Thursday, July 11, 2002


While I'm a person that comes on time, I don't carry a watch. Call it a quirk but I don't like having a watch. When there was a fad of wearing Swatches, my wrists were devoid of anything mechanical. Even when my parents were offering to buy me a Rolex, I'd refuse on sole principle. It's nice to see people wearing watches. As long as I'm not one of them.

Ever since I was a kid, I didn't like wearing watches. I don't know why. The only watch I remember having was the one that could say the time when you pressed a button. I wore it for about a year before it broke. After that, watches were a no-no.

At first, my dad tried to get me a leather watch. Of course my wrists became itchy after wearing them for an hour. Also, I really didn't like telling time through Roman numerals. I prefer the digital ones but to me, saving up money for a watch was stupid. Digital was nice but I didn't want to spend money for it. After all, the most it did was tell you the time. Did I really want to spend thousands of pesos on just a watch?

I remember one of my classmates having one of those electronic watches that could act as a calculator and store people's phone number. I think it's the predecessor to the mobile phone's short message service as you had to type using numbers as well. I actually thought it was cool. When I asked how much it cost, I quickly forgot about it.

My brother also offered me one of his metal watches. Strangely, my wrists have the same reaction to metal as they do to leather. People rarely saw me with any jewelry on my wrists, or on any part of my body for that matter.

So now you might be wondering, how does a person who doesn't carry a watch tell the time? For one, I developed the skill of looking over people's watches without being noticed. And since most of the people involved were my classmates, I managed to tell the time differences between their watch and the school's. I could predict under a minute when the school bell would ring.

I also developed an internal clock. I could usually predict without looking at a watch how long I've spend doing a particular chore or how long a trip took. I'd even calculate how long it'll take me to get from one place to another so I was never late for meetings and appointments. Most of the time.

When I'm at home though, it's a different matter. Several watches abound here. In every room I enter, there's at least one watch which I could infer. Of course they all tell the time differently so I had to learn the time differences between them. I also depend on the alarm clock to wake me up each morning.

Of course now that I own a cellular phone, I don't need a watch. I just look at my phone to see what time it is. I even use it to wake me up in the mornings or to time myself. Some people call me an idiot for carrying such a large device just to tell the time. I merely shrug. It's better than wearing an expensive watch that makes you a target for all the snatchers roaming the streets.

Incidentally, I've never been robbed. Perhaps it's because of my modesty. Or maybe because I don't carry jewelry, much less a watch.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Power Failures

More than ten years ago, starting with the Cory administration, the Philippines started experiencing regular citywide power failures. It was so rampant that the term "brownout" was given to these erratic and sometimes scheduled blackouts. For a while, it gave rise to the generator industry as people started buying generators for their homes and businesses. Several years later, the power crisis was solved and Filipinos started looking forward to a continuous energy supply. Of course that wasn't the case. Down the line, power failures has become a hallmark of Filipino culture. We've experienced them during Ramos's term, during Erap's term, and even now during Gloria's term. Sometimes, the reasons they come up with can be ridiculous (jellyfishes) but that doesn't change the fact. We've been experiencing blackouts during the Philippine's history. And being a citizen of the Philippines, I can't help but be affected by it.

When I was in grade school, I was a video game fanatic. I'd play Street Fighter all day long and buy the newest games for my Superfamicom console. And then the regular power failures occurred. It's annoying when you finally reach the last stage only to have your game prematurely ended because of a power interruption, to say the least. Or worse, when you'd save a game, that's when the blackout would occur, corrupting the file and making your hours worth of game time unplayable. Video games were also meant to alleviate boredom. When there's no electricity, you can't play them. Thus, you end up being bored and looking for something else to do.

Which is probably why I changed my hobby by the time I reached grade seven. There was a new game out and it didn't require electricity. Everyone was playing it and it quite portable. The game was Magic: The Gathering, the first of what would be the Collectible Card Game (CCG) phenomenon. All you needed was a deck of cards (which were expensively bought) and you could play the game with someone who had a similar deck. Of course you might say it's just like those Vegas card games. Actually, it's not since a lot of strategy is involved: the cards you'd include in your deck, the ratio of cards, the strategy you'd employ. And since there was a continual influx of new cards, new strategies developed. It became so popular that regular tournaments were held. And the best thing about it is that even if there was a power failure, the tournament would go on.

A few years later, power failures soon became nonexistent. People got back to video games and I got back to television. Anime was slowly becoming popular worldwide and with the proliferation of the Internet, I would soon be part of that fandom circle. To me, what made anime different from the rest of the shows is its storyline and diversity. Anime, unlike regular cartoons, can have a continuous storyline. When I think about it, most of the "cartoons" I watched when I was a kid that had "to be continued" endings were mostly anime. Moreover, they weren't limited to shows just for kids. A lot of teenagers and adults were watching anime and it's not because of its wackiness or simple storylines.

By the time I graduated from high school, I had to choose between two hobbies: Magic or anime. On one hand, Magic was something I had gotten into for the past five years. On the other, anime was exciting and had fans from both genders. I chose the latter and it was a good choice since the number of Magic players were declining and it caused the end of a company.

Another hobby that also started to emerge during this time were the multiplayers games for PCs. Before, if you want the best games, you went for consoles like Playstation. Now, PCs were garnering fans of its own, especially in network games. Aside from Doom, Real Time Strategy (RTS) games were being played all over. Warcraft changed the gaming industry and its followers gave rise to a new industry: that of network gaming. A variant of Internet cafes, network gaming involved a bunch of computers linked together so that people could play games against each other. Unlike console games where you usually fought just one other person, network gaming enabled as much as a dozen people to participate. Soon, Red Alert, Rainbow Six, and Diablo were games people were playing at the malls. It was also a good way to bond with others and it wasn't unusual for barkadas to go out one afternoon and play the entire day.

Despite the fact that I didn't have a real barkada or group of friends, I was invited to participate in such events. Mainly because "the more the merrier" was the mentality, and the fact that sometimes, I was needed to fill in that uneven slot (5 vs 6? Come and join us). Still, it was a hobby I enjoyed.

Of course since everyone was playing network games, this made blackouts more noticeable. Everyone would curse and scream in Virramall when the power would go out. The hour's worth of combat was wasted since there was no resolution. Which is probably why Counterstrike became so popular. Unlike the RTS games or the other first-person shoot-em-ups that had long loading times, Counterstrike was quick. You could have a complete game in less than a minute. Thus, if there was a power failure, you'd only miss one game among many. If you were playing a RTS game, a power failure meant that you'd miss your one and only game.

Right now, mobile phones are the trend. Of course the problem with them is the fact that you need to charge their battery time and again, and charging took a few hours. A sudden power failure while charging your phone can significantly decrease your battery's life span. Then again, with all the piracy and smuggling with cellular phones, some people don't care and just buy a new battery altogether. I'm not one of them, so when a power failure occurs, I start cursing the power company, Meralco.

Let's also not forget the current issue wherein Meralco is overcharging people for electricity they don't consume. That's a headline in itself. Many people were protesting and refusing to pay their bills. There's also the instance that when a blackout happens, people start speculating what the cause was. Conspiracy theories about the government suddenly emerge and rumors of coups or covert attacks are spread. Just goes to show how these power fluctuations play a significant part in Filipino culture.

It all makes me wonder if twenty years from now, Filipinos would still experience power failures. It's strange how such a mundane thing as that can affect a nation, and myself.
A Rose by Any Other Name...

I don't proclaim to call myself a rose. I'm probably more of a sampaguita: fragrant today, gone tomorrow. Besides, it's the only other flower I know. That aside, I'm a person known to lots of people under different names. It's not something I planned, nor wanted, but happened anyway.

It all started with my parents. They're both Chinese and I think my father is an immigrant from China. When they gave birth to my brother, they gave him my mother's surname: Tan. I can only presume that the reason they did that is because my father has confusing paperwork with being a Filipino citizen. Ever since then, my parents' children had surnames belonging to my mother.

Legally, my name is Charles Agan Yu Piah Tan. That's what it says on my baptismal certificate. And perhaps even then, my troubles already began. You see my family's faith is protestant. But my parents being "practical-minded" wanted to enroll me in the best Chinese school they knew: Xavier. Of course, it so happened that Xavier was a Catholic school and they thought that "being Catholic" would increase my chances of getting accepted. And so they baptized me in a Catholic church: Mary the Queen parish. After which, I was raised in a protestant church. Of course me being a child, I had no idea all of this occurred and I lived my life thinking there was only one religion.

My grandparents are so Chinese that they don't have English names. My father, however, does have one. It's also Charles and his middle name is Agan. And so, I was referred to as a junior. By the time I was three, all my relatives and family friends started calling me JR. Charles didn't exist, only JR. When you wanted to talk to Charles, that meant my father. If you wanted to refer to me, you asked for JR.

It was a pretty simple life until nursery started. We all had name tags and my parents had to use my legal name. Thus, I was introduced to my teachers and classmates as Charles. Soon, my identity was no longer JR but Charles. My relatives still called me JR and so did the maids at home but out there in the world (which mostly consisted of school, school, and more school), I was Charles.

Since it was school and we were all kids, people gave us all sorts of nicknames. There wasn't any nickname that stuck to me over the years, or ones that I care to mention, but suffice to say, by the time I was in grade school, I was Charles Tan. Since Xavier was a Chinese school, I also had a Chinese name but no one calls each other by their Chinese name except in Chinese class. It was a pain to memorize how to write it in Chinese but I got used to it. Of course the funny thing about Chinese names is that it usually comprises only three characters and the first character is the clan name or surname, taken from the father's side. This should have clued me in since the first character of my name wasn't Tan but Yu (since there are many Chinese dialects, Tan isn't really pronounced as tan in mandarin: it's chen, while yu is pronounced as yang, so it's not as obvious as it seems), the surname of my father.

It was during an appointment with the doctor that I realized this difference. My mother gave my name as "Charles Yu" instead of Charles Tan. It was also embarrassing since the secretary would ask my mother what my name on the file was. She's usually answer "Charles Yu or Charles Tan". This proved to be a hassle to the secretary as she'd have to look up two names instead of just one. I'd ask my mother why my name was Charles Yu and she'd answer that my father's last name was Yu so it was only natural I'd be called Charles Yu.

I can only surmise why my parents started calling me Charles Yu at this point in time. This was the best I could garner. During one late evening, my father came home drunk and called me and my sister. He lectured us about being proud of our names and how I should be proud to be called Agan since that was what his classmates called him. He also happened to mention that in the past, he was a nobody and so relied on mother's father to support the family, which is probably one of his reasons why we all had Tan surnames. Now, he's a somebody and was doing quite well with business, which is why we should be proud of having Yu as a surname.

Of course there's also this other fact I learned from a friend a year ago. She said that Chinese families used the mother's side as a surname if the father wasn't a legal citizen. This way, the children would be counted as Filipino citizens. And considering the fact that my father had a Chinese Visa, this was probably the more logical reason.

It wasn't only I who was having identity problems. When I'd ask father to sign letters and forms, he'd be known as three people: either as Charles Tan, Charles Yu, or Yu Piah Tan. This proved to be a problem on my part as sometimes, I don't know what to put on forms asking for my father's name. I'd usually write Charles Tan and put my name as Charles Tan Jr. to differentiate me from my father. Thus I unwittingly created a new identity for myself.

More problems turned up when I'd invite people to come over at my house. Since we live in a village, the guards are strict and asked people coming in who they came to visit. I told them to say Charles Tan when in fact that's not what they should have said. You see my parents are registered as Charles and Mary Yu here in the village. To the villagers, I was a Yu, not a Tan. Thus, my friends sometimes had problems getting in.

In high school, my classmates started calling me Agan. This was to insult me more than anything else. "What, your middle name is Agan? What kind of a name is that? A gun?" they'd say. I found it offensive because of the tone and manner they said it but soon, that name stuck. By the time I was in fourth year, everyone in school was calling me Agan. Of course some of them don't know why I was being called Agan. They had no idea it was my middle name or anything. They just used it because everyone else was using it.

If that was the situation at school, this was the situation with family friends and relatives. I was introduced as JR, existed as JR, and known only as JR. Few people would recognize the name Charles Tan and identify it as me. To them, I was either JR Tan or JR Yu.

In church and in the village, I'd introduce myself as Charles Tan. When they ask about my parents though, I mention Charles and Mary Yu since that's the name people recognize them for. And I'd usually get a stupefied look as to why there's a difference in last names. Or perhaps I'd just introduce myself as Charles, the son of Charlie and Mary, and they'd immediately start calling me Charles Yu. It's not something I adore since my legal name is Charles Tan and recognize myself as such.

There was also this issue with a dentist appointment I had. I came from school and had my nametag on. Charles Tan was written on it but mother had registered me as Charles Yu so when they were looking for the dental records, they couldn't find it. I had to correct them and saw a small smirk from their faces. As a policy, I introduce myself to everyone as Charles Tan. It's only when my parents make my appointments that suddenly become Charles Yu.

It was also around this time that we acquired Internet Access. With the proliferation of chat and email, I had two aliases: Kamen and Naga. Kamen is the Japanese word for mask and I found that it suited me as a pseudonym. In the chat rooms I'd go to and in the mailing lists I participated, that was more or less the handle people knew me by. Of course if they did ask what my real name was, I'd gladly introduce myself as Charles. Naga, on the other hand, was my name on ICQ. Naga is a mythical creature that is half serpent and half female. Interestingly, it's also the name of a character from my favorite anime, Slayers, and the name of a clan from a popular CCG (Collectible Card Game). It also happens to be Agan spelled backwards so I thought the name really suited me.

I also gave myself the nickname "stalker" because I loved to creep up on people and surprise them. Some would call it ninja while others would just mutter that I'd give them a heart attack one of these days. Still, it was a nickname I gave myself and had to explain thoroughly to a lot of people since the name had negative connotations.

By the time I entered college, not only did I meet new people but also encountered old acquaintances. The people that came from Xavier or who knew me by an introduction from them called me Agan. The few family friends that were there referred to me as JR. To everyone else, I was Charles. It suited me somehow since in the event that I do forget who you are, the way you called me would clue me in as to how I know you.

Of course not everything is as clean cut as I'd want it to be. During my summer job at Pulp Magazine/MTV Ink/Philippines Yearbook, the publisher, Grace Glory Go, called me JR since she was a family friend and knew me by my mother. When I told her that I wanted my name on the credits as Charles Tan, she was astonished. "So you're Charles now, huh?" she said. Of course when my name finally got printed, it wasn't Charles Tan that I saw but Charles Yu.

And there's also the instances of my character lookalikes. The main character of one anime, Evangelion, looked like me, except that I had glasses. So at one point in time, all my friends who liked anime called me after his name. During college, Harry Potter was all hyped up and I also happened to look like him so some of my friends teased me and called me Harry Potter. And of course, there are those who called me by my self proclaimed nickname, Stalker.

No matter what people will call me, I will always be who I am. And like Clark Kent who refers to himself as Superman, or Bruce Wayne who calls himself Batman, I call myself Charles when addressing myself.

Monday, July 08, 2002


If there's one thing I face every single day, it's problems. It might take on the form of assignments, projects, family quarrels, or even the weather, but it's always present each day. And it's molded me into who I am today. I think adversity is what makes man who he is now: not religion, not science, not even his *cough* *cough* "superior intellect", but adversity that has made man the upright person he is now.

One thing that bothers me often is boredom. Of course sometimes, you're too busy to think about it. Why? Because I'm often preoccupied doing homework, coping with the trials and tribulations people are giving me, and sometimes, just living out life. Which brings me to my first point. When you're facing all sorts of problems, you're not bored. It's nice to know having problems have their uses.

Another use for adversity is the fact that you learn and grow from it. I mean I've failed numerous subjects, got beaten up by my siblings and classmates, got rejected by friends and crushes, but despite that all, I've managed to survive and become better because of it. I'm now better at socializing with other people, good at evading danger, and manage to pass my courses. Even if I only narrowly escape them.

Let's face it, aside from variety, adversity is the spice of life. Without it, life would be dull and meaningless. Why would philosophers contemplate on the meaning of life? Why would anyone invent the light bulb when a plain campfire would do? Why would anyone improve themselves? If it weren't for problems, we'd probably still be in the stone age right now, huddled together in our dark damp cave without opposable thumbs.

Some people commit suicide just because they're good at everything and find no challenges anymore. That's how important adversity is. I honestly don't want life to be easy. If it was, some things aren't worth striving for. For example, it's one thing to know you acquired an A for a paper you toiled for hours than an A for a paper you just copied off the Internet. The former is a lot more satisfying and fulfilling. The latter is just a desperate attempt to garner the approval of your peers.

When you look at history, the events most remembered are the ones which have the greatest trials. They're well remembered because we rose from the challenge and learned from it. The Middle Ages ended when we advanced our technology and stopped living in the old tradition. America and the Philippines were found by the Westerners in an attempt to find spices. If it weren't for all these problems, we wouldn't be where we are.

The moment we stop encountering challenges is the moment we stop living. Life is unfair. If it wasn't, life would be easy and everyone wouldn't be pushed to their limits. It's only when we go against the odds and conquer our foes that we evolve, mature, and grow.