Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Puss In Boots

It never fails to amaze me how people are so different in various parts of the world. I especially love traveling to countries I've never been to previously... and a habit of mine is wondering how it would be to be a native of a particular country.

A few years ago I went to Amsterdam. It's absolutely beautiful, that country. At the same time, it was perfectly foreign to me. I adored how their language just rolls off the people's mouths and how the culture just oozes out of everything -- from the liberal brothels (situated right next to churches, mind) to the shameless ads of "we serve E" or "we sell marijuana" to funky (and I mean, FUNKY) clothing. I remember eating a meal consisting of bread, cheese and wine whilst watching people walking around. I wondered how it would be to be one of them. Everyone seemed to know where they're going and what they wanted. No one gave the train maps tacked on the walls a second look and simply proceeded to the right tracks. Even the quaint little stores seemed to be standing there for specific purposes... and they attracted certain markets too. And no one spoke a word of English except to those fortunate ones, like me, for instance, who aren't originally from there. Being naturally non-European, I had the words "TOURIST" etched on my forehead in big bold letters.

Going to France made me feel resentful... it made me feel resentful of the fact that I couldn't speak French and therefore is deprived of the seeming presence of a password in order to thoroughly enjoy the country. I was envious of the people who knew Paris like the back of their hands and those who would expertly turn round the confusing corners of the "rues" plopping down the seats of their favorite French cafes. And ordering complex coffees without batting an eyelash. Achingly fashionable women would be walking around wearing dark sunglasses and impractical gloves (not to mention shoes) holding either their equally beautiful dogs or numerous shopping bags.

In Germany, I rode the train from Heidelberg to Frankfurt. I was 16 years old back then... and I couldn't help but notice a group of youngsters board the train. They were animatedly and colorfully having this conversation. Naturally, I didn't understand them but I could just imagine them talking about their other friends, what they were to do for the day (perhaps for the evening), what happened yesterday, etc. I thought about how it would be to go back to their Heidelberg homes. Would they tell their parents what they did for the day during dinner? Would they have a dinner consisting of beans, potatoes and some meat? And would they drink bubbled water? How would it be for them when school starts? How far are their schools from their houses? Do they ride a bus or the train? How would it be to live there? Would I be able to easily acquire the language as my Dad's German business associates often tell me?

I think that going to a country that utilizes a totally different language adds to my enthrallment of the place. London is exquisite, yes, but once the novelty of their accents and local slang had worn off, it was just like any other place. I feel the same towards the US. Even Singapore.

Thailand is one of the few Asian countries I've been to that doesn't widely use English. And I felt the same fascination towards them. As I would ride the cab around the city, I would glue my eyes onto the signs written in Thai and just observe. I didn't even feel the desire to know what they mean... but I had liked looking at them. They were prettily written with their perfect curves and details. I used to feel that way towards the Chinese characters too whenever I'm in Hong Kong. But ever since I've studied the language, and eventually learned the secrets (and because they're virtually everywhere), I have lost interest. It's no longer a mystery. Perhaps one day, when I go to Mongolia, the spark would come back *wink* as their magnificent culture will be thrown into the mix...

I pray that I can add more experiences into my young travelling collection. I wish to go to more exotic places where my imagination can run and play... and save the more commercial places for when I've already settled down in my life. I want to go back to Italy (for more than two days this time hmph!) and really get to know the place... and then travel south to Spain. Scandinavia, Egypt, Russia and Israel remain to be favorite future destinations *eyes twinkling*

If only... if only...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Two People You Meet In Hell

There are two kinds of people that I hate: pathological liars (hmm) and excessively conceited people.

The first one, I believe, needs no further explanation. Even liars hate them.

The latter, on the other hand... I can't even express in words (or action) just how much I loathe them. The thing is, there are two further kinds of conceited people -- those that are conscious of it and those that are not. And trust me, I don't know which one is worse.

I know this particular person who is uber-nice. Truly. The only problem is, she can be quite arrogant about herself... that the people who don't know her tend to have the wrong impression. I have to admit, she's quite pretty -- gorgeous, in fact -- and well, the problem is, she knows this quite well. And she makes it her business to make people know that she knows this.

My point is... if you think so highly of yourself, you don't have to vocalize it so that even the people in the Fiji Isles know about it. It will show, no matter what. Keep it to yourself and let it shine through your style, personality and stance. Telling people how great/beautiful/smart/rich you are will just make them develop a certain distaste towards you. It's all about understated elegance.


I have this certain fear -- the fear of people thinking I'm arrogant and conceited. It makes sense, yeah? Because I don't like people like that, I don't want people to think I'm like that. But sometimes, because I'm so concerned about being humble and modest, I can downplay myself so much that I probably am giving vibes that I have NO self-esteem. Not good. I learned through the years that it's all about attitude really. It is, however, severely important that one remain genuine and honest.
Seriously... there's a hair strand in between confidence and false modesty. And sometimes, even arrogance.

I cringe whenever people resort to singing themselves high praises in order to put someone else down. Just cool it, dude! I mean, do I hear insecurity bells ringing? More like beating the insecurity gong with a baseball bat... I cringe even more when people try to apply reverse psychology on others saying "Oh I'm fat, I'm ugly, I'm so dumb" when clearly they are not. And it merely triggers positive responses as "Oh, don't be silly, you're absolutely fab!"

Please... send in the Valium. By the truckloads. Here's some binary code for you: 00100.

The same goes for the NOVEAURICHE people out there. If you have money, there's nothing worse than bragging about it... because it just shows that you're not used to having it. Utterly classless.
Being humble is definitely an art. Not everyone can pull it off.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Home at the End of the World

I've always been a city girl -- or at least I'd like to think I've always been (and will be) a city girl. However, there had always been bouts in my head wherein I wish for the exact opposite. For a fair number of times, I have found myself wishing to be in the middle of nowhere, a quiet town with a handful of friendly people, far from the burdens of the material world, and living life by the day -- instead of looking forward whilst calculating my steps and movements.

It isn't about the proverbial suburban life -- husband, 2.4 kids, white picket fences and bake sales. No, not that at all (kill me, please!). As a matter of fact, it is more of the quality of life -- being free from worry of trivial matters, appreciating simple things like the sunsets or maybe a good meal, getting to know people close to you without reservation, and perhaps drinking in the gifts that the present day has to offer. Far from the bustling city where unnecessary issues become gargantuan priorities in life, I would sometimes yearn for life where I can be alone without being lonely -- as opposed to being lonely whilst not being alone.

Finding meaning purely based on love and need -- is it impossible? Or have we been clouded by the numerous elements that the modern day has brainwashed us to long for? Happiness ought to be simple, but it never is.

I never understood who makes the call of which kind of life is better? The beautiful big noisy world out there is just impossible to tackle within one lifetime. One would probably need to be reincarnated a thousandfold in order to know what's out there -- or perhaps not. Maybe it truly is impossible to delve into the four corners of the mysterious. What matters is, the one shot that you get in your life... is one where you have reached maximum happiness in. However, that can be the tricky bit.

Whilst it is excessively easy to know when you're sad, it is almost impossible to realize when you are truly happy. After all, there will always be bigger and better things that we would thirst for -- it's the curse of human nature.

When life stops being about money and opening the next door to (seeming) success -- then perhaps one has actualized life. However, life is far too complex with the involvement of human weakness, especially with the cardinal sins lingering around too frequently and too closely. I used to think that wisdom and worldliness will make me stronger -- therefore, making me more whole. But every time I succumb to experiences that lead me to pain and regret, I lose a little bit of myself and a little bit of hope -- only to be replaced by jadedness, cynicism and bitterness. Sure, I'm stronger, and I know better. I feel robbed, however, of the chance of happiness without impurities.

Then again, it has never happened before, has it?

To be simple takes great courage and humility. And to be happy requires simplicity. And happiness is our home at the end of the world... where nothing else matters.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Measure Of A Man

I fully subscribe to the theory that everyone is either underpaid or overpaid. Seriously. Regardless how good or bad your professional history is, you fall under either category. Unfortunately, that's how life works.

I, of course, feel that I'm the former. Not because I'm a bitter struggling professional but because it's true! In the few years that I've worked, I never felt that I'm earning enough. I always have to struggle to make ends meet... and I always feel broke. My bank account numbers always look sad. Then again, isn't that the quintessential mentality and way of life? I know, I know, I'm just starting out yada yada but with the amount of work I do, I always feel that I should be compensated more. I also am aware that it doesn't help that I work for a company that doesn't acknowledge their employees' hard work and significant contributions.

Whinging aside, I know I could be worse off. My rant regarding this subject matter can be endless but at the end of the day, I know that I'm still fine. I can still afford to be well-fed, to house and clothe myself, and I still have a little bit left to shop here and there. It just takes some discipline (and a lot of will-power). And no matter how little I earn, I still have the abovementioned. I guess that's more than enough. It's just my arrogance and unstroked ego that talks most of the time. We can't always compare ourselves to other people... because there will always be someone who's better off. Even though it's perfectly human to desire something that's not currently within your possession... it can also have a negative effect on how you run your life. I've to learn how to be contented. I've to learn to appreciate what I have instead of moan and groan about what I don't have. Admittedly though, it's quite fun to do that sometimes.

I guess today I realized that money is not the measure of a person (though people have this common misconception may it be conscious or not). As a matter of fact, it's his/her attitude towards money. I am currently in a society where people treat money as a the sole object of their lives. If only it's not horribly wrong to worship money, there would be millions of temples out there dedicated to it. And I simply refuse to be one of them. Sure, it gives me ephemeral pleasures in life... but I know enough that money alone will not make me happy. And this I can say most confidently.

As I frequently say: it's just money, it can be earned. Love, friendship and courage cannot be earned. And I'd rather have those any time.

I don't propagate the lack of ambition but wherever you are in your life, enjoy it and make the most out of it at least. Trust me, that will make getting onto the next step more gracious.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Donkey Work

Routine -- does it make or break a person?

I realized the other day that I live on routines. Pathetic, I know, but I never said I'm proud of this fact. But I do. I strive for schedules, skeleton plans and just the general idea that I know what I'm going to be doing the next day. And I especially need to know where I'm going to get money the next day so that I can eat.

I was privileged to hear a few people's views on this.

One said that routine makes a person responsible. Does it? Or does it merely teach a person to accomplish mundane tasks? Perhaps when you have a particular routine, you feel obliged to carry them out because you would feel that something is lacking at the end of the day. I know that I get all restless and uneasy when I skip out on something during my day -- like putting on sun block (hey, people have coffee, I have sun block!). Even in taking a shower, I have a routine. I shampoo, I put on my moisturizing conditioner and leave it on while I scrub my body, wash my face and brush my teeth (yes, I brush my teeth in the shower). Then I will rinse off my conditioner. When I'm distracted, I end up shampoo-ing my hair twice and miss out on washing my face. And this completely messes up my whole day. Something like that. The same applies to the bigger things in life... like a daily (or even weekly) routine of doing the laundry, paying the bills, cleaning the house, etc. So maybe, yes, routine does make you responsible... and efficient!

Another said that routines make her unable to compromise... especially with the age factor coming in strongly every year. Because she's so used to doing her own thing having to take care of herself for a while now, she finds it more and more difficult to accommodate other people in her life. Ahem, difficulty in finding a life partner. Everyday, she has work, chores, errands and extra-curricular activities (like going to the gym, playing mah-jong and having drinks with girlfriends). She's simply resistant to change and doesn't think any man is worth having when it means sorting her life all over again. Her argument, "I'll change everything in my life and at the end of the day, he walks away. And I'm back from the start again. Might as well not do it at all." Is this protecting oneself from emotions or a slight sign of selfishness? Of course, I'm in no position to judge her because I don't know the whole story. But routine must not get in the way of happiness... granting that the theory makes all aspects of life better, thus making a person happy.

The third one illustrates that routine gives his life a structure and direction. Without it, he gets lost -- sounds a bit like me, really. On the other hand, he also counters that the absence of routine lets us enjoy spontaneity. I must admit that there are people who live by "going with the flow." Bless their souls as I've proven to myself that this concept is actually easier said than done. Blame my wary nature for it. There are (rare) times when I'm on holiday and I just refuse to make any commitments and schedules. This is because I want to deviate from my day-to-day life of subjecting myself to routines... and for once, be able to do things impulsively. I also use the "I'm too lazy to plan" bit to excuse myself on a more truthful manner. But I've discovered that I can only stand doing this for three days -- tops! I then find myself asking "What do I do tomorrow? What am I to do later?" Believe it or not, I get bored of not planning. You can certainly take a girl out of her routine but you can't take the routine out of a girl.

I, however, would like to point out that sticking to a routine doesn't necessarily equate to inflexibility. I usually say that I'm not terribly fussy (speaking in relative terms, of course). I constantly try out new things... and if I like them, then maybe I'll include them in my routine. And I have no problems moving blocks of time around my little organizer ("I don't care when or what time I'm going to church this weekend; I just need to go"). There are people who just dislike interrupting their routines even though it means making things more inconvenient to other people. I absolutely hate people like that.

I hope they all get cancer.

Routines aren't necessarily bad... as long as it doesn't rule your life. Or else it will eventually destroy your life. It's good to be kept busy on a daily basis but let's not forget to appreciate the finer things in life. There is life outside our lives... we ought to explore them once in a while.

So to answer the question: Routines will break you if it's the only thing that makes you.

Monday, February 05, 2007

English as a Second First Language

I remember, a few years ago, that I got invited by an MIT graduate student to participate in an interview she's conducting for her dissertation. She was doing a study on South East Asian Languages... and Tagalog (my forte, or I'd like to think so at least) is part of it. She just wanted to ask me some questions about it. Being the broke university student that I was, I eagerly replied YES to her email to me. I agreed to meet her in this coffee shop I frequented in Harvard Square. For $12 an hour, why not???

When I met her, I found her to be this really sweet cannot-harm-a-fly Caucasian girl with smart wits. I decided that I liked her. We ordered some tea and proceeded down to business. She was a linguistics major and wished to work for the UN. She was doing her study on South East Asian languages because she found it to be interesting... though unfortunately, she can speak none of it. Hence, the need for me to answer her questions.

Now... I grew up bilingual. Of course, growing up, I was more comfortable speaking in Tagalog though I could understand and speak English fluently. It was only in high school when I met my best friend, Bear, that I only started speaking English fully. She's 100% Filipino who grew up majority of her life in the Philippines (born in the US) -- and she happens to be really bad at Tagalog. Up until this day, I have no idea why. So, our conversations had to be in English which I didn't mind... and I actually have her to thank because it was through her that I really polished up on it.

Anyway, I digress. Back to tea...

You know when you acquire a language while growing up... you don't really question why things are such? I mean, I never really questioned why the English language has a few million tenses and why we don't pronounce all the letters in a word. It's just how it is! This girl really made me think of my native tongue. I know, for a start, it sounds really funny to the foreign ear... but she just kept on asking why words were patterned a certain way and why.

I don't fuckin' have a clue.

The funny thing is, I realized that in Tagalog, just add or omit a syllable and the meaning becomes completely distorted. For instance:

"Umulan na." -- It already rained.

"Umuulan na." -- It has already started to rain. / It's raining already.

"Uulan na." -- It's going to rain soon.

??? Hello ???

I never really thought about this before since I've always used all the abovemention sentences. But really, just one letter or one syllable makes all the difference in the world.

And then she asked, "How do you say 'It rained on the beach?'"

I answered, "Umulan sa tabing dagat."

She frowned, "Well, see, in my notes, it said "Naulanan yung tabing dagat."

Then it was my turn to frown, "That means the beach accidentally got rained on."

Oh sweet bejeezus... I should have asked for more than $12 an hour.

The second time we met, she took along her professor that was guiding her throughout this research period. He looked like a cross between Nanook of the North and Santa Claus with a nest of blonde curls sitting on his head. He had a cherry nose and chubby cheeks. Apparently, he spoke perfect Tagalog as he spent three years in the Philippines and took up the language for two years in Cornell.

He greeted me and talked to me in DEEEEEEEEEEP Tagalog. I was agog. I had to ask him which part of the Philippines exactly he spent time in. Because circa 2000, they stopped using some of the words that he was still using. Apart from Filipino literature that I had to study back in grade school and high school.

I breathed a sigh of relief when he confirmed that he didn't spend time in Manila. He lived with a family in some nearby province where they all spoke Tagalog. Perhaps those bloody Americans just Westernized and urbanized Manila a little too well... because people in my generation (shame, shame) tend to speak in Taglish -- a mixture of English and Tagalog.


It was during this time when I realized that my language is beautiful. And I love the fact that not a lot of people can speak it (only people in the Philippines). It's like some sort of secret language, really. And people have told me that I'm actually more animated whenever I speak in Tagalog. Perhaps it's true... because so much emotions and meanings get lost in translation. Not just Tagalog but any language, I'm sure.

Whenever I travel to a country that doesn't utilize English as much, I always find myself appreciating the fact that a) I know another language (albeit on its way to dying; thanks to colonization) and b) I can be snooty about it too because not everyone can understand it (ahem, the French).

This is the reason why I dislike those Filipino-Americans that I met in the US who claim that their parents don't want them to learn Tagalog because it will mess up their accents. Puh-lease... someone pick up my eyeballs as they popped out of my sockets already from rolling them too much. Truly, they don't know what they're missing.

I reckon that knowing one's language is practically knowing one's culture already. And I would rather die than live in shame... if I don't know my own culture.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

To the Pig

I slipped my newly acquired apartment keys in my doorknob and carried my suitcase inside -- well, at least one of them. I plopped my overflowing handbag on the my new IKEA-tagged futon and sat there just absorbing everything that I could. It was my first time ever to live totally on my own. No family members. No roommates. No one at all. Just me and myself all by my lonesome. I looked out the window to oversee the festive Chinatown -- in streams of reds and golds -- as it celebrated the entry of the Year of the Dog.

That was exactly a year ago. In a couple of weeks, according to the lunar calendar, it will be the turn of the Year of the Pig to take its place in this cycle.

It has been a year and yet I still sit on the same futon -- a little worn now, but more comfortable as it probably has taken my couch potato shape -- and still looking out to the same view and seeing the same festivities. Surely they've changed the theme this year but unfortunately, it all looks the same to me. I hear the same hustle and bustle from people doing their holiday shopping, I smell faint traces of smoke from random fireworks, and I feel familiar pangs of jealousy... wishing that I were with my family like everyone else. Even though we don't celebrate the Lunar New Year, I reckon it'd be fun to do something of the sort. Binging on a delicious steam boat meals, collecting a million tangerines and trying to eat them before it becomes stale, conning red packets out of each other, and watching elaborate fireworks funded by the ever so wealthy Singaporean government. Given that we're not even Chinese, it would be weird to do that with my family. But the good kind of weird.

So... between the Dog and the Pig, it's been a good year. In many respects, it was the same as any other year -- worked too much, earned too little, spent too much, saved too little, ate too much, and well, didn't lose any weight at all. However, I've progressed to be someone one year older, one year wiser, and one year more experienced. Just like in kindergarten class, the basics were reiterated to me over and over the past year. It had dawned on me once again that:

1) You can never trust anyone. Dropping your guards down 100% can be the silliest decision you've ever made.

2) Traveling is the best way to get educated. Totally worth being broke over.

3) Some people just never change, but it doesn't mean you have to give up on them.

4) There is neither a beginning nor an ending to learning. And you just surprise yourself sometimes as to what you're capable of doing.

5) All you need to be happy are good friends and enough money (note: enough does not translate to a lot).

6) Having the time to read becomes more and more of a luxury as you get older. And watching movies become more and more attractive.

7) It's perfectly okay to do nothing on weekends.

8) Swearing in your own native language is still the best method to capture your frustrations.

9) If you're going to get fat, might as well enjoy the process and eat whatever it is that you fancy.

10) There is absolutely no need to rush anything.

Three hundred and sixty-five days. That's quite a lot of days to go through every year. The funny thing is, we never feel the whole 365 days because we're all too busy looking forward. On a daily basis, we look forward to lunch times, to tea breaks, to leaving work and going home. On a weekly basis, we look forward to Wednesday (where primetime TV is usually the best), to Friday, to the weekend, to Saturday. And on a monthly basis, we look forward to the next public holiday. Well then, no wonder we never notice 365 days passing by. We're too busy looking forward that we rarely get to pay attention to the present... and yet we complain we never have enough time.

We do. We are given more than enough time. It's just that... can we actually stand still just for a few seconds and try to take in what's around us without thinking about what we are going to the afterwards?

Another set of 365 days are handed over to us. The question is, what can you do differently this year that you haven't done previously? When was the last time that you did something for the first time?

Make the Pig proud. Oink!