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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NAIA, When's The Takeoff?

Amidst the controversial ranking that gave us the "evil" side of fame again - notoriety - let me couch this post by saying that I am going by my personal experiences in NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) in relaying what I am writing.

By now, the news must have spread - it certainly has over Facebook, and I didn't get to catch last night's TV newscast: We have been voted, officially, as having the worst airport in the world. (See

(Photo courtesy of

Let's consider the source of this poll: a site named "The Guide To Sleeping In Airports". ( I don't know about you, but I don't normally consider an airport as a "place to sleep". My notion of an airport is a place where people are frantically trying to catch their flight - and given the way most of us are subjected to endless security checks, I don't find it conducive to being relaxed, anyway. So I thought it best to check out their website, and they had this to say about their 2011 poll:

"Certainly there are worse airports than the ones listed below, but there is no use writing about them if our readers aren't going there anyways." (Their entire list of 2011's Worst Airports can be found here:

I know, I'm trying to find the silver lining. You may say that this is not a very "scientific" poll, or that it didn't include all airports so it would be "unfair" to say any results here encompass "the world". But it cannot be denied that on a relative basis - with whatever airports were considered for voting and used by travelers on this site - NAIA was considered the worst.

There's no way to sugarcoat around that.

In recent years, I have been traveling all over (locally and internationally), and have had a chance to use all three Terminals. And I will go through them by number, which incidentally is in the order of when they started operations.

Terminal 1 was the airport of my childhood, when my parents took us kids for trips abroad (which was their reward system for getting good grades). There was no Terminal 2 back then. (Let alone the third one.) It always seemed massive to me even then, and somehow, my mom always required us to be "dressed at our best". I always found the signages attractive, green lettering on a black canvas. I thought it looked futuristic.

Fast forward to a few years back: They still had the same signages! I suppose in an age where we are conserving resources, it makes perfect fiscal sense to keep hanging on to things that can be of use. But think of the impression this makes on people arriving to our country for the first time, and I imagine that they would be disoriented, thinking they had landed in some time-warped episode of Star Trek, but in reverse, where time moves backward.

I used the bathroom and the first thing I noticed were the chipped tiles - they always stand out, especially if the tiles are lightly colored. Two of the lights were out, the urinal I used didn't flush, and I felt like a game show contestant trying to guess which faucet actually produced water.

The carpets in the waiting area were showing their age: frayed, discolored in darker hues in many parts, and quite frankly, not very appealing. (It just looked dirty. Take note, I didn't say it was dirty.)

I got to see Terminal 2 once, when I boarded for a local trip to Cebu. I must say it was sparkly clean, and having seen other airports around Asia, the "modern" look seems to be defined as metallic, silvery, polished and soulless. The thing that immediately struck me was that it was smaller compared to the other two terminals, which made sense because, as I understood at the time, only Philippine Airlines planes were allowed in the entire terminal.

And when I use Cebu Pacific, the base is Terminal 3 (where every other local airline operates from). It has the same "modern" feel to it as Terminal 2. From a visual standpoint, it feels wider, which adds more to its "soulless" character. There are spaces there where you feel like no one has ever stepped foot in them. It has a "sparkling" sheen to it, so kudos to the maintenance people. And if you needed to stretch your legs, there are lots of spaces to walk around.

What I find odd in the arrangement is that the international flights are in Terminal 1 - where visitors get their first taste of Manila - which happens to be the oldest and the one with the most problems in terms of "items to update and repair". And since the website that did the poll was a foreign one, I will have to assume that the guests that made the complaints about NAIA had Terminal 1 as their point of comparison. Since all foreign flights are here, I can also assume that it must have the best space to accomodate that aviation volume - which should all the more spur the management to make its' facilities "world-class", as the world's eyes are seeing all of Terminal 1 in its' cheeky, unrefurbished glory.

I've been to Suvarnabhumi Airport (in Bangkok) and Changi Airport (in Singapore), as well as a couple of airports in China. I also saw Noi Bai Airport in Ho Chi Minh a year ago. And if I did not consider Terminal 1 in NAIA, we aren't that far behind, are at par or even surpass some of these airports in terms of modern facilities. I suppose we should take Changi Airport out of this comparison, as that will throw off the curve. But Noi Bai airport was dilapidated in parts, although I noticed that they were repairing areas in stages. (It may have a different feel and look if and when I go back to HCMC.)

The one thing we had  that I noticed was mostly absent in the other airports were the "security checks" that punctuated a lovely stay at any of our airport Terminals. Yes, I know it's "for security reasons", I'm not going to get into that. But you have to admit, that like the many security checks we endure on a daily basis to the bank, the malls, the theater, and even when you're crossing from one building of the same mall to the next, it certainly cuts down on any feel good feelings you may have to be asked to strip, be poked, scrutinized and made to feel like a terrorist. It doesn't help that there is a general perception that the ones conducting the checks don't really know what they should be looking for.

How is it that I am able to ride the subway from say, the Colonial District (where I usually stay when I'm in Singapore) all the way to inside Changi Airport (their Terminal 2, to be exact) without anyone frisking me at all? Not one security check. I confirmed this with Arthur and he, too, doesn't remember being asked what were the contents of his bag.

All those checks may just be an admission that Manila isn't a safe place. Or we're just praning. (paranoid) In any case, US airports have that same scenario, where belts, shoes and other paraphernalia are being placed in a tray, so this isn't an "Only in the Philippines" moment. Travelers, I imagine, would rate that as a negative.

But the worst part: the queues. They seem never ending! You have to pay for this. You have to line up for that. I went through that in college, so maybe I'm a little more tolerant of lines. But when there is a surge of arrivals and there are only 2 people manning counters (and there are more than 10 counters), you wonder why we have an "Airport User's Charge" and a "Departure Tax". (PhP 750.00 and 1,620.00, respectively.)

One time, our flight arrived around 5AM. When everyone got their luggages, we were surprised to find no one manning the immigration counters. That's right, you read right: NO ONE.

People naturally formed into lines (behind the thick yellow line), and when it was about 10 minutes, some Filipinos were just too impatient and went ahead and made a beeline for the exit. (I don't know how they'll explain that on their next trip, where their passports aren't labeled as "Arrived".) One airport official was furiously signaling for help on his two-way radio. If we had a terrorist with us, they would probably have a field day and announce to other terrorists how welcoming we are.

Did I forget to mention the rudeness and the irrational "calls" these officials make? I don't mind then thinking passengers are all potential terrorists - they're democratic that way - but when they look at a Filipina and see her bag is Louis Vuitton, and ask her "Bag mo to? Talaga? Magkano to?" ("Is this really your bag? How much is it?), that is just ridiculous. (I saw this in my trip before the last when we arrived here.)

And another time, we were in a really, really long line. Then an official announced that 2 new counters were opening, so the crowd dispersed into those 2 other lines. After about 10 minutes (and talking through those infernal radios), the same official announces that we all have to join back into the original line. (This was the first time I saw Caucasians getting all red from sheer frustration. Not a pretty sight. Accompanied by disparaging remarks about the ineptitude of the Philippines, which no one dared contradict, given that we were all frustrated.)

This confluence of factors makes it easy to see why we would be on the list of worst airports.

I just didn't think we were the bottom dwellers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm Still Dreading Retirement

I know that's not the usual reaction. Most people are looking forward to it, welcome it with open arms, have a party, start planning for their trips around the world. Finally, a chance to give the finger to the boss, be your own person, map out a new phase of your life.

(Photo courtesy of

At my age, I feel the dread closing in more acutely.

A month ago, I heard of one of my high school classmates who passed away. This hit home because of three things: (1) It was someone I knew, who was my age. (2) In case I do "go away" right now, would I leave all my affairs tied and in order, or will there be multiple loose ends? (And I think most people would fall into this category.) And (3) If I live to a ripe old age, how will my retirement look like?

I took a good look at my financial picture. I didn't like what I saw because "I'm not there yet". Meaning, I still don't have enough to get me through my old age, if I have to stop working.

I have savings, but not enough. (And I find, too often, I have to dip into them for "emergencies".)

I have some investments, but given the current economic situation, you can guess how that's doing. (But I have been investing for quite some time, and I know that there are cycles, and that in the long run, chances are that I will be earning if I stay. This isn't a gambling moment, where I take my winnings when I feel I've hit the jackpot. I am looking long term so I accept the losses I am sustaining during the periods of "low".)

Arthur and I have invested as well in a joint account (a high yielding bond).

This is something I have given more than just a passing thought, seeing as I am forever consigned to be "not married" - at least, not in this country. Even though I have been together with my partner for 15 years, even though we have built a life together, live together in the same home, and went through every possible, imaginable hardship that every other married couple goes through, we will never be seen as "married" in a legal sense. (Hmm. Must contact my lawyer friends, I just remembered something.)

(And please don't bother lecturing me about religious implications and whatnot. I am talking about marriage in a legal sense. I could care less about a "church wedding", as I have made my disdain for organized religion pretty much known.)

And because of that reality, I will be considered "single" for the rest of my natural life. With that realization comes the boink! in my head: I have to fend for myself, for my old age. And Arthur will have to do it as well.

If I stop working at 60, and forsee myself living for another 20 years (based on this country's statistics, that will be very optimistic), what would that entail?

Not working would mean living off the interest (as in interest rate) of something.

My current expenses on a monthly basis would amount to roughly 100,000 pesos. (This includes food, electricity, gasoline, going out, a checkup to the doctor, clothing, name it, everything that would be considered ADL -Activities of Daily Living.) That's in TODAY'S value. (By the time I retire this would probably worth only a third, meaning 100,000 pesos today would only translate to 33,000 later. But let's just say the values won't change, for illustration's sake.)

That's 1.2 Million Pesos annually, AT LEAST. IN INTEREST. You can compute how much the Principal should be, based on your favorite financial instrument.

We haven't discussed what accompanies old age: Sickness, ailments. This is the natural order of things, as we get older, we become frail, less resistant to diseases, joint aches will be aplenty (and from what I gather from my friends and high school classmates, a lot of us ARE already experiencing joint "fatigue" in some form or another). I would have to set aside at least a million pesos (conservative estimate) for all medical expenses. (This is a very rosy scenario: I work out everyday so that's my additional insurance policy to lessen the impact of this particular variable.)

I will probably have to hire a personal assistant/helper to help me get through the mere act of walking by then. (I see a lot of that configuration in the malls, an older person being helped by a "maid in uniform". Which, by the way, is a pet peeve of mine, (seeing maids dressed in "maids' uniforms") but that will be for a future post.)

We haven't discussed burial/cremation costs, and funeral arrangements. (I'm leaning towards cremation.)

Yes, it seems materialistic. But that is truly what it boils down to, let's cut the crap. Only people like Bill Gates can afford to say things like "at my age, it's not money that's important, blah blah blah". Screw that - we aren't mega-billionaires. We HAVE to start thinking about this NOW. And if this gets me labeled as "materialistic", I really don't care. I prefer to think of it as forward thinking, staying pragmatic, and being prepared.

And seeing the bill that I have to shoulder and prepare for retirement (and all these are conservative estimates), surely you can understand the heading of my post.

About the only thing I can look forward to is playing bingo pretty much anytime I want.

I hate bingo.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Fine Start For A Sunday

(Photo courtesy of

Having had some restless (read: not so good) past two days stemming from news in the work department, I thought that my weekend was shot and I would have to contend with saying goodbye to it in a harried state.

I really needed this Sunday to salvage what was left of the weekend.

And it did.

It started out with a run with a client who has now become a friend in the process. (While the blurring of lines between personal and professional has always been something I have approached warily, I find that in the context of Philippine culture, the advantages of this blurring are far greater than the disadvantages.) We talked about many things during the run - it's always a pleasure to talk to her, as she is very well-traveled and I get to, even if only for a moment, savor her trips and experiences vicariously.

Now, to those who know me, I am not a fan of running, and do not find it hard to "resist" the running craze that has overtaken the metro, what with marathons happening every week, sometimes 2 or 3 happening at the same time. That reticence can be traced to a very weak ankle, one that has been instrumental in producing the most excruciating pains I have ever experienced - and I'm including the ear operation I had years ago where I was conscious to relive every gnawing moment. I would sign up for the ear thing any day over my ankle sprains. (I had a sprain once that was so bad, my entire foot turned black - yes, the foot, not just the ankle - and I had to stop work for one and a half months. I guess that wasn't a "simple" sprain, after all.)

But when we do run, it seems like I could do it forever, primarily because we enjoy each other's company. And the conversations are always, always interesting, to say the least. And I find that to be truer every day, as I get chronologically older. (I just had to qualify that.) You can be stuck in the stinkiest of situations, but when you have good company to help you commiserate through it, it makes things bearable and even doable.

Our route is a secret one, but one that passed by a known Italian restaurant. (I guess this won't be secret for long, haha.) And when we did pass by it, she told me, "Okay, we will have to stop for breakfast now."

And we did.

She had a Filipino "medley": a delectable combination of Vigan longganisa, tuyo, corned beef, fluffy soft scrambled eggs, garlic rice and fruits.

I had Eggs Benedict (pictured above) with a distinct Filipino twist: It had adobo flakes instead of the imported meats you see in the eggs above, which was made by Gordon Ramsay.

The oohs and aahs were so audible, people kept looking at what we ordered and wanted to have the same thing.

(I'm not really sure where the "Italian" part comes in. But I'm not complaining.)

And after we were done (the gastronomic moments punctuated by strong coffee), she turns to me and says: "Oh, shoot, how are we supposed to do yoga now?"

Which sent us into gales of laughter.

I wish your Sunday is going as swimmingly good as mine has.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Just Shallow That Road

Last Sunday afforded me a chance to watch more TV than is "appropriate" (although, really, who determines that?), and I had a chance to scroll through many shows, and one that grabbed my attention was "Rated K" hosted by Korina Sanchez (married to DOTC Secretary and former running mate of our current President, Mar Roxas). The episode was focused on things that are "natural" which always piques my interest.

(Photo courtesy of

As expected, there were product placements in the guise of "natural medicine". I've seen this many times on her show over the years, and while I normally don't mind people placing ads - everyone has to eat - I was also under the impression that Rated K is somehow slanted towards investigative journalism reporting, so it always throws me off when they start pushing products in people's faces.

Then they announced that after the break, three celebrities would be sharing their "secrets" for looking the way they do (read: camera-ready).

Model Tweety de Leon (I'm not sure of her married name, but this is the name she had making her mark as a "supermodel") exhibited her prowess in squash, espousing health as her beauty regimen. (Which I wholeheartedly agree with: the "beauty aspect" is a bonus, regardless of appearances, I always encourage people to be as healthy as they can.)

Model turned TV and film actor Derek Ramsay claims he doesn't go to the gym, and instead plays a variety of sports to keep his body fit. Add to that the fact that (he says) he eats a "meal" every two hours, and you have a recipe for unrealistic expectations. (He obviously has the time and the metabolism to engage in that kind of "lifestyle", which the majority do not have the luxury of indulging, nor are lucky to have.) But kudos for spotlighting healthy habits, albeit not very realistically for an average person.

Model turned actress Angel Aquino  has a special plant that she tends and consumes, eats healthy, then showed viewers how applying coffee on the body - and not ingesting loads of it orally - gives her that "beautiful skin". The discussion moved on to "beauty tips", but it was still natural, so it's still all good in my book.

Then Korina ties the three stories with these words (I'm paraphrasing, I don't recall the exact words, but I remembered enough to get the meaning): "Tandaan, ang tunay na kagandahan ay nasa kalooban!" ("Remember, real beauty is from within!")

Did I miss something?

After focusing the better part of her show about the physical, she suddenly wants to make some kind of "beauty queen" statement about inner beauty? (Which, by the way, is stupendously hilarious: A "beauty queen", whose assets consists of her bikini measurements, and is judged accordingly, is the last person on earth who should be giving advice on "inner" beauty.)

I think I hurt my jaw gaping when she said that.

As my friend would say, "Where's the connect?"

If your show is how to have a beautiful body, a perfect complexion, how to look like a movie star or model, then own it. And own up to it. Be shallow, for all that's worth.  

Panindigan mo na ang pagiging mababaw.

But for heaven's sake, stop trying to inject motherhood statements about "inner beauty". If that was your intent, why am I looking at models?

When I hear of "inner beauty", I tend to think of a person's kindness, an ability to look beyond one's needs to focus on others and what they need. I hardly think that someone whose job in life is to look pretty - and for the cameras yet - speaks about a deep internal life. I certainly will not be asking about personal philosophies from someone who wakes up and makes a living out of their "perfection".

Yes, I'm ranting. But hey, you're still reading.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Awa Trumps Talent. Or Truth.

Uncanny how an artificial environment like television reveals truths about our culture.

I saw three "talent shows" this past week, Pilipinas Got Talent, and Showtime, from ABS-CBN (Channel 2); and then, switching channels, I also caught Talentadong Pinoy, from ABC (Channel 5).

(Photo courtesy of

(Photo courtesy of

(Photo courtesy of

As the shows progressed, one common thread started to connect them all together - even across channels. And no, it's not the talent - that is debatable, which is why there are judges on the shows to weigh which ones are "worthy" of the cash prizes.

What was repeated over and over, was the propensity of all the contestants to make themselves pitiable (in the vernacular, kaawa-awa.)

One contestant had to stand in for his parents' deaths as the breadwinner, and performing magic tricks is what he does to put food on the table.

Another one, a female student, was "waitlisted" by the judges, so she informed the host that she was deciding whether to wait for the judges' decision or go to school for a function she was supposed to be present for, and then when the cameras are on her, declares with all conviction that the teachers will understand if she stays at the TV station. (Wink, wink.)

A group of young female gymnasts start crying on camera, declaring that they have no space to practice, and so they do it in a public area, where the concrete gives them sprains, bruises and cuts.

Then there's the mestiza ("mixed breed"), part-Pinay and part-African-American, who says her power in singing comes from the memories of all the racist remarks and acts she has had to endure until that very point in her life.

Everyone's got a sob story. Which is not to say I don't believe them, or that I am belittling them their "struggles" and "pains". What I find suspect is the timing.

They always give these teary-eyed melodramas either before they start to perform, or long before their scores are given, and the judges are still waiting to make up their minds. In this regard, I'm almost certain the shows' directors or writers are also to blame, most probably needling them for these same stories to make them more "human" and "interesting", equated as "triumphing over all struggles". Which the contestants are only too happy to oblige.

And this, I observe, is something ingrained in our culture.

When you see a traffic enforcer pulling over a motorist, there's always some sorry excuse given by the violator as to why s/he was forced to break the law. Whether it's buying medicines for an ailing relative, or rushing to an examination, there's no shortage of excuses as to why they should be allowed to go free.

My personal experience: In line for an international flight, a group of extremely late women tried barging in front of the lines for immigration, exclaiming loudly they would miss their flight, and that people "had" to give them way. Their flight was leaving around 7PM, and they were still in line at 6:45PM - obviously they have never heard of the three-hours-before-your-flight reuirement. Or, more plausible, they were just late. Period.

We (our travel group) were lined up for at least 45 minutes already, and when I was next to be served, the "leader" of the late group stood beside me, and with no introductions, suddenly twisted my hand to see what time I was leaving in my travel documents, and when she saw I had a good 2 hours before our flight, exclaimed - loudly again, not by coincidence - "Ang tagal mo pa naman pala, eh! Mamaya ka nalang, paunahin mo na kami, male-late na kami, oh! 7PM ang flight namin, eh!" ("Your flight isn't for now yet. Just line up later, let us go first, we'll be late! Our flight is 7PM!")

I replied - and to those of you who know me, this is no surprise - "That's not my problem. If your flight is 7PM, you're supposed to be at the airport at 4PM. Precisely because of all the procedures you have to undergo, like this line we're at, one of many. It's now 6:45PM, so obviously, it's your fault for being late. Line up. Go to the back of the line."

What followed was not pretty, involving airport police. (I get a smile everytime I remember that incident.)

But just like that uncouth woman at the airport, Pinoys love using the awa (pity) card, just to get ahead. Or to escape judgement or punishment. As long as it will bring us closer to the goal, everything's fair game in love and (the crying) war.

In the case of the contestants, it's used as an insurance policy: In case the judges aren't "sold" on the dog-and-pony show, they might be moved by the fact that I have 4 life threatening diseases and I'm still here performing for them. Or that video showing how I have to feed my 7 other siblings, that might clinch the 2 million pesos prize.

And before you pooh-pooh this as just mindless commentary about some TV shows, think again.

Didn't we just witness a former President - coincidentally -  having to undergo major surgery, right when there was heated talk about finally being able to charge that President for anomalies that occured under that Presiden't adminstration?

Or how about those witnesses being called in for legislative and judicial hearings, who "suddenly" get heart attacks, or hot flashes, or have to be rushed to the hospital, and the day after, they "have" to be confined - doctor's orders, just when the facts of whatever case they are involved with are starting to surface?

And the PR people of these Suddenly Sick Susans or Sams come out and say it directly in their press conferences: "Di lang ba kayo naaawa?" (Don't you even feel pity at all?")

Like I said, the timing is always suspect. But then again, we have always touted ourselves as "the happiest people on earth", and if we are to claim that, then we have to be cognizant of one sterling fact that all comedians know by heart:

Timing IS everything.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Another "What The ----?" Phone Call

A couple of weeks ago, Arthur was out for work way past the usual time, and seeing as how I don't cook, I thought it would be a great time to "be lazy" and just call a food delivery service.

I got out our "menu" of delivery services: we place all the menus and flyers in a single clear folder, making all those leaflets into one "giant" menu. I got to thinking about the time (almost 9PM), and wailed at the fact that this seriously cut down on my options, since there aren't that many stores that deliver or are open 24 hours.

The ever reliable options I had were the Big 2: Jollibee and McDonald's. I decide to skip them in favor of a delivery service we barely use. (Side note: Whenever Arthur and I arrive from abroad, we have a long standing tradition of making pa-deliver from Jollibee, it seems to give us the stamp that "we're finally home!".)

After rounding down the list to either Wendy's, KFC and Sinangag Express, I made the final decision based on proximity of location, which would have to be KFC. If I was going to be lazy, I decided to go "all the way" - by the way, please don't give me lectures on how I need to "stop being lazy" or anything in that vein, there are days when you just want to do nothing and this was one of those.

(Photo courtesy of

Also, KFC had nostalgia appeal to me: as a youngster, whenever all of the maternal cousins would meet for either pool time or a beach outing, there always seemed to be a bucket of KFC with those gatherings - and the usual scramble for the drumstick.

I dialed their hotline.

"Good evening, Sir, thank you for calling can I help you?" says the male operator, who I think just underwent "American Twang" lessons at a call center.

"I'd like to order for delivery."

"Very good, Sir. May I have you name?"

I gave him my full name.

"Sir, let me check if you have an existing record with us..."

"I don't think so, I don't recall having ordered from you for delivery since you are very close to our place. We would normally just walk over there."

"I see, sir. OK, Sir Joey, may I have your complete address?"

I gave him my complete address.

Upon hearing my address, the operator goes, "Sir, do you have any outstanding landmarks for our rider's information? There are many buildings in the area with approximately the same name."

I gave him the pertinent landmarks so the driver wouldn't get lost.

"Sir, can I have your phone number for confirmation purposes?"

I also gave it to him.

"Sir, please make sure that this is a direct line and not a trunkline."

I told him that this was a residential number so he didn't have to worry about it.

"Sir, let me leave you for a moment while I enter this information in our files."

There was the usual "phone music" that played, the one that seemed to be connected to a demented music box from a bad horror flick. After almost a minute, the operator returned.

"Thank you for waiting, sir. May I now take your order?"

I told him what I wanted. He then said, "Sir, let me check for the availablity and so I can process the order already."

I waited for almost half a minute before he went back on the line.

"Thank you for waiting, Sir. I have processed your data for our files. (I hear some papers ruffling.) Sir, I regret to inform you that we no longer deliver at this time."

Silence. I am again dumbfounded.

"Wait, wait, asked me all of those questions...for nothing? I mean, you knew when I called that I wanted to have something delivered, right? Aren't you aware of your own delivery times?"

"Thank you for that, Sir. Sir, we have a strict protocol on what to do when taking calls or orders. (I hear the papers again. I'm guessing it's his "script".) We have to take in all the information first before we can begin processing orders."

"Kaya nga, hijo. We didn't have to do the entire bio-data thing, since you don't deliver anmore at this time. The moment I said I wanted something delivered, you should have advised me that the service was no longer available and that I should call the following day, right?"

"Uhm, sir...let me check..." (I hear those infernal papers once again.)

I hung up.

I then proceed to go down our building and got a nice, hot siopao (meat-filled bun) from the convenience store about 2 buildings away from us.

My Adventure With the Phone Calls from Zombie Operators continues.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Failure Is Always Optional

It's amazing what one can learn - and re-learn - from an unseeming source.

For example, from a discussion I had last night with an internet troll (For a definition of one, click on this: It wasn't a one-on-one discussion, there were many of us on the board, but one thing the troll said struck me during the course of the conversation:

"I didn't take the UPCAT because I didn't think I'd make it." (Edited, as the actual statement posted was full of spelling and grammatical errors - affectionately called jejemon. UPCAT stands for the University of the Philippines' College Admissions Test, UP being the premiere state university of the country.)

The thing that suddenly shot through my mind was, this person chose to fail. He said it quite clearly in that succinct statement: he didn't think he'd make it. It was all in his head - and he didn't even try.

(Photo courtesy of

How will you ever "know" if you don't give it a shot?

I replied: "With that attitude, you won't get anywhere in life." Of course, what I meant with the word "attitude" was really his frame of mind, his way of thinking. If you approach something with the end or conclusion of already not making it, then you have failed.

To which he commented: "Last I checked, passing UPCAT was not a requirement to succeed in life."

I must have really pulled a nerve in him because his response was a classic case of missing the forest for the trees: he mistakenly assumed that I was making fun of him for not passing the UPCAT. (Something I am neither confirming nor denying, let's leave it at that.)

So I said: "I never said not passing UPCAT was a problem. It was your attitude towards taking it that I said was the problem."

This mindset of failing before you even do something is why I am convinced that failure is optional. As long as you made an effort to see how far you could go, then you've already "won", as far as I'm concerned. It's just daft and idiotic to proclaim yourself a "loser" if you don't even get in the game.

And as far as "game results" are concerned, you need it to assess yourself honestly and what areas of your life may need improvement - if it is something that needs improving, at all. If your approach is one of competition with others, that is another Pandora's Box altogether. But if you will measure yourself against what you have achieved and what you can do, then it is very useful as a gauge for personal growth.

I see this all the time when I conduct my yoga classes. There are those people who come into class, saying they want to have Madonna's body, or that they have to do a headstand because "my friend can do it, I should, too!"

And part of the education I impart to my students is: Focus on the journey, not the destination.

Life, as it is, is all twists and turns, and more chaos than order at times. There are many things you cannot control, but your attitude towards these things, that is under our control. A pose like a seated forward bend incites anxiety in a few of them, mainly because they compare themselves with someone who can place her head between her legs without any effort, and their arms can barely touch their shins. I talk to them and ask them: How would you compare yourself from the first time you first did this particular pose - which has been maybe two or three years ago?

For those who have come in on an almost daily basis, the answer is always the same: There is a definite, marked improvement, however minimal this improvement is. This is what I mean by making the journey your focus, because we are all different beings, and this is what gives us different results. No two people are ever completely alike, not even twins.

And corollary to this, those who come into class sporadically, or went to class because it is the "fad" or "hot thing to do", they more often than not find no change in their journey of body awareness, as well as mental clarity, both of which are tremendous benefits that yoga can give. (It's amazing that what I learn on the mat and how I can apply this to my life off the mat.)

It all begins in your head.

Let me amend that: It's ALL in your head. Don't let your own thoughts prevent you from becoming the person that you can still be. Harness your thoughts towards the positive: you can only go forward and upward with that frame of mind.

Choose to succeed, and you'll never fail.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I Kid You Not: Kids (And Teachers) Are Mean

While looking for some good "bad TV" to watch ("guilty pleasures"), I chanced upon a film that brought me back to the good old days I was still in my khaki shorts: Mean Girls. I watched it for about 10 minutes before realizing something a friend told me also recently: Kids are mean, and always will be.

(Photo courtesy of

Looking back, I don't think anyone was spared.

And the more I think about it, it really had everything to do with our social interactions, our need to belong, and that innate human quality of just seeing the worst in everyone and pounding on that to make ourselves feel better. In short, it was a way of coping - although some seemed to "cope" better. I use cope in quotes because some kids used it - and still do - to attain a measure of power.

The "classification" of kids comes rather easy at that stage: We all knew "instantly" who were the jocks, the beauties, the nerds, the bulakbol (didn't care much for the academic subjects, just passing through), the over achievers, the ass- lickers. At a time when the search for identity is of paramount importance, it becomes imperative to know which "clique" you belong to.

I belonged to the somewhat nerdy, overachieving clique: my GPA was good enough to get me to the "honors class" but in a sea of "smart" people (and by smart, I mean the only measure was the GPA, nothing more) I would be considered an "underachiever", which I compensated for by being in so many clubs and organizations. Due to my obesity, I hated sports, and boy, did the P.E. teachers pick up on that, and proceeded to use the "weak kids" as comedy, asking us to do the most push ups, chinups, etc., much to the "delight" of the jocks, who, even at that age, could do one arm pushups and chinups.

Then there were the "princesses" who used their physical features to make every other girl feel bad about their less than perfect physical selves, and because they tended to socialize with boys who would "match" their stature in looks, they created a force field of sorts that seemed to say "only beautiful people need apply".

Teachers did help along with this process, by always making it known how pretty someone is, and when photos were to be taken, they always wanted to be beside the "good looking ones", treating it as some kind of badge. (Maybe hoping for beauty by osmosis?)

Teachers have their share of meanness, as well. I remember this particular teacher, who saw me reading US or People magazine, and it just so happened to be be opened at the "centerfold" - it was the height of Paula Abdul's career, and she had a slinky dress on and struck a "sexy" pose - she suddenly turned the magazine towards her and then looked at me and said, "Yes, you would be the type who would be interested in something like this." (Of course, that notion is idiotic for those who know me, but having a teacher say that to me was not pleasant.)

I was so glad when college came along: No more of the old cliques that I was used to seeing year after year. You could reinvent yourself, if you wanted to; or you could be more of yourself than you've ever been, without fear of reprisal or rejection.

Or so I thought.

It turns out, in life, there will always be those "cliques": the people who get everything they want even if they don't try/don't deserve it/are definitely underqualified; those who get ahead because they have mastered ass-licking into an exquisite art; and those who are just darned lucky to have all the chips fall in their favor.

The meanness that we all encountered when we were younger, that was just the dress rehearsal for what would come later. But, as adults, you don't have to take it lying down, or sobbing softly in a corner. That's the great thing I learned from some of those humbling humiliating moments: Kids who are bullies sometimes turn into adult bullies. And if you survived them then, there's no way to go but onward from here on out.

Bullying has a new dimension today, with the advent of social media. The methods may be different, but the story is still the same.

Chin up, eyes forward.

This, too, shall pass. May you learn the lesson - it will serve you well later in life.