Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Travel: the good, the bad, and the painful

Wisdom versus experience.

Some lessons in life need not have to be first-hand experience, sometimes it is infinitely better to learn them through others and that is what they call wisdom. 

Europe 2017. 

My brother and I travelled between countries by train. We thought it was one of the ways to learn a culture and get to know a people. It was indeed. We had a 25-day pass. The pass was good for international and regional travel. In one of our border crossings, we got stuck in a regional train station that shut down for the night. Ignorance brought it upon us. We never questioned that train stations might close for the evening, so we did not have second thoughts about our schedule. We assumed that like the bus terminals in our provinces, they are always open. 

But then in a perfect world, the travelers’ lounge and toilets in Ventimiglia might not have been closed.  The building itself was not closed, only the facilities. Because the station was crawling with the homeless, the crazies, and Middle-Eastern and African refugees. And for whatever reason, management did not want those people to access its amenities. 

Perspective #1

Homelessness.

Some of those people were simply homeless. For whatever reason, they have no homes to get to. Others were homeless because of mental disabilities. And of course, the refugees were homeless. 

One or two slept in relative comfort in the biting and bitter cold. One of them was a person with disability. She had a sleeping bag as well as a folding bed. The other person with disability was observing the first with either envy or hatred. She unleashed a mean laughter when the other came back from somewhere with the seat of her pants wet. Most slept on cartons. Others just lay on the cold stone floor without even a decent jacket or coat on and none of them had anything on their heads. 

I had eight layers of long-sleeved clothing on. The innermost long-sleeved shirt was 100% wool. Wool is supposed to keep the cold at bay. Another layer was a 100% cotton cable-knit sweater, another was 100% polyester, and yet another one was 100% nylon, and the outermost coat was 75% wool; my head was covered with four layers of beanie, hood, cap, and a scarf to also cover my face. It was still mind-numbingly cold. My brother and I sat on our bags and tried to sleep with our backs to the wall. 

I had eaten dinner and I was absolutely certain we will have a nice breakfast again. In fact, my brother was looking for food in one of his forays outside the station.

Perspective #2

Money, indeed, is sometimes useless. 

We had the means to go to a hotel or a restaurant or even a McDonalds to wait for our 7 a.m. train. However, all the hotels near the station were all full and there was no McDonalds let alone an all-night restaurant. There was also no drinking pub or saloon. There was not even a taxi to take us to wherever hotels would be found. 

So, we talked, or my brother, to some of the refugees. I tried not to be afraid of the men who chose to sleep near to us. And even tried to be kind to one of them. We lent him our unused folded duffel bag instead, to use as pillow, when he asked to use, by sign language, one of our backpacks. 

Perspective #3

Self-protection.

I brought a flashlight cum Taser to Europe. I took it out for the first time when my brother left me two times to find a place to wait out the hairy night.  

When he came back, I almost got us electrocuted. Our first reaction was to let out a string of curses. Then I became weak with fright and laughed nervously. My brother continued to curse but at my negligence and inattention and then also laughed nervously. While all these were happening, I was aware that the men sleeping on the floor near us woke up to the commotion. They either sat up or craned their necks to watch and judge the situation. But when we laughed, they also laughed. And theirs were a combination of amused and reassurance. And it made us realize there was nothing to be afraid of. They were ultimately more vulnerable than my brother and me. 

But to most females, including me, even the most fearless and confident ones, rape and assault are the most dreaded thing. Sometimes our day-to-day lives and activities are controlled by that fear. 

Perspective #4

Sometimes it’s not about racism, but about social class and mobility.

In about nine or ten border crossings, we were only asked to show our passports three times—in transit as we were leaving Germany, in transit in the same train as we were entering Italy, and in transit as we were entering either Spain or Portugal. Showing passports and tickets to the conductor do not count. 

The people my brother spoke to said it was because many refugees would want to enter Italy. Apparently, once they reached Italian soil, immigration policies are not as harsh as the rest of Europe. We don’t really know what’s going on. One thing for sure, Italy have at least managed to prevent terror attacks in its cities. 

When we left the Italian border city to cross France for Spain, it was early morning. The morning after the incident mentioned in perspective #1. Before we left the station, immigration police were checking every nook and cranny of the train. Even the smallest compartments, where an infant would not fit, were opened. Screw drivers were used if they needed to. And the undocumented migrant workers and refugees who were caught inside the trains were hauled away.

We were not even asked to show our passports. And they were supposed to since we were about to cross back to France; Nice actually. 

Perspective #5

Looks can be deceiving, but sometimes the way we carry ourselves is exactly what we are. 

One of the homeless people that caught our attention was a man who would lay on his carton for a little while then get up and pace then repeat the process. His companions just curled and perhaps got some sleep on their cartons. He never let go of his small backpack. He was good-looking to be sure. But there was something about him that made us conclude he did not belong there. 

He was from Egypt. He was an engineer. He had a working visa that expired, but he did not want to return to Egypt. He wanted to reach London via Spain. He said there was a refugee camp somewhere near, but it was more hopeless than being in the station. He said that sometimes they can get jobs, but the money was never enough to buy train tickets or process their papers. My brother said he had excellent English, but heavily accented. 

Another homeless person that caught our imagination was this old man. He kept coming to stand in front of me and stare down on me (when my brother was away); there was no mistaking that. He did not look crazy. His stare was in fact shrewd and calculating, but not frightening. He was probably staking me for what he can get from me, if he can. 

He was wearing a scuffed leather coat and a paint-splattered denim jeans. He did not smell. Unlike the Egyptian or the homeless woman who laughed at the bed-owning-pant-wetting homeless woman. We tried to talk to him, but he did not speak English. My brother and I thought he was probably a spy or some kind of government agent or operator; most probably an American Spy. To observe what was going on with the refugees who were definitely coming from places that the U.S. had a war going on. Or maybe he was simply an insomniac local man. Or a tormented local artist.

None of them looked drunk. Some of them looked desperate, like one of the men who slept on the cold floor near us. 

Perspective #6

Kindness and gratitude are more powerful than love, whatever romantics may say to the contrary. Love may have caused wars, moved mountains, erected buildings, but it is every day kindness and unsought for gratitude that keep society together. 

So, we lent our bag to be used as a pillow to one of the men who huddled on the bare floor near us. The gratitude shown when he returned the bag was too much. 

If there was coffee to be had, even instant ones, we would have bought all of them a cup or two. 

But in the cold and harsh realities of daylight and schedules, it was every man for himself.  

Friday, August 17, 2018

2017: 10 years at blogging, 46 years of confused awesomeness, 1st year at world travel

Zero blogs in 2017.

As a creative, it's not too bad to have written about seventy essays. The subjects had been quite good--relevant, thoughtful, and meaty; length-wise, they're also not very bad. (Well, according to my one and only fan, my brother.)

I will always be confused and vacillating. And awesome is not always a positive adjective. 

As for travel and zero blogs... 

I had been extremely busy preparing for a 25-day tour in Europe--visa (a bit harrowing), shopping for mid-spring clothing when temperatures could fall to the single digit (and it did indeed), and doubling down on work so as not to leave unfinished work and come back to so much backlog. 

After my return, my head was still spinning with utter disbelief at my excellent fortune, deep gratitude to my brother and that life in a third world country is comparably better in some respects, uncharacteristic inability to put into words the wonders (not all wonderful is positive) I've seen and heard, and the nagging thought that maybe there is no need to write anything because everything had been described and photographed by millions before. I also did not want to anger the Fortunes by telling tales least they thought I am bragging or worse humble-bragging. I want to be on their good side all the time. I don't want to simply reminisce for the rest of my days. I want to live that life of travel and adventure again. 

And yet, the persistent voice in my head telling me that sometimes if only for one's own sake, things had to come out in the open.  Most travellers rarely, if ever, talk about the ugly side of travel. It's too much life and reality. And it should not impose on dreams or dreamlike days. 

As the late beloved Anthony Bourdain had said, "Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's okay. The journey changes you - it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you... Hopefully, you leave something good behind."

I've learned that while I sometimes bury my head in the sand when things get hairy, it is the unpleasant things that give me perfect perspectives and a sense of true self. 

However, before I will share the lessons I learned while abroad, I will tell you about the amusing thing that happened as I literally set foot in Europe--Roissy-CDG, Paris, France, 16-04-17. 

The first French official that I was supposed to impress or make happy was a lady guard who was checking passports. However, her "bonjour" was really high pitched and so chirpy that a groggy me at 6:00 a.m. after 24 hours of no sleep and travel just managed to mumble something "ndjsour". Then as I was bracing myself to do better with the immigration officer, I was greeted "Magandang Umaga". All the french phrases that I practised since high school went out my drooping googly eyes. And he seemed so happy to practice his Filipino that everything nasty and resentful with me that I didn't get to speak french to a French person the first chance I got just melted away as I also greeted him in Filipino, as courtesy and politeness dictated. It occurred to me later that I could have said bonjour while I was handing over to him my passport; before he could learn I was Filipino, but then I guess my brain was really not functioning properly. 

And then more on the Philippines in France... We were getting noticed even by the most ordinary French citizens. 


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

From the archives (03-11-2014) -- from the depths of my computer and my black heart, and my pinhead

This is unsolicited advice. This is intended for people who had to use lingua franca to communicate with each other. This is useful to people who are dancing the mating dance, but with so much difficulty because one is hearing a cha-cha while the other thinks he has to grind to the rhythms of hip-hop and all the time they had to dance to “Careless Whisper”. Yes, especially people who are still at the courting stage via the interwebs. Or maybe married couples who spoke different mother tongues, we are sure that for some it is not yet too late.  

If you are reading this, take with a grain of salt, or sugar if you prefer. But then again there are things that get better paired with soy sauce or fish sauce or naturally fermented vinegar. Yes! Do! We are writing this with biased eyes but with utmost honesty.

If you have a lick of sense, you can stop reading right here.

I am good with the English language. My grammar is above average. My spelling is excellent. I could do both sides of the Atlantic, but my computer insists on British spelling. My comprehension is outstanding. My vocabulary is extensive. While I was asleep drooling and snoring during maths lessons, I was only ever so slightly bored and sleepy during grammar and reading. A lot of things had gotten through. If you doubt any of these assertions, then that is because you are a native English speaker but you can't spell to dispel an idiot's spell. And if my head starts spinning because you use obscure idiomatic expressions, very high level of iron, y, and enviable metaphors, I revert to my dialect. Mind you it is not your ordinary regression; I suddenly speak the vernacular that does not contain any word that is Spanish derivative. Anyway, my overall Academic IELTS is 7.5, so, there...

My mother tongue is Cebuano. It is the language spoken by the people of the islands of Cebu and neighbouring islands in the Visayas and Mindanao. There are many variations of it. The basic difference is in vocabulary. As revealed earlier, I am very good at it. If you doubt that, then learn Spanish. And then compare it with contemporary Cebuano. I am not some new generation, lost even in her culture. I may not be true blue Cebuano because I was born in Mindanao, but I was educated in Cebu. And my mother is Cebuana. I know the place. I have walked even the narrowest and most dinghy alleys of it. I know its people. I love talking to the kinds that are called ‘salt of the earth’.

And my other credential is that I have for the last five or six years talked on and off to an alien. The white dude and I talked for two to three months and off for six to nine months. I really have no idea the lengths of these on’s and off’s. He is my exclusive. I am not his. So it is like being betrothed or married to him only that he does not know it. I may be a little more than a bit in love with him. There is definitely no love from the other side.

I only talked to him in the first place because he had already been vetted by my brother. I still talked to him because he was (mind the tense) the least obnoxious of all the foreigners I tried chatting with. Least obnoxious being that he was content not to see me on camera all the time. He still talked to me because “something about you I continue to cling to”. I think he wanted to make me whole again. I am damaged and beyond repair. Or at the very least, he wants me believe in God again. I have over-analysed him the last year. I have finally stopped. It was exhausting. It was even more energy-draining when you are made to compete with women you have no desire to compete with.

We are on off now. I think. 

Now, then, why we give you this unsolicited advice. Argh! We’ve lost it while writing that introduction…

Ah!

  1. Learn the mother tongue of each other.

Trust.

It will bring you closer. It would prevent misunderstanding. It would keep each one of you from feeling betrayed every time the other starts speaking in tongues. It would strengthen your bond.  

If the boy or man you are interested in lives in Iran, and you know that he speaks Urdu, do not insist on learning Farsi simply because that is the predominant language. Unless of course, you are seducing another guy who happens to speak Farsi, then go ahead. But please, learn Urdu too. Nothing says “I value you” more than learning their language.

Let us make “me” an example to be clearer. If you are interested in me and I have reiterated a million times that my first language is Cebuano, do not for the love of the Gods and Goddesses of the Much Misunderstood Palindrome learn to speak Tagalog. Yay!

While I will be able to understand and speak to you in it, it is not me. If I have to be very honest about it, Tagalog would be my third language. English is my second language. We were taught English before we were sent to school. We learn Tagalog in school. Tagalog is never spoken at home. We speak Cebuano, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, even beyond death.

Although to feel a bit posh during better times we speak English at home some of the time. But I don’t sigh and say to my dearly departed paternal grandmother “Oh Grandmama, I sorely miss you. I wish I could talk to you right now.” I would instead say as I always do “Maayo unta ‘La og buhi pa ka aron makatambag unta ka nako.” She died when I was eighteen. My English was good then, but hers was excellent, so I spoke the dialect with her because I was a little bit ashamed of my English.

You would think us rude if my family and I discuss mundane things in front of you in Cebuano. And if there is something sensitive to be discussed, then you will definitely feel out of place. Language has been used and will continue to be used to exclude. Did you know that whole new languages are invented just to keep secrets secret? Enigma? Voynich? 

Besides, the rest of society would not give you the same accommodation. There might be some who would, but the majority would speak to you in English because that is what you speak or in Bisaya because that is what they speak. Another thing and this might be a generalization, but Cebuanos have a hard time speaking Tagalog. Either it’s physiological or psychological, or regionalism, or maybe it is snootiness, but I find many prefer to speak English than speak Tagalog. Or maybe like me, they are more comfortable using English than Tagalog. 

Another example, you’ve lived in Paris two-thirds of your life, and we all know that in Paris it is speak french or perish or something like that. The french is the personification of snotty when it comes to their language, or so my Cebuano french teacher said. But when you go visit your mother in the hospital, you do not say to your native Cebuano speaking mother, “Oh, Maman, coucou ma douce, comment vas tu? Comment allez vous?”

Mag-Binisaya ka, day. Bisan pa'g magpusta-anay. People who are driven to a corner revert to type.

  1. Learn the mother tongue of each other.

Safety.

When you go visit each other’s country, you will feel safe while in public. You can understand the signages and the people around you. So that no one can make your head literally spin and make you do things you do not want to do. It is not possible that you will be together all the time. The other cannot be there to guide you around at all times. Some terrible street urchin might call out to you “Hey, Joe! Kaon ka tae, Joe?” If you know the mother tongue of your beloved, you can retort with aplomb “Ikaw bulingot, kaon ka?”


  1. Learn the mother tongue of each other.

Language is culture.

As it changes and evolves over time, so it changes and evolves over groups of people living in different places in the same period of time. What you read is so very different from what is spoken. What you read might be formalized version. Or it might be text lingo, all abbreviations and barely a vowel. What is spoken is another form. And then there is gay lingo. How she speaks to you in vernacular may not be how others may speak to you.

Some writers represent only a certain group of people. They would represent a sub-culture. The people who speak about the malls in Cebu City but have never set foot in Carbon or Colon is not to be trusted to speak about Cebu City and its culture.  

  1. Learn the mother tongue of each other.

It prevents you from making an absolute ass of yourself.

It would keep you from seeking dubious avenues to decipher the most innocent messages. Why would you use Google translate when you can have a breathing human do it for you? The exercise would not only bring you closer together, it would also bring you closer together. Did I say the hours spent together learning another language will bring you closer together? Besides, it will bring you closer together!

Plus I am pretty sure Google would not teach you bad words.  Bad words are fun to learn. What is a bad word in another language, might be absolutely edible and delicious in another. Plus of course, you can’t cuddle Google while you giggle about the sound of cunt, ehr, can’t…was it? Ah, the Cebuano tongue--gahi og accent. 

It would keep you from asking random strangers the meaning of some obscure and innocent message she has mistakenly sent to you. Or copy and paste to some public forums whole transcripts of your wife’s conversations with some unknown male who turned out to be just her gay friend asking whether you are really treating her well. Or you might have to wait days or months for answers. These strangers might not give you one, ever, because it would put the girl or woman in an utter and untenable position.

And oh, your dick is all over that transcript too. So…

Or once again go to Google especially when Google does not as yet have the perfect algorithms to translate Cebuano into English.

Besides, it is a skill if the relationship does not work out. You could use it is a tool to seduce another woman speaking the same language as the last one.

____

Update on the dude mentioned above. He is dead. Like no joke, six feet under dead. He died in November 2015 @ age 52. He was what romance novelists would describe as "tall and lean as a whipcord". But he died of massive stroke.

He has never learned Cebuano. He would every now and then say something in Tagalog and I would be so pissed that I would just rip on him. And then his Tagalog were also just so wrong--"Megendeng umege, megendeng delege." Fucker! Some of the reasons he gave me why he's never learned Cebuano were 1. I never taught him. (After the few attempts, I stopped. I was in grad school. I had no time for that shit.) 2. I and my siblings that he's managed to talk to speak excellent English, so what's the use. 3. His talent lies in mathematics and I'll just have to accept that he's just crappy in languages. He's got advance degrees in mathematics and computer science.

RIP, dude. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Office Politics, part 2

I was once asked why I was so interested in American politics, history, culture, etc. My answer was because I was weaned on American tv, movies, and literature and the arts. And that American Foreign Policy was shaping and is still shaping the course and history of my country. 

I have recently realised that my answer was slightly incorrect. I am not yet weaned from American politics, history, culture, tv, movie, and literature among other things. 

I still watch American tv shows and movies. I am still fascinated with American culture. I am still discovering great American writers and writings and my all-time favourites still include Twain and Vonnegut. I have become dependent on American podcasts. I want to be Georgia O'Keeffe or someone half as good. American science and technology are still topnotch and still making our lives better. And most importantly I am still following its politics. Because like it or not, although its Foreign Policy is already diminishing according to Ronan Farrow, it is still influencing Philippines' trajectory despite Duterte's efforts to the opposite. 

One of the latest American thing that's keeping me glued to the Internet is the James Comey book tour interviews. At first, I watched because of the current hair-raising White House politics. But, as I watched more interviews and re-watched others, it dawned on me that this is one leadership book I would make an exemption of, I will read it, if I can get my hands on it. 

I have never read a book on leadership. I read some articles, but never a full-length book. I am just not interested to learn about leadership. I don't want to be a leader. The responsibility is too much to think about. However, one does get to become a sort of leader to some people, but since these are not the kinds that are widely acknowledged or needed to be studied with utmost care, I never read any leadership books. I do think about leadership a lot. 

While I think about leadership and every now and then come up on my own ideas about leadership, they may not be new or novel or any way brilliant. 

All I know for now is that my thoughts and ideas about leadership are being confirmed. It's probably is an echo chamber for me, but it definitely is a knowledge gained.:

1. Leadership requires enough confidence to become humble.
"It requires enough sense of self, a basic conviction that I'm okay that also allows you to realise I'm not okay enough and gives you the comfort to learn from other people. And show the humility to listen to other people. It requires this balance. Too much confidence swipes humility off the board. Too much insecurity makes it impossible to listen and to learn from others.... A comfort in yourself that also allows you to realise you're not good enough and the path to getting better is learning from other people." (Comey)

2. Humility. Leaders are so challenged in learning from those below them and in taking joy from their achievements. Leaders should not compete, but to take joy in how their subordinates are doing. There should be a balance between humility and confidence to better engage with people below you. (Comey)

3. NPR podcast on bosses @2.59 mins only. Take a listen.