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.