Day 2 in NYC

My feet are dead. But it’s alright because they died martyrs. They helped me check one thing off my bucket list–explore a city on my own.

I got up today at 6AM and went with my cousin, Ate Dimples, to work. We took the Long Island Rail Road and got off at Penn Station. Seeing the underground train system was amazing. Everyone was rushing off in their black coats to get off to wherever they need to be. It’s interesting how something that’s so ornery to one person can be so fascinating for another!

I went off on my own to explore the streets of Manhattan at around 8:30. I basically just walked around aimlessly from 42nd Street to 37th Street along 7th Avenue. I actually don’t remember what streets I went to, but all I remember was seeing the gigantic billboards at Times Square, buying a pair of jeans that were on sale at Macy’s, and getting a digital voice recorder from B&H Photo that I’ve been meaning to get for some time now. Speaking of B&H, their system is phenomenal. If they need to get an item from the storage, they just key it into the computer and the people in the storage deliver it to them using a suspended track system which will drop it off right under the counter. They use that to transport the item to the pick-up station as well.

I also went to H&M, which had great selections, Gap, Conway, Joe Fresh, and a couple of other stores whose names escape me right now. I had lunch at Five Guys which had amazing burgers. The bacon in their Bacon Cheeseburger was actually crispy, and all the ingredients mixed well together. I loved it! I’d like to compare it with some of the other joints.

After lunch I decided to explore the world-famous Fifth Avenue. Being the adventurous person I am, I took the subway alone to 59th and 5th. There were a couple of African-American teenagers whom I think were all in the same basketball team. They were cursing while talking to each other when this Caucasian gentleman beside me started telling them off. I thought it was interesting that Americans would just tell off complete strangers when I realized that the guy must’ve been their coach.

The walk along Fifth Avenue was spectacular. The first thing I saw was the trademark Apple logo suspended in mid-air inside a glass cube. I was blown away! Who’d ever heard of an underground Apple store? I looked around and then went into FAO Schwarz where I was blown away a second time. As soon as I walked in, this salesman asked me to hold out my hand and catch this beanbag he tossed at me using the top of my hand, which I did. It’s called a Miyaki and he showed me a couple of tricks and taught me some. Really cool, and a really great way to get sales. (Although I didn’t end up getting one.) I did end up getting a lot of candy for friends, and some pasalubobng for my siblings. I won’t spoil it and reveal them here though 😉

Afterwards all the stores just popped up. I looked at Zara, Forever 21, Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, the NBA Store, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble, among many others whose names escape me. I also visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral and lit up a candle for thanksgiving. It’s a majestic piece of architecture! I also visited the New York Public Library and checked out the exhibit of preserved texts and artifacts, including a Gutenberg Bible, a book by Erasmus Darwin, some sketches by Keppler, and a book by Ptolemy. High school and college history lessons just materialized before my eyes. It was amazing!

With my feet seriously aching, I found myself near 38th Street where my cousin’s office was. I had just walked back over 20 blocks! However, the night was just beginning, and after meeting Ate Dimples back in her office, we took a cab to the opening night. Or rather, two cabs. We ended up in the UN Building the first time because we thought that 1 East 42nd Street was the intersection of 1st Avenue and 42nd Street. It wasn’t. The cabs in NYC are very interesting too! They have little monitors at the back where you can watch the news and see a GPS map of where the driver’s going. You can also pay via credit card!

The opening event was intimate but very lively. There was a performance by the World Youth Alliance Chamber Orchestra which is composed of Julliard students aged 10-17. They played a couple of pieces by Mozart, who, ironically, was celebrating his birthday as well. Then, Mr. Zanussi gave his keynote address and screened his film, With All My Heart. It was interesting, although not my favorite style.

I’m back home now and I’m excited for the day that’s coming up tomorrow. The films are being screened and I’ll know if I’ll be coming home with a prize. I still can’t believe I’m in New York City. Dreams do come true.

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Day 1 in NYC

Jan. 26, 2012 will forever be known to me as the longest day of my life. So far, it’s lasted a total of about 42 hours and it still isn’t over yet. I’ve been up since 4AM Manila Time, and over there it’s now nearing 1PM of the next day, so you can kinda guess how messed up my body is. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve been having the time of my life.

I got to the airport at around 5:15AM because I left my jacket and had to turn back. Every thing went pretty smoothly, except I didn’t get the free business class upgrade that I was hoping I’d get as an eighteen-year old kid who was traveling alone. In our first stop at Narita, I got a Bacon Lettuce Cheeseburger from McDonald’s. Why don’t they have those back home? They’re delicious! I paid $5 for it and got 55 Yen for change. I’m planning to buy Royce’s there when I return cause they’re pretty cheap. Only 660 Yen. There was also this really cool exhibit in one of the stores where classic stories were reenacted in origami. They had Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Wizard of Oz.

The long flight to the USA was quite exciting. For one, it was about 11 hours long. And for two (yes I know that’s not a phrase), they had individual monitors for everyone. I got to watch three movies, Tamara Drewe, Midnight in Paris, and Restless. They’re arranged in order for viewing and also, coincidentally, in ascending order of preference. Restless was just a powerfully moving film with such a great storyline and fantastic acting. It’s a new release and I highly recommend that everyone should watch it.

When I first landed in Minneapolis, I saw the ground covered with snow. It was beautiful! Too bad I couldn’t go outside though. In Homeland Security, the man could hardly believe that I was a director attending a film festival at 18. He said a lot of kids at 18 didn’t know what they wanted to do. I guess he was right. He also asked me if I had any chicharon on me, which I said I did.

After getting the food I brought in cleared through customs, I went around and bought a Frappucino in Starbucks and a pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cups in one of the shops. The flight was slightly delayed, although it didn’t really matter because I still arrived at the original time. During the flight, I got to speak with a middle-aged woman who was a registered nurse. We spent a great deal of time chatting about films (she recommended I see Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Rear Window after I showed her Fine Dining) and about life in general. She was quite fascinating to talk to. She also asked me to sign my business card. First autograph!

I arrived in New York at 5PM to the bustling sound of the suburbs. It was awfully cold outside and I made the most out of it by watching my breath fog up in front of me. A pigeon went inside the baggage claim area and started to walk around. A little girl started following it and would scream “Whoaaaaa!” each time it would fly. Somehow I felt like I wanted to do the same, except, well, that wouldn’t be cute, just freaky.

Tito Leo picked me up from the airport and we headed home, but not for long. After a ton of photos with my cousins in just about every possible permutation, we headed out for dinner in this place called La Casa Latina. I had a steak which tasted pretty good. It was also pretty big so I didn’t finish it. I finished it off with some sangria which was well mixed. I’m really enjoying the food here in America, even the airline food. I don’t understand how you can not like airline food. It’s delicious! And there’s a lot of it too.

It’s finally January 27 and I will be off to bed. In six hours, I’ll be up again to explore the streets of New York City all by myself. I am so excited.

Teachers who don’t teach

It’s been a while since I’ve last blogged, and I feel a bit rusty. But anyway…

I have a professor who splits up the class into groups, assigns topics, and lets us do all the reporting. I have a few problems with this.

I haven’t quite understood the concept of teachers who don’t teach. It seems almost oxymoronic in nature. Okay, fine. The professor does teach as well; just, barely. But this manner of teaching begs the question, why do we even have a teacher in the first place? If we’ll be doing all the research and all the teaching anyway, why do we need a teacher in the first place? The role of the teacher becomes limited to that of an assessor and evaluator–all we’ll really need him/her for is to give tests and grades. Do you really need to hire someone with a masters degree to do that?

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think reports are a bad means of getting a grade. In fact, I think they’re an essential part of every class. I think that researching is a valuable skill that is highlighted in reports. However, reports should only serve as a supplement to give added information to the things that the professor teaches. They should reinforce current lessons, not replace them. My problem with a let-the-students-teach approach is that the ability of students to grasp a certain concept is dependent on the ability of the reporters to teach. Not everyone can report well; why let the class suffer for one student’s incapability?

It’s disappointing how the best university in the country would allow professors to “teach” in this way. Teachers tell students off for being too lazy to read, too lazy to study, or too lazy to do their projects. I think it’s about time that we tell them off for being too lazy to teach.

The Technology of Writing

My first paper for my Eng 10 class under Ms. Kat Macapagal. First Uno! 🙂

The insightful and verbose manner by which Butch Dalisay gives an interview tells you right away that interviews are nothing alien to him, and rightly so. When you’ve won as many Palanca awards as he has (sixteen, as of the latest tally), you’re bound to get interview requests by the dozen. I first met Professor Dalisay on the Fountain Pen Network forums, and have been in awe of his majestic collection of writing instruments and his passion for writing ever since. I’d been wanting to get to talk to him privately for quite some time now, so I was fortunate enough to have been granted a request for an interview in his house, a modest, discreet bungalow tucked away in the corners of the UP Diliman Campus. However, I didn’t want to ask him the questions that reporters have been pestering him with for decades. Instead, I decided to focus on a term he coined in one of his columns—writing technology.

Dr. Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr, PhD. is the Director of the UP Institute of Creative Writing, of which there are probably few better men available for the position. Ask anybody who Butch Dalisay is, and they’ll tell you he’s a writer. They’re not wrong, of course. But if you take the time out to scour through and dissect the online archives of his Penman column, you’d learn that he is actually, as I’d like to call it, a writing

No, he didn’t construct the Great Automatic Grammatizator, a machine that writes prize-winning novels in fifteen minutes (not that he needs one), that Roald Dahl fictitiously invented in a story of the same name. Actually, Prof. Dalisay collects pieces of writing technology from both ends of the spectrum. Writing technology, in his words, are the writer’s “tools of the trade”. His fascination with writing gadgets spans four decades, his collections including fountain pens and Macintosh computers. (He also collects vintage cameras, watches, and books about the Philippines, but that’s a different story altogether.)

On the analog end of the spectrum, Prof. Dalisay collects hundreds of vintage fountain pens, the same iconic ones, like the Montblanc 149, that grace the front covers of coffee table books. His specialty, however, are Vacumatics, which he considers “beautiful works of art…[that are] emblematic of a certain time”, the top-of-the-line pen series of American fountain pen magistrate Parker from 1932-1948. He has over 80 Vacs, accumulated over the past four decades or so from hole-in-the-wall office and stationery shops along Rizal Ave. and Ongpin, department stores in the nearby outskirt provinces of Metro Manila, and, lately, through “the world’s marketplace”, eBay. His “daily users”, or the pens he rotates on a day-to-day basis, include a Vac Senior Maxima, a Montblanc 149 and 146, a Pelikan M800, a Visconti Wall Street, and, the newest addition, a TWSBI, a more modern pen. Most of these are filled with his personal mix of Pelikan Brilliant Brown with a dash of black ink.

Although the 57-year old Dalisay may be old enough to have experienced using his fountain pens and typewriters in grade school, when they were still the norm, he’s as up-to-date as the youth when it comes to the digital end of the spectrum. He’s a “frustrated engineer” (he initially took up Industrial Engineering in UP before ending up as an English major) so it’s no surprise that technology is close to his heart. His fountain pen fetish is backed up by daily visits to the Fountain Pen Network and Fountain Pen Board forums, where he exchanges personal opinions and insights on his writing instruments. He served as Chairman of the Philippine Macintosh Users Group (PhilMUG), and is a moderator of the boards until today. He’s got about fifteen old Macs stored in the “warehouse that passes for the master’s bedroom”, dating from the 90s when they were first made. As a self-proclaimed “Mac freak”, you won’t see him leave the house without his MacBook Air, iPhone 4, and, on occasion, his iPad. He confesses to having preferred messaging and emailing with his Blackberry, and carried around both phones for a while, but eventually gave up the Blackberry in favor of the iPhone’s Facetime which he uses to communicate with his mother, sister, and daughter in the USA, and better web browsing capabilities. Ironically, he’s not very comfortable with people calling him on his cellphone and would much rather they drop him an email instead.

Despite his sizable fountain pen collection, the man behind the weekly Penman column in the Philippine Star doesn’t use these to write the works that have won him the accolades he has under his belt. “It’s just not efficient,” he says. He uses his pens for the more personal stuff, like writing letters, dedicating greeting cards, and signing papers. However, when it comes to work, it’s digital all the way, for two main reasons. For one, it’s a lot easier to revise his works, a crucial part of the writing process, and, it’s easier to go online to search for references, a must for non-fiction works. He works in the mornings and stays up late at night in a small office behind his house, where he lives with his wife, Beng. He’ll tap away on the keys of his MacBook Air, occasionally switching to his huge iMac desktop to Google for some references, as the television blares out CNN or Discovery in the background “because I need a distraction”. This goes on until about two in the morning night after night as he works on materials he’s been commissioned to write or some of his personal works of fiction.

Curiously, Dalisay will take no part in what is probably the biggest technological revolution of the 21st Century—Facebook. He calls it a “time-suck” since users are invariably bound to return to the site to interact with and reply to comments by friends. He does, however, have a Twitter account, which he updates “about three times a year, whenever I remember.”

Although Butch Dalisay is best known for his stage plays, he’s got two novels (with a third in the making) to his name as well. There’s a good eighteen-year gap in between the publication of the two, which is colossal if you’re talking about technological advancements. Killing Time in a Warm Place, published in 1992, was “semi-autobiographical”, since he based it on the seven months he spent in prison as a prisoner of Martial Law. Interestingly enough, it only took him four years to finish it, while his second novel, Soledad’s Sister, took twice as long. Killing Time was started on a typewriter in 1987 but made the transition to a computer where it was finished in 1991. Soledad’s Sister, on the other hand, went through a number of laptops from 1999 until 2007. Particularly sharp readers will be able to note that it’s stuck in a “technological time warp” of sorts, since there’s mention of the Nokia 5210, a phone that was in use in the early 2000s, but had been phased out by the time the book was published in 2008!

Interestingly enough, Dalisay admits he’s not much of a novelist, as are most Filipino writers. Few Filipino novels, probably with the exception of Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado, have made it big because, according to him, “We [Filipinos] don’t read novels. There’s no market here.” It seems as though Filipinos would much rather read short stories and novellas. He’s also got a few of those with his name on the byline. One of them, Voyager, has a particularly interesting story behind its creation, at least technology-wise. Having been written from 1983-1994, Voyager began on a typewriter, its first drafts vandalized with revisions by ballpoints and its penultimate drafts transcribed on a computer, where it was finished in Scotland in 1994. “It saw everything,” he says.

As much as he loves writing technology, both analog and digital, The Pinoy Penman is quick to quip, however, that the tools and the tech do not make the writer. There’s still no replacement for the brain and the imagination, which he considers the best pieces of writing technology available. “The technology of writing can only get better, but, as I always tell my students, if you want to write well, you have to read well. There’s no way out.”

Hypocrisy?

The final output of my Komunikasyon 2 class in UPD is a 20-page research paper on a topic of your choice. I nominated three topics and, of course, the one that got approved was my last choice–Ang Sining ng Panlilimos (The Art of Begging). The paper is supposed to be about the different means and ways of begging in Muntinlupa City. Since the paper is due in two weeks, I decided to go around to interview some of the beggars around the city. What I thought would be a simple Q&A about how much these street kids earned from knocking on windows and helping customers park their cars turned into a revelation of sorts for me.

I was talking to three boys, Darwin, 12, Reka, 11, and Joy-joy, 3. They told me about their reasons for begging, what it was like on the streets, and how much they earned from a day of begging. I asked them about their encounters with the law, and was quite shocked to learn that, according to them, the same government agency that actively campaigns against child abuse (hint: they sued Willie Revillame for child abuse after the Jan-Jan controversy) was the same one that would beat these children for begging on the streets.

According to the boys, they would be taken into DSWD custody and then given a choice–to be beaten by a metal pipe or whipped by a garden hose. Then, they would be beaten behind the thighs. If they didn’t choose, they would be beaten anyway. Is this how eleven-year old kids are supposed to be treated? The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 explicitly prohibits corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure or a sentence for crime, yet these underground practices continue to flourish.

It doesn’t end with the DSWD though. Two more boys I talked to, Brixz, 13, and Daniel, 12, said that they would be chased by officials of Brgy. Ayala Alabang on motorcycles, who would run their feet over. Is this how our government officials compensate for their failure to provide the adequate social services for these people? Are we going to resort to violence to care for our children, the future of our nation? I mean, we don’t even do this to rapists, murderers, and terrorists! If they end up beating their children in the future, we know who to blame.

Would little children lie about this? Talk about hypocrisy!

Review: “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”

I really had no idea what “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank” was about. All I knew was that it dominated Cinemalaya, and had many good reviews. Thus, I had high expectations when I entered the theater. It started off as the “poverty porn” we love to hate. It showed the typical squatters area, and a typical scene of the single mother with seven children. I felt let down. The best indie film was just another story on poverty? Thank god I was proven wrong.

The movie is actually about three filmmakers who want to make an indie film so risque, so unique, and so fresh, that it will dominate the Oscars. The moment the scene shifted to the three of them, producer, director, and PA, sitting in a car talking about the film they were going to make, I instantly felt a connection with the film. That was going to be me, in about five years’ time–a low-budget independent filmmaker with big dreams, holding meetings in coffee shops, and ready to take on Philippine cinema by storm. I could understand the language they were speaking, technical jargon included, and it felt amazing. It felt as though somebody had shown me a crystal ball into the future.

But of course, “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank” wasn’t just that. It was also a parody of independent cinema, and all the overused “techniques” including, but not limited to, shaky camera footage, inconsistent lighting, and muffled audio. It was relieving to see that I wasn’t alone in my disgust for the sorry camerawork filmmakers use because they’re “on a low budget”. (Ironically though, the actual film does have shaky camera work, but I’d say it was forgivable.)

Even deeper though, the film was a testament to the wide gap between rich and poor. One scene shows the filmmakers standing on a hill of garbage, looking down at all the makeshift houses as one of them shouts “Ang ganda! This is perfect!” It’s as though poverty has become a mere tourist attraction to those of us with capacity.

One can’t talk about “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” without mentioning Eugene Domingo. She was absolutely surreal. She plays two roles in the film–herself and Mila, the lead in “Walang-Wala”, the film that the trio are working on. Both facets of her acting career–dramatic and comedic–are shown in high definition throughout the film. She’s entertainment on her own!

Perhaps the only negative point for this film was that it was too short–bitin, in Filipino. I wanted it to go on and on, to see the whole progression of the film from start to finish. But that would probably take too long. The film covers just two days in the lives of the three filmmakers, so you can really see the intricacies of the plot being molded into place.

This film is definitely a must-watch. There are many more surprises that I didn’t spoil in this review cum personal reflection about my life and my future, and they’re definitely worth the price of the movie ticket.

Biased against the Catholics?

I think that if there’s one thing that all those who oppose the closure of the ‘Kulo’ exhibit in the CCP prove, it is that they aren’t so much pro-art and pro-expression as they are anti-Catholic. It seems as though anything the CBCP does right now gets the ire of those who call themselves “liberal” or “pro-choice”. It’s probably because of their staunch opposition to the RH Bill. But my question is this: if Mideo Cruz had painted penises on other icons, would those same liberals be clamoring for “freedom of expression” too?

Let’s remove Catholicism from the picture for a moment. If Cruz’s artwork depicted Muhammad with a penis for a nose, would those same liberals argue that taking it down impedes upon the artist’s freedom of expression? I think Mideo Cruz is a coward for picking on what is arguably the “tamest” religion, since Christianity preaches that we turn the other cheek and love our enemies. If he really wanted to make a statement on polytheism, why not include Islam? Or is he scared of the violent tendencies by which Muslims vehemently protect their faith? But let’s veer away from religion. What if an LGBT icon was endowed with condoms and penises? What if it was painted on a blue eagle or a green archer? On Manny Pacquiao? On Jose Rizal? I’m willing to bet that we’d see people moving to the other side of the fence.

It seems as though we have to wait until we are personally offended before we come to realize that we can’t and shouldn’t live in a world where people throw shit at each other “in the name of art”. Because of people’s biases against the Catholics, they pounce on the closure of the exhibit, calling it “tyranny” and “religious bias”. Art is a powerful medium because it makes use of images, and images, as the cliche goes, are worth a thousand words. Art’s line should be drawn when it offends the sensibilities of sensitive sectors of society, regardless of whether they make up the majority or the minority (although extreme minorities are a different story). Governments can and should remain secular, but it should also be ethical and moral to an extent. Not that they tell us what’s right and what’s wrong, but that they establish certain boundaries as to where some rights begin and others end.

Artists are free to express whatever they want. If they want to hang photos of religious figures surrounded by prostitutes in their homes, then by all means, they can. Public locations, however, are a different story. Furthermore, government institutions such as the CCP should not endorse  religious indifference and intolerance, or any form of indifference and intolerance for that matter. Just as governments should not forward the beliefs and the ideals of any specific religion, so too should they refrain from attacking or offending religions.

We should all learn to grow up and stop waiting before we get offended before we take action. Society would be a better place if we all learned to stop the fight before anyone gets hurt. There’s never a good enough reason to paint a penis on an icon.