A girl dressed in skin-tight fabric wobbles on a beam no wider than her palm. She somersaults and lands firmly on the narrow plank like a cat thrown from a balcony. The grace of her movements belies the tension on her face and the tightness of her muscles. She’s adroit in the craft but appears slightly uncomfortable throughout the entire routine. She does one last handstand before dismounting onto the floor. She runs towards a man who looks pleased with her performance. She smiles, thinking she’s finally mastered the art of balancing.
Maybe tomorrow she’ll do it on a barbeque stick over a piranha tank.
This was how my mind tried to make sense of gymnastics the first time I ever saw the Olympics on television as a kid. I felt like an alien trying to comprehend something bizarre yet obviously revered by many, judging from the crowd’s thunderous applause. But all I could think of was, what planet am I on?
Every day, the drama unfolds.
It begins the moment you see light from the late afternoon sun starting to inch downward against a wall, a curtain, a loved one’s face; when the soft orange glow of the sky makes everything around you appear dreamlike and real at the same time, like a fleeting portal to a world where the line between nostalgia and hope are undistinguishable and where past and future seem one and the same.
Saliva. Don’t you just love that word? Say it with me. Saliva.
Phonetically speaking, it sounds rather chic and sophisticated, snooty even. If it didn’t refer to that oral fluid we all know too well, I would probably name my daughter Saliva (and my son, Syphilis—but that’s another story).
Compared with other animal species, I think humans have long been underutilizing this biological resource. Some people even go as far as regularly spitting out this useful fluid as if having too much of it would actually drown them. What a waste.
The drink cart hurtles along the aisle, pushed by a fully-bearded man who looks more like a trucker than a flight attendant.
He stops the cart beside an Asian guy wearing black-rimmed glasses, reading a book.
“What would you like to drink sir?” asks the flight attendant. His bearded smile looks like a forest surrounding a clear lake.
I’ve never experienced Christmas anywhere else but in Manila.
Even after having lived in Kuala Lumpur for seven years now, my internal compass still routinely points back to Manila every holiday season. I’m like a homing pigeon determined to make it back for feeding time.
And what’s Christmas if it isn’t about food?
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – I made a trip to the Turkish embassy in Kuala Lumpur today to get a visa for my upcoming trip to Istanbul.
On my way there, I got irritated at the cab driver for insisting that the address I gave him was wrong.
“Are you sure this is where you want to go?” the cab driver asked as he reluctantly parked in front of the building.
“Yes, this is where I want to go,” I said, a bit annoyed at his petulance. The whole time he kept asserting that we were going the wrong way.
These vicious canines were on their routine watch when I showed up unannounced one afternoon. Probably thinking I was some radical guerilla on a suicide mission (who just happened to be wearing a Care Bears shirt), they wasted no time barking ferociously at me as I stood inches away from them on the other side of the gate. My cousin, who was too preoccupied to tie them up (he was in the middle of a Nintendo game), merely shouted at me from the window and told me to just slowly enter the gate, stand my ground, and bark louder than his dogs.
It was an advice that seemed theoretically sound to an 11-year old. So bark I did.
My friend Valerie once told me my apartment is too neat and tidy it almost looks like no one lives in it. “It looks like a showroom or something you’d see in a magazine,” she blurted out. “Not a pillow out of place, not a dirty dish in the sink. No sign of life.”
She even said that if I added one of those picture frames that come with the standard photo of a newlywed couple, no one would have a clue that I actually lived there. We both laughed at that time but right after she left, I carefully scanned the room and noticed that I’ve indeed made no personal mark in my own space. Not a pillow out of place. Not a dirty dish in the sink. No sign of life.
Was I deliberately living a dead life?
Daylight was beginning to break into the horizon when I got out of bed. I was woken by the appetizing smell of toast, omelet, and smoked fish mixing with the sea breeze.
It was our first morning aboard the MV Navorca, WWF-Philippines’ research vessel, bobbing atop the renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site—Tubbataha Reefs.
We spent around 10 hours the previous night traveling under a full moon from Puerto Princesa, Palawan to the middle of the Sulu Sea, where our floating home would stay anchored for the next two days. By this time, I had gotten used to the steady drone of the boat’s engine, which seemed to have lulled my colleagues into a deep slumber. I appreciated the solace nevertheless. It was a time to reflect. And so reflect I did.
I was never one to mix food on my plate.
I’ve always liked to keep viands separate from each other as much as possible. Rice usually stays at the bottom of my plate, meat or seafood on the top left, and vegetables on the top right. Soup always has to be in a bowl. For certain dishes that require a bit of gravy, I pour just enough to keep it neatly on the meat without it avalanching on the other items.
This is why I adore those baby plates with built-in dividers and would probably use them as everyday tableware if only they didn’t come in Sesame Street designs most of the time.
When my parents moved to Southern Manila in the mid-‘70s, the area was a vast expanse of rice fields, salt beds, and fish farms with a cool breeze and hardly a building in sight. It was a pristine place to raise children they decided, compared to the more congested North where they came from. Their peers found this move slightly strange, unable to grasp why anyone in their right mind would want to live so far away from civilization in what looked like killing fields.
I would go as far as to say that my parents were pioneers, along with the many other intrepid Baby Boomers who made the urban exodus from North to South, each carrying a trunk load of boxes and suitcases filled with gumption and dreams of an exciting future.
My mother is what marketing people would call an ‘early adopter’. She practiced New Age philosophy back when it was, well, new — way before it went mainstream and got muddled in commercialism, when people thought that talking to plants (yes, she did this) was crazy and doing yoga headstands (she did this too) was crazier. She subscribed to fitness programs and regularly went to the gym at a time when there were hardly any gyms in Manila, when people thought that going to the gym only meant having to compete in a professional bodybuilding competition. She used a mobile phone before everyone else did, back when they were about as handy as a personal refrigerator.
I then knew it was only a matter of time before my mother eventually caught on to one of the most definitive inventions of this generation — Facebook.