Reqiuem

johnupdike

It came to me the other day:
Were I to die, no one would say,
“Oh, what a shame! So young, so full
Of promise — depths unplumbable!”

Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes
Will greet my overdue demise;
The wide response will be, I know,
“I thought he died a while ago.”

For life’s a shabby subterfuge,
And death is real, and dark, and huge.
The shock of it will register
Nowhere but where it will occur.

JOHN UPDIKE

This poem is taken from John Updike’s forthcoming collection, “Endpoint and Other Poems.” (www.nytimes.com). The author died on the 28th of January 2009.

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Emails from a girl in the past

There are a lot of things that are impossible to bring back.

email

I was searching for an article I wrote three years ago in my email attachments when I inadvertently opened some emails containing previous correspondence with a friend in college. Before, I used to save all my files in my email because I easily lost (up until now) small objects that of course included several memory disks, and since I didn’t have a personal computer then, my email is the most convenient and safest place to save those files. The correspondence I had with that girl spanned for three years. I recall that we started exchanging messages using Friendster.

We are of the same age. She was studying in a private Catholic school along Katipunan Road; I was a student from a state university in the province. We met in Singapore when we were 19. At first I didn’t like her probably because of my prejudice against students from Ateneo, but she proved me wrong. She’s intelligent but never arrogant. She is as driven as I am in reaching for her goals, more ambitious, maybe, however this did not keep us from becoming friends. I never thought we would be good friends.

I was waiting for the van that would pick us up in Changi airport when it so happened that we caught each other looking at each other’s eyes. She gave me a smile first, which I expected because she is living in the metropolis and I was a shy boy from the province. She then invited me to have a walk. From then a friendship blossomed.

singapore

She’s different from all other women I knew because she has this certain way of getting what she wants in a very subtle way. After three days, all my defenses slackened until I let go of whatever distance I had from her. I was elated when she asked me to go around Little India  with her, only the two of us. We took the MRT and I made sure we didn’t get lost. She made me feel like a man. During our final day, we agreed to meet in Lucky Plaza along Orchard Road bringing with us all our luggage. Yes, we met there on time, but I decided before that to leave my luggage in my foster family’s house so she had to go with me back to Bishan District to get my things. She only responded with a smile after we alighted from the MRT and I carried her bag like a porter before taking a bus going to the house. “Sabi nang dalhin na lahat eh. ‘Yan tuloy.” Which I only replied “Nakalimutan ko eh, di bali, hindi naman mabigat eh.”

When we reached the airport and boarded the plane, she was supposed to be seated three rows in front of me but asked if she could sit beside me. Who am I to refuse her? While we were on the three hour ride, she was reading her book, when I noticed that she was starting to sleep and lay her head on my shoulder. It felt so light. I knew I fell in love with her that time when I saw her face illuminated by the overhead reading light.

It was raining when we reached Clark airbase; we then took a chartered bus going to EDSA and separated ways in Megamall. “Email me, okay?” She said.

“Of course I will. Thanks for everything.”

From then on, we constantly emailed each other and talked about our struggles in the university, plans for the future, our dreams. We knew we loved each other, but none of us had the courage to say “I love you.” Whenever I visited Manila, I saw to it that I meet her, even for two hours. She told me things that she would otherwise not tell other people because she has to be strong or to appear strong.

She is.

But whenever I met her I was confronted with two different women. One whose letters are an expression of a void inside, sadness, weariness that crushed my heart and a completely different woman seated in front of me sipping a Starbuck’s espresso while smoking her Marlboro Lights talking to me about her victories as if she’s holding the world in her palm.

It confused me.

My John,
here it goes again… the entire message
disappears. what the hell… :p
so sweet to know that you try to check your mail
to see if i have emailed you. as much as i am busy
as you are with demanding school load, i will
always, to the extent of the powers that heaven
and hell had bestowed upon me, keep in touch
with my John.
My John… nag-claim daw ng ownership?!?!?! kapal
talaga ng mukha ano? but i find it wonderful to say
(i mean, type and send). puts a smile on my
face. 🙂
if and when the opportunity comes for you to go
here in manila, let me know ok? i want to be with
you again.
even i am becoming busier and busier here. the
end of the semester is fast approaching, and some
damn teachers pour out all their requirements. as if
we didnt have five freaking months for them to
assign the papers and projects right away. and it’s
against the magna carta for students of ateneo.
gusto kong isampal sa kanila yung kopya ko ng
magna carta… hahahaha kaya lang, if i do so, i
should be expecting an F, if not an expulsion from
my dear ateneo. haha
this morning, i saw a girl in ateneo not wearing a
bra. hahaha i thought, if you were with me, may
bago na naman tayong pagtatawanan.
hahaha i caught the colds here.
it’s always raining and my frail, sexy, hot body
(hahaha) just wasnt able to bear the shift in
weather conditions. init-lamig kasi. so you better
not get sick there ok?
really lang ha? you find the 96-year old _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
hot? hahahaha ikaw talaga… :p i cant even
imagine myself that way. but if your imagination
makes you fly, and if the thought of a sexy old
woman can make you hot, GO. hahahaha :p
kagatin kita jan eh. alam mo naman.. i become a
vampire. :p
the hottest vampire in all underworld. (pakapalan
na ito ng mukha hihihi)
miss you a lot.

Your _ _ _ _ _ _ _

We stopped communicating after I finished college. She found a man who loves her more than I probably could. Crying, I said good bye to her. I knew that from that day on I will never be anymore as close to her as it was before. We met before I left for Vietnam. She retold our story that day in Singapore to her younger brother who was with us. I noticed she mistook some parts, and forgotten some details. I already have become a man in her past.

I know she’s happy now. She has her own life, her own plans, her own dreams. I won’t say “had I been braver…” for sometimes there are really good things in life that we simply cannot have because they’re just to good to be had.

I found the file that I was looking for. I was about to delete all her messages when I realized that she is a beautiful part of my memory, and I chose to let her stay.

A dedication

frida

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

“Your writings are angst-ridden.”

“I always sense sadness in your paragraphs.”

I am not consciously trying to make everything that I write sound hopeful much less happy, neither am I inclined to flood them with sadness. I’m only writing my truths.

For most of the time, a writer dedicates something to somebody he think helps him feel inspired, allows him to see the beauty in the world and write about this, helping other people see what the writer sees. I am like Diego Rivera marrying my muse Frida Kahlo. In the end it was Frida who became greater than the artist himself. In the end that person is even greater than the writer.

I am dedicating this song to the somebody who has always stood by me, who never gave up despite the little time we spent together, who continuously dreams with me. I am counting the remaining days of my stay here, nineteen, twenty days, it does not matter for we’ll see each other again.

I regretted leaving you that day without a hug or a kiss. Now it’s going to be different. We will be oblivious of the world. I’ll hug you as tight as I can and kiss you as passionately as I can muster just to let you know I love you.

First lunar new year

In Vietnamese, they call it Tet Am Lich which roughly translates to “festival of the lunar calendar”. For most of the western world, and in the Philippines as well, calling it Chinese New Year is only out of convenience ignoring the fact that it is not only China that follows the movement of the moon to mark the year.

An hour ago was the start of the new year.

Two hours ago, I took a bath using boiled herbs which my friend told me will wash away all the bad lucks I accumulated from last year. The herbs smell like a combination of aromas of fish, garlic, onion, and turmeric but the steam coming from it felt good and soothing.

Six hours ago, my friend and I decided to take a bus and walk around Ho Hoan Kiem, a small lake they consider as the soul of Hanoi. Although the temperature was between 10 to seven degrees Celsius, this did not stop us from buying ice cream. The cold wind and the tropical fruit flavored ice cream complemented each other to create a beautiful sensation just between our lips and noses. The streets were deserted for most of the people left for their homelands and spend Tet festival there, as for Chi Le, my friend, she was born and grew up in Hanoi.

chi-le

With the absence of motorbikes and other vehicles, the air quality of the city was drastically altered, made better, cleaner. I’d love Hanoi to remain like this, albeit lacking the charm of a bustling capital that it is.

Around twelve hours ago, we have had the last mid-day meal of the year. The banh chung almost filled us beyond what we are capable of digesting. It was such a great meal.

I can continue going back to what had been during the day, the week, the month, the year and so on, but I think nothing compares with what I feel right at this moment while I am typing the words in this post, far better than the thought of what will be tomorrow.

This year is the year of the Ox, I hope I’d be as hardy as an ox in accomplishing my goals and as resilient in weathering the challenges ahead. Chuc Mung Nam Moi. Happy New Year.

Mundane existence and Checkov

The drizzle outside complements this wintry afternoon. I thought of buying some milk and peanuts per advice of my eldest sister when we’re still young – “Nami ni ang mani kag gatas kung magstudy ka ba, makapa-bright” (Peanuts and milk are good when you’re studying; they’ll make you intelligent). So despite the cold wind and a little rain shower, I braved to go out and bought those things. The old woman who owns the nearby store told me that her daughter sold me the bear bread I bought four days ago from the same store three thousand dongs less than its actual price so that means I have to pay eighteen thousand (the peanuts cost 15,000).

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And now I am back in my room again, listening to Hey Jude! of the Beatles and contemplating about what Anton Checkov said: “Any idiot can face a crisis, it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.” The man never failed to capture truths about humanity. The mundane tires us so much that we can think of nothing but recreating crises after crises in our lives just so we remain useful in our own eyes.

I’ve never felt this scared of a final exam before, not even those that involved numbers. I’ll have the culmination of my stay here in Vietnam six days from now, and the regrets of not studying well when I had enough time are mounting, yet I know that I can do nothing but make the best out of the six days given to me to gain a certain level of proficiency in Tieng Viet. And this mundane task is starting to consume me, to leave me lifeless after.

It’s laughable how our entire life is, all of a sudden, placed at stake as if all the past achievements we have had don’t really matter, as if what counts is only anything that has to do with the now.

Nonetheless, I won’t let this fine afternoon tempt me to wallow in complacency for I am racing against time. I may get a passing grade, but never will I be satisfied with merely passing the subject, my inner self won’t let me.  This inner drive is too vicious to settle for mediocrity. This I think is my definition of mundane, commonplace. And, in Checkov’s words, this wears me out.

How to make banh chung

Banh chung or simply square rice cake is a staple during the Lunar New Year in Vietnam (Tet Festival). In Vietnamese legend, the procedure to make this food was taught by a god to a young Vietnamese man. The cake symbolizes the earth (the green color left by the wrapping of the cake after it is cooked), the heaven (the white sticky rice), and man (the meat and soya beans in the middle).

Co Doanh, my friend’s mom, cooked banh chung for the new year. Making the cake is both labor and time intensive since it takes not less than twelve hours in low flame to cook the cakes, so most of the time banh chung are made in bulk where several families can each have its share of the cakes.

Below are pictures of the procedure in making the sticky cakes taken using a camera phone.

ban-chung-1

Preparing the ingredients and materials: sticky rice, pork (preferably with fatty portions), soya, salt to taste, leaves of a banana-like plant, and some bamboo strings

ban-chung-2

Preparing the sticky rice by soaking it in water overnight.

ban-chung-3

Using four leaves placed on top of each other forming an “X”; placing the sticky rice.

ban-chung-41

Adding the ground soya and boiled meat.

ban-chung-5

Wrapping the rice, soya, and pork.

ban-chung-51

Forming them into squares and fastening the individual cakes using the bamboo strings. They will then be boiled in low flame for at least 12 hours or depending on the number of cakes you want to cook.

Weltschmerz: a feeling of world weariness

I’ve had some bouts with existential angst inside me these past few days that I had to stop writing if only to settle what has been a difficult fight; I had to wage against my defeatist self. These fights which I often lose are bloody ones. I do not want to utilize cryptic language here again to make ambiguous what I really feel, for at the end of the day, I am only clouding my thoughts even more than it has been. Ambiguity is a double-edged sword. The author, along the way might lose himself in the labyrinth he created. Such is the paradox of cryptic language.

Everything seems to be losing its old fun, it is like the old jokes Smart sends to its millions of subscribers daily. Jokes that have gone stale a long time ago but which, it seems, its marketing team doesn’t know so they keep on sending as spam SMSs and the equally boring line: Oh sumakit ba ang tiyan mo sa katatawa, marami pa niyan…(did you burst out laughing, we still got more. Send…) If the jokes I’ll get in exchange of my 2.50 pesos are as boring and predictable as those they send us, I’d rather cry.

World weariness.

world-weariness

Before, our idea of the world is as far as the physical expanse we see. We may imagine what is beyond the mountain or the horizon but the world is only as far as our imagination can take us. Our world this time, however, is overwhelming. The web is providing us with so much information that make us feel smaller than we used to feel, hopeless, even negligible. Such is the sad story of our existence.

I may not embrace the comfort of my faith, nor the coldness of my reality, but at least, no matter how wretched it is, I have my existence. When we look for a reason, for a purpose, we humans look to the world for inspiration. But we find nothing but a world obsessed with the superlative, with the extreme. Inspiration does not thrive in the tiring task of running after something that is beyond our mind’s ability to create an image, so we either look for something we are capable of imagining or we imagine the unimaginable and transcend our humanity.

The latter left me weary, the former made me feel I am betraying my self.

Some of the most important choices we make happen during the time we are the most incapable of choosing. I dread making choices and eventually finding out they’re a mistake. A teacher in my fundamentals of chemistry subject when I was still in my undergrad told us that we always have a choice, but what if I choose not to choose, is it a legitimate choice?

I’m world weary.

Weltschmerz was popularized during the German Romantic Nationalist movement of the 19th century, the idea that the German soul has a monopoly on feeling agonisingly out of tune with the world.