a sketch pad. It must be Joel. Joel was one of the first volunteers in A@A. Together with two U.P. professors, they organized and set up the first A@A shows. He also loved to draw and actually came from my alma mater. I found that out when Matthew and Joel saw each other. They suddenly talked as if they were long friends. Matthew then introduced me to Joel. We've been friends ever since.

I went down to see if it was indeed Joel. It was. He was wearing a T-shirt with the A@A logo and was staring at the Sunken Garden which lay in front of us. We began to talk about how this is probably the last show since only a few people have been attending our shows recently. Joel was expecting around twenty people to come today. I remember a few years back when the regular attendance was forty people, and sometimes we'd even reach as much as sixty or seventy.

An hour passes and we decide to go up and set up the room. Fred, an enthusiastic frequenter, was waiting for us. He helps us organize the room from time to time and it's only recently that he's been attending the A@A shows since he was out of the country for several months. A few years back, half a dozen people would probably be waiting outside the AVR for the show to begin. Now, there was barely anyone.

I got the remote to the air conditioner and hand it to Joel. The ventilation is automated and the room quickly cooled. Four years ago, that was one of the problems A@A was facing. The air conditioner was old and seldom worked. In the occasion that it did, it was not cold enough for the entire room. Sometimes, we even had to use fans just to ensure ventilation.

The chairs needed to be arranged. The tables were all on one side so it was easier for us. I drag some of the chairs and neatly arrange them on the other side. We're only using one half of the room in contrast to two years ago when we even had to keep the doors open just to accommodate everyone.

Several minutes later, Ellaine, the oldest volunteer next to Joel, comes by with her ?bag of goodies?. She brings out some Kenny Rogers takeout as well as the prizes for our contest: a Card Captor Sakura artbook, a modeling magazine, and a Rurouni Kenshin figure. We eat, invite people to come in, and start the show.

Before that happens though, Ellaine asks if anyone is interested in joining the Karaoke contest. Only a few volunteer at first but after the initial excitement, a few more join as well. We had six participants.

When the lights finally dim, around two dozen people were sitting in front of the screen, which is just a piece of cloth stretched over a very wide blackboard. The show starts and two people come in. It's our other volunteers, Francis and Mike. Francis is now working for Toei. Mike is finishing his thesis. We didn't expect them to come but they managed to do so since they reasoned out that it was the last show.

The first segment ends and it was time for the break as well for the singing contest to begin. We had a faulty start as the girl who was the first contestant didn't have a microphone. Her voice was drowned out by the music. The second girl sings also without a mike but loud enough so that she can be heard by the audience. They cheer. And then I find out that there's a microphone behind the blackboard.

The contest ends and everyone seems happy. After awarding the prizes, we move on to the next show: Jubei-chan.

It's 5:30 pm already yet we still had several episodes of Jubei to air. That's not to mention that we haven't showed our main feature, Metropolis, yet. Our deal was that we'd end by 6 pm. By 6, Joel shuts off the air conditioner and asks the audience whether we should extend and continue watching Jubei or change and start watching Metropolis. The audience clamors and asks to continue Jubei since we were two episodes away from the conclusion.

A@A officially ended at 7 pm. It was just like the shows we had several years before wherein we'd extend even until 7:30 pm. Walking down the stairs of Melchor Hall in complete darkness is far from recommended. People were exiting and thanking us for the great show. One of them inquired when our next show was. We'd usually announce when the next show was before we'd end. One of us just said to check their email. I couldn't bear to tell him the truth.

Friday, August 30, 2002

Meeting Famous People

This anecdote isn't really about meeting famous people. It's about how I didn't get to meet them, how I missed seeing them, and how I didn't know they were famous in the first place.

Perhaps the first story would involve one day during the summer of 2000. I was working in Comic Alley, waiting for the day to end so that I could go to a play where my friend, Jake, would star in. I was by the counter, leaning on it, when a guy came in. He had a flashy smile and was inquiring about the display of vintage toys like Transformers, Macross, and Super Robots. Despite the sign written on pink neon paper that said something like ?toys in this window are not for sale?, people still continued to inquire about it. The guy was no different. I flatly said no. He then left, still retaining that photogenic smile of his. Of course when he finally left, the other salesladies started giggling and a friend of mine, Dennis, who was waiting for my shift to end, approached me and told me that the guy who just came in was one of the heartthrobs from a variety show on GMA 7.

Later that evening, Dennis and I went to Shangri-la to watch the play. Since we were early, I decided to go to National Bookstore. Of course, Dennis was tagging along and I went to the fantasy section. I was squatting, browsing through some of the books. I inadvertently blocked the way and a girl who was passing through was forced to ask excuse me from me. I adjusted myself so that she could pass but never took the moment to get a glimpse of her. When she was at the other side, Dennis was tapping my shoulder and told me that I had just run into Ina Raymundo. I quickly stood up and look to where she was supposed to be. I only caught a glimpse of her hair by that time.

Dennis was chuckling at the occurrences that have happened so far. He joked that he would believe in my luck if we met a celebrity once more during the day. We went to McDonalds to buy a burger before we watched the play. Sure enough, a celebrity was there. It's not one I know but it was female and was a star in the early 80s. Her name has faded from my memory but I distinctly remember seeing her on television. Dennis was laughing.

Encountering Quark Henares, director of Gamitan, was also a similar matter. During my freshman year, I tried out for Heights, Ateneo's literary publication. It involved a screening process and who else to screen me but Quark? He was already famous by then since he was the manager of some famous bands and a gifted person in his own right. Of course, I didn't know that (especially since I'm not exactly a fan of music). To simply put, I embarrassed myself in the screening process since I didn't know the difference between prose and poetry. It's probably a good thing I didn't know Quark was a minor celebrity. It would have made the embarrassment worse.

Ten months later, I started working at Pulp Magazine/Philippines Yearbook/MTV Ink. I was browsing through their old magazines when I saw articles written by Quark and photographs of him and his band. It then hit me. The guy who interviewed me was The Quark. I found his articles witty and funny. That's all I can say. A month later, he did drop by the office but I was facing a computer monitor at the time so he barely noticed me. Besides, what would I have said?

Several days ago, I did see Quark at Central Comic Headquarters (CCHQ). He was browsing and talking to the proprietors. While I am arrogant, I am not that arrogant to introduce myself. For one, I'm not exactly a big fan of his. I don't even know what bands he manages. The only fact I knew then was that his movie was going to premiere in a few days. I just kept to myself.

And of course, there's also TV celebrities who are studying in Ateneo. I mean there's Patty, the girl who speaks for Ateneo during the UA&P games. She was my classmate for PE101. I've seen her years before at church. We've never been introduced though.

Then there's Dingdong Dantes, an actor whom some of my female classmates are falling heads over heels for. He's been my classmate in Filipino and for Sociology and Anthropology. I think the closest conversation I got was mentioning that we didn't have classes for the next meeting.

I really don't mind not knowing these people. It's just strange at how people's behavior change when meeting someone who's considered a celebrity. And how it makes a mundane encounter a strange narrative.

Friday, August 23, 2002

The Ultimate Pinoy Blockbuster

Warning: possible explicit language, exaggerations, untruths, fallacies, lies, parody, and sarcasm ahead, hence the disclaimer

Ambeth Ocampo made our history class watch a documentary on Jose Rizal last week. It was dull and not as informative, considering that there have been several documentaries made about our national hero. We were then required to make a reaction paper and one of the guide question was how I would direct such a documentary. That gave me the idea for the designs of the "Ultimate Pinoy Blockbuster".

Since GMA 7 is so proud of its award-winning movie Jose Rizal, perhaps it's only natural for me to make a film about our national hero as well. I mean that will give our movie some "depth" and "elitism". It will cater to the elite of our society, which actually isn't a lot. It will fool people into thinking that the movie actually makes sense.

Of course since we're so used to the concept that Jose Rizal is a national hero, maybe it'd be better if we change his image and instead make him appear less civil. A "bad boy" image would help, especially since the Baby Ama movies have managed to draw a crowd among the masses. It also would be historically accurate as well because it can be surmised that Rizal got into a lot of fights when he was a kid. To top the bad boy image we want to portray Rizal, casting Robin Padilla as the youthful version of the main character would be perfect.

When you think about it, Robin Padilla as Jose Rizal isn't such a bad idea. I mean Filipinos are too used to the serious-faced Rizal. Rizal had fun during his time and gave people a lot of laughs. I mean have you seen the picture wherein he was wearing a Cleopatra outfit? Or the other array of costumes he donned while posing for Juan Luna? Some humor wouldn't hurt the movie and since Robin Padilla is diving into the foray of comedy, the role would suit him perfectly. Filipinos, after all, must have satire.

Of course action and comedy will never sustain the entire film. I mean people nowadays are watching telenovelas no matter how often or predictable they occur. Rizal's life can be an ample source for some of that drama, especially since he doesn't lack lovers. Richard Gomez's good looks would suit the role of the "mature" Rizal for the film and he can have as many leading ladies he wants. Rizal has spurned a lot of women in his life so you can be sure that the movie can accommodate all the leading ladies he wants.

Speaking of leading ladies, this is probably going to be the only film that will have in its cast all the female bold stars: Asunta, Joyce Jimenez, Ara Mina, etc.... Whenever Rizal fled to a different country, he courted a different woman. This is the perfect plot device to put in all the beautiful women the Philippine movie industry has. Of course since we want the movie to earn money, we shall put in enough naked scenes so that it will warrant an X rating from the MTRCB. It actually wouldn't be too hard.

To show off Rizal's keen intellect, we'll include a game show sequence in the movie. Maybe Cristopher de Leon could host that scene and Rizal would suddenly earn enough money to publish his books. Let's also not forget to include Joleena, Ms. Jologs herself, the queen of the Philippine masses. She could play one of Rizal's nine sisters, or better yet, play them all. I mean Michael V. managed to play several characters all at once in his TV show. Why not Joleena?

GMA herself can play a role in the movie. She has been clamoring to be the "ina ng bayan" (mother of the country) for quite some time now. What better way to promote this than to be Jose Rizal's mother?

Of course a movie would not be complete without a soundtrack. Salbakuta anyone?

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Coincidence or Curse?

Because I am quite arrogant, I like to think that I am the center of the universe. Following that theory, it could perhaps be said that I have inherited a curse that is not as disastrous to me as it is to my employers. Or maybe it's just a series of coincidences that God sent me so that I can write something in my journal.

The first mishap was in 1999. It was my fourth year in high school and I was balancing my two hobbies: anime and Magic: The Gathering (a collectible card game or CCG). I was yearning for a local magazine that would tackle my hobbies. My prayers were answered when Philippine Hobbyist was published. It was a publication spearheaded by Titus Zapanta and it featured articles about a lot of hobbies, mine included: CCGs, collectables like Coke bottles, model kits, comics, paintball, etc.... I bought their first issue and was thrilled to find out that they were going to do a feature on Magic: The Gathering for their next issue. Me being the budding writer (and student in dire need of publicity and finances) that I am, I sent them an email containing some not-so-common info about Magic: The Gathering.

They replied and the writer doing the article on the topic thanked me for it. Actually, he was quite impressed and thought I did a thesis paper on it (which I didn't since I was just a high school student at the time). I offered to write an article for them and they gave me an assignment on the Pokemon card game. I did my research and sent them the email.

The second issue came out a few months later and I saw my name in fine print in the article regarding Magic: The Gathering. I didn't mind, thinking that when the third issue comes out, my name will be seen in the byline.

After a few months of waiting, the third issue never came out. Philippine Hobbyist stopped publication and I presume this is because they did not get enough subscribers. I mean when I look at the ads in the magazine, there are a few sponsors and I suspect some of those who sponsored are relatives of the editorial staff. The only other way for the magazine to profit is if there were enough subscribers.

I was disheartened but I still clung to my dream of being a writer. I would later get an email regarding a comic that would feature articles in it. Again, I offered my expertise. I sent them a short article and they liked it. Unfortunately, the comic never went past the pre-production stage. It didn't even see the light of day. It was then that I started joking about the idea that the publications I write for are doomed to fail.

Since I was a person "in dire need" of money, I worked at Comic Alley during the summer of 1999 and 2000. Learned the tricks of the trade, met new people, got my salary. Nothing too spectacular (I'll write the interesting events that did happen as a separate journal entry) occurred.

During the summer of 2001, I badly wanted a job and I promised myself not to work at Comic Alley again. It's not because I have anything against them. It's just that my summers have been getting stagnant, doing the same things all over again. I need something new, something related to my course (Creative Writing).

I asked mom if she could get me a summer job. Philippine Star was unavailable because according to mother, they had printed several errors in the past and wanted to minimize future mistakes. That also meant not hiring new staff. That left Pulp Magazine. The son of mom's close friend was the editor-in-chief of the publication. She offered it to me the year before except I refused, mainly because I didn't really listen to music so I felt inadequate working for a music magazine. Of course the scenario that year was different. I needed a job that paid so I settled for Pulp.

I went through a screening by the manager, Annie Alejo. I passed it and started working the next day. Working at Pulp enlightened me. Apparently, my mom's close friend was the publisher of Pulp Magazine and Philippines Yearbook, in addition to holding a high position in the Philippine Star. It also turned out that I was not just working for Pulp. I was working for Pulp/Philippines Yearbook/MTV Ink. Oh wow. Wacky exploits and the zany events that happened during that summer will be saved for a future journal entry.

Suffice to say, I got to write an article for MTV Ink, got my name printed on the credits of Pulp, and I was "scanner-boy" for Philippines Yearbook. During that time, I learned that the third floor of Virramall got burned. Among the shops that were consumed in the flames was the Comic Alley branch I used to work with. I was laughing at the coincidence, and crying inside at the unfortunate series of events.

Of course one week after quitting the publication, the Pulp/Philippines Yearbook/MTV Ink workplace burned down. It's not as difficult as it sounds considering the office wasn't really an office but the house of the publisher. A good chunk of the architecture was also made out of wood. It was June 9, 2001, I think, when the house caught on fire. It was a Sunday and when the maids told me about it, I thought they were joking. And then mom and dad came home, carrying with them recovered paintings from the burnt house. I started believing.

It's really strange how my last two work places got swallowed up in flames. My "jobs" before that weren't able to release the issue I was supposed to debut in. It's a great anecdote to tell, especially to prospective hirers. They don't know whether to take the story seriously or not.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Just Another of Philippine's Eccentricities...

Jeeps as public utility vehicles. Walking sari-sari stores (the peddlers who sell newspapers, cigarettes, mobile phone accessories, and whatever else they can carry). Zagu. These are phenomena that are unique to the Philippines, as far as I know. Let's add one more "uniquely Filipino" to the list, that of the comic shop.

While I whine about the state of bookstores here in the Philippines, perhaps comic aficionados have something more to grumble about. The typical comic shop in the country is similar to a newsstand. Shelves of comics are behind a saleslady (it?s always a saleslady if it?s not the manager... sexist?) and in front of the saleslady is a glass counter displaying more comics. This is basically the essential set-up, bigger comic shops having more glass counters and more salesladies. There's a rift between the customer and the comic. If you want to browse through a comic, you have to ask for the salesladies, who in turn either give you a terrifying stare as if you're a freeloader who has no intention of buying the comic, do it lazily and hand it to you with little enthusiasm, or take several minutes locating the comic you want even when it's right in front of her.

A comic shop is also seldom "just a comic shop". They usually sell other merchandise such as used books, romance novels, old and new magazines, action figures, anime wall scrolls, anime laminated cards, anime videos, anime CDs, Gundam model kits, Mage Knight tabletops, Magic: The Gathering cards, and RPG modules. Comic shops become focal points for other pastimes: Collectible Card Game (CCG) fans, Roleplaying Game (RPG) fans, tabletop gamers, anime enthusiasts, magazine subscribers, book readers, and random passersby. To some, this is a good thing. To others, it's not. For me, at least it's a one stop shop.

There's also the fact that comic shops are known and expected to stock the genre which they became famous for: superheroes. Thus, a lot of shelf space is devoted to that genre. Little is left for Indies like Strangers in Paradise, Blue Monday, and others. Sure, there always seems to be a Sandman in stock but that's only because Gaiman is really popular. You won't see Maus on the Filbars rack and if you're interested in obtaining it, you still have to place an order from Comic Quest. What little shelf space is left that could have housed those comics are filled with binders of Pokemon cards, magazine subscription placards, or rows and rows of DVDs, VCDs, and VHSs.

Comic shops also tend to be crowded since they're seldom larger than your own room. I mean with all the glass counters and the flashy displays, what's left is a small aisle for customers to pass through. Of course some of the larger stores usually hold events like CCG tournaments or hosts an RPG game or two, so even then, space is scarce. Occasionally though, there are artist signings and comic debuts, so the space isn't really wasted.

If you want a lively chat with a person who's familiar with the comics, you have to be fortunate to meet the store owner while he's IN the shop. I mean there are three famous comic book chains here: Filbars, Comic Quest, and CATS. More often than not, the salesladies don't have initiative and don't talk to the customers unless spoken to. Even then, a rare few really know what they're selling. It's only the owner who can tell you the ins and outs of this comic, what to expect in the next shipment and whatnot. Filbars, the most popular of the three, will never be a sociable atmosphere. Comic Quest and CATS has hope as some of the people who manage the place not only know what they're selling but what the customers want. But those are the exceptions rather than the norm.

Let's not get into prices. The fact that we got most of our stuff from the U.S. is already hard as it is. Shipping costs, taxes, etc... all compound to give us one big headache. Don't expect the big time retailers to have the "free comic day" promos the Westerners have simply because shipping it here isn't free anymore.

Yes, comic shops here are vastly different from the comic shops abroad. They're distinctly different, perhaps even distinctly Filipino. I can sympathize with the pains of my friends who love comics. I should, considering I borrow their comics rather than buy them from the store.

Friday, August 16, 2002

One Last Haven

In a nation where comic adaptations of literature are more sought than the book itself, in a country where most bookstores have the same selection and owned by the same people, a land whose illiterate surpasses that of the educated, there exists a bastion unique to the Philippines. It is called Book Sale, and it is home to the most avid book hunter.

As much as I love purchasing books locally, the Philippines has little to be desired when it comes to book selections. I mean only the most popular books get shelf space at bookstores. Sidney Sheldon, Anne Rice, Tom Clancy? but what about the other great fiction writers of the modern day? And for all the numerous branches of Powerbooks and National Bookstore, once you've seen one, you've seen them all. Only Goodwill comes close to matching National Bookstore's popularity and even then, half of their stock (if not more) is identical to National Bookstore. Of course, there are the other less famous bookstores: Popular Bookstore, Bibliarch, and A Different Bookstore. But even then, their selection is small and their prices tend to be heavier on the wallet.

Perhaps a great dissatisfaction I have with National "Bookstore" is also the fact that they tend to sell more supplies than books. Visit the smallest National Bookstore branch and you'll see them selling paper, plastic, pens, wrappers, videos, magazines, and cassettes. Whatever happened to the book in bookstore?

Book Sale, on the other hand, is true to its name. For one thing, their shop is littered with books. You'd see hardcovers and paperbacks along their shelves, books in both mint and awful conditions. The Book Sale price tag is in every one of them and they're at least half of what you'd normally get them for, if not cheaper. Perhaps the best attribute I find about Book Sale is that when you visit a Book Sale branch, it's different from another Book Sale branch. The books available are just plain diverse.

One quirk of mine is to visit Book Sale every week. That's the rate at which their shipment comes in, in contrast to other bookstores that usually take a month or two. Sometimes, I find a rare find, such as T. H. White's The Once and Future King. At other times, it's a disappointment, but it never ceases to amaze me at the diverse selections that come in.

Both old and new (although don't expect the latest releases to pop up) books can be found and it's something to pay P100 for a book that would elsewhere cost you nearly P400. Of course sometimes, the books are in a sad, sad condition. They're still readable though and that's what's ultimately important. Of course there are books that come in mint condition and I once even saw Dune books that were in better condition than the ones in my bookshelf.

And of course, there's the "sale" part in Book Sale. You don't have to wait for half a month for books to become affordable. I could come in with my weekly allowance and buy a few books without worrying that I can't pay for it. Of course just to be sure that the book I'm buying is the one I want, I can browse through them and read them, unlike the sealed ones found in other bookstores.

That's not to say Book Sale is perfect. One of its strongest points is also its weakness. It's too diverse and too random. What's available today might not be available tomorrow, even if you look for it in another branch. Then again, that's part of the thrill, knowing that something's within reach yet difficult to obtain. The place is also quite accessible as it's scattered all over Metro Manila. The same can't be said for the other specialty bookstores. However, if you want your books to be in perfect condition, Book Sale isn't the place to look for it unless you're feeling lucky. Most books there have a history: they've been read, reread, dropped, soaked, stumbled upon, etc.... They're not one among many. They are as unique as the readers who are looking for them. Books found there are books you can cal your own. And it's a better tale to tell during the rainy storms compared to a book you bought off the shelf at some shop or newsstand.

Yes, I am a frugal book lover. I want to spend less for the best. Sure, I could always borrow a book from someone else, but it's different when you own a book, even if it's in tatters. My books have personality: they have a history, they are hard to find, and they have a price tag of less than one hundred pesos.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

The Day I Was Popular

Nowadays, I'm not anyone remarkable. Unique, yes, but I don't really stand out in a crowd, unless you're really looking for a skinny guy with glasses. Once, though, people envied me. They'd know who I was, what I did, and how they wanted to fill my shoes.

The year was 1999. At the time, Voltes V and Yu Yu Hakusho were being aired on GMA 7. If you wanted to watch an anime screening, you went to Melchor Hall in U.P. once a month. Filbars didn't stock anime VCDs back then. CATS was known for selling anime videos as well as English-translated manga (Japanese comics). Comic Alley was half known for Collectible Card Games (CCGs) and the other half for anime and manga. Anima Anime peddled anime videos more than anything and didn't have a permanent physical shop. Only Pinoy Otaku had an anime-related web ring, mailing list, and chatroom. Questor was nonexistent. The only convention fans were aware of was the Collectibles Convention.

I also had the ideal job for an anime fan: I was working in Comic Alley.

Third year high school had just ended and I opted to stay in the Philippines during the summer break. I desperately wanted a job since time not spent on playing video games in the arcade was time spent saving money. I was too shy to apply at the summer jobs program at school so I had to resort to my own means to look for a part time job. I didn't want to leech on my parents so I didn't ask them about it. The only possible place I knew was the place I hung out at whenever I was at Virramall: Comic Alley.

Being a CCG fan, I played Magic: The Gathering at the tables in Comic Alley. That's where I got to make a lot of friends, one of them the owner of the shop. His name was Teddy and he was actually the half-brother of one of my batchmates. I played against him once during a tournament and we've been testing our decks against each other from time to time. I also buy the items he sells, from Magic cards to anime soundtracks. Thus one day, I asked him if I could work for him.

I don't know why he accepted me. Perhaps it's because I knew his brother from school. Maybe it's just my charisma (yeah right). The fact that we were both Chinese probably plays a role. He might have pitied me. He also might have seen himself when he was my age. Maybe it's because I asked his lovely wife and store manager, Carol, to take me in. They might have been extremely shorthanded. What's most probable though is that I'm an anime fan so I know the merchandise I'm going to sell more than the salesladies, and I'm quite familiar with the anime soundtracks (which are in Japanese, so no one really knows what the tracks contain, except me, who's bought them).

I started out as part time. From Thursdays to Mondays, I was there at the shop. The weekends were days I was needed most since that's when the customers all came in. I worked half-day, after lunch to six in the evening. I got to know the salesladies at the shops and the codes of the items that were sold. And then I had two days of vacation each week. It wasn't bad, except that I usually spent my free days at the shop, lingering for I didn't have much else to do.

Eventually, I asked to be established as a full time employee for the summer. I was working from eleven to seven, Monday to Saturday, and from one to five on Sundays, since I had to go to church. My face was seen every single day in the shop, and I was sometimes working with Teddy's younger brother, Andrew.

My coworkers were great company. They were friendly and quite helpful. Of course, they also complained that I didn't eat. I told them that I already ate at home, which is true, since I didn't want to spend money on buying lunch at the mall. Teddy and Carol were also kind. They'd drop by the shop when they could and entertained the customers. They'd also treat their employees to dinner from time to time and Teddy would show me the latest stuff he'd acquire, from Transformer toys to the latest videos.

I also got to know a lot of the customers. They came from various places and with different backgrounds. There was no limit as people from age seven to thirty seven dropped by, each buying something different: a poster, a wall scroll, a CD, a comic, a card, a toy, a model kit, a figurine, etc.... Since Xavier was an all-boys school, this was also the only time I got to interact with the opposite gender. I saw stunning girls and not-so-stunning ones, mothers as well as daughters, students and employed ones. Some of them came to me since I knew the manga as well as the soundtracks. I could point out where the TV show left off in the manga and what CD contained the opening theme for that series.

At first, I was shy and seldom smiled when I talked to the customers. Carol told me to try to be friendlier. Since she was my boss, I tried. Sometimes though, my zeal gets the better of me. I'd talk to the customers about the anime they like, the characters they have crushes on, and what they wished they had. If I feel quite confident, I'd talk to them about the mailing list I was in and invite them to join. Thus I contributed to Pinoy Otaku's roster and soon, stories of my "dream job" were spread.

I also got to meet a lot of people in the anime industry. Anima Anime, for one, who were then just starting out and did drop by Comic Alley from time to time. Another was Smarty Toys, the supplier of Bandai toys in the Philippines.

A lot of anime fans I met began to envy me. They said that they wish they had my job. As grateful as I am for my employment, it's not as idyllic as it seems.

For one thing, I don't get to read or open the merchandise. They're sealed and the only time I get to touch them is when I'm selling it to the customer or checking inventory. Yes, I don't get to browse through the manga or listen to the various CDs available. If I want them, I have to buy them, same as everyone else. For another, you have to have a lot of patience when it comes to being a salesperson. On the weekends, customers flood in. On other days though, it involves hours of waiting and you're finally rewarded when a customer comes in. He or she might browse around and they might hang around there for several minutes, not buying a single thing. There's also the fact that you have to put up with different kinds of people. I mean right now in the anime industry, there are a lot of annoying people who stalk and pester anime fans. While working in Comic Alley, I have to talk to them whether I want it or not. The best I could do is to pray that they go away, soon. Lastly, there's the occasional person who asks if Comic Alley sells Playstation games or Mobile phone accessories.

I have a lot to be grateful for, considering I got to work in Comic Alley again the year after that. The salary I earned there isn't as valuable as the people I befriended during the entire time I was working there. I still don't smile, but I now interact better with the opposite gender.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

The Science Fiction/Fantasy Dilemma

One of the most difficult genres to collect and get into is Science Fiction or Fantasy (SF&F), especially here in the Philippines. The text in itself can be beautiful, descriptive, and whatever literary praise you can give it. Neither is it too difficult to comprehend; you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand SF&F. So what then is the problem? Collecting them can be a real problem and it's not as easy as buying one book off the shelf. In order to give you a clearer picture, I will explain (and invent some of my own terms along the way) the classifications a SF&F book can fall under.

Stand-alone: These SF&F books are much like any other book. You read them and you're done. They're set in their own world and is self contained. No sequels, no cliffhanger endings. George Orwell's 1984 is an example, as well as Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey, Robert Heinlen's Starship Troopers, and Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens. They're a great read and commitment free. (Un)fortunately, not all SF&F books are like these.

Serial: These are several books written in the same setting but each book can stand alone in itself. You don't need to read the previous book or the book before that. It's something people can get into easily and while reading the previous books lets you appreciate the series more, it's by no means a requirement. Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series comes to mind, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, and Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.

Cliffhanger Series: Not only do these books need to be read in a particular order, the story isn't finished until you've read the last book. It's like watching The Empire Strikes Back without seeing Return of the Jedi, or Back to the Future 2 and not Back to the Future 3. For further elaboration, one book I read falling under this category ended with the protagonist meeting the villain. Yes, that was the ending. No fight, no dialogue, just the main character seeing the main villain. How's that for suspense? Nonetheless, reading until the end is well worth it. These epics are worth all the books they're printed on. The reader should just pray that the writer doesn't die on them before the series finishes. Examples are J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, and George R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice.

Stand-alone Series: While they do need to be read in a particular order, these books don't leave you suspended during an orgasm. Readers don't have to tear their heart out waiting for the next book to come. It's enjoyable at the reader's pace and still leaves the reader something good to look forward to. Examples are Frank Hebert's Dune, Anne McCaffrey's Pern, Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, and Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

Of course there are some books that mix these categories. I mean Wizards of the Coast's (formerly TSR) Forgotten Realms series is a blend of serial and stand-alone series. They have one huge setting and different writers contribute to it, each writing their own trilogies or stand-alone novels. You don't need to read the other's work to appreciate the book you're reading now and each has a distinct style. There are also those who switch styles from time to time. Terry Brooks's Shannara trilogy was a stand-alone series but his later books tend to be cliffhangers.

Potential readers should also be wary of the term "trilogy". While this usually means a series comprising of three books, that is not always the case. Some series are labeled as trilogies even though they extend to four or five books. This is probably due to the fact that publishers are trying to cash-in on the popularity of "trilogies" like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. There's also the probability that the writer wants to extend his series more, or made a miscalculation somewhere.

Sometimes, sheer numbers daunt you. I mean the Dragonlance series has more than a hundred books in its collection. It's a mixture of serials and series and it becomes complicated enough that a flowchart was made to show the sequence you should read or not read the books. Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series is divided into several trilogies, and Terry Pratchett's Discworld series really has a lot of books (it's a good thing that each one can stand alone). Sometimes, you just don't know where to start, or if you do, you don't know if you'll manage to find the rest of the books.

There's also the predicament of out of print books. I mean a lot of SF&F books have been released over the years and some of them are several decades old. Well and good if they're as popular as Tolkien, warranting a reprint. But if they're not, tracking down those books can be a big problem. For example, Asimov's Foundation series has been reprinted, except for the last book, Foundation and Earth. What to do about that? Some of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series is nearly impossible to find. The biggest issue in SF&F is not finding the newest and latest books but finding the old and "classic" ones. Sure, you might get lucky in a rummage through Book Sale but you can't be lucky every time.

Online shopping has been a boon to SF&F fans... if you have the money. Don't get me wrong, the price deals you get on the Internet is cheap. It's the shipping that becomes the problem since most bookstores like and are based in the West. Ebay is also another alternative for those out of print books but you're not guaranteed unless you want to enter in a bid war.

And of course, the greatest enemy a SF&F can face is the ravages of time. Covers are ruined, pages get torn, spines loose their adhesiveness, whether it's due to loaning it to a friend, reading the book at 180 degrees, or accidentally dropping it somewhere. Considering some of those books don't get reprinted, it's a major loss to the SF&F fan. Sure, ebooks are suddenly popping up but only time can tell if they'll be popular or as "invulnerable" as most people think. I mean the files of a hard drive can "accidentally" get deleted, although recovering just one copy is enough to cater to millions.

Looking at all these problems, you wonder why people still read SF&F, especially here in the Philippines. It's because it's our passion, our craving, our need. We SF&F fans are not only readers but collectors, restorers, bargainers, and bibliophiles all rolled into one.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Dedicated to Tin Mandigma with her nice little comment. =)

Fantasy: An Epic Quest

I envy a lot of fiction readers. They don't have to put up with the grueling pain and patience we fantasy (and science fiction) readers have to go through. Perhaps if I were living in the U.S., I'd be on equal footing. But this is the Philippines, a country where the education system fails the masses, and the concept of a book is a thin romance novel being sold for less than P20. The fantasy lover is one of the most deprived readers, and I'm one of them.

Perhaps the first and foremost problem of the fantasy genre here is the fact that it's not mainstream. I mean most bookstores allot a shelf or two for the genre but their selection is quite limited and not as varied. More often than not, the bookstores here acquire the same authors over and over again. Finding popular names like J.R.R. Tolkien or Terry Brooks can be quite easy but whatever happened to the OTHER writers out there? The likes of Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and Katherine Kerr seldom gets seen in local bookstores, if ever. Simply put, there's a lot of fantasy authors out there and the Philippines sees the same authors over and over again throughout the years. Moreover, great fantasy writers like Ursula le Guin and C.S. Lewis are often shelved at the children's section of the bookstore. The fact that the two largest bookstores, namely National Bookstore and Goodwill, have the same selection in all their branches, doesn't help matters.

The second problem we face is that a good story is rarely contained in one book. I mean the greatest stories ever told usually spans a multitude of books. Tokien's Lord of the Rings encompasses three paperback novels. C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia is divided into seven books. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter is a planned seven-book series. That's not to say that there aren't good standalone fantasy novels. The likes of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, George Orwell's Animal Farm, and Lois Lowry's The Giver, comes to mind. Fantasy, more often than not, is something told over a span of several books. Unlike fiction fans who only have to be lucky and persevering in a book rummage once, we fantasy fans have to be as fortunate several times over. I mean I might find a copy of Raymond E. Feist's Silverthorn at Book Sale, but in doing so, I'll have to scrounge for the book preceding it, Magician, and the book after it, A Darkness at Sethanon, to complete the trilogy. The worst scenario here is that I end up with a story I have no idea how it began nor how it ends. If it were any other novel, I'd find the book at Book Sale, read it, and be done with it. For the fantasy fan, the problems have only just begun.

The third dilemma we face is obtaining the books we want. I mean National Bookstore and Goodwill only has a limited selection, not to mention that they only stock the latest books. Since fantasy books span several books, a lot of those novels won't be recently published. Unless you had excellent timing and started collecting when the book just came out, acquiring those not-so-recent books can be quite difficult. The real issue isn't about obtaining the new titles; it's about finding old ones. In today's mentality where the newer is the better (or in publication's case, the more recently printed or reprinted, the better), fantasy lovers lose out a lot. To find these books, we resort to non-mainstream shops. A Different Bookstore and Page One can become a boon as they offer an alternative selection, one which stocks both old and new books. However, since these bookstores aren't as mainstream or popular as Goodwill and National Bookstore, their prices can be quite expensive or not as easily accessible. I mean there are several dozen National Bookstores in Metro Manila, but only one A Different Bookstore, which is located in Glorietta. Page One's prices, on the other hand, are nearly double that of Goodwill. The last alternative for us is to buy from second-hand bookstores. Book Sale offers a delicacy of fantasy but you have to either scrounge among a pile of books or have to wait a long time (years) before the title you're looking for becomes available. Let's not get into the perils of ordering online from where shipping costs you more than the book itself.

A fantasy fan is often stereotyped as the person who is "escapist". Nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of fantasy novels contain realistic truth in their stories. Perhaps magic or some other technology is employed in the setting but people's reactions, their feelings and attitudes, are similar, if not more realistic, to the situations people face in life. This illusion probably stems from the conventional fantasy most people are familiar with: that of fairy tales. In the fantasy genre though, everything isn't solved by the wave of a wand or the wish of a witch. If that were the case, the books needn't span hundreds of pages if everything could be solved so easily. I personally read fantasy because it's intriguing. Other genres share a part in it. One just needs to look at the recent Academy Award Winner Lord of the Rings: It has action, suspense, romance, even comedy. Yet at the heart of it all lies a good story. Which is why despite all these problems, I'm a fantasy fan.

Acquiring fantasy novels can sometimes be as difficult as finding the Holy Grail. Yet once this is accomplished, you realize that it's all worth it. There's the interesting read that'll last you a few days at least, the stories you tell of how you obtained the treasure, and lastly, the satisfaction in discovering such a unique find.

Sunday, August 11, 2002


Ever since former president Ramos allowed the franchising of foreign labels, the Philippines has seen numerous businesses popping up. One of the most prolific is Starbucks, the coffee shop which caters to the elite. It's so damn successful that even if the branches are all lined up in one neat line, it would still be filled with people.

My first experience of Starbucks coffee was nine years ago. My parents and I were vacationing in San Francisco. Foreign franchises weren't allowed in the Philippines at that time. If you wanted to taste Starbucks, you had to go abroad. I didn't know what Starbucks was back then. As far as I'm concerned, it was just another coffee shop. My godmother was driving us to Starbucks that afternoon, the last stop before we headed to their house. They ordered coffee and so did I. I never drank coffee before and that day was the first opportunity I got to do so. I was always fascinated with cappuccino. It had an alluring ring to it, a kind of seduction that was similar to chocolate. Of course what it tasted like, I never knew. Guess what I ordered?

Suffice to say, I realized that day that I didn't like coffee. I had tasted mom's Nescafe coffee back at home and I didn't like it. I thought Starbucks would be different. It does taste better than Nescafe but not enough for me to start liking coffee. It was bitter that no matter how much sugar I put in, I could still taste it. Worse, when we were finally in the car, I was dizzy and groggy. I wanted to sleep but couldn't because of the caffeine. I felt sick for the rest of the day.

Years later, I'd see Starbucks a few streets away from our house. It's only then that I realized how pricey their drinks are. There's no way I'd pay P100 for something that you can sip in a matter of minutes. Heck, with P100, that would pay my lunch bill for the entire week (yes, I eat that little for lunch). Not that I'm totally against Starbucks. The ambience is good and I can already smell the coffee when I enter the place. While coffee is something they're known for, people also come there for their frapucinnos, drinks filled with what's usually chocolate and whipped cream. Dozens of people would line up just to get a taste of their fraps, whether it's chocolate, mocha, or whatever else they think of (I once drank a raspberry frapucinno). Unfortunately, it's quite expensive (P95~P115), and I never caught on to it mainly because I'm allergic to chocolate (yes, I know I'm deprived).

It was so popular that my classmates would walk all the way from school to the nearest branch of Starbucks. It was a fifteen-minute walk and some would just take a jeep, if not their cars. When they got there, they'd order their coffee, wait for it, drink it to the last drop, and head back to school. Walking thirty minutes worth of distance just for a drink you'd finish in five minutes just shows you how remarkable Filipinos can be.

A few years later, more branches would pop out. In the Greenhills area alone, there are four branches, each less than a kilometer away. I mean outside my former school, there's a new Starbucks branch set up. One jeep ride away is the next Starbucks branch, which is beside a gas station and behind the bus stop. Across the bus stop is the Greenhills Shopping Center with a Starbucks branch in its new Theater Mall. One street away from the place is another Starbucks branch which is beside Chili's.

Another example would be the case of Makati. In 6750, the parking lot sandwiched between a hotel and the Glorietta mall, there's a Starbucks outlet in its ground floor. Inside Glorietta, there's a Starbucks branch in one of its movie theaters. Across Glorietta is the recently established Greenbelt 2 mall, which has its own Starbucks as well. If I wanted to pass through all these Starbucks branches, it would take me less than ten minutes.

This phenomenon reminds me of the Zagu fad that struck the Philippines. Zagu is a drink that contains blended juices and some sago in it. It was popular that around every corner, there's a branch selling the stuff. Of course unlike Starbucks, it wasn't as expensive (P35 for a drink) but you'd be amazed at how long people would line up just for a taste of the drink. Also unlike Starbucks, Zagu has stopped being a fad and now, it's amazing if you can still manage to find an outlet as most of the branches I know have closed down.

Whenever I'm at school, in the malls, or at the streets. I see plastic cups of Starbucks scattered all over. Gone are the days when you bought coffee at Mister Donut. I rarely even see any people nowadays at Mister Donut, sipping their coffee at the wee hours of the morning.

I'd choose fruit juice over Starbucks any day. I don't need caffeine to keep me awake and I'm already hyper as it is. Besides, think of all the money I'm saving by not purchasing drinks at Starbucks.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

Fire Drill

"Riiiiiiiing!!!" The school bell always sounded pleasant, whether it was signaling the end of class or a fire drill. If the former was the case, we'd be counting the minutes left before it was break time. If it was the latter, as long as the time wasn't spent on listening to the teacher and doing class work, it was something we all looked forward to. This was the typical day of a high school student enrolled in Xavier.

While the ringing of the bell for recess and lunch was scheduled, fire drills weren't. There'd be a month or two wherein fire drills would be held. You didn't know when it would happen or what time it would occur. It just did. It was common for students to pray for the fire drill to occur while they were having an exam.

This would go on year after year that fire drills became too commonplace. Sometimes, we'd even have fire engines outside the school to simulate a fire rescue. Seniors would walk down the stairs from the fifth floor down to the ground floor. It was a practice we all thought we'd never use but did it nonetheless since it was an excuse to keep us out of the classroom.

One memorable event was during my second year. We were at the ground floor, inside the Macintosh lab. The room was well ventilated by the air conditioner so we were closed to the outside world: no open doors and no open windows. Everyone was busy with the computers, trying to finish the activity Ms. Conception had assigned to us.

And then we heard the bell. We had just started class so we knew that it didn't signal dismissal. We ignored it, thinking it was just a fluke. We resumed our work on the computers but the bell kept ringing for five minutes. One of us finally said that it was probably a fire drill. A lot of us sighed at that. We didn't want to leave the comforts of the chilly room. Computers were something some of us enjoyed, and for those who didn't, there was always the attractive teacher who kept watch on us. It took us another five minutes before we finally got out of the room.

Since we were on the ground floor, we saw a gathering of students when we came out. They were all with their teachers, asking them to form lines and neatly arranged themselves. Of course none of the students followed the teacher's commands. They were all staring at the top of the building. When we looked up, we saw smoke. Yellow smoke to be precise. The fifth floor was burning and a haze of yellow smoke concealed the right part of the building, where the various laboratories were. There was actually a fire.

Everyone wasn't shocked. Surprised, perhaps, but not shocked. The fire was like a circus attraction which everyone pointed at and kept on looking. Me and my classmates were joking that what we thought was a drill was actually a real fire. The fifth floor was evacuated and soon, fire trucks came. We saw firemen from the trucks enter the fifth floor but how they managed to extinguish the flames, we can only surmise. Classes for the juniors and seniors were suspended during that day as damages were being reported and filed.

When I came back to school the next day, I took a glimpse of the fifth floor. The windows of classrooms were broken. The walls of the lab had small black marks but other than those, everything seemed to be intact. I didn't explore more since exposing myself to seniors were something undesirable. Our freshman days of being intimidated by seniors were still fresh in our minds.

Later that day, it was said that the cause of the fire was an electrical wiring fault. As to why it caused yellow smoke, we never really knew. Some hypothesized that it was caused by the sulfur in the lab. While that theory seemed to be reasonable, I don't see how sulfur could have gotten mixed with the electric wires. It was the talk for the rest of the week and the seniors endured classes with broken windows.

You'd think that after that incident, our reaction to fire drills would turn into something quite serious. That's not the case though. Our view of fire drills was still the same: it was something to get us out of class. When we'd hear the bell, we'd talk and fuss, all the while lining up to exit the room. There was no feeling of panic, no sense of dread since we always reassured ourselves that it was only a drill. If there was a real fire, we'd probably make a stampede running out of the building.

Friday, August 09, 2002

To Read or To Write?

If my journal seems to miss some entries for the past two weeks, it's because I haven't written anything as of late. I might attribute that fact to hours of gaming, long hours of schoolwork, or even claim sickness. The fact of the matter is, I've been busy reading, reading, and doing more reading.

My enthusiasm for writing has always been rooted in reading. If it wasn't for all the books, magazines, and other forms of print media that I've read, I wouldn't even think of becoming a writer. The reason I took up Creative Writing as a course is because I want to improve my writing skills so that someday, I can live my life as a writer, hopefully not the starving type. I'll leave the writer part as vague since right now, I don't really know where I'll specialized in and the fact that a lot of writers I see in the Philippines are not tied down to one style of writing. I mean look at Krip Yuson: he's a poet, a journalist, and a teacher. Or Jessica Zafra who's a columnist and a fiction writer.

I think every writer will agree when I say this: you can't write well unless you've read well. Talent isn't something innate. It needs to be cultivated. In the case of writing, a person needs to read good stuff not only so that he gets the proper form but to get inspired as well. The English language has become second nature to me. I don't need to think if this is the proper conjunction or if the tense is wrong. All I need to do is read it aloud and see if it's a pain in the ear or not. Of course I know it's not perfect, which is why if I'm writing, I edit my work afterwards, but for the most part, this type of reading (and writing) suffices for me to identify correct grammar. I can only attribute this to hours of reading and listening to the television.

While writing with correct grammar is important, it's not as vital as having an imagination. What differentiates a good writer's work from that of an initiate is that the story they tell is compelling no matter how mundane the subject matter is (yes, reading all this must be boring you... I know I'm not a good writer). This is done through various techniques, even if it's unorthodox. That's where imagination comes in. I mean I was reading Dream Hunters, Neil Gaiman's collaboration with fantasy artist Yoshitaka Amano and I can't help but enjoy it. While the words he uses run deep, it's not as striking as the entire picture. Gaiman writers a lines of text in one page and beside that page is a full color illustration by Amano. Sometimes, text isn't even present. Or perhaps a better example is the Griffin and Sabine trilogy, wherein the books pop out at you and there's even a letter with souvenirs inside. It's not what you expect with a book but it tells a detailed and intriguing story. More important than enjoying it, I'm inspired by it. I'm motivated to make a similar masterpiece (i.e. untried, unique, experimental, etc...). It's the drive that makes me want to become a writer.

Of course desire isn't the same as action. I can get inspired all I want but if I don't act on it, it's not writing. Imagining or pondering is a better description but in modern society, there aren't careers for people who just keep on imagining and pondering (well, maybe not pondering? there are philosophers, after all). I can claim to be a writer but if I don't write, I'm not a writer.

This is when pulling me away from books becomes a problem. Undoubtedly, I love to read. I mean I also like to write but my need to read is stronger than my will to write. Usually, the only time I actually get to write is when there aren't any interesting books for me to read.

And that is what has happened for the past few weeks. I've been reading in the morning and reading in the evening. Since I need sleep, there's not enough time for me to read and write at the same time. Breaking away from the book I'm currently reading is next to impossible, unless it's another good book or book shopping.

Like most things in life, excessiveness of one thing is unhealthy. I must find the balance between reading and writing. I can't live life with "phases of writing" and "phases of reading". It would be a lot better for me if I managed to juggle the two. A writer who does not read stops growing. A reader who does not write is not a writer. I could have chosen English Lit. but I chose Creative Writing right? I need to write, not sporadically but consistently.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Into the Darkness

It's dark and cold and you can see nothing but black and lines of white along the wall. Dust is all over the floor and there are piles of boxes, books, and paper everywhere. Insects of all kinds lurk in the corners and it's not surprising if one lands near you. No, I have not described to you my attic or basement. What I have recounted to you is my room.

When I was around five or six, my family relocated to Greenhills from San Juan. I found this strange since when we were still living in San Juan, I'd go to Greenhills for my preschool while when we were already at Greenhills, I'd go to Xavier School, which was near our old house in San Juan.

One of the best reasons for relocating was the fact that we each got to have our own rooms. Back in the "old house" as I'd call it, there were only three rooms reserved for us: one for my baby sister, one for my brother, and one for my parents. Here in the new house, rooms were not a problem. We even had enough space to have a guest room.

My room back then seemed quite enormous to me. The wall paper was white all over. The same could be said for the cabinets and the closets. In the center of the room was a queen-sized bed, a sofa, and a television. I'd usually jump from my bed to the sofa and back again. There was also a long desk with file drawers, all of which were connected to one side of the wall. A shelf would stand in the left portion of the room, showcasing not books but toys which I had acquired so far: robots, dinosaurs, and other cars. What was also a quirk was that my room had two other doors, one which led to my brother's room and the other to my parent's room.

Despite me having a room, I seldom slept in it, especially as I grew older. I'd usually spend my evenings at my parent's room, along with my sister. We'd all fit in the king-size bed, which also happened to be facing the large television set. I do remember sleeping in my room though, and at one time, I had a large mosquito net over the bed so that I couldn't be bitten by the insects.

Of course it would soon all be taken away from me. A few years later after moving in, my grandmother acquired cancer and the doctor said she had three months to live. Since her condition was critical, father wanted to give her the best living conditions. She was brought to our house to live. I was taken out of my room and forced to sleep with my parents every night. Soon, I was sharing rooms with a lot of people: my brother, my grandmother, and my parents. My toys remained in the room while my clothes and toiletries went to my brother's room. Some of my books were put into my parent's room where I'd read them there before I sleep.

My grandmother lived with us for three years before she died. I remember my mother complaining to her friends that she was supposed to be with us for only three months yet it extended to three years. Never underestimate the will of a person to live. I remember during my grandmother's birthday when me and my sister knocked on the door, entered, and gave grandma some sampaguitas. It was hung beside her bed where everyone could see it. Two days later, I came by and saw that it was already rotten. It was soon removed.

When grandmother died, my grandfather and auntie would move in. The two would be switching between our house and my uncle's house, which was located in Alabang. For the first half of the month, grandfather would be living in my room. For the second half, it would be auntie. This would go on for five to six years and soon, it was only my grandfather who was living with us.

And then in May of 2001, grandfather suffered a heart attack. He died, causing grief to the family. When I entered my room then, it was quite different. My shelves were no longer stacked with toys. There were a lot of picture frames in the room. There was even new furniture. The place also smelled different. The bathroom was also filled with boxes, a storehouse rather than a sanitary locale.

The room was refurnished for a few months. My mom wanted to redo the entire place. She asked me what kind of wallpaper I wanted. I told her black. She complained and told me to choose another color or theme. I still told her I wanted black. She found it weird.

"Why bother asking me if you're just not going to agree to my decision? It is going to be my room, after all." I said.

Since they couldn't find a wallpaper that was entirely black, I had to settle for one with a black background and narrow white bars (think of it resembling a jail). My family was stupefied that I chose such a scheme. My brother was laughing at me and even showed his guests at how ridiculous it seemed.

By the time I moved into the room, things had changed again. Not only was the wallpaper different from when I was a child but the bed was gone. Instead, I just had the couch with a different cover. There was a big space in the middle which gave me room to maneuver. I restructured the contents of my shelves and soon had my books lined up.

I had my windows sealed with tape since insects were coming in through them. I was only partially successful as some creatures still manage to get it despite my best efforts. I had the boxes removed from the bathroom and made it livable again. Still, there were cracks in the sink and an army of ants would come out in the night. I had to learn to shut the lid of my toothpaste unless I wanted them to be contaminated by ants.

A month or so later, my parents would complain that my room was disorganized and dirty. I told them not to bother me since it was, after all, my room and that it was their fault it was disorganized in the first place. You see when I still had the room when I was a child, I was already requesting shelves from my parents. At the time, they'd just laugh and not take it seriously. Now, when I told them I needed new shelves, they immediately bought me one. Soon, my room was more organized than usual.

My friends who came into my room had several reactions. One thought that it was cool. Another felt that the room was too hot. Others became dizzy, and some claimed that the walls were moving.

For all the dirtiness in my room, I can be proud of my bookshelf. It's lined with books that many people would envy. Rows and rows of books would fill the space, and these books were not something I inherited from my parents. Instead, they were bought with my own money throughout the years.

I really like the room now. It "feels" like me. My parents complain about it, just like everything else about my life. My friends find it fascinating and eccentric, just like me. As for me, I've never felt more comfortable, or more unique.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Crash and Burn

That's how I describe my relationships with people. At one moment, I'm like a brother to them. At another, I could never be more despised.

As I've mentioned in some of my earlier entries, I'm not a person that has close friends. If I want to go out, I don't have someone I can just call and invite out. I don't even have anyone I can just call and talk to them about what happened during the day. If there's anyone I'm often seen with, it's the invisible man. Whenever I pass by someone in the mall or in school, the typical question is "who are you with?" I end up either shrugging or telling them that I'm with no one. Some of them are just shocked, especially when I run into them in a mall.

That's not to say I don't have any friends. In fact, I have a lot of them. I know most, if not everyone, from my batch in high school at least by face, if not by name. I'm also involved in a lot of mailing lists and online societies and it's fun to run into them in real life. In school, it's no exaggeration if I say I know at least someone from each course in my batch. And I manage to make friends with my classmates, no matter what the subject.

Of course this wasn't always the case. When I was in grade school, I dropped from one of the most popular people in my class to one of the most disgusted. For one thing, I suddenly alienated myself from my existing friends, mainly because I realized they were bullies and quite selfish. One of my friends would hog the Super Famicom console whenever he'd sleepover, causing my other friends to make complaints. There's also the fact that I suddenly started wearing glasses and started getting frequent colds. At that point, a lot of people avoided me and I often had trouble finding a group during group activities.

At several points in my life, I felt very lonely. I'd find myself in the house, alone with nothing but the computer, my books, and the television set. It was all a waste, it seemed to me, if there was no one I could share it with. I had no one to talk to, no one to play with, and most of all, no one to go out with. This caused me to dwell on my solitude and I wanted to change it. I was eager to make friends. Too eager, perhaps.

In high school, I was terribly alone. At least in grade school, I had a set of friends I could turn to. During that time, my former friends were scattered among seven different sections. The one friend who was my classmate found himself a new group and left me out. In part, this was a good thing as I was forced to meet new people and make new friends. Before grade school, I barely knew anyone outside my section. In high school, I managed to acquaint myself with a lot of people from my batch. But alas, still no best friend.

In fourth year, I fell in love. Her name was Erin and I got to know her via her personality from the Internet. When I first saw her, her looks didn't strike me but after getting to know her, I realized personality was something more than mere physical beauty could match. I courted her, unknowingly of course. I started wearing contact lenses. I loaned her my books and CDs. I tried to meet her as much as possible after classes. I gave her gifts for no reason at all. And she disliked me for all that. I suspected as much and eventually, I left her alone and got over her.

During the first few weeks of college, I met Erin's best friend, Steph. She was everything I could ever want: independent, hardworking, smart, and most of all, loved reading books. It reminded me a lot of Erin yet surprisingly different. I fell in love with her too, although gradually since I was doubting my emotions. After all, I was making sure I loved Steph for who she is rather than just a copy of Erin. Unknowingly as well, I was courting Steph. I was with her everyday, accompanying her to the bus station and talking to her. After which, we'd email each other when we got home. There's also the books I loaned her and the CDs I'd lend her. It was déjà vu.

As expected, Steph soon started to avoid me, and eventually, got mad at me. This all happened after three weeks of being together. Of course what didn't cross everyone's mind at the time is that I was considering Steph as a best friend as well as a potential girlfriend. If the latter didn't work out, the former would suit me just fine. But like most things in life, your best intentions can hurt people the worst.

A year later, I met Lea, the elder sister of one of my friends. She was an Eng. Lit. graduate and had a keen interest in anime. While she didn't like the fantasy books I read, she did like some fantasy, as well as science-fiction. No, I did not consider her as a love interest, but wanted her as a friend. Soon, I was talking quite often with her on the phone. She became my confidant and I felt that I had the best friend I never had.

Except she didn't feel that way about my phone calls. She felt it was a burden to her rather than a pleasure. I didn't realize this until she emailed me a month later, after not talking to each other for quite some time. My hopes went down the drain. But it helped me realize what was wrong.

I was too overzealous in my pursuit of a best friend. I once told people that the more people got to know me, the more they'd dislike me. This is true because often, I'm too pushy. The people who became angry at me like my crushes and Lea complain that I expect too much from them, that I don't give them space. And that's true. My relationships with them tend to "crash and burn". I'm quick to befriend them, we get close in a short span of time, and things come tumbling down.

Of course in all scenarios, people didn't tell me what was wrong until it was too late. I did tell them that to tell me as soon as possible that if they felt there was something discomforting about me, they should tell me. But they didn't do that and instead, kept it to themselves until they could hold it no longer. It's easy to blame them. But I know I am responsible as well. I just can't rely on people telling me what I should do or how people feel. I should have been more sensitive.

This also probably happened because the people I were trying to befriending were girls. Not top sound chauvinistic or anything but I find that most girls tend to be evasive, while I as a guy then to be confrontational. I like to face my problems head on. A lot of girls I know tend to either avoid the problem or not talk about it instead of facing it. I guess we all cope in different ways.

Alas, while there is life, there is still hope. I'm picking up the pieces, trying to renew bonds that have been broken. I'm grateful I'm still in speaking terms with Erin and Steph. Perhaps the issue between Lea and me will be solved some day. But now, I'm less aggressive and try to give people time. It's just sad to know that in order to show people that you care, sometimes, you have not to care. Nothing pains me more than to see a friend in need yet you can't help them since it might hurt their pride or they might think worse of you. But I've learned to trust, trust that my friends will cope, and trust that they'll see the itty-bit of goodness in me.

Friday, July 19, 2002

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Katipunan

I never realized I'd have practical use for social skills until I entered college. Unlike my grade school and high school which was a walk away from home, Ateneo is actually quite a distance. Also, because I was too lazy to get a sticker for our car, I had to rely on carpools to get home from school.

The start of my freshman year was simple. I'd hitch along with my childhood friend, Fort, since we belonged to the same block and head identical schedules. This is due to the fact that we enrolled at the same time and even got late at the same time.

For the first few weeks, this arrangement was fine, despite the fact that I'd have to wake up really early to get to his house, and had to come home late since I was getting picked up from his house, which was in Pasig. Fort and I were together often, along with Therese, the girlfriend of John, a mutual friend.

And then, I stopped hitching with Fort. I could blame it on several reasons. For one thing, Therese was paying too much attention to Fort, and I was the person who introduced them. On one hand, I could say that Therese was starting to cheat on John. On another, I could say I was jealous of Fort. Then there's also the fact that I get home quite late because I hitch with Fort. I barely have two hours of free time left on my hands. But perhaps what did it was the fact that I was interested in accompanying Steph, my crush, to the bus stop and that happened an hour after Fort leaves Ateneo.

Everyday for three weeks, I'd be accompanying Steph to the bus stop, after which, I'd start worrying. How do I get home? For someone who's been sheltered most of his life, commuting was a concept known to me. The places where I should get down, however, were alien. I knew that to get home, I should take a jeep from Katipunan to Cubao and from Cubao to Ortigas. Of course I didn't know where Cubao so if I boarded a jeep, it might pass through Cubao several times and I would never know it. I postponed the idea of commuting while there are other alternatives.

The first thing I did when I got back to school was look for familiar faces. Since a lot of my batchmates got accepted into Ateneo and a number of them live near my place, that's where I started looking. This usually involved calling them up and asking for their schedule, but for most of my freshman year, it involved sitting and a lot of waiting at the parking lot.

My one consolation throughout all this is that I got to see a lot of people, met a lot of people, and befriended a lot of people.

Of course I don't always hitch with people to get home. I have dentist appointments on Thursday afternoons so I have my driver pick me up on those days. Of course since he doesn't have a car sticker, he parks at the street opposite Ateneo in one of the fast food outlets.

One day though, he forgot to pick me up. I was furiously mad and told him not to bother picking him up. I'd figure out a way to get home. Of course boasting was easier than actually doing. The time was 3:30 pm. I found a carpool but he was going home at 7:30 pm. I didn't care to wait those extra hours. At 5 pm, I left school and started to walk home.

At this point, some people would say why couldn't I just commute. As I said before, I didn't know where Cubao was. This walking experience proved to be an enlightening one. Some might argue that I should have taken a taxi. Taxis cost a lot of money. They're a last resort and it wasn't exactly raining at the time so I didn't need last resorts.

It should have been an easy walk if it weren't for the fact that I turned at P. Tuazon instead of Boni Serrano. I was walking straight for forty five minutes although it seemed like hours. Halfway through, I got a call from my friend asking me if I still wanted to hitch since he got off early. The time was 5:45 pm. I was halfway to my house. I told him my current location.

I continued walking until I reached EDSA. I should have turned right so that I could board the MRT but instead, I headed left, towards the direction of my house. Ten minutes away from my home, mom starts to call asking where I am. I told her I was near. By 6:20 pm, I got home. I decided that that event would never happen again.

Suffice to say, I learned where Cubao was, along with Ali Mall and SM. Since I did accompany Steph to the bus stops, I knew where I could get a ride. In the event that I couldn't find a carpool early enough for me, I started commuting home. There was also those trips to Cubao and back when I was scavenging for a book for Steph and I suspected that it was available in the Cubao branch of National Bookstore.

The second semester of my first year had a less "spontaneous" feel to my carpooling. Instead of waiting by the parking lot, not knowing who and when my ride will pass by, I started hounding for people's schedules. I was able to arrange carpools ahead of time so I didn't run the risk of having to commute or walk home. One interesting account was Ambrosio. I'd hang out outside his classroom just before he got dismissed. Because of that, I'd meet some of his classmates. Of course by this time, I already knew a lot of people.

My second year proved to be quite difficult in finding a carpool, mainly because I got dismissed later and quite a number of my former schoolmates went abroad. My most reliable carpool, Ambrosio, was one of them. However, it was this year that I acquired a gaming group and my GM (Game Master) happened to drive a car and passed by EDSA. What happened was that most of his players would be hitching with him going home, me included.

At this point, I was too dependent on carpooling and stopped commuting altogether. I found out how out of place I was when last summer, I had to commute home from Ateneo. The destination was supposedly Cubao but I ended up in SM Centerpoint. At that point, I took a taxi.

Right now, I'm back to hitching a ride with Fort going home. And strangely enough, I occasionally get to accompany Steph to the bus stop on Wednesdays. It's really strange at how it all ended up like this. Makes me wonder if God's playing a cruel joke on me.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Here's something I wrote for my nonfiction class about my childhood, which I'll submit today.

Always Prepared

Several days had passed since I attended my first day in grade school. I was adjusting to the new environment. My bag was twice as heavy. We had desks to put our books in. We were no longer given the luxury of a half day. I was at school from morning until afternoon, eating my lunch at the cafeteria's long, green tables. It was a new experience for me.

Being in grade school meant you had to take up a lot of subjects: Reading, Language, Math, Science. While I liked my teachers, the same can't be said for my subjects. I'd spend hours perfecting my letter "a" for Language and memorizing numbers for Math. There was one thing I looked forward to though. That was the clubs. Once a week, we were given the opportunity to participate in a non-academic activity. Unlike my subjects which were spoon-fed, clubs were something you chose, provided your parents gave you consent.

We were given a list of the available clubs in two stapled sheets of paper. While the list was long, only a few were really available to us since the other clubs were restricted to the upper batches. Some of my classmates had their parents decide what club they'd join. As for me, I was never to waste an opportunity to exercise my freedom.

I decided to join the Kab Scouts. It was something that appealed to me. Camping out in the wilderness, learning how to survive on your own, creating fire from a pair of sticks. These were the thoughts that entered my mind when I first saw it.

I didn't think my parents would mind if I enlisted in that club. Sure enough, my parents signed the form without taking a second glance. Now all I had to do was attend the meeting.

Our moderator was a man in his twenties, or at least it seemed to me. He was full of energy and a sense of responsibility emanated from him. Perhaps it was because of the uniform: yellow shirts, green socks, laced shoes, a tied scarf on the neck. He told us with confidence what we could expect from the club.

I've forgotten what his exact statements were but there were two statements that sums up what being a Kab Scout meant.

"A Kab Scout is always prepared," was one.

"A Kab Scout keeps his promises. That's why we have Scout's Honor. The reason you are raising your three fingers is this. The top most represents God. The second represents others. The last one represents you. You should put God above all else, others second, and self last. That is the code by which a Kab Scout lives."

Those two ideologies were drilled into us. Not a meeting passed without us standing in attention and performing the rite of Scout's Honor. But a more subtle reinforcement was used to ingrain in us the concept of always being prepared.

After our first meeting, we were required to purchase and wear our uniform. It composed of a yellow shirt, a yellow scarf, a Tamaraw totem to hold the scarf, a belt, and green socks. My parents were only too happy to give me the check so that I could buy a set.

Every time we met, we were expected to wear the uniform. Not one article should be missing. We were given demerits if that happened. On the morning of our club meeting, I'd set aside my usual white polo in favor of my Kab Scout uniform. I made sure I lacked nothing. My parents even thought to take a picture of me while in uniform.

I attended the meetings regularly. I had perfect attendance, if I'm not mistaken. We were taught a lot of practical stuff. I didn't get the chance to make a fire out of two wooden sticks but I did learn how to tie knots and how to use tools. We were also reminded of the safety precautions needed to be done in every venture, from cooking to travelling. We had games to make remembering easy. For knot-tying, we were divided into groups and the group that could tie and untie the knot quickest won. There was also the message relay game which tested our memory and the accuracy of our messages.

One memorable moment was when the teacher taught me how to tie my shoelaces during my birthday. No matter how much I tried, I never did get the knack for tying shoelaces. Instead, I often wore leather shoes that didn't have shoelaces. That probably explains why I didn't excel in tying knots either.

Before the year ended, we had large group activity to certify us as official Kab Scouts. It was a sleepover camp and that caught our attention. We were to camp for one evening and after which, an awarding ceremony would be held. I really wished that we could have done it outdoors but the best that the moderator could do was the football field of our school. It was far from a scenic view since instead of trees, we saw tall buildings. We'd also hear the cars passing by and honking from time to time.

It began on a Friday afternoon and we set up camp as soon as it hit 5 pm. Each of us was required to sleep with a partner and the same partner would accompany us wherever we went, whether it was to the bathroom or to sleep.

During the evening, a bonfire was made and everyone got out their treats. I took out some marshmallows and barbecue sticks and started roasting them. My partner roasted his too close to the fire and the marshmallows started to burn. It was quickly put out and we marveled at the blackness the marshmallow had on one side. My partner quickly ate it and exclaimed that it was delicious.

When it was getting quite dark, we started gazing at the sky and saw the stars despite all the buildings. Some of us started a ghost hunt while others went to bed. I had the misfortune of accidentally peeing in my tent, which caused my partner to panic and quickly got out of their tent. He decided to sleep with another group and I was left alone in my tent. During this time, I heard all the other boys who weren't ready to sleep yet, playing with their flashlights and pointing it at other people's tents.

Morning finally came and we had a new set of activities. Despite all the activity from the previous night, we were still expected to assemble in complete uniform. After several games, we had lunch and prepared for the awarding ceremony.

A lot of parents dropped by to see their children stand on the stage and bring them home afterward. My parents were no different. It was strange as they were formally dressed while I was in my Kab Scout uniform. Dad had a tie and long sleeves, and mom had all her makeup. I, on the other hand, was a bit muddy but was nonetheless in complete uniform. I didn't want anything other than to get out of my clothes then and take a long bath.

Soon, we were formally acknowledged as Kab Scouts and to signify this, given new totems. I gave mine to mom and then assembled to take a pledge with the Scout's Honor.

I came home that day exhausted. Eventually, I lost the totem that was given to us during that ceremony but I managed to keep the original Tamaraw one. I joined Kab Scouts for one more year but failed to enlist in the year after that. There were two things I never forgot though: Scout's Honor, and that a Scout is always prepared.