Sunday, December 26, 2004

Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb (book review)

Fool's Fate marks the end of Robin Hobb's latest trilogy, The Tawny Man series. It's been my experience that the last novel is usually one of the most integral books, since it can either give a fitting end to an excellent story, or salvage a series that was horrible to begin with. And yet it's also difficult to review since more often than not, there's not much to be said aside from what was originally mentioned in the review of the first book.

Hobb manages her writing consistency in this novel. While the book is quite thick, there's never a dull moment, and a lot is happening even when it's not mentioned in the text. Everything here is pretty much a continuation of the previous book, which in turn was the continuation of the first book in the trilogy. Perhaps my biggest disappointment is the fact that the Liveship Traders, the protagonists in Hobb's second trilogy, at this point sink into the background and play less of an integral role as they did in the first book.

Right now the greatest strength of Hobb is in her characters and in Fool's Fate, they reach their culmination as secrets are revealed and characters are forced to reconcile who they really are. Some writers might be tended to mend all things and make the characters get along, but Hobb specializes in that "gray" area where not everything falls neatly into place. There are happy endings in this book, but they're far from perfect.

The novel has a few twists here and there, but overall, nothing really too overwhelming. New characters are thrown into the mix and old villains pop up but they are quickly resolved, which is probably just as well so as to focus on the main characters introduced in the previous two novels.

The ending wasn't as spectacular as I'd imagined, although a lot of loose ends were cleaned up. If I could compare it to a movie, Fool's Fate is no Return of the King where Peter Jackson outdoes himself but rather this is more of a Back to the Future III where everything gets resolved yet doesn't really do much for us in terms of surprises or new appeal.

If you're expecting something new from this book, you'll be disappointed. But Fool's Fate is a good read, and it does give closure for Hobb's longest running series. If you haven't read Hobb's earlier books (or at least the beginning of the Tawny Man series), I really can't recommend this novel(it'd be like reading Return of the King without reading Fellowship of the Ring). But rest assured, the series has closure, and while we may not necessarily like it, it's time to say farewell to an old friend.

Children of the Rune edited by Sue Weinlein Cook (book review)

There are a lot of novels out there that are based on RPGs. Examples of the more successful ones include Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. Children of the Rune isn't aiming for something of that scale but rather gives us snippets into the world of the Diamond Throne, a game setting designed by Monte Cook as a variant to the existing Dungeons & Dragons line. The book features thirteen short stories by different writers in the industry, and I'm curious as to how this anthology fares.

The first story is Stone Ghosts by Lucien Soulban. I found Soulban's story interesting and he goes directly into the action. Stone Ghosts is perhaps the best opening of all the stories, since it already gives us the flavor of this anthology: that is heroes discovering something is more than meets the eye, and sacrificing something in the end. Unfortunately, the weakness of this story for me is that while you do feel a sense of loss at the ending, once doesn't realize how significant the loss really is unless they're familiar with the game setting. If you're just someone who thought this was a pop fantasy anthology and decided to read it, the story loses much of its impact.

How it Works by Monte Cook is perhaps the weakest and blandest story. It was stereotypical, cliche, and didn't add anything to the mix. It was even devoid of angst or anything that might have made this story more than the usual. Monte Cook may have been the game designer but for this short story, well, it was probably best left unearthed.

Another story I liked was The Silent Man by Richard Lee Byers. It gives us a different take on the anti-paladin concept, and fits the theme of heroism, loss, and sacrifice. Since this story deals with iconic concepts, prior knowledge of the game world isn't really necessary to appreciate this short story.

Hollows of the Heart by Bruce R. Cordell and Keith Francis Strohm was a mediocre story. It does fit the theme well but inevitably, the plot was predictable, and relies on character sympathy for enjoyment of the story.

The Fallen Star by Ed Greenwood was too conventional for me. It was an interesting read because of the battle scenes, but aside from that, the end was predictable and perhaps too melodramatic for my tastes.

Child of the Street by Will McDermott had that roguish feel to it. I really liked the beginning, although the ending eventually descended into predictability and melodrama. It could have been improved if the envelope was pushed, but unfortunately, this was a story too short.

At first, I thought Clash of Duty by Miranda Horner would be as predictable as the stories that preceded it. But this was a gem since the ending did caught me off-guard and the writer wasn't afraid to jeopardize her characters. Perhaps not the best story in the lot, but it's a good breather from the derivative stories found in the anthology.

The Pebble Before the Avalanche by Mike Mearls was too conventional, but an enjoyable read nonetheless. It's the usual heroes saving a town occupied by bandit-leaders and while there was no twist to this story, it wasn't really pretending to have one.

You know where the story is going to lead you once you read the opening of Name Day by Wolfgang Baur but with this anthology, you're never really sure if it'll have a twist or not. Personally, I liked the story because it fleshed out the mentality of one of the races from the game setting. It gives you insight into the way they think and how they act. Other than that, this is your usual story that doesn't give you anything new.

Singer for the Dead by Jeff Grub returns the twist found in this anthology. It's one of the better tales, and ends with a somber note much like the earlier stories.

I really don't know what to say about Precious Things by Thomas M. Reid. At one point, you could predict where the story was going. But the end has a twist that I find too coincidental. Perhaps the good thing I can say about this story is that it fleshes out one of the classes in the game setting and shows what it means to be one of them.

Skin Deep by Stan! is perhaps as horrible as Monte Cook's first story. The ending could have been predicted from the start, and it's a trope that's been done before.

Monte Cook redeems himself with the last story, Not Without Cost, as not only was it an interesting read but it both gives an interesting twist at the end and gives us insight into the campaign world and what it's like. It's perhaps not the best story in the anthology, but it belongs to my list of better stories in the book.

Overall, Children of the Rune is pretty much like most anthologies: it's a mixed back. On one hand, you have a good number of stories. On the other, some were better left unpublished. It would probably appeal the most to gamers and those familiar with the setting or Dungeons & Dragons at the very least but as for the rest, it's probably best avoided.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas at the Cemetery

Whenever my parents would go out on Christmas, I always declined, thinking that I had better things to do at home, such as sleep or read. This year, I was still deprived of sleep, but when my dad asked me if I wanted to come with him, I said yes.

The destination was my grandfather and grandmother's grave at the Chinese cemetery. Just the other day, before Christmas eve, we went to our grandmother's grave near Makati because it was her death anniversary (she died in mid-December). That wasn't the case now for my grandparents died on different months.

On the way there, my father told me that the South Gate was the one gate that was always open. Not that there was any traffic to contend with that day since people don't usually go out on Christmas mornings, much less visit graveyards. Yet it's been a practice of my father to visit the tombs of his parents on a regular basis.

Upon arriving at my grandparent's grave, I saw that the candles on the graves were lit. My father pointed out to me where he wanted to be buried. He also pointed out the would-be graves of some of my relatives. Apparently, my father was taking charge of the burial plans of his relatives, and was shouldering all the costs. While funerals can be expensive, burial maintenance is perhaps more costly, especially when taken from the long term point of view. It was also then that I learned that my father visited the graves of his clan once a week, usually on Sunday mornings.

Not everyone is celebrating Christmas at their homes. The caretakers of the tomb were present, and when my father asked if they had any "noche buena" (tradition where one has a hearty meal on Christmas eve) last night, they could only shake their head. There were eight security guards on duty and when one of them saw my dad, he called the others and they all gathered around my father. Apparently, my father was well-known in the Chinese cemetery.

My father talked to the security guards, imparting wisdom and talking about the events surrounding the cemetery, such as the policies on rent or the lack of electricity and water. One of the guards had just come from a baptism and my father told him that it was difficult not having enough money yet having too many children to support. "Wala na ngang pera wala pang anak," (It's bad enough I don't have money that I should also be deprived of children) the guard said. My father replied with "Kung walang pera, walang anak" (If there's no money, then there's no children [because you can't support them]). At the end of the conversation, my father gave the guards money to split among themselves and went to his car to give them calendars. They were all grateful for my father's generosity and soon dispersed. When it came to the caretakers, my dad asked if he could pay their normal due the next time he arrived because he was now out of money. He gave them the last remaining bills from his wallet and showed them that he had nothing else to give.

We left afterwards, although I knew that we would be coming back next week on the New Year. For my father, Christmas has always been about family, whether it was fulfilling your duty, taking care of the future of your relatives, or paying respects to the dead.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Second Home: A Tribute to CCHQ

I was never a "home" person. Perhaps the worst days of my life was during Holy Week, when the only option I had was to stay at home and there wasn't even anything good on television. I'm often struck with wanderlust. I need to travel or a change of scenery, even if it's just a place nearby. Since I was once a student, one conclusion some people might think is that my alma matter was my second home. It would probably be right, if it weren't for the fact that I wasn't really accepted by my classmates and batchmates, at least during my grade school and high school years. No, solace was found somewhere else. I may wander around malls and buildings, but in the end, I was grounded to a certain shop.

In my last two years of high school, the place where I could be me and no one would judge me was one shop alone: Comic Alley. Sure, I'd wander around Virra Mall looking for places to go to and sights to see, but in the end, I always went back to Comic Alley. I'd meet up with people there, make new friends, and play a game of Magic: The Gathering. The salesladies were kind to me and I got to know the owners. One of my earliest mentors was probably Teddy Sy, an avid Magic player and anime fan. He took me in, despite my far-from-pleasant personality (at the time of course). Even if I refused to smile to customers, he still hired me. And of course, I got to mix the best of both worlds. Not only was I pursuing my passion in Collectible Card Games (CCGs), but I was also fueling the flames of my love for anime. I got assigned to the anime portion of the shop, and it was there that I learned more about myself as well as providing me with the opportunity to make new friends (although admittedly for less than altruistic reasons). Even when I wasn't working for them anymore, I was nonetheless welcome in their shop, and there were times when I'd sit there for hours doing nothing (and someone who dislikes me even named me "Gargoyle" for doing just that that).

Unfortunately, in 2001, everything changed. Not only did Magic: The Gathering wane in popularity, but Virra Mall itself was changing. Vendors would harass everyone coming into the mall by asking them if they wanted to purchase pornographic videos. Suddenly, traveling to my second home was far from comfortable. And if you thought lightning doesn't strike twice, well, Virra Mall got burned for the second time. And Comic Alley was one of its casualties.

Strangely enough, my second home got reincarnated ten months later. On February of 2002, a new shop was set up opposite of the college I was studying in. It also had the word "comic" on its name. The owners called it CCHQ, an acronym for Central Comic Headquarters, or our in-joke, Cheng Chua headquarters. They sold comics, both Western (including the ever-elusive indie comics) and Japanese (authentic manga!). Perhaps what impressed me the most was the fact that I could go in there and leave without purchasing anything, yet come out a better person. The owners talked to you even if you were just curious and didn't have plans of buying anything from the store. You were accepted for who you are. If I stayed there unnecessarily (i.e. bum around), they never complained. Relatively cheap prices and good products didn't hurt either. But make no mistake, CCHQ was my second home not because of its merchandise or location, but because of the owners who were running it and the people that were attracted to it as well. Some of CCHQ's customers were like me: wandering aimlessly in life, yet the place provided a home for us. A passion for comics or manga might be popular now, but it wasn't always so back then. And perhaps the best thing about CCHQ was the fact that I could be me. I mean even in Comic Alley, I refrained from mentioning other stores, especially when it came to comparing the prices of other shops (on a side note, Comic Alley does have good prices for their merchandise... sometimes it's not always the cheapest place to purchase items, but they were fair prices). That wasn't the case with CCHQ. The owners themselves would recommend customers going to Powerbooks or some other shop if that place had a cheaper price compared to theirs. I immediately knew CCHQ would be a success.

Nearly three years later, CCHQ will now close its doors. I've graduated from Ateneo, but I still visit the place. And I still receive the same amount of warmth, even if there's one less person running it, or if there's fewer people passing by the shop. I did one smart thing in 2002. I befriended the owners. What also makes me happy is that I wrote an interview article about them back then. It's not my best-written work (and all I really did was transcribe their words). But perhaps what makes that interview great was the fact that I didn't have to embellish anything. Sometimes, mentioning something as it is is brilliant. Some of the best advice I've heard in my lifetime came from interviews. One mentioned that failing is not a hindrance but something to learn from; the guy I interviewed told me that he felt more reassured hiring someone who tried and failed rather than someone who has always been successful, because the former learned something from his experience. The other heartfelt advice upon retrospect came from Khristine and Katya, who offered me this during the interview: "Hold on to your dreams. Never give up because there will be times that you will be disheartened and discouraged and the only thing that will sustain you through the bad times would be how deep your dedication is to the things that you love. That's the only thing."

I'm actually surprised when people mourn the loss of CCHQ and tell me "poor them". Yes, the loss of CCHQ is something to lament, but the owners are not to be pitied or somebody to feel sorry for. They succeeded in what they wanted to do. They've satisfied many people along the way and made new friends. True success, after all, isn't about winning or failing. I was listening to this tape a few weeks ago and the speaker's beliefs echoes mine: "I'd rather fail in a business with good people, rather than succeed with bad people." And CCHQ has one of the best people that I personally know. As for their business, it was time to move on. They're not bankrupt (although it would be nice if you patronized their shop one last time before it closes for Christmas) and they owners are actually well off. They have their lives ahead of them. Maybe their dreams have been satisfied. Or it's taken on a new form. Or it'll be emerge again later on. I don't know the future. I can only be sure of what I feel. And it's that I was touched and changed by the quaint shop called CCHQ. It was my second home.

In certain ways, I've moved on. My current haunt is the Comic Quest branch in Mega Mall (and hopefully my curse doesn't cause the shop to collapse by some unforeseen circumstances, hehehe) where I'm with good friends and mentors like Dean and Vin. But CCHQ has been an integral part of my life, and I'm glad I'm immortalizing it in my writing. I'm not as lost as I once was. This time, I'm taking steps to fulfill my dreams. And other people's dreams as well. It's one of the things CCHQ has taught me.


In Metro Manila, a number of delicacies are being peddled in the streets. There's the infamous balut (an egg with an unborn fetus inside) which has made its appearance in Fear Factor. There's also chicharon (the equivalent is probably pig skin) which is a crunchy, addicting snack, especially when paired with vinegar. Then there's Taho (and I'm saying it with a capital T to represent the entire meal).

I don't think Taho originated in the Philippines (I surmise it's probably from China considering some Chinese restaurants, both here and abroad, serve it as well) but we've certainly incorporated it into our own culture. Taho in itself is a white jelly-like substance. However, there are several variations of this, which is mainly achieved through its sauce.

The Taho which Filipinos have come to know and love is the one being peddled in the streets, sold by a man constantly shouting "taho!", all the while acting as a fulcrum to a stick with two huge steel containers on the opposite ends. One container houses the taho itself; it is kept cool and fresh, and the vendor scrapes off the liquid that accumulates on top whenever he serves it to customers. The other container, while identical to the first, is actually more complex. The container is divided into two sections, one housing the sauce, and the other containing sago (also known as "pearls" thanks to the Zagu fad a few years ago). The sauce is dark, sticky molasses. Sago, on the other hand, is perhaps what can be best described as a spherical gummy bear without the sugar.

When purchasing Taho, the vendor grabs a transparent plastic cup (which hangs on the same stick that holds the steel barrels) and opens the first barrel. He scoops out some taho and fills the cup, and then moves on to the second barrel. He liberally pours sauce on the cup, slowly transforming the white chunks into inky black, making sure that the sauce goes down deep. With a spoon, he sprinkles the sago on top of the cup, and then pours in more syrup just in case.

This combination of taho, sago, and syrup is actually a mixture of opposites. First, you start out with two bland products. I mean no one in his or her right mind would eat taho in itself. In the cooked meal variant, I'd probably douse it in lots of soy sauce. It is soft and easily breaks, but in itself, taho tastes like nothing. Similarly, sago is squishy and chewy, but it is more or less tasteless. It is the syrup that completes this meal, the one that gives taste--taho and sago merely absorb the the sickly sweet (in a very Filipino way) sauce. The syrup and taho are also opposing elements: the former is hot (so much so that sometimes, I have problems holding the cup) while the latter is cold. Yet when the two are combined, you can feel the excitement in your mouth, with the sago as your lukewarm middleground. Sago and taho are opposites too: taho is too fragile, which is why sago is there: to give the meal substance, to make Taho a meal rather than a drink. And then there's the sago and the syrup, two ingredients housed in the same container yet distinctly separated in more ways than one. These unholy triumvirate comprise the Filipino delicacy that is Taho.

Yet the image Taho inspires would not be complete without the peddler, the man carrying it to every street and district of Metro Manila. He is truly the mass-man, the poor, hardworking father who must work every morning, afternoon, and evening, just to provide for his family. He is the man which the two steel barrels are balanced upon, the person who makes P10 ($0.20) for every serving of Taho he sells. And he too is a man of multiple contradictions.

Winds of Change

If there's one attribute the best describes what it means to live, it's probably the ability change. I mean human beings aren't static; we're evolving creatures. And it's not just us that is evolving. Everything around us changes as well, whether it's as simple as the transition from day to night, or the evolution of our surroundings from simple huts to tall, concrete buildings. Yet change is something many of us resist, as if change was our worst nightmare. And sometimes it is, but it too can be our salvation.

Perhaps the most apparent kind of change is that that occurs around us. Situations change. I mean a long time ago, people were using pen and paper to write novels. Now, we have computers. Computers changed a lot of industries. I'm sure for every person that appreciates the change technology has brought, there's another person who resents it. I mean many people lost jobs because of modernization. Some people use it to make malicious programs, while others utilize it as a tool to help achieve their goals. Sometimes, these kinds of changes are out of our hands. A lot of people fear what the next age will bring. And so they cling to their old ideas and beliefs, hoping that it will shelter them in the times ahead even though if it's apparent that new paradigms are needed for a better world. There are also times when we have limited control over how the world around us will change, such as when we elect our public officials. I think one of the reasons many Filipinos voted for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was because they were subscribing to the mentality "better the devil we know than the devil we don't know". I mean many people were frustrated with GMA's policies but they voted for her this year nonetheless, fearing the kind of change electing a different leader would bring.

The problem I see in clinging to the old is the fact that you're not making it any better for yourself. Taking the presidential-election example, sure, we're not adding new problems in the long run, but we're not solving old ones either. If we chose a different president, we could possibly live better lives. But what stops us is that we think that choosing a different leader would only increase our pain and suffering. I mean history has disappointed us several times in the past that we can't help but think something worse is in store when moments of change occur. We don't want to risk our future but in doing so, we forfeit any chance of changing it for the better.

The other kind of change is the one we undergo ourselves. It's easy to see how people get offended at the merest hint of changing a person. I mean boyfriend/girlfriend relationships suddenly break up because one person wants the other person to be "better", "different", and "more mature". A number of people are frustrated that call-center employees are being trained to speak in a different way and that they have to don a new person while on the job. Or perhaps it's just simple criticism, and we think that the other person has no right to judge us. I think the underlying emotion here is pride and comfort. Pride because we think we're already the best we can be, that there's no one else we should be other than who we already are. To admit that we should change means that there's something inherently wrong in our personality, or that we might have made a mistake. And nobody likes admitting mistakes. And there's also comfort, because we don't dare go further than what we already know. For example, a boyfriend who's asked by his girlfriend to give up drinking refuses to do so, because it's inconvenient for him. It is, after all, easier to live a life of our hold habits and routines. It's not necessarily better but it sure is easier, simply because we've been doing it for so long and don't know what it's like to not do so.

The weakness of this mentality is that there's never any growth, at least not consciously. A stubborn person will continue to be a stubborn person, while a liar will remain a liar. What we fail to see is that we're not perfect; there's always room for improvement. Change, while it can admittedly make us worse people (such as when your friend tries to pass on their bad habits to you), gives us the chance to become better. Many people fear this because they think it's losing their identity. If our identity could be lost so easily, then we've already lost it. Because the you now is definitely different from the you that came out of your mother's womb. With the latter, you didn't even know how to speak, much less know what can hurt other people and what can brighten up their day. With the former, we've grown and possess more knowledge and hopefully more wisdom since then. Even our physiology is different. But does that mean we lost our identity? Perhaps the only time we truly lose our identity in change is when we fight it all the way, when it's something that's forced upon us rather than something we choose for ourselves. Take, for example, when somebody orders us to do something, such as smoke a cigarette. If it's something we resent yet is forced upon us (whether through coercion, peer pressure, or physical force) and we give in to it, then in a way, we lose our identity and become merely the shadow of someone else's will. But if smoking a cigarette was something we were willing to try (even if you haven't smoked a cigarette before), then even if doing so ends up killing us, we will smoke a cigarette, and with pleasure. In both instances, the person has changed. But it's only the former who lost his identity, while the latter retained it. His identity merely took on a new form.

I think one of the problems many people have is that they take it as a personal affront at the merest hint of changing their personality. It's not. We could always be better people. And we won't achieve that by remaining who we are now. To do that, we must be willing to change. It's part of growing, of maturing, of becoming a better person. And unlike changes that involves circumstances and events, personal change is something we have control over. No one knows whether the change tomorrow brings will be a good thing or a bad thing, but when we take steps to change for the better, we do know that good will come out of it. It definitely won't be easy and it'll surely be painful, but hey, it's only by suffering and making mistakes that we learn.

Change is a two-ways street. Both good things and bad things can result from it. But change is also the key to salvation. Poor people might become rich someday, while the sick might get healed. If you're already rich or healthy, there's always the possiblity that you might become richer or more healthy. If you fear change, then you're insecure about yourself. If you were able to do it once, then you'll be able to do it again. Unless, of course, that accomplishment was just a fluke. And as for our future, well, if you want to gain control over it, you have to risk it. The unknown is only scary if you let it scare you; the only way to conquer fear of the uncertain is to familiarize yourself with it.

Messianic Complexes

Messianic Complexes are usually attributed to people who think that it's their duty to save everyone else. It is said that Spain and America came to the Philippines because of "White Man's Burden", thinking that Filipinos were savages and should be taught to be civilized and Christianized. But that's not the kind of Messianic Complex that I want to talk about. I'm talking about the recipients of that. It's about people who expect someone else to solve their problems, as if everything was out of their hands. Here are some of the common complaints that I hear:

Government: Everywhere around the world, citizens blame their public officials for all their problems. To a certain extent, it is the government's fault. I mean some of them are corrupt, inefficient, or just plain stupid. But the responsibility is not entirely theirs. I mean for one thing, we voted for them. For another, not all government officials are incompetent, and some of them just happen to suffer from either 1) bad luck (i.e. unforeseen events such as Mt. Pinatubo exploding or SARS), 2) bad history (such as the accumulated debts the Philippines incurred over the past few decades), or 3) scapegoats (and Filipinos love to have scapegoats, especially in light of our Messianic Complex). One of the more recent complaints is the rise of the prices of gas. As much as we want the government to reduce prices, in all honesty, they can't. I mean ever since we switched to a market economy (that is the economic forces dictate the price of products), the prices of products are not under the control of the government anymore. If they retain the prices, then the country will go further in debt as there'll be a miscalculation in our budget. The government, after all, can only subsidize so much. And with all the corruption and tax evasion going around, budget is not something they have an abundance of. Do you really think the government wants to raise oil prices? Or want to see the peso depreciate even further? Even corrupt officials will find it advantageous to have the millions of pesos they've hoarded become up to par with international currency such as American dollars or Euro-dollars.

The Rich: Not all rich people are corrupt. Some of them even worked hard for it. I mean at one point in time or another, some of the now-wealthy people were once poor. But they found ways to generate income and invest their money. Henry Sy, for example, was once living a very humble life. As for those who inherited their wealth, if they were idiots, they'd lose their wealth very quickly. If they manage to hold on to it, they must have a certain level of competence at the very least. And mind you, the rich are the ones funding your churches, your charities, and providing jobs. Sure, they're doing that to either make a profit or to get tax exemptions, but still, you can't deny that they're helping a lot of people nonetheless. The wealthy will always be the target of hatred and jealousy. It's not impossible to uplift yourself from whatever economic status you're in right now to eventually becoming rich. It just takes time, hard work, and intelligence (not necessarily an education). And soon, you'll find yourself the target of jealousy and hatred as well. It's easy to blame the rich. It's more difficult to change one's self and learn new things and make sacrifices. Do you really think that if we eliminated all the rich people from the Philippines that the economy will suddenly become okay, and that everyone will enjoy prosperity?

Teachers: When I was still studying in grade school and high school, one of the biggest complaints I hear from my fellow classmates when they get low grades is that their teachers are incompetent. Or boring. Or that the teacher is out to get them. Look, teachers are in a classroom for one reason: to teach. Learning, on the other, is up to the student. It's not the teacher's job to be entertaining (although I'd appreciate such a teacher). And they certainly have a level of competency if the school actually employed them (and I'd like to think that high schools still maintain certain standards). And even if they didn't, you have other tools of learning: you have textbooks, the library, the Internet. I mean I have classmates who go through a whole school year without reading their textbook, expecting the teacher to teach everything that's inside. Well, my only advice is that if the teacher isn't up to your standards of education, start teaching yourself by researching and reading your books. As for teachers out to get you, well, the only thing I can say is that the teacher dislike you as much as you dislike them. It's in their best interest for you to pass. Because if you fail and get stuck, they're the ones who has to stick it out with you, whether it's enduring summer class with you, or enduring another school year with you. Believe me, it's in the best interest of teachers for students they dislike to pass and move on. Teachers get paid regardless whether you actually learn or not. It's only a headache for them if they have to stay for overtime just to lecture you, discipline you, or give you extension classes.

Parents: Some kids grow up thinking that their parents will take care of them forever. I'm one of those people, which is why I was complacent from grade school to college. I didn't have savings, and I didn't have a plan for my life. That was being irresponsible. It's my life, after all, so the only person who should be accountable is myself. If I don't like where I am right now, I only have myself to blame. To depend on my parents, expecting either allowance or an inheritance, is like depending on the government to solve my problems: they try their best, but it's no guarantee. It's not even something we're always entitled to. I know some people who blame their parents for the current situation they're in right now. Or worse yet, use their parents as an excuse not to move on and change. I mean I know people who've come to me and asked my advice on certain subject matters. The person is already willing to do it but in the end, they don't go through with it because they use their parents as an excuse (regardless of whether it's actually valid or not). "My parents don't agree" or "My parents won't allow me". The only advice I have is that you don't own your life if you say those kinds of words. Your parents own your life. You don't have a life. I'm not saying you should disobey your parents. There's a big difference between filial piety and filial slavery. The former is something your parents say, and you agree to do it. The latter is something your parents say, and you don't even think about what's good for yourself: you simply do it because they said so. That's leaving all responsibilty and accountability in the hands of someone else.

Crushes: Perhaps the most popular complaint I hear from people of both genders is when they complain that their crushes don't ask them out. You're leaving your fate in the hands of someone that possibly doesn't even know you. If you're intent on meeting the guy/girl of your dreams, make the first move. I don't mean you immediately ask them out on a date. Take baby steps. Introduce yourself or find a reason to do so. Then the next time, find a reason to talk to them. And then the next time after that, find a reason to get their phone number. If they reject you, at least you did something. They're rejecting you anyway if you never get to actually meet them. Some girls I know even complain that they already know the other person except they want the other person to ask them out on a date. Well, that's being selfish. Why should it always be the guy asking the other person out? Female equality also means equal responsibility. Why are you leaving your fate in the hands of the guy? Go out of your comfort zone! Overcome your fears! If you don't have the courage to ask the other person out (and this goes for guys as well), then you were never meant for each other. Rejection might be painful, but agonizing whether he'll ask you out or not is just as painful, and lasts longer too. There won't be a perfect moment. Make the most out of the moment. You might regret it in the future. There are only two possible situations when your crush isn't asking you out. One is that both of you are shy. And guess what, it's more difficult to change the other person than it is to change yourself! If your crush is shy, then what makes you thing he'll overcome his shyness and ask you out? And if he's as shy as you think he is, then he'll have no reason to reject you. I mean if opportunity comes knocking his way, even if you're not exactly the most beautiful person in the world, having a girlfriend beats being single, at least in the eyes of a shy person. The other possibility is that you're shy, and the other person isn't; he's just not interested in you. If that's the case, well, at least now you know. Welcome to life! It won't be the last time you'll get rejected, but at least it's the first time you've conquered your fears.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


After more than twenty two years of living, I know that life is difficult. Not that I'm itching to kill myself and be done with it all (although it is tempting), but adversity is part and parcel of living a full life. Let's face it, even choosing to live is a difficult choice.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not being nihilistic nor pessimistic. Sure, we do have great moments in our lives. We actually have lots of memorable moments, experiences that we treasure. But if we carefully examine those memories, we'll remember that more often than not, those memories were memorable because of the problems we faced. Perhaps the most common would be our memories of school, for example. We were students once, and nearly every student hates exams. Who doesn't? I'm sure each and every one of us has a memory of a certain exam. Perhaps we failed it. Perhaps we overcame it. The latter would probably be a joyful moment tinged with pain as we remember the nights that we had to study for that exam (or perhaps how lucky we were and how fate has been kind to us). So difficulty is actually ever-present, and as long as we continue on living, we will face problems.

Choosing to live is a difficult choice. It means we're asking to continue with our responsibilities, continue with our burdens, and perhaps more importantly, continue with our hopes and dreams. And nothing breaks a person more than being unable to find the fulfillment they want in their life. I don't think I need to explain when this emotion comes around. It might be whenever we encounter failure or disappointment. Or perhaps it's what some people call a mid-life crisis. Or perhaps it's when we're disgruntled by our jobs, or have conflict with the people we live with. It's a common occurence. For some people, it doesn't stay that way. They overcome it. For others, they cope with it or else it might drive them mad. I'm one of the latter people. I'm taking steps to overcome it, but sometimes, it's simply not working. It seems as if the entire world is working against me. Why oh why must it happen to me?

It's really too much to bear for one person. Yet somehow, we survive. We make it to the next day, the day after that, and the day following that day. We all have coping strategies of our own. For me, one of them is having faith. It's faith in God, faith in my parents, faith in my friends, faith in humanity in general. Without faith, I'd probably end my life now, with this entry as my suicide note.

I look at myself and I'm a boy who has an undergraduate degree yet can't find a job. There are bills to pay. It's not just a problem of the now. It's also a problem of the future. I don't intend on being dependent on my parents until the day they die. They deserve better. I deserve better. I'm willing to work hard. I'm wiling to learn. Yet why is all this happening to me?

In the end, it doesn't matter what I'm disgruntled with. It might be school, it might be work, it might be relationships, whatever. As long as I choose to live, those kinds of emotions are inevitable. It's part of living life, it's part of how we grow. How else will I become a better person? How else will I be able to help myself? How else will I be able to help other people?

Marx would probably call me a fool. I have nothing to base my faith on. Even philosophers have waged the never-ending dispute whether a God exists or not. And humanity, for all the good that it's done in the past, has a long history of wars, betrayal, and self-destruction. Yet I still believe. Not because I have no choice to believe in anything else, but rather because I choose to believe. Just as I choose to live.


One of the things people don't like to talk about is failure. I mean sure, we encounter adversity in life. People do conquer their problems. But let's face it, that's not always the case. Along with success comes the opposite: failure. Perhaps everyone I've met has encountered failure at least once in his or her life (and if you're actually someone who's never failed in anything, well, you've failed in failing). And of course, that's far from the most convenient of experiences. Which is why I want to talk about it.

I don't think anyone initially wants to fail. Failure is something that happens, sometimes no matter how hard you try, othertimes because you didn't exert enough effort. Failure, and its opposite, is sometimes a numbers game: for example, when it comes to exams, as long as you get a passing grade, you're not a failure. You're allowed to make a certain amount of mistakes. When it comes to most sports, it usually entails winning more than you lose. Sometimes though, it's not necessarily something that is measured in quantity. I mean during my stint in a call center, one good caller could make my day; it doesn't matter how many displeasing calls I got before that. Or when it comes to working on your relationship with other people (be it your family, friends, or significant other), it's not a matter of keeping count. But the one thing failure has in common is the fact that we experience it.

Now people react different to failure (and to people who fail). Some avoid it like the plague. Others learn from it and move on. Perhaps one of the most brilliant statements I've heard was from the editor-in-chief of a now-defunct online magazine. He mentioned that he was more interested in hiring someone who had failed than someone who was new and succeeded in everything that they did. Why? Because the former had experience, and they theoretically knew what worked and what didn't. Of course this assumes that the person who failed is the type of person who learns from their mistakes. I mean I know some people who are paralyzed by their fear of failing that they don't go out of their comfort zone because of the risks involved. One of the things I was told during my training as a call center agent was that my first day of calls will be the worst time of my life. And it was. But that's okay. I learned from it. And more importantly, I got back up. One of the overused but true statement during my stay there was "before you can get back up and run, you must fall down first". Sure, it was an unpleasant experience. But how else do I learn? How else do I grow? And while I try to avoid failure as much as possible, once I experience it, it becomes a memorable moment. And with memory comes remembrance, and from remembrance learning.

In any endeavor one pursues, one will encounter difficulties. If you're fortunate, you'll overcome it just like that. However, a more common result is failure. And to me, failure is good. It's a testament to your dedication, the true test of wills. If you failed and quit, then you probably don't want it badly enough. True courage means getting back up and keeping at it until you succeed. I mean we all make mistakes. But just because we make mistakes isn't an excuse to give up. If we did that, we'd learn nothing. I mean we surely fell down once in our life. Yet we managed to stand up, walk, and even run. Personally, I almost drowned learning how to swim. But that didn't stop me. Nor did it stop other people who were also learning how to swim. And when it comes to religion, many people complain to their god why them when they encounter tragedy. The philosopher Hume even asks if God was such a benevolent being, why does he allow suffering? I have a different answer to those questions, but when you think about it, it's because of these trials that true faith emerges. I mean how else will I know how dedicated I am to a particular belief or cause? It's by the trials we undergo, by our will to strive and continue, even against the harshest conditions.

Failure is only a real failure if we allow it to be one. I have a goal, I have a dream. I'll eventually fail in achieving that dream. Does that mean I give up? If I do, then that goal will never get accomplished. If I try again, then it's only a matter of time before I'll achieve that goal. Sure, it might cost me an arm and a leg. Or it might even take a long time. Let's be realistic here, after all. Not all problems can be solved just like that. It takes time and effort. It even means failing from time to time. Trial and error, after all, has perhaps been the oldest (although not necessarily the most efficient) way of learning things.

And in the end, because I'm a failure (not in the permanent sense), I shouldn't judge others too harshly as well. We're not perfect, after all. People make mistakes. People fall down. I should know, I'm one of them. Perhaps the best thing we can do for other people is to be there to support them as they get back up, and give a helping hand. I know I'd appreciate it if I were in that position.

Minimalist Best Effort

To a lot of people, that statement might seem like a contradiction. I mean minimalism has always been viewed as a negative trait. If you do less, you earn less. Best effort, on the other hand, is something often encouraged by institutions like schools. Teachers, and sometimes our parents, tell us that in whatever we do, we should give it all we've got. "Never give anything short of 100%" is what they might say. And of course, the current paradigm is that you're either one or the other. You're either minimal, or you're exerting your best. There is no middle ground, no gray area for both to coexist. We often generalize that people who are minimalist are lazy, while those who exert their best effort as hard working. If you're somewhere in between, you're normal. But for both kinds of traits to exist in one person at the same time, well, that's what some people might call a paradox.

To me, that's not necessarily the case. Minimalism and best effort aren't necessarily two faces of the same coin. Sometimes, they're two separate coins, and thus able to coexist. And as strange as that may sound, it's also something all of us practice.

For example, you're working on a paper, whether it's your homework, your thesis, or a report you have to file in the next day. You approximately have 12 hours before the deadline so you cram. You forego sleep and work 11 hours straight just to finish that paper and use that last hour to submit it. Did you not exert your best effort there? In those 11 hours, were you not utilizing 100% of your abilities? So best effort is established. What about the minimalist aspect? Well, let's say you the paper you passed was satisfactory. If it could be graded immediately, it was a B+. Perhaps if you were given more time (either you did the paper earlier or the deadline was moved to a later date, or perhaps a later time, even if it was just an hour or two), you could have improved on it. If you had the extra hour or so, you could have proofread it more and edited the work, meriting you an A instead of a B+. And let's say you are capable of such a thing, provided you had the additional time. Isn't the A paper your best effort as well? But wait! The A paper and B+ paper can't both be your best effort! In actuality, it is possible that both papers are you best effort. The only difference is the time constraint. And this time constraint is what I call minimalism. I mean we didn't work on the initial paper for 13 hours because we only had 11 hours to do it. Theoretically I could have done that A paper but it would mean not passing it on time. That doesn't mean I wasn't working at my best during the first 11 hours but rather in order for me to churn out the best, I need more than 11 hours. In fact, since there's always room for improvement, perhaps the perfect paper would involve working on it day and night, revising it endlessly. But alas, we're not immortal. We're only human, and we have these constraints called deadlines. And that is what I call minimalism because we have to limit ourselves. We have to limit our working hours to the set deadline, so that we can actually submit it. I mean as a writer, if I constantly revise and revise my work, it'll never get published!

The constraints we face doesn't necessarily involve time. Another example I have showing minimalist best effort is when you're acting host to a party. Let's say you invite five friends. As a host, it's your responsibility to keep them entertained. But since you're only one person and there are five of them, you cannot each give them 100% of your concentration. Usually you'll chat with all five of them and introduce them to each other, and then perhaps share a conversation or two with half of them before moving on to the next pair. And obviously, when we're talking to more than one person, we're not necessarily addressing everybody's needs. It's physically impossible to do so since we only have one body. That doesn't mean that as a host, you're not giving it your best effort, but rather you're limiting yourself so that everyone can have a better overall experience rather than giving one person 100% of your attention and neglecting the rest.

Minimalist best effort is also a prevalent mentality a lot of us have, but we just don't recognize it. Let's say you earn P20,000 a month. And let's say you work 8 hours a day, five times a week to earn that income. If you were given the opportunity to work for 4 hours a day, three days a week for the same amount of income, doing the same thing, which would you choose? Of course we'd choose the latter! We want to avoid suffering (assuming that work is actually "work" and not something we really enjoy) unless it's absolutely necessary. We want to reap the best reward for the least amount of exertion. That's minimalist best effort! And it's a great mentality; that's why we've developed the concept of machines, whether it's a simple lever or the computer that you're using right now. We want to make things easier, yet at the same time come up at the very least with the same amount of output (if not more). That's not to say we shouldn't work at optimum efficiency or that we should be lax in our jobs, but rather we look for ways to be more "efficient" since it benefits everyone.

Of course smart people epitomize the concept of minimalist best effort. I mean the owner of McDonalds, for example, is earning income right now from his fast food chains. Is he physically working? No! Is he earning income? Yes! Why? Because he came up with a great idea, and the beauty of his idea is not only is it effective, but also allows him to earn with the least amount of exertion. And similarly, business-minded people are looking for ways to earn the highest possible income with the least amount of investment. People are being both minimalist and exerting their best effort at it! It's not baffling but logical.

In itself, giving something your best effort is good. But what would perhaps even be better would be the minimalist-best effort mentality. Minimalism isn't necessarily a bad thing. I mean the greatest irony about wanting to be a lazy person is that in order to be able to afford such a lifestyle, you have to exert your best effort to achieve it.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Metamorphosis of the Mundane to the Mythical

Anyone can write about a spectacular event. That's why certain subject matter eventually become cliche or worse, boring. One just needs to look a few years back to see an example of this. The tragedy of 9/11 is perhaps one of the most overused material in the past two years (no offense to those affected by the tragedy or those who wrote about it). The mark of a skilled writer is when he or she can transform something so common, so ordinary that it is something many people often overlook, into an interesting read.

When writing such a piece, one actually has a treasure trove that merely needs to be dug up. Your advantage as a writer is the fact that you're constantly exposed to it, making you familiar with the subject matter. There are two beliefs when it comes to writing and one of them is "write what you know". You not only have your own experience but other people's experiences to draw upon when writing about a mundane object, person, place, or event. Your other advantage is that readers are too acquainted with the subject matter that they fall prey to the disease of familiarity--it has lost its mystique due to the fact that they are constantly exposed to it. Your job as a writer is to rekindle that mystique and make it as memorable as the first time you cried yourself to sleep, the first time you humiliated yourself in public, or even the first thing you bought when you got your first paycheck.

But in this endeavor, we must also remember the basics of writing. While we may want to mystify our subject matter, it must at the same time remain familiar to the reader. One mistake we could easily fall prey to would be to exoticize the object so much so that it is totally unrecognizable to the reader. There's a difference, for example, from choosing the right words and jargon. We might also be tempted to delve too much into the technical side of our subject matter that readers quickly lose interest. Or we could simply be using the wrong tone. Just because we want to add glamour does not mean we transform our subject matter into something totally alien. In the end, we must remember that our subject matter has character, and the subject matter must retain that character when we write our piece.

Yes, our subject matter has character. Character is what makes it distinct and unique, setting it apart from the rest. Character is what catches the reader's attention and makes the piece an interesting read. Without character, we have nothing. When we write, we must always keep in mind the reasons for writing and why we chose that particular subject. What is our agenda? What makes it special? What is its history, and how does it affect the present? We must have focus and not waste the reader's time by showing off our esoteric knowledge of the subject matter. That is not the point of writing. It's never about you. It's always about the subject. And then and only then does the subject inform your reader who you are.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Trust Issues

The high school prom was something many of my classmates were eager to attend. But since I did come from a semi-conservative Jesuit school, many steps were taken to “educate” us in the proper way of behaving in such an event. One of them was attending an orientation, and one of the speakers was a father. He told us that he wanted us to go home on time and bring home our dates on the agreed upon time. “It’s not that we don’t trust you. It’s the sons-of-bitches out there that we don’t trust.” At the time, it made perfect sense: our parents were worried about us and there are many random factors out there in the world that could present a danger to us. However, after hearing that line several times over the years, used in different contexts, that statement is flawed at best, and at worst, an outright lie.

The statement above could be paraphrased as such: “It’s not you but rather everyone else that I don’t trust.” It’s been used by people concerned about us: our parents, our significant other, sometimes even our friends. For the sake of argument, I’ll tackle first the situation where the people saying that statement actually believe it.

Obviously, we shouldn’t trust everyone. A lot of people are capable of deceiving and hurting other people, after all; that’s why we have thieves, con artists, robbers, rapists, murderers, etc. However, the opposite isn’t true as well. We cannot distrust everything and everyone. People with that kind of behavior are called paranoid. If everyone didn’t offer some level of trust, no one would be friends with each other, since each one is expecting the other to make a show of trust without offering it themselves. To some extent, we trust other people; we trust our cook not to poison our food, we trust our teachers to educate, we trust our accountants to manage our finances, etc. We cannot go on living our lives thinking that everyone else will be hostile to us, except in really dire situations (i.e. war, a recent catastrophe, etc.). And even then, as social beings, we need some level of trust to coexist with other people. Without that, I can’t “live”. I mean if I truly believed that the world is hostile, I wouldn’t come out of my house. Or if I did, I’d come out wearing a bullet-proof vest, a space-suit to ward off biological weapons, and carry a machine gun to shoot anyone I see. But we don’t do that. Rather, we come out of our houses dressed in plain clothes (sometimes even less) and carry our expensive accessories (i.e. jewelry, mobile phones, watches, etc.). But as reality would prove it, not everyone gets mugged everyday. Sure, there are incidents of theft and murder, but it’s not a regular occurrence to any particular person. I’m not saying that we don’t take precautions against it, but rather that we really don’t expect it to happen to us every single day. As much as we trust the people we know, we also do extend a certain amount of trust to the people we don’t know and they in turn extend it to us as well. That’s how we managed to coexist with others.

Should we be worried about our children, significant other, and friends? Of course! But we can’t cradle them nor treat them like fragile glass. Life is difficult and in the end, we can’t always be there to watch over them. Everyone needs to learn to be independent, at least to a certain extent. Yes, it is entire possible they will get into trouble. And sometimes, they do get into trouble. But people truly lose themselves when they allow traumatic events to conquer them. We can recover. Don’t let an incident or two ruin your whole life; it won’t happen everyday. We only breed distrust which leads only to further distrust when we use the excuse “we don’t trust other people” as an excuse. The eventual outcome to that would be the recipient asking the dictator “why should we trust you?”

Of course the other scenario we have is that people merely use that statement as an excuse rather than genuinely believing it. And why not, it’s the easiest thing to say, isn’t it? I’m not putting blame to the person I’m talking to yet I have a valid excuse to restrict the person. What they fail to see is that when they use this statement, it’s not a statement they believe in: they’re lying, whether to themselves or to the other person. The only person they don’t trust is either the person they’re talking to or themselves. This is usually the case with worried parents who don’t think that their children will behave appropriately when not supervised, or by jealous lovers who think that their significant other will leave them for a more “worthy” lover.

Again, to impose such a thing is flawed. We are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. We cannot know everything that the other person will do. There will come a time when we are not watching. When that happens, there’s not much we can do to make a demand from them. All we can do is to trust that the other person won’t disappoint us. And in the end, that’s all we can do. I mean if a child is really rebellious or if a lover is really unfaithful, we can’t really change that (we can attempt to do so and it might work temporarily but in the long run, they will do what they will). The moment they’re free of us, they will do as their will dictates.

Perhaps what’s worse is that we show a lack of faith and trust in the other person, even if it’s not warranted. I mean a son or daughter doesn’t really want to disappoint his or her parents. If they’ve behaved well so far, what reason do they have to rebel? Or if they do, then there’s probably a good reason why they did it. People, after all, don’t change overnight. Similarly, those with significant others have the same kind of problem. If they’ve made a commitment with you, then it’s most likely they’ll stick to it, unless they have a previous record of not doing so. In the bigger picture, the lack of faith here is not at the other person but towards the self. People with low self-esteem usually make this kind of mistake. They think that they’re not worthy of the other person or that everything’s working out too well that something must go wrong, and it’ll probably come from the other person. What they fail to see that it is this kind of mentality that brings them to ruin, and probably what drives off other people.

To trust is a delicate issue. Sometimes, it’s not merely a matter of trusting the other person or not. We often forget that the person we should trust also includes ourselves. If I didn’t trust myself, I wouldn’t be writing this entire essay. And if I didn’t trust my readers, I’d be committing social suicide by publishing this.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

All I Need to Know I Learned from Magic: The Gathering

Even though it's been four years since I last played (well, played extremely competitively that is) Magic: The Gathering (although I've learned and played nearly a dozen other CCGs in between), there's a number of things that I learned from the game that is still very applicable to my daily life. Here they are:

1) Play with the hand you're dealt with: much like playing Poker and other conventional card games, the only options worth considering are those in front of you--namely what you drew. It's really useless to think of what-ifs and other possibilities when in reality, the only actions you can really take are those that involve the cards that you have. Similarly, in real life, it's useless to bitch about how you could have been more fortunate or luckier. Deal with it and make the most out of it. Sure, I may have a terrible hand, but that doesn't mean I can never win the game. It all depends on how I plan my next moves, which brings me to my next point.

2) Plan ahead and familiarize yourself with your deck: your deck determines what you can do, and whether you can win the game or not. If you don't know your deck, then you can't really plan for the future since you don't know what to expect from your own cards (it's already bad enough that you don't know what you're opponent is going to play next but being unable to plan your succeeding moves is just plain stupid). Similarly, know your own strengths and weaknesses as a person, and plan ahead using that as a starting point. If you don't know what you're capable of, then you can't make a good plan. For example, someone who knows he is horrible at math will either avoid occassions (such as taking a course that involves statistics) that involve higher math or will do some intensive studying in order to cope. If you don't know what you're capable of, you might find yourself way out of your league, and end up embarassing yourself to say the least.

3) Do your research: no matter what kind of game you're playing, it pays to do research. Some of the best Magic: The Gathering players are people who do research, whether it's the rules of the game, the meta-game environment (i.e. the popular decks people use in a certain area), or the spoiler list for the upcoming prerelease tournament. Similarly, if you plan to excel in whatever venture you plan to do, do your homework! While it's possible to succeed with sheer talent and luck, your chances of succeeding are better when you know what you're up against. It also gives you more info to formulate a better plan or strategy.

4) Synergy is good: certain cards work well when combined with other cards. When building a deck, keeping in mind your end goals makes it more efficient and useful. A counterspell deck, for example, has lots of counterspell cards. Certain cards also make great combos (i.e. a "Channel" card, which gives you mana, and "Fireball", a spell that is powered by your available mana, is a deadly combination). Similarly, some of the actions we take are better suited than others when we look at it from a larger perspective. Enrolling in a writing class, for example, is good if we want to improve our writing skills, but what would make it even better would be spending our weekends joining a workshop or two, and writing something everyday just to make it a habit. Dieting is also a good example: eating less in one particular meal is less effective than a diet planned out for the entire week, which involves not only eating the right foods but proper exercise and healthy habits as well.

5) There's no such thing as a perfect deck: not all decks or cards are equal. Some do better against particular cards, while others are optimized towards a different goal. The same goes with real life. That doesn't mean that you're inferior to a particular person: merely that he or she is optimized for certain situations. Accepting that painful fact helps you recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, and lets you know when to adjust your strategy.

6) Know when to give up: sometimes, you'll be put in a situation where you can't win the current game. Sometimes, it's best to concede (so that you don't reveal the rest of your strategy to the opponent), while at other times, it's best to fight on (whether it's because you still have an actual chance of winning or whether you want your opponent to reveal more of his strategy and cards). The same goes with real life. There are moments when we need to move on, while there are times when struggling on helps us reach our goal eventually. Knowing the difference is pivotal and sometimes it's pretty difficult to differentiate between the two, which is why research and planning is important.

7) You don't need to have all the cards to build a good deck, just know where to get them: no one has infinite resources so trading becomes an essential tool for any CCG player. Finding the best deals, whether it's purchasing cards at single prices, trading for them, or buying booster packs in bulk, becomes a key element. Similarly, I don't need to have "everything" before I start any venture. Knowing how to maximize my existing resources, exchange it for other services, or plainly knowing how to avail of other options, is an essential element. For example, if I want to be a scientist, I don't need to memorize everything in the text book. All I need to know is not how to learn all the information but rather how to find and discover specific information that I will need.

8) Be friendly and courteous to other people: CCGs are social games--you need someone else to play with, and you're most likely getting your supply of cards from a living being. Giving the other person respect and courtesy is essential. The same goes with life, since you can hardly excel if anything if you make too many enemies. I'm not saying you should be a wallflower and let everyone push you around, but that unless provoked, it's suitable to be on your best behavior. You also might get the best deals because of that.

9) Learn to bluff: knowing what the other person is thinking is a decisive factor in games. In order to catch your opponent off-guard, you sometimes have to bluff. This usually means thinking of doing something with your cards even if they're all useless, or pretending to do a stupid move because you have a surprise in store for the opponent. In life, this usually means saying things not necessarily untruthfully, but with confidence. For example, when making a presentation in front of other people, say it with conviction, even if you're unsure of half of what you said. This might also mean not revealing all your options to other people, merely mentioning the obvious ones.

10) Work hard, feel confident, and just do it: you may be the best player in the world but unless you join tournaments or events, you won't be recognized. Life's like that as well: we're "theoretically" good at something, but unless we exert effort at it, feel that we can actually do it, and actually perform it, all will be for naught. In the end, it's our actions that count. All the planning in the world will come to no end if don't manage to execute it effectively.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


When people look at me, what they see is… blandness. Let’s face it, I appear to be boring. I’m not the type of person you expect excitement, laughter, or even anger. I’m a modern day ad for stoicism. Not that doing so doesn’t have its benefits. I mean I’m the last person you expect to be angry, for example. Yet how did this all happen? Was I born a reserved person?

For me, perhaps the strongest emotion that incites people is probably anger. Anyone can feign a smile. Pretending to be angry, on the other hand, is more difficult. As a child, I was quite angry with a lot of people. Unfortunately, my enemies were everywhere: my parents, my siblings, my relatives, my classmates, even my neighbors. To reveal my anger would get me bruises all over my body, and I considered verbal abuse getting off easy.

My mother loved to spank. Of course she’s not the person I see most of the day. It’s usually the other people, such as the maid who takes care of me and finds it too much of a hassle so she punishes me. There’s also the driver who pulls my ear and shouts all the time. My older brother is easily irritable, and has been known to publicly humiliate and injure his teachers because they annoy him; guess what more he does to his little brother? And there will always be a long line of bullies at school. When you’re a small, skinny boy, you’re a target for a lot of people.

It probably would have been okay if things got resolved. Unfortunately, they didn’t. The maids and my brother continued to abuse me despite my complaints to my parents, and the bullies continued to bully even if you stood up to them. Worse, sometimes other people even blamed you for the incident. So in order to survive my childhood, one of the first things I learned was to curb my anger.

When you don’t have anger as an emotional weapon, what else is left to you? I discovered that pity was an involuntary response, although it did save me once in awhile. I was a crybaby, despite my vehement denials of it at the time. It’s difficult to be taken seriously when there’s tears leaking out of your eyes and snot out of your nose, and you keep on saying that everything’s fine and that you’re not crying. That didn’t stop the teasing by kids my age, but it did draw attention to me. During our frequent trips abroad, my first resort when getting lost was to cry. Aloud. That would draw in my family, or a helpful stranger at the very least.

Unfortunately, I live in the Philippines where machismo rules, and crying was seen as weakness. If I was able to control my anger, I was easily able to control my tears. However, that didn’t stop other people from hurting me, such as the bullies at school, or the less-than-friendly people at home. Since we’re going for masochism, I might as well ignore the pain, or at least appear to ignore the pain. Chairs in grade school were made of metal and wood, and I really wish they were made out of the plastic ones which are light and easy to carry. I even wish they’re the type that gets used on TV wrestling. At least those chairs were small and foldable. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. But when you’re able to take a hit at the back and immediately recover, people start respecting you. Suddenly, I had dreams of becoming a stuntman. I mean when you’re constantly getting hit by things made of wood and metal, receiving punches and kicks didn’t look threatening anymore.

I was also buck-toothed when I was a kid, due to a certain accident that involves me landing on the ground with my mouth open. My smile was far from perfect, and my classmates loved to point that out. I think you pretty much get the picture I’m driving at. If I appear to lack a certain range when it comes to facial expressions, it’s not because of a lack of learning.

Stoicism has its benefits though. I mean bullies remain bullies because of the pain they inflict on others. When they stop seeing you suffer, they grow bored. The same goes for the teasing. When the subject of your taunts doesn’t looked annoyed, what’s the point in continuing? In the end, the whole experience also taught me two important things: one is to listen, because when you stop dwelling on your pitiful life, you realize that others have something to teach you, even if they’re unaware of it. The bully, for example, reveals his insecurities by his taunts. The other thing I learned was sympathy. When you’re usually at the receiving end of most injuries, you realize how other people feel as well. One becomes sensitive to pain, not just of one’s self, but of other’s as well. I know what it feels like to be the underdog, to be the scapegoat of society. But because of that, I also know how to comfort, how to aid others.

I didn’t come out unscathed from the whole experience. The fact that I am who I am now shows that events in my childhood have changed me. However, I did learn wisdom from the entire ordeal, and for me, that’s a worthy tradeoff (at least I still have my eye, unlike a certain Norse deity).

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Vampire Orchid

Eating is a social act as much as it is a biological act. While it is possible to eat alone, people usually prefer eating with company. It is usually during this time that people bond with each other. That’s why there are usually family dinners. Or why students share a table at the school cafeteria. Or even why coworkers invite you to eat out with them. Not joining them usually ostracizes you from the group. I’m speaking from personal experience. Because I’m a deviant, and people usually don’t see me eat, at least not in public.

That’s not to say that I don’t eat at all. That would be impossible. I’m not an orchid that directly converts light to energy. Nor am I a vampire that doesn’t feel physical hunger. I am, however, a person with a small body, and I do need less quantities of food than the average person. I have proven in the past that gorging myself in food would only lead me to involuntarily vomit it. So pacing myself is quite important.

That only partially answers why people don’t see me eat, however. One good motivation for me not to eat out is that it costs money. Given that I am working with a finite budget, I try to save money as possible for those other tangible stuff that’s still there once you’re done using it (food, while it is tangible, is gone once you’ve eaten it… the only proof that you ate is either the food that you vomit, or whatever you shit). Since I don’t want to spend money, I usually eat at home, where my parents spend for the food. And because one third of my life is spent at home at the very least, I do make it a point to eat at home rather than eat outside. And since I have control over my appetites, I can schedule my eating habits so that I eat before I leave the house, and eat again once I return.

Food is important. And while we can’t live without food, skipping a meal won’t kill us (skipping several meals will do though). This is usually the discipline I invoke when I’m at a restaurant. Because restaurants are really expensive, and I have to ask myself whether I can afford to spend now or not. If it’s the latter, I can always eat at home. All I have to do is wait for everyone else to finish their food, and then I can go home and actually eat.

Another hindrance for me to eat in public is the fact that I have braces. Food do get stuck between my teeth, and getting rid of them involves more than toothpicks. And it really is a bit of a hassle to go to the bathroom every once in awhile just to clean your teeth. So I avoid all of that by simply eating at home, where I can go to my bathroom at leisure and perform all my sanitary precautions there.

Having said all that, I am aware that this is my habit and not everyone else’s. So I do accompany my friends when they eat out. I just don’t eat, and usually stare at them (because I’ll look like a hungry person if I stare at their food). I’ll even treat people out for lunch or dinner, because as I said, they don’t necessarily follow my diet (and while I don’t have a budget for feeding myself, I do have a budget for treating my friends out, and I’m capable of doing so in the first place because I save a lot of money by not eating).

Since it also comes down to a money problem, I’ll usually eat if somebody treats me out. Of course I don’t want to take advantage of people, so I’ll usually decline at first. And if the person is the type that treats people out often, then I’ll surely decline, because I don’t want to perpetually benefit from another person’s constant expenditure (and as someone who treats other people out, I do know how the bills eventually pile up).

Am I a normal person? No, I’m a weird, underweight kid. Do I eat? I’m still human and alive aren’t I? And besides, time spent not chewing food is time spent to listening what other people have to say, especially at the dinner table.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Have you ever wondered what life would be like if one aspect of you was changed? One of people’s biggest complaints about me (but not the only one) is the fact that I’m skinny and underweight. Which, of course, is true, but I’ve been that way for most of my life. I’ve known no other lifestyle except the one I’m currently living. For me, being skinny is normal. The Charles that you know wouldn’t be the same Charles if he wasn’t the skinny, underweight kid you knew.

For some strange reason, me and my immediate family are all skinny people, even if our cousins and other relatives are all big, fat, and probably weigh thrice as me. Not that my parents didn’t try to change that fact. If there was anyone who wasn’t content with who I was, it’s my parents. As early as three, they’d (or rather, the maids) fed me everything that was on the kitchen table. Even when I said I was already full, they didn’t believe me. So it really isn’t my fault when I vomited the food that I ate afterwards, and this would go on for five times a week. Because as early as three, my family never listens to me, even if I knew best.

When I was five years old, we transferred houses and I moved to a village where my neighbors actually had kids who played on the streets. I’d join them and would pass through their gates despite the bars. I thought that it was fun that I could sneak past their houses, and of course, this was possible because of my small size. Of course it was also at this time that I realized people pitying me didn’t only extend to my family but to everyone else. People who saw me would comment on how skinny I was and would offer me food, as if I wasn’t being fed at home.

If you want to survive the heat, try losing some weight. I was never a fan of electric fans of air conditioners, mainly because I didn’t feel hot. I obviously don’t have enough fat to generate heat for my body, but that isn’t a bad thing in a tropical country such as the Philippines. Unfortunately, I slept with my parents and they needed air-conditioning. I told them I was feeling cold (and actually had the snot and sneezes to prove it) but they still refused to believe me. Even during the days I was sick, I was nonetheless confined to an air-conditioned room. Never mind the fact that part of the reason I was sick was because I was freezing.

Several years later, I won partial independence from my family by moving out of my parent’s room and moving into the guest room, where I could live with neither electric fan nor air conditioner, and I could eat at the rate I wanted. I didn’t really need the three-meals a day which is average for most people, but I could subsist on two, and have some snacks in between. Life in high school consisted of eating breakfast at home, begging money from my classmates during lunchtime so I could purchase that P9.00 donut (approximately $0.20), and then going home to eat dinner. Did it work? Hey, I’m still alive right now aren’t I?

In college, one of my sports was running. I was a fast runner (although definitely not the fastest) despite my lack of previous experience or training. Of course part of it can be attributed to my weight. And even before that, I would walk several kilometers carrying my heavy bag in hopes of saving money (rather than pay for commuting). Now, when most friends think of me, they usually associate me with my big bag, and walking great distances to get to my destination. Oh, and they rarely see me eat as well.

I don’t see myself as disadvantaged. In fact, part of my strength is the fact that I’m underweight, and I’ve maximized that to my advantage. It’s not a handicap and I’ve lived my life no other way. If anyone has a complaint about my figure, they’re probably insecure. My weight doesn’t bother me so it really shouldn’t bother you.

Monday, July 26, 2004

In Man's Image

It has always worried me that many zealous Christians usually refer to human superiority by quoting a certain passage in the Bible: “God created man in his image…” To me, that statement, while possibly containing several theological truths, only proves the humanity (in both a positive and negative way) of the writer. Because such a philosophy is far from unique. Or rather, it’s a juxtaposition of our innate wishes.

What I mean by our “innate wishes” is that within each and every person is a sense of pride. And along with that pride contains to one degree or another a certain narcissism. To put it in another way, the closer something resembles us, the more appealing we find it to be. In the case of Christianity, our God appears to be like us. The only difference between Christianity’s God and the Greek’s gods is that we resemble the latter not through the power of the deities but rather plainly assumes it to be so. Of course there is a big development from the latter to the former. Greek gods, after all, are pretty much like super-powered humans, with all the flaws and weaknesses that go along with humanity. That’s not present with Christianity’s God, although following along those lines, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that in order for us to be saved, God took on a human form. Jesus could be understood as a reconciliation between what we wanted our God to be and our innate form. God did not create man in his image but rather we created God in the image we wanted to fashion.

So humanity is a narcissist society. It is not only reflected in our religion but in the way we live life. One has to merely look around our surroundings to find that we usually associate with people who have, at the very least, one thing in common with us. It could take the form of blood (because like it or not, we do share characteristics with our ancestors, siblings, and most probably, descendants) in the case of family, or land or an ideal, in the case of country. Some people even have loyalty to their alma matter, and form a certain kinship with complete strangers upon the utterance that they came from the same school (or suffered under the hands of the same teacher).

Taking it to another level, what people usually look for in their husbands or wives is something that resembles them. The most stated characteristic (at least in my experience) of the traits we want in our boyfriends or girlfriends is understanding. And someone similar to us, at the very least in attitude and perspective, is in the best position to tolerate and understand our needs and habits. We’re attracted to people who are more like us than not. That’s why people usually start off with common interests in introducing themselves. Because anything common usually paves the way for close bonds. Even common adversity (such as a common enemy or being stuck in an elevator with no way out) can be a stepping stone for relationships.

Of course the other attitude we could take is that we’re not looking for people who have common traits as us but people who fulfill our wishes or fantasies. I mean the Christian God is like that. We’re not perfect, so we want him to be perfect. But in that relationship, we’re still inevitably relating to ourselves since a part of God is what we want ourselves to be. Similarly, that’s also something that could happen in the pursuit of our partners. We’re not looking for someone like our flawed selves but someone who can transcend us, someone who can solve our problems. In other words, we want to change, but since a particular change is beyond us, we hope to find it in someone else. Yet in the end, that trait is only important because it’s important to us. Once, say, we’ve gained a certain characteristic we previously did not have (such as being popular in college when you were unpopular in high school), that trait in the other person seems less attractive and exotic. At the very least, that shared experience becomes a common ground for you and someone else.

The interplay of who we are and who we want to be is carried over to our offspring. Parents usually have two mentalities when it comes to their child: either their child becomes like them (such as the pride one feels when your son or daughter takes up the same profession as you did), or that their child becomes someone they aren’t (such as a poor man wanting his son to become a rich doctor, or the housewife wishing that her daughter won’t get pregnant at an early age). Again, it really isn’t surprising that this is the stance most people take. The greatest hurdle of empathizing with other people is that for even just a few moments, we must feel what the other person is feeling rather than feel what we are feeling (of course the talent of the best empathic people is that there is no “other”; what the other person feels, they feel). And raising a child is a full-time job, and the only experiences we can draw upon are those we’ve personally experienced.

I’m not really condemning our tendency to gravitate towards what’s similar to us. In fact, a probable reason that we’re still alive on this Earth and haven’t blown up each other is the fact that we associate ourselves with humanity as a whole and find something similar in one another. We all have shared experiences; each and everyone of us, for example, knows what it is to laugh, what it is to cry. But as much as we share something in common, our differences sometimes gets the better of us. We wage wars because the other nation is different from ours. We ostracize people because they’re strange and queer. We even don’t get along with other people because they have an opinion. What we forget is that while there are things that can’t be changed, there are still lots of things that can be. We have free will and can overcome hurdles. If we killed someone just because they’re different, then we’d truly be alone in the world. And in the end, that is a narcissist’s greatest fear, to realize that you’re alone in the world not because you’re unique, but because other people found you to be repellant.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

It’s been my experience that many Filipinos are afraid to directly hurt other people. It can be something as simple as declining to go to a person’s birthday party (and saying something like “I’ll come late” instead) to something as complex as breaking up a relationship (“I’ll stay with him/her even if I don’t love him/her anymore since his/her grades have dropped whenever I’m away from him/her”). It doesn’t matter that in the long run, the other person will get hurt, just as long as it doesn’t originate from them.

What’s wrong with this kind of mentality is that the other person will inevitably get hurt. In the case of the person who invited you to their birthday party, he/she will be hurt just as much when he/she doesn’t see you around when the occasion arrives. Yes, you won’t be there to see the other person get hurt, but he/she will get hurt nonetheless (and because he/she suffers from the same mentality as you, he/she won’t mention it the next time you meet). With the other situation, you’re giving the other person false hope. When you finally get fed up with him/her and break up, the other person will suffer the more grievous wound. You can rationalize that you’ve been the martyr all this time by staying in the relationship even when you’ve already given up on the person at an earlier date. Unfortunately, your former significant other doesn’t have the same kind of rationalization to blunt the blow.

With the former situation, you’re just being plain selfish. You’re not removing the other person’s pain, merely moving yourself away from the scene so that you don’t see it. It’s a kind of self-delusion. You think that “if I don’t see it, it doesn’t happen”. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. You’re merely lying to yourself.

With the latter situation, there is a kind of concern for the well-being of the other person. Unfortunately, it’s a short-sighted view of things. It’s short-sighted in the sense that it only concerns the present, as if the future will solve its own problems. And since you’re concerned with the short term, you take the easy route, the one that has no immediate consequences. Unfortunately, as I said before, you nurture a sense of false hope with the other person. Usually, the longer you associate with a certain person, the more difficult it is to severe your connection with him/her. In this case, the other person will love you more as time passes by, increasing the pain he/she will feel when you inevitably break up. At this point, it’s a “damned if you, damned if you don’t” situation. You’ll hurt the other person irregardless of when you break up. Since inflicting pain stops being an issue here, the real question is how much pain are you willing to inflict. If you break up with the other person sooner (or even not agreeing to get into the relationship in the first place), sure, it’ll hurt the other person, but not as much when he/she has gotten quite acquainted with you. If you make the break up later, the pain you’ll inflict will be much, much more, although such repercussions aren’t immediately apparent at the time you made the decision.

Of course that’s not to say that all our roads of action lead to pain and suffering. However, there is truth to the cliché saying “you can’t please everybody”. And similarly, you will end up hurting other people inevitably (since we are human after all, and not perfect creatures). That being the case, we should stop being afraid of hurting other people, especially if it comes at the expense not only of our lives but of the other person’s as well. True friends will forgive you for your directness and flaws, while with less-forgiving people, it’s only a matter of time before they get mad at you for one reason or another. It’s always been my philosophy “better now rather than later” because I do form bonds with people the longer I get acquainted with them. If they can’t take me as I am right now, then they’ll probably be less tolerant of the skeletons I keep in my closet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Many Faces of Charles

“Hi! My name is Charles.” When making introductions, that’s usually as far as I go. Because elaborating further would reveal that I am not a normal person, at least to most people’s standards. Take, for example, one of my hobbies: reading. When asked to elaborate, I state fantasy or science fiction. The common reaction I get? “So you read something like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings?” While to a certain extent that’s true, I really want to elaborate that there’s more to fantasy and science-fiction than Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, in much the same way that there’s more to the Philippines than manila envelopes and Muslim terrorists. But doing so takes a lot of time and I might offend the person, so I just shut up and show them my expressionless face.

If I really want to be memorable, I’ll introduce myself as a stalker. There’s nothing like seeing the expression on a person’s face when you mention that you’re a stalker, since it’s the last thing they expect. A person introduces his good traits, not his bad ones. Of course I use this technique sparingly. Some people might take me too seriously, after all, and there are laws against stalking. While the reactions are varied, one thing that remains constant is that I’m remembered. It’s not everyday, after all, that someone introduces themselves as a stalker.

More often than not, I let other people introduce me. I’d appear less arrogant that way, and it’s interesting to hear what other people have to say about me. I mean it’s one thing to claim that you’re this type of person and it’s another to hear another person describe you. Sometimes, they use the traits I provided earlier. Other times, it’s something entirely different, with varying results. I mean I’m grateful when I’m praised. When I’m criticized, well, I can always laugh and pretend it’s a joke.

Why go through all these complexities? Because I do care about public opinion, especially when it concerns me. There are many ways to earn a reputation. Some reputations can be bought. I want mine to be earned. While I’m quick to claim credit for an accomplishment of mine, I decline just as fast any compliments or criticisms that’s not warranted or does not have a basis. In fact, I’ll be the first person to note what my strengths and weaknesses are (no matter how humiliating they can be). What’s important to me is the truth, and that first and foremost, they should come from me.

Of course having said that, there’s a huge part of me that’s hidden. For every fact I reveal, there’ll be ten secrets concealed. I mean we can’t be totally transparent to everyone. Some might use the excuse that we might be taken advantaged of or that if other people knew who we truly were, they’d stop caring about us. While to a certain extent those are true, my stance is this: we honestly can’t show everything to someone because it’s physically impossible to do so. In the attempt, we might appear too self-centered. Some of our traits are relevant to the situation, while at other times, it’s not. Learning when to say something and when not to say something is quite important. And as much as I want to talk about myself, it’s also just as vital to learn when to listen, to hear what others have to say about themselves as well as myself. Sometimes, my personal life doesn’t even matter; what counts is the dialogue between two social beings.

In the end, it doesn’t bother me that I live all these duplicitous lives. I mean as a human being, we all have different roles, whether it be as a friend, a lover, a parent, a child, a student, a teacher, or a confidant. We’re not stuck in one role but rather fulfill these characteristics all at once (of course it goes without saying that usually only one or two is reflected in our personality at any one time). It’s not a crime to be a multi-faceted person, just as it’s not a crime to specialize in several fields, to have several hobbies, or to even have varied friends and relatives. I’m not a tool that has only one function, I’m a human being with all the complexities that go along with it. Charles is a complicated entity, with truths and lies enshrouding his true self. In the end, you can’t even trust the very words you are reading. After all, even this is a form of introduction, and who can say how far I’m revealing myself through words that constantly elude the true meaning of humanity.

Monday, July 05, 2004

A Lifetime of Pain

In life, there are experiences which plainly can’t be avoided. One of them involves pain. Of course having said that, some experiences are more painful than others. As human beings, we often opt for the choices that bestow upon us the least suffering. But telling which is which is not often so easy. As my grade school tutor once told me, “it’s often the smallest pinpricks that sting the most.”

Obviously, there are many levels of suffering. As I am writing this, I am undergoing many unpleasant reactions. First and foremost are the mosquitoes that have bitten me in every part of my body (except my private parts, which is why I don’t run around naked). That’s probably the best example I can give that lends credence to my tutor’s statement. Because if my wounds were inflicted by much larger creatures, the pain would be distributed over a larger part of my body. But mosquitoes being tiny creatures with penetrating teeth, the smallest wound they inflict causes me the most distraction and it leaves marks and sometimes, scars.

Of course not all injuries scar. At least not visually. In grade school and high school, I was bullied. The former left me bruises on body parts which were covered by my clothes (because children are smarter than they look, and the last thing they want is to get caught by the school authorities). But the latter inflicted upon me wounds that no medicine could cure. Because they were wounds that struck a person’s psyche, each blow shaving off a portion of an individual’s soul. First came the ostracism and the taunts. At first, they didn’t hurt. One holds to the phrase “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” But over time, the words became sharp as steel, and I soon found myself impaled upon a bed of blades. When you’re taunted on the first day of class, they call it an initiation into high school life. When you’re taunted and ostracized over the span of several years, one looks into the past, and realizes that things won’t change for the better. I stopped hoping that the bullies would go away, that somebody would pity me and befriend me. Coming to terms with that actually made the pain hurt a little less. Because that also meant that if I wanted things to change, I would have to be the one who changed it rather than hope that some cosmic being or adult would make things better for me.

While the bullying hurt me, the pain that cuts deep into my heart is that of isolation. Our friends are often people whom we can relate to and vice versa. When you don’t have friends, all you have to say might as well be jibberish. All the actions that you perform might as well be some arcane ritual. And when that occurs, you might as well be living alone. Because we humans are blessed with mouths so that we can communicate. Reading and writing is a mere extension of that. But they’re all meaningless if there’s no one to comprehend it all (what is the sound of a tree falling with no one to hear?). There was a point in time when I was a walking pariah, someone everybody avoided (and since this is the Philippines, all the while feigning friendship and amicability). And that is perhaps the most grievous hurt one can feel. Granted, there are no visible wounds on your body. Granted, one can be in a perfect state of health. But the underlying factor there is that there’s no one you can talk to, no one that relates to you. And while as adults we claim to be independent, no person is truly independent from the world around him. He needs succor from his loved ones, respite from loneliness. Perhaps that’s why amidst all the war and suffering we inflict upon others, in the end, we all come back to each other and unite with what we call “humanity” or the human race.

As for me, I’ve learned that the most grievous of wounds aren’t necessarily the ones that are visible, or the ones that can heal naturally. If there’s anything I can be grateful for, it’s that pain has heightened my senses, and made me more aware of the people around me. And grateful for the people that are actually capable of hurting me, because that only means I care for them enough that they can inflict such wounds on my person.