Sunday, November 24, 2013

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The Sunday Currently #1

I am currently...

READING The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. I finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt last night and, I don't know, I'm still deciding what I think about it. The prose was so pure, like clean stream water slipping through my fingers. I enjoyed the ruminations about art and fate, the loving characterization, those foggy tripped out scenes. But later, I became baffled and then unmoved by Theo Decker. My feelings for the main character undermined what the book was trying to tell me. ANYWAY. Finishing The Goldfinch has somehow restored my confidence to tackle more challenging novels, so Kavalier and Clay. I'm also dipping into Drown, the only book of Junot Diaz's I haven't yet read. I recently acquired a paperback of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell so I've also been re-reading favorite parts when the blues catch hold of me (which has been often in the past few days).

LISTENING to mostly old playlists, although Royals by Lorde has been stuck in my head for days now. Lem and I are constantly singing "You can call me queen bee" at each other. Curse that catchy song.

WATCHING The Day of the Doctor. (I KNOW!)

WRITING my thesis. (Sigh. I know.)

THINKING about the scientist as communicator.

SMELLING freshly laundered socks.

WEARING cardigans. I'm totally digging the cold mornings in Quezon City. They feel like a prelude for when I'm happily back in the mountains, in harsher, more familiar, temperatures.

WANTING to run more. Last Monday, I attempted to revive my running, which was all but forgotten during the slog that was September and October. I took it easy, knowing my body has once again become used to a stationary way of life. There was more walking than running, but it felt good to be outdoors and upright. After all the places I'd been and everything I'd done in the last two months, the neighborhood still looks pretty much the same and that is comforting.

NEEDING to be less morose about things.

FEELING that I'm between and betwixt.

The Sunday Currently is a weekly series hosted by Lauren at siddathornton. Write your own post (because lists are therapeutic) and link back at siddathornton to keep the love flowing. Have a fantastic week, wombats.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

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Getting to Villamor Airbase (for the commuting volunteer)

A commuter's guide for dummies (me), Quezon City to Villamor Airbase edition

I'm a Baguio girl whose rather narrow home range in Metro Manila is Quezon City; everywhere else requires a map. My knowledge of Pasay City is more or less that it contains NAIA, and I've gotten there mostly by taxi or hired van that I didn't have to pay for myself, hehe.

I've seen numerous posts about the need for Yolanda relief volunteers at the Villamor Airbase, but not too many about how to get there. A Google search yields a couple of forums with cryptic instructions about riding anything from Magallanes labeled FTI (apparently, Food Terminal Incorporated) and getting off at the Villamor interchange. They didn't say where to find these mysterious vehicles or where to go exactly once arriving at the Villamor interchange. It is any lost soul's guess.

So! Since taking a cab from Quezon City to Pasay would cost you your left kidney and wouldn't be as eventful anyway, here is a not-so-cryptic guide for public transport to get you to the relief stations inside Villamor Airbase:

Take the MRT 3 southbound and get off at the Magallanes Station (Fare is PHP15 if coming from North Ave). Cross EDSA to Alphaland Southgate Mall. From the mall, walk south towards Chino Roces Ave. You can also pass through the mall, which has an exit to Chino Roces (it's the one with the Booksale, haha). Keep walking southwards to the SLEX West Service Road. You will need to walk the length of an overpass (or underpass, if you look at it from the Skyway).

At the West Service Road, ride a public utility jeepney (PUJ) bound for FTI (cryptic instructions work after all!) and get off at the Villamor interchange (PHP8). You should be able to see the entrance to the Villamor Golf Course on your right. There is an unloading area, so don't panic when you come upon the ridiculous, pedestrian-unfriendly knot of flyovers and loops (because I totally did). From SLEX, walk right following the roundabout and into Sales Road, which skirts the wall of the golf course. You should see a line of PUJs for Nichols Ikot a little past the gate.

  • Villamor Airbase Gate 4: Riding a Nichols Ikot PUJ (PHP8) will take you to Gate 4 at the corner of Sales Road and Andrews Ave (Resorts World on your right and NAIA Terminal 3 already visible on your left). Tell the driver you are getting off at Gate 4. Just inside the gate, to your right will be the Philippine Air Force Museum. You can take a shuttle there to either the Repacking Station (where it stops first) or the Grandstand (where it stops next).
If you know of an easier way to get to Villamor Airbase via public transportation, let me know in Comments. :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

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Tacloban after PAMS and Yolanda

The other week, I was in Tacloban City for the 12th National Symposium on Marine Science. For three days or so, over 400 coastal and marine specialists, exhilarated by fellowship and the prospect of sharing new science, laid claim to the city.

Many of us attending the symposium flew out on the day NAIA was dealing with its radar system upgrade. It was a novel kind of purgatory for someone like me whose most eventful airport debacle was being unable to find a quiet spot to read. While getting off the plane at the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport nearly five hours after our original ETA, my boss/ friend Mags gestured at the darkness beyond the runway, pointing out that we were surrounded by water. We walked towards the terminal, marveling at this proximity to the ocean. This is what I thought of when I read the tweets about the Tacloban airport being all but wiped out.

The symposium was the first time I would present what I've been working on for my Master's thesis. I also had additional duties as a member of the communications team. With everything going on, I didn't really see a lot of the city.

But I remember the people.

The symposium was held at the UP Visayas Tacloban College, a small but lovely campus, much like my UP Baguio. Dr. Marge De La Cruz, the lionhearted dean, and her tenacious faculty made all 400 of us feel welcome. The secretariat, even when they had no idea who I was or why I always appeared to be hyperventilating, helped me out whenever they could. The college chorale group and their mad vocal skillz serenaded us during the first symposium dinner, their rendition of an Imelda Papin classic an instant crowd favorite.

New images from Tacloban show that much of the campus has been destroyed. I bear the news with sorrow and disbelief, and this tugging helplessness in the face of all things being transient.

Photo from Rappler/ Rupert Ambil

The night we arrived, Mags and I with biodiversity conservation warrior queen Nanay and a research assistant Audrey ended up at the Italian restaurant Guiseppe's for a late dinner. I had the pumpkin soup and the ravioli ragu. Our waiter was a character, a young man made memorable by his affable (and slightly subversive) cheekiness. At the end of the meal, he surprised us with complimentary shots of amaretto.

The night before my very early flight back to Manila, I worried about getting to the airport at 4AM. But the girls working the front desk at Hotel Consuelo arranged a ride for me, no problem. The driver of said ride, upon learning that I didn't have change for fare, stopped at different gas stations (at that ungodly hour) until we found an attendant who could trade me smaller bills. When we reached the airport, the driver gave me his name (Victor) and number, and told me to call if I needed a taxi service in Tacloban again. I thanked him and promised I'd recommend him to other graduate students who'd often return to the city for fieldwork.

I think about these good people now in the midst of all that suffering and devastation, and hope they are okay. 

Many of the people I work with have families in Visayas and Mindanao. It's extremely frustrating not being able to do much to comfort these friends who are sick with fear and worry. The right words escape me, but my thoughts and prayers are with them and their loved ones. And in my heart of hearts, I'm thankful that my own family is safe, far away in the mountains.

The intrepid Solera sisters from Cebu, Leilani and Ligaya, initiated a small relief effort among their friends, and it has gone a long way. I'm grateful to these girls and others like them for being strong for us, for opening up avenues for us to extend some measure of help. I'm drawing light from these individuals, and trying to follow their example. Here, from Rappler, is a list of ways we can assist in relief operations.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

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Neil Gaiman makes us remember

The Internet hype machine almost ruined this for me. Like the rest of Neil Gaiman's legion of adoring fans, I waited for the release of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I tracked its progress, but tried my best to avoid reviews. Which was a stretch because, being a highly anticipated novel by a widely loved author, it was simply everywhere. When I finally got my copy, I began reading somewhat rebelliously, refusing to be taken in. The book itself is a slight thing, a three-hour engagement at most. But like that duck pond in the story, it is an ocean. I didn't know what was happening until I looked up and realized I was already waist-deep. The story found me, like seawater finding cracks in a stone wall, and it has been weathering my heart since.

Here is my copy, which I acquired from good, old Fully Booked.

In grade school, some of my friends and I would have lunch in a small wooded area behind the main building. We'd fill the air with our voices and the sounds of our play. When the afternoon bell called us back to our learning, a heavy silence would fall over the woods. There were times I'd find myself there alone, having ran back for some forgotten item or taken a shortcut to the Industrial Arts classroom. The sun would be high in the sky, the bright light casting flickering shadows of leaves on the red-brown soil. The woods felt alive but dormant, as if disturbing the quiet might stir something into waking. I would be a little scared, but curious and defiant, staring at strange, moving shadows longer than I should. The feeling of that place was real and dream-like, an overlap of worlds. And so it was that I read the The Ocean at the End of the Lane under a heady haze of remembrance.

At its core,The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an excellent horror story. The fear, cultivated and absolute, crept into everything. I was so terrified, I couldn't sleep without my back tight against the wall. The last book to affect me this way was Coraline.

The Evil Thing is cunning and amoral, latching on to people's basic tendencies for wickedness. I felt fiercely protective of the narrator as a boy although I should have had more faith in his resilience (I am generally blinded by the charms of little boys, an effect of watching my baby brother grow up). Mr. Gaiman has great respect for children: he is matter-of-fact about the existence of magic, but doesn't spare them the nightmare. He knows they can handle it better than the grown-ups.

This post took so long because, even if I badly wanted to talk about this book and how it made me feel, I didn't know how. I am was a mess of thoughts and feelings, many of them unidentifiable and some too familiar to face directly. I began to think about long-ago and far-away with a sweet ache that, when fully embraced, could swallow me whole. Sometimes I feel old, which, at 27, is ridiculous. The Hempstock women are ancient, but never tired.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane makes me want to write, and write in the best way possible. It "was written for readers," but it is also for writers. Mr. Gaiman's prose is pointed and descriptive, not a single word without function. It is a crystal, boiled down from a balanced solution of talent, skills sharpened over years of practice, and instinct. He sets the example for the Good Art he encourages us to make. In doing so, he has also shared with us something very personal. So here I am, stumbling over my words, trying to say thank you.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Some time ago, Alain de Botton tweeted (yes, you may find him on Twitter @alaindebotton) “Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we are reading it at the right moment for us.” Such is the case now at the beginning of a new year and I am adrift (as I often am).

I took out Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which I’ve had on my shelf for ages, because I’d been unable to concentrate and was looking for something easy to read. I thought, given my recent enthusiasm with the subject, I’d be able to stay focused. I struggled with the first couple of pages, a problem I’d had with the book before, but got to this:

“I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it: I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself.”

My little brother and I were born thirteen years apart, so for the greater part of my childhood, I was an only child. I found books, made up songs and hung out with imaginary friends, basically spending a lot of time inside my head. When Lem and I were still just friends, we had a label for when I would vanish off the grid for days, not speaking to him: “cave mode.” That doesn’t happen so much now we’re together, but he can tell when I want to be alone. Now, as a novice at running (less than a novice, really), I’ve found that what I enjoy most about it is the solitude.

Murakami writes “running suits [him].” I like to think it suits me too. I know myself as an inward person, and running allows me to indulge this. He writes that “[he] runs to acquire a void.” I repeatedly have to tell myself to stop thinking. Running lets me think about everything and nothing at once.

Murakami writes “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” As a beginner, I spend a lot of time in pain. My legs, I imagine, are still getting used to all the physical labor. At any time during my runs, my calves, thighs, feet or entire legs act out. They scream bloody murder. There are many occasions where, as Troy on Community puts it, my “whole brain is crying.”

Murakami writes “Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee the results will come.” Three months ago, doing some research, I’d come across a blog on the benefits of running. The writer said that people who take up running start preferring healthy sources of fuel over the usual heavy fare. The diet eventually falls into place without too much bloodshed. Six months ago, you’d have found me topping off a bag of pork rinds by myself, but now, I find it easier to stay away from junk food.

Murakami’s reflections in the book come nearly 25 years after he first started running. The man has run at least one marathon a year since. But for me, in this fledgling stage, nursing a small ember that could go out any minute, I can’t even conceive successfully running a 5K. When he writes that he probably knows pain better than anyone else, I believe him. What I feel on my runs is child’s play. Running is ingrained in his life, whereas I'm still discovering what it means. It is a great divide, to be sure, but I feel like his words belong to me.

I’ve only known Murakami through his strange/ beautiful novels, but it is with this book that I feel closest to him as a writer. His thoughts on writing novels being a physical act (“…a writer puts on an outfit called narrative and thinks with his entire being; and for the novelist that process requires putting into play all your physical reserve, often to the point of overexertion”) remind me of long days finishing papers for graduate school and offer a glimpse of the months I will be drafting my thesis. When I read about his epiphany to become a novelist professionally, I became mindful of the decisions I must eventually make about my own pursuits.

For a while, I didn’t mind what had been happening to my body because I thought I was paying more attention to keeping my mind in shape. I realize now how that thinking has to change. Murakami also wonders “…a person’s mind is controlled by his body, right? Or is it the opposite – the way your mind works influences the structure of the body? Or do the body and mind closely influence each other and act on each other?” At this point, I’m inclined to agree with the third. I think even the Mentat have something to say about that somewhere.

Last year, I struggled with a hostile attitude and a lot of negativity. I’m beginning to think it had something to do with how badly I’d been treating my body. Again, Murakami gives me the right words: “…an unhealthy soul requires a healthy body.” My soul is inescapably unhealthy, but I’m hoping taking better care of myself will balance out that darkness.

Murakami writes of "runner's blues": "At the same time that I'd lost something, something new had also taken root deep within me as a runner. And most likely this process of one thing exiting while another comes in had produced this unfamiliar runner's blues." Even now, I'm still in limbo and suspect that will be the case for the next couple of months. But I'm not worried anymore. This drifty-ness is a necessary pain, like muscles being conditioned for new heights of exertion. Things don't look too bad from where I'm standing. The right book can help you see that.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

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Reading: year-end review 2012

It's three days into the New Year, and I still haven't written a year-end post. I'll get to it eventually - it's just that some bits of 2012 are a little hard to digest.

On the other hand, some things are easier to write about than others. On The Exchange, we list our favorite reads for 2012. Here are mine:

These are some of Hanna's:

And these are our shared favorites:

Another year done. But, of course, the reading never ends.

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