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.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

When Death Becomes Me

I wanted to write something short and the first thing that came to mind was how I conquered my acrophobia. The answer to that was that I didn't need to. I was suicidal, so I had nothing to fear from my fear.

I've often contemplated the idea of suicide. I did so several times when I was depressed over my crush, but I didn't take it too seriously since I had come to terms with death by then. I knew death would not solve anything, and that life gave me opportunities. However, given the chance, I'd easily surrender my life in exchange for someone else's. If there was a hostage situation, I'd willingly volunteer to be a hostage if only to deprive them of the chance to acquire one of my friends as a hostage.

My true contemplation of death occurred when I was eight. I was smart enough to realize then that my life would often be filled with sadness and solitude. I wanted to end it all, free myself of all responsibility or care. The question was, how do I do it?

I knew holding my breath wouldn't work. I'd only end up unconscious and start breathing again. Besides, suffocating to death wasn't something I cherished. I already had colds that kept me from breathing. Going out that way wasn't pleasant. That ruled out death by drowning and death by strangling.

Jumping to my death seemed natural since I did have acrophobia. However, there were stories of people surviving high jumps. People recommended that if you were to leap to your doom, it should be done on low levels, like three stories. The problem was that I can survive a one story jump without getting severely injured. I'd probably survive a three-story fall. So how high should it be? If I jump from a building too high, I might also survive. Ending up lame for the rest of my life wasn't something I wanted.

In television, people usually slit their veins if they want to die. If you do it the wrong way, it can be very painful. I was no expert in the art of committing suicide? I mean, who is? You only get one chance. Besides, I had a feeling our kitchen knives weren't sharp enough.

Shooting my brains out seemed tempting. Of course there were two problems. One, where do I get a gun? Second, I don't think I had enough physical strength to pull the trigger. I mean there was this amusement park when I was in the US and there was this game when you had to fight the computer in a quick draw. My aim was good but my trigger finger wasn't. I could barely fire it with two hands, and that was a simulation. How much more with an actual gun? I don't think anyone would volunteer to shoot the gun at my head for me.

At this point, only drug overdose seemed to be the only pleasant way to die. Again, I was encountered with a few problems. First off, where do I get the drugs that'll kill me? Second, I just can't overdose on certain drugs. For all I know, I'll just end up with a stomach ache. What I needed was a lethal drug, poisonous to people yet soothing and comforting. No way would an eight-year old be able to acquire something like that.

There was also the "slit my own throat" option but I realized I just didn't have the courage to do so. Maybe if someone else did it but I just couldn't find the strength to do it myself. Besides, I knew my last actions were to grasp for life. I may want to die but my body doesn't. Committing suicide wasn't working out for me.

After a lot of deliberation, I decided that killing myself wasn't worth it. Whatever problems I might have, having life means that there's always a way to solve them or evade them. At the very least, I'm open to opportunities if I live. When I'm dead, I won't feel anything, much less aspire to anything. Death would be a waste.

And so, that was how I staved off death for the next several years. Suicidal thoughts come and go but that experience made me realize how much I really wanted to live, and how I'll always find the strength to somehow cling to life. Besides, if I weren't alive today, I wouldn't have met all the great people I now know

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

The Not-So-Common Cold

I was going to write something entirely different today, but like most things in my life, my cold seems to interfere with matters.

To begin with, my family's health isn't something one should be proud of. My father has been having breathing problems even before I was born. Even now, he refuses to see a doctor, mainly because he believes that he's going to die anyway. My mother's side of the family suffers from diabetes. Strangely enough, I don't think we were afflicted with the disease.

When I was young, I got sick easily, mainly because of my frail immune system, which is due in part to my parents. When I was a babe, they rarely kept me out of the crib and never exposed me to dust. Now, one sniff of the stuff and I start sneezing. Blame my parents for their over-protectiveness. It comes to haunt me now.

The fact that I'm as skinny as a skeleton doesn't help either. Again, this can be attributed to my parents and their excess of concern. When I was four, I appeared to eat little from my plate. The maids and my parents would tell me to eat more and more. I told them I was already full but they refused to believe it. They made me eat more food, more than I could handle. And then I vomited. Of course this would go on three to four times in a week. Did this stop my parents? No... it only reinforced their sensibilities to try to stuff as much food as they can in me. My picture when I was four and when I was five were drastic. I was still chubby in the former. I was quite skinny in the latter. Because of my lack of fat, I quickly got cold. Heat, on the other hand, was something I barely felt, which is probably why I like going out in the hot, sunny afternoons.

In nursery, I was known for two things: my ability to sneeze often, and my propensity to cough out phlegm. I was always with a hankie, and with good reason. The moment I come to school without one is the moment I finish a roll of tissue paper in one day.

Grade school was no different, except that I was able to use my phlegm as a defense mechanism against bullies. It was a simple concept: you come near me, I spit at you. It was gross but it kept me from receiving a lot of bruises.

Of course my "cold attacks" were prone to happen more at home than at school. Since my parents rarely copulate, me and my sister were sleeping in our parent's room. Atop the king size bed was my sister, my mom, and then me. My dad was sleeping on a cushion below my sis. This should have clued me in on how dysfunctional the relationship my parents have with each other, but that's another story. Below the bed though was the carpet, and carpet tend to contain a lot of stuff I'd rather not say. In addition to that, the air conditioner was to my right. I don't like the cold. To me, hell would be a frozen wasteland. I started having colds every night.

My parents sometimes shut off the air conditioner when my cold becomes severe (i.e. I still can't breathe and it's already 1 am) but that was the exception rather than the norm. On the good side of things, my cold was limited to me and it wasn't contagious. That's why my parents still keep me in their room every night and why I still have classmates.

Mom tried giving me antibiotics but that was only a temporary answer. For one, it took several hours to take effect. For another, the effect lasted around an hour. For the rest of my life, I'd have a tower beside my pillow so that I can sneeze into it, much like I do with a handkerchief. If I didn't, our tissue bills would soar as high as Mount Everest.

Of course the diagnosis of the doctor was strange. For one thing, my nose was crooked. He asked me if I was hit by someone on the nose. I told him I couldn't recall any event, especially not one recently. He then told me that one hole was larger than the other, and it was due to the fact that the middle bone was sliding more to one side. The second strange diagnosis is that I was allergic to antibiotics. He said that it would provide only a temporary relief and would make the next attack more severe. Even as early as four, mom was leading me to self-destruction.

For quite some time, I was treated with the most bizarre medical treatments. One was the device that plunged the medicine directly into my nostrils. I had to put the device into one of my edifices and press it. A strange, foul air would go in and I'd be screaming for fresh air. And then I had to do it again, this time on the other hole. Did it work? After a year or so, I threw away the damn thing.

Since my parents didn't let me sleep in another room, I was stuck with their bedroom. They did install an air purifier which worked for the first few weeks but managed to get clogged up by dirt often. We later bought a newer model but the same thing happened. I guess American filters just can't survive Philippine atmosphere.

Sometimes, it was getting too severe that I'd sleep at 3 am only to wake up at 6 am to be ready for school. And this happened on a regular basis. What I mean by a regular basis is every week. If I was lucky, I'd sleep on the sofa and my parents would stop pestering me. I told them that what I needed was to be away from their room with the carpet and the air conditioner. They didn't listen. Instead, they sent me to another doctor. A Chinese one.

What Western medicine didn't find out, Eastern practice did. I underwent another strange procedure wherein the doctor made several dots on my forearm and placed different chemicals on them. It was then exposed to the light and an hour later, some of those dots became rashes. Thus I found out my allergies.

Naturally, I was allergic to dust. No surprise there. I was also allergic to cockroaches. It surprised me but not as surprising as the next revelation. I was allergic to chocolate!!! Before I sleep, I'd usually take a pack of Swiss Chocolate with Marshmallows and drink it. No wonder most of my attacks happen in the evening.

For a period of two months, I was taking injections every week. My driver and maid would bring me to the emergency room of Cardinal Santos (because that was where you could get injections) every Wednesday, pay the nurse the P30 fee, and take the shot. Two months later, I was taking injections once every two weeks. After that, once every month. And now, this is why I am not afraid of disposable injections. The big needles still scare me, especially once when I had to take a blood test. The only good thing I got from these injections is that sometimes, the pain was too much that I wasn't forced to play the piano. I'd say that I couldn't use my right arm and the lessons would be called off.

After all those injections and refraining from eating chocolate, my situation only got alleviated a bit. I still had colds on a regular basis and I was having trouble breathing often. I knew at this point, if there's anyone who's going to save me, it would be me. Not my parents, not the doctors, but me. I took matters into my own hands.

First, I requested to be relocated to the guest room. For one thing, there's a plant there, so I'm sure I'm getting oxygen. Second, the room doesn't have a carpet. Third, I don't need to turn on the air conditioner for the sake of my parents. Things became better as my colds came less frequent and I'd have "big attacks" once every three weeks. For a guy who got them on a regular basis, once every three weeks was a great relief. And not too soon as well since I was around grade seven at that time. I needed all the sleep I could get.

Second thing I did was get into shape. No, I did not lift weights but concentrated on cardiovascular exercises. In my case, it meant walking. Since my parents were overprotective of me, they didn't allow me to walk to school nor come home from school even though it's only three kilometers away. It's actually quite safer than it seems despite the rampant kidnappings going on. For one thing, I had to walk through several exclusive villages, and not just anyone could enter those places. For another, with the way I looked, I was the last person a kidnapper would think of abducting.

While I didn't get to walk to school, I did manage them to allow me to walk to the mall, which was one kilometer away. Slowly, I started getting fit. And slowly, my colds were decreasing in frequency. By the time I was third year high school, I was able to walk home from school. At this point, the stronger cold attacks happened once every two months. What nine years of medicine couldn't do, a year of exercise cured.

Nowadays, walking or running is the favored mode of transportation. People are surprised at the lengths I'm able to cross. Little do they realize it's more for therapy rather than masochism. And with my thin body, Philippine heat hardly fazes me.

When I get a cold these days, it's really worth noticing. I still carry a handkerchief and keep a towel by my bedside every time since I'll never get rid of the phlegm, but a cold is something that seldom occurs. The best thing of all, I don't rely on medicine for treatment. And I'm able to partake in a little chocolate from time to time.

Monday, July 15, 2002

The Devil's Game

A lot of people tend to overreact, especially when it comes to the games their "children" play. I'm not an evil person yet a lot of the games I've played have been considered "Satanic" or "tools of the devil" by many people who claim positions in authority. Just goes to show how close minded some people are, ready to point fingers without doing appropriate research.

Perhaps the most controversial game I've played is the Role Playing Game (RPG) called Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Some people say the game is evil and is a means demons use to possess people. That's hardly the case. They also say that the game has fanatics who commit suicide and are anti-social. Perhaps that's true to a point but those are the exceptions rather than the norm. Most hobbies have fans who act weird and act with so much zeal that they base their entire life on that particular hobby. People just tend to magnify the darker side of things when it comes to D&D.

D&D is far from demonic. It's really about role-play, acting in character. The setting of the game is medieval fantasy where you play heroes and heroines who combat evil and slay dragons (hopefully). It actually started the entire RPG genre, which would later be adapted into games for the computer. To those who've played games like Diablo, Final Fantasy, Might and Magic, and Ultima, the combat system of these games were most likely derived from D&D. D&D itself has its roots in war gaming, and war gaming has its roots in chess. While the game is guilty of violence (and what game isn't to a certain extent?), it is far from being "Satanic". In fact, you play characters that slay demons and other creatures from Tolkien-lore.

Of course some people might claim the game uses magic and it says in the Bible that magic is the work of evil. Then again, there are also people that brand Harry Potter as works of the devil. Most fantasy settings use a magic system but it is never really taken seriously. You don't see us gamers chanting words of incantation and drawing pentagrams out in the football field. We don't look for ridiculous spell components like guano and sulfur and suddenly shout "fireball!" at people we come across. We are in touch with reality (or at least most of us are). We went to school when we were kids and we keep a day job. D&D is just a game and we are fully aware of it.

If anything, D&D, and other pen and paper RPGs, enable people to bond to together. It's an opportunity for a group of friends to engage in an activity together. Some play basketball; we play D&D. My friends and I usually schedule a particular day to play the game. We bring all our stuff like pencils and die (the plural of dice) and go to a friend's house or a public place if that's not possible. More often than not, the place is well lighted and well ventilated. If the Dungeon Master (DM), the one who organizes the game, wants to have a particular mood, the place might be dim and there might even be candles in the place. No, it's not an evil rite but the background of our game, so that us players can have a better feel for it and prep our imagination. If the DM is ambitious, background music is present.

Unlike some hobbies, playing D&D is an exercise in imagination. First off, the one who is acting DM must plan out every session. He must think of plots and character hooks, monsters and dungeons players might encounter, and appropriate descriptions. This isn't something you come up in the next few minutes. It takes long hours of careful planning. Second, the players must take their time to visualize what their DM is telling them during a game. It's not something clearly presented to you like television or theater. It's much like listening to radio wherein a familiar voice tries to depict a scene the best way he can using only words and the sound of his voice. Third, even the characters players play have a distinct personality. You just can't act like this and that. You have to stick to the role and attitude you created for your character. For example, I might be playing a half-orc barbarian who loves to slay evil monsters. I'm also impulsive and not exactly known for my charisma or intelligence. I can't suddenly come up with a detailed plan during the game and explain it to each and every group member. Instead, I'm most likely to charge into battle without heeding what others have yet to say. Also, the history for my character needs a lot of thought unless I want to fall into stereotypes. Playing any RPG involves a lot of thinking and a stretch of the imagination.

I'll now move on to the next "Satanic" game I've played, Magic: The Gathering (M:TG or Magic). Magic is the father of Collectible Card Games (CCGs) and has been recently branded by a local TV station as "evil". They claim people who play it get possessed and start acting weird. I for the most part have been acting weird before I played RPGs or CCGs. As for possession, playing M:TG requires all your mental faculties so being possessed is something we players don't want to happen.

Even before that incident though, M:TG was already being called evil. Much like the complaints against D&D, just because the game uses magic and there are cards which have the words "demon" on them, it automatically gets branded as a nefarious hobby.

M:TG is a strategy game at heart. You play a powerful magic-user who combats other similar magic-users. This is done by casting spells or by summoning creatures and enchantments. The game also has a balancing aspect as there are five types of magic, each corresponding to the elements. One type of magic called Black represents death and usually has the forces of evil at its command. Of course when that's the case, you can't have cards with titles like "fluffy white rabbit". Instead, you get dreaded names like "Lord of the Pit" and "Demonic Tutor" to fit the theme. However, some people tend to react when they see those cards. Perhaps they should see the other colors like White, which have cards like "Serra Angel" and "Pariah", or Green with cards like "Birds of Paradise" and "Wall of Wood".

That's not to say the game doesn't have its own set of problems. For one thing, participating regularly in tournaments cost a lot of money since it's not called a CCG for nothing. To keep up with the new cards coming out, you need a large budget. Second, since it's a game that involves a lot of strategy, it would naturally attract a lot of mature gamers. Along with those "mature" gamers are their vices like smoking. Third, a lot of cards carry a hefty price tag so greed is another matter. Thefts and tricky occur as sometimes, you'd be trading cards with complete strangers. My Jesuit, Catholic, Chinese high school banned M:TG because of the occurrences of theft, not the demonology associated with the game.

Despite that all, M:TG is a nice game to get into. All sorts of strategies develop which isn't possible in conventional card games or chess. Here, you have an infinite card pool which also equates to infinite strategies. As one of the ads say, "you'll never play the same game twice". You also get to meet a lot of people and if you're a really good player, earn yourself some cash and travel around the world. Heck, there's even ESPN coverage of it in the US. Better yet, it's portable and you don't need electricity to play it. And that's really something considering the tendency for power fluctuations here.

Am I demonic because of the games I play? Certainly not and while some people have told me I'm a jerk, I was never told I was Satanic. I really think the problem these days is the lack of trust people put into each other. Since they don't spend as much time as they should with their children, they suddenly suspect everything they get into and ready to point fingers instead of looking at themselves for fault. And then there are also the people who take Bible doctrine too literally. They probably even think they were descended from Adam and Eve instead of apes. As for me, judge me for my actions and decide with logic instead of mere fanatical devotion. I'm sure God doesn't want stupid, mindless followers.