Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Sunshine Post #17

Hello dears!

There are two things that Mexicans and Filipinos will happily argue about who has the better one: mangoes and boxing. As for the latter, it’s something I’ve found myself doing. Whoa, guys! I am temporarily retiring from yoga and taekwondo for a month. Gasp! It’s just for a short, experimental time, though. Due to the bad sprain I had in early March, I don’t think I should be kicking anything still. And yoga is really expensive. I think I’ve plateaued in both and wouldn’t mind doing something new.

I’m doing it in the school near the office, whose gym I went to years ago. It’s funny seeing the usual people: the university jocks who are older, the trainers who are (still) there. My trainer now, well, doesn’t take me seriously. In hindsight, I don’t blame him. Note to self, don’t wear your Happy Shirt on the first day of anything lethal! The one with the picture of the cookie and the milk carton holding hands, with one of them is saying “I love you!” The bright pink one. Uh huh. And I think I should stop smiling, too. They just read into it so much. Growl next time, for the love of God.

It was slightly better than my first (and only) boxing class in New York City. The trainer led me to the boxing ring. I stared at it, looked back at him, then asked, “Where’s the entrance?” Oops.

It’s been almost two weeks now. My trainer calls me “The Main Event.” He finds my punching so amusing for some reason, and he says that women are weaker. I think he enjoys making me suffer. How sadistic. How infuriating. Hmph. Maybe it’s deliberate; I end up so angry that I make my punches harder. I’m a bit afraid that I will accidentally hit him, but my subconscious will scream, “Yes!” I got neon pink hand wraps to further bother him. Plus they match a lot of what I own.

I’ve gotten much better; he actually falls into the ringside when I punch hard enough. And we play around by exchanging muay thai and taekwondo kicks. When I’m feeling exhausted and want to stall for time, I teach him hapkido moves. Woohoo!

Boxing is a great workout, but a bit barbaric. I like martial arts so much better, where respect is instilled in you from Day One. None of this “You’re a woman so you’re weaker” rubbish, which still is a bit stronger in Asia than in other places. That’s one thing I didn’t like, growing up in a largely patriarchal environment, and there are good and bad things to it. The men are on the whole very gentlemanly, but there are moments when I think whether they’re being gracious because they have a high regard for us, or because they really don’t think much of us. Sometimes I just stand there, seething with rage. I can kick your butt, and I’m taller than you, Oh Puny One. So there.

That’s another reason to love martial arts. Everyone is equal, and no one dares make more of what you say. Everything just… is. Argh. I miss my weapons, my yoga mat, doing poomsae, my martial arts masters in New York who became my therapists!! Two weeks down, two to go! I cannot wait to get back to yoga and taekwondo!!

Anyone think I’m a little hormonal today? Yeah, me too. I’m starting to rhyme; that’s a sure sign.

Lots of love,

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Sunshine Post #16

Hello dears!

I went to cover my first press conference after so long. It wasn't entirely by choice – Tammy kind of bullied me into it because my chief was a bit desperate (they got the press release late) and it was for a good cause. She also said it might be good for me to get into the swing of things again, just like old times. My chief seemed pretty happy to hear from me after three years. I hate to admit it, but it felt good being "on assignment" again. Years ago, I liked being "on the go" and off to events that were supposed to be of some national significance.

I have mixed feelings with journalism. I've been doing it since I was, hmm, ten years old, I think. Asking questions is second nature to me, and I am truly interested in the life stories of people. I guess that was my mistake when I went into science – I love asking questions, but not of inanimate objects!

Some of my best stories have come from assignments that I came up with. That's the beauty of being a writer – you can justify EVERYTHING that has ever happened to you, whether good or bad, because they will always be useful, whether they serve as the zenith or nadir of your storyline.

I've had a lot of happy stories. I named one of my (irregular) columns "Temporarily Yours." In it, I wrote about my experiences on a taking a job for a day. I've done a lot of unusual things I wouldn't be able to do if not for this craft. "Oh I'm writing an article," is enough for people to nod wisely and "understand."

For some, college years are forever marked with theses, papers, and presentations. I remember them because of my assignments. I've given a bath to a tiger cub and an albino snake as a zookeeper ("Close Encounter with Wild Things"), taken pizza delivery orders as a call-center agent ("On the Other Side of the Phone Line"), served espresso as a barista ("Conquering the Espresso Machine"), made sushi as a Japanese chef ("Frying Nemo"), became a magician's assistant ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice" – although this title was changed. Blast it.), played the piano in a mall ("The Affair of the Ivory Keys") and once trained as a performing bartender (This I had to scrap because I was busy preparing for my New York move.).

One of my most unforgettable assignments was the time I was a Jollibee mascot. Ah, one of my favorite projects ever! Jollibee is the reason why McDonald's never made it to the top of the fast food hierarchy in the Philippines. Their mascot is a very cute and happy bee (A jolly bee, get it? Get…? Oh never mind.) I couldn't remember an article I wanted more – dude, unless you actually want to work as a mascot, you will never get this chance ever again! I remember a huge head, a lot of sweat, and a sense of imbalance. The title of the article was "A Bug's Life." I couldn't fit my butt in the doorway.

I loved being able to have a lot of fun experiences, and being forced to record them so I could look back and see the adventures I've had. I learned a lot on the job because I was researching things that actually mattered to me; things I would never have learned in school. It was great having feedback from readers, too. I think that was a sign of my naivete – when you're 18, it feels very validating to have your experiences being chronicled for the sake of a publication. It made me feel like I meant something in the larger scheme of things, even though it's just a few paragraphs with my byline, written in between experiments.

But journalism done at a very early age admittedly did make me jaded early on in life. I felt very uncomfortable having my ass kissed by PR people and consultants who were more than twice my age when I hadn't even reach the legal one. But it did make me take my job a lot more seriously than I would say most of my peers. I paid more attention to ethics and accuracy because many of them were more enthralled about having their names on a national newspaper that was actually respected. I think that I was more terrified about being "unworthy" when I was supposedly giving the "truth" to people; I would agonize over every angry e-mail from readers and feel like a million bucks when I received a good one. Say what you will about the evils of the press – the newspapers that are out now will be the source of information for history books that your grandchildren will digest.

I think the stories that really bother me are product launches, which I'm happy to say that I've kept to the barest minimum during the years I worked as a correspondent. I hated those kinds of press cons. Dang it, of COURSE you have to write something good about them – they gave you free stuff! They sat with you and offered you wine and made you feel good about your job. Sheesh, you're almost bullied into giving them a gushy review because of all the PR crap that they went through just to make you feel important.

There are good things in keeping to your so-called "principles," for lack of a better term. The time I declined going to Singapore for a press con by a cellphone company (free flight + free phone + free accommodations = what an ethical nightmare. Would you like a side order of fries with my dignity, sir?) was also the weekend where my thesis experiments finally worked after months of zero results. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally mutagenized my breast cancer antibodies, yo! Mein Gott, site-directed mutagenesis is a bitch. At least when you're doing the whole plasmid with a gene insert of epic proportions. The lab techs and I were screaming ourselves hoarse in the DNA sequencing room -- the security guard actually went in the lab to ask what the hell was going on.

The lone time I agreed to go on a trip was my last article before I said goodbye to Manila. It was for this delegation going to China on some diplomatic thingy. I felt like I should at least say yes my chief once and at least it was for the purposes of patriotism and not a product. I thought it was for, like 10 people. It turned out to be 100+, which was freaky at first but you adapt quickly after four years of covering the unexpected. It was also a nice big farewell article for me after such a long time and ~150 published stories of things I would remember forever because I wrote them all down and I could research on microfilm.

For this night, however, I think I left the event a bit sad. (I was also a bit peeved – it was a product launch, but for a good environmental cause. I'm a bit on the fence on how I feel about it but I think I'm fine since they partnered with this environmental nonprofit. Now that I am working for one, I feel a certain solidarity with fellow NGOs -- yes, we're poor but we mean well: please be nice to us!). I liked the guy and what he and his people stood for. He had a beautiful family, and I really enjoyed being with them. They were even vegetarian! His family made me eat at their table so I could get vegetarian food. I was teaching their 5-year-old son "The Pound" and was giving him high-fives and was pointing to the fireworks on display at the end of the event (We were on a cruise).

But I feel very dismayed that we can never really be friends in the truest sense of the word at least now – I'm still the girl who's writing a story about them so the public can know them. To them, I have to be their ally by virtue of my position. The purity of the relationship is tainted, even though they seem to be very sincere.

But what IS sincerity, anyway? Is there really a relationship where one gives without expecting anything in return? Does a company become less honorable because they wanted the press to know what they are doing, and wish to do so in luxury and style? Does a fancy spread with hired hands who smiled and waved at a set of given instructions make their cause any less?

For every person who has ever reached out to the press, I'm sure they're perfectly nice people. But why do I feel so violated for every smile that seems wider than normal, for every stranger who comes up to me to introduce himself and asks for my number because he has a story to tell? Why does cynicism kick in even though most of parts of me do believe they're good and want to help people?

Man, I suddenly feel so old. And bitter. Haha.

The ex-editor-in-chief in me is heartbroken because the majority of this doesn't feel right to me anymore. I've grown to be way to ensconced in my own little world to want to dig up the dirt from anyone else's. I want to meet people whom I can be great friends with, not beings who will end up as "connections" who will be contacted when they are "useful." I can't live having people want to get to know me because they want their names published in a paper. I don't want to wear a nametag with my name plus some organization's because I will always be identified for the latter. Ah, curse the eternal hubris of creative people! We don't want to be known for something we didn't make ourselves.

If my disastrous affair with cancer research is any indication, I think I'm going to suck at doing journalism full-time, at least if I do it in the wrong area. I'm sure I'm not cutthroat enough to obtain information through sneaky underhanded means. And it's hard for me to be completely and coldly objective sometimes, especially when dealing with people who seem to need help. Sometimes, when you're part of the press, compassion is a great weakness.

Science is the perfect example of something I (thought I) desperately wanted, but didn't want me. Journalism, on the other hand, may be the other way around. At least if I still have to compete with nimrods writing about makeup and shoes. Crap, you guys! I swear there were so many times I wanted to raise hell because of this. Me-ow! I still love to write, and I do believe in the power of the press when implemented the right way, but I really can't do just that. Or at least I will swear off lifestyle journalism forever and ever and stick to, hmm, creative human interest pieces, which I think can represent some of the best work I've had, plus command a high level of originality so that I don't have to compete with anyone. I just want to write about people at their normal, unaffected unpress-conned selves because I find them fascinating, and because it is these raw stories that I'd like to believe sustain us. Plus I never have to open a press kit ever again!

Lots of love,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Sunshine Post #15

Hello dears!

I had dinner with The Mafia the other night. Not THAT mafia – just a group of girls in my high school who used that term to name themselves for reasons I never knew. But the name stuck all the way to our twenties. I guess it's a better, edgier name that most. Every high school has that clique – the girls who dressed well, are confident and very polished … the glamoristas of their class. They're not like The Plastics (circa Mean Girls), but more of, hmm, Cher and Dionne in Clueless. (My age is showing, I know.) Back then, I was half a loner and always played hopscotch on the Venn diagrams of peer groups, and this was one of those who made me an honorary member. Every group needs their resident nerd.

For those who may wonder how a geek like me who doesn't watch TV and has a world of her own can be so up-to-date with trends, society, fashion, and other things that nerds shouldn't know about, well, now you know. Dude, it's not like I had a choice: They would have probably pounced on me and held me down if I still didn't do something about my wardrobe. These are the people who urged me to "invest" in my skin, to abandon sweatpants and dress up every so often, to know the difference between dulce and Dolce, to know who people like Anna Wintour and Dan Eldon are, and to welcome hair removal. They gave me the education every girl (and boy) should have -- at least for informational purposes.

Anyway, meet some of my favorite people who are extremely important to me, and whom you will meet should I get married or die young:

Rhea – My source of financial knowledge. One of the many friends who was so worried about me in grad school, when I was showing uncharacteristic signs of depression. We're closer now because of my tumultuous "breakup" with academia. She's that girl in your class who has the patience to arrange reunions, parties, dinners, etc. -- the girl who will head your PTA.

Alby – Like me, an honorary member, especially since he's a dude. He's also my favorite "son" (A term I use for my friends' boyfriends whom I have adopted and am now BFF with forever and ever.) He used to drive me around when I first arrived in New York City to show me the sights. Yes, dear. Pick me up at eight. Mommy doesn't drive. Grandma, he used to live in your building! He could see right into a certain Victoria's Secret model's apartment window.

Carissa – The fashion prodigy, and one who has known me since we were six years old. The only one who can drag me to Scoop NYC and make it an educational experience! I will never forget the time when she took me to Woodbury's last September to shop for a suit for the UN. The sight of her bustling to and from my dressing room in Armani, weighed down with expensive Italian suiting while I just sat there frustrated and amused, was priceless. (We settled for an eighty-dollar suit from Calvin Klein because I'm cheap and I hate suits.)

Cat (short for Cathrine à Phil, does this spelling look familiar to you? Hmm? Tsk, tsk.) – One of my many friends in medical school, but one who actually wants to be there. I'm urging her to be a dermatologist since she already has great skin, and also because I need one.

Cher – Assistant editor for this lifestyle mag. One of the many people who always had to call me by my full name. In high school, there was no "Cathy." Everyone would call me "Cathy Young." I guess this means I have to hyphenate when I get married? She gave me green eyeliner once – the brave girl -- in an attempt to jumpstart my makeup skills which have remained undeveloped.
Tammy – The Godmother and the photojournalist. My source of all knowledge about what goes on in Manila. We can all thank her for unleashing the non-conservative side of me. I swear I was not like this before. We seem to be polar opposites, but we hit it off quite well. She used to pick on me in high school. She's one of the few people who mother me instead of the other way around. We worked for the same newspaper; she helped me write my first piece. I will do anything for this girl, including watch a Will Ferrell movie (although you will have to drag me screaming before I do it again).

There are friends you will play sports with, talk on the phone with, work with, go to school with. These are the people I will eat with. We dined in a place with very rich Filipino food in one of the best things that popped up in Manila since I left – Greenbelt 5. (It's a mall, but man, what a mall! I could live here.) You meat-lovers out there would have been in heaven. Pork, chicken, beef! Sauteed, roasted, fried, simmered, gutted, grilled, and drowned in every imaginable sauce. In every corner of the table, except mine, which had broccoli and mushrooms. (Boo, I know.) Tammy kept telling me to pass the meat. I gave her a withering stare. The less sarcastic ones kept putting vegetarian food on my plate because they felt sorry for me.

The advantage of being vegetarian in a meat-eating country is that people feel so bad for you, they don't make you pay for dinner because you "just ate grass." And so went the cheapest date I've ever had in Manila's outrageously expensive financial district, Makati.

I think I am slowly attaining normalcy here. I've gotten reacquainted with almost everyone. I'm re-assimilating into the society that I left. I can text message like a native again! (This means that I can do it at lightning speed and with my eyes closed.) Woohoo! I'm Filipino again! I'm glad that I've had time to myself and with people who've known me when I was still in pigtails. It makes The New Plan seem more attainable because I still feel comfortable going for it despite being in my old box. I think that's the Happy Note of the Day – home doesn't feel like a box anymore, and so the new dream may just be, I hope, The Real Thing.

Lots of love,

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Sunshine Post #14

Hello dears!

I repent of childhood fears – of all the times when I didn’t climb trees, or run outside more, or eat dirt (which likely strengthens your immune system). I think this form of physical shelteredness is one reason why I was very easily injured before, or why my hands feel like they’ve been submerged in shea butter for weeks, or why I’m so pale for one of my race. Apart from a chicken pox mark smack in the middle of my forehead, a very faint almost-diminished white line on my left leg because of a karting accident, and random scratches that did not mark me, I have no physical childhood scars. My body does not tell a story.

Well this weekend, I tried something completely new again: rock climbing. It was indoors, at a place that’s only a three-minute drive from my house. I’ve heard that the mountaineers here in Manila are also the capoeiristas and the surfers – the cool people in the city, in other words. I will seek them out and learn this all!

I went with my writing mentor, Sandra (well, we’re more of friends now, so yay). How very poetic of us – first she helps me scale academic heights, now she’s with me in scaling literal heights.

After we were all strapped and geared up, we were given safety instructions, but honestly, I barely listened. The lone precaution I remembered was to keep the rope in front of you so you won’t get rope burn. (I’m vain, I know.) Yup, keep everything locked. Uh huh. I just wanted to go up there, you guys! I’ve never climbed before and I didn’t want fear to set in. Let’s just go, go, go!

Wall Number One was a 30-foot “easy” wall. On all of them, there are different rocks of various shapes all bolted – securely, I hope, except for one rogue step that freaked me out. Rock climbing is daunting, because I didn’t know how to “read” a wall yet. I didn’t know whether one rock is good to climb on until I grabbed it (yes, rock climbing is a metaphor for life). I had to learn how to stretch my limbs, too – a good complement to yoga – and spread myself across the rocks for several seconds until I figured out the smartest way to gain another couple of inches.

Climbing has a very zen feel to it. It’s very straightforward – you’re down there, get up there, figure out the in-between. Your hands and feet become almost claw-like, clutching the rocks and quickly transferring your weight from one grip to the next. I methodically made my way up. Five feet … Then ten … Twenty … Twenty-five… Almost there…

And. Then. I. Touched. The. Top. Rock!

Yay! I did it! I rock (that was not a pun)! Woohoo!

Then Sandra yelled from the ground: “Now let go!”


“Let go of the wall! Just sit in the air!”

My heart stopped. “What? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I was not briefed on this part of the climb!

“Just do it, Cathy!”

Oh crap it, I said, relenting to her demands. And. I. Let. Go….

And WHOA, yo! Hanging suspended in mid-air was just so… whee! Happy! It’s so Cirque du Soleil. Ole! I can’t stand it. I felt so lightheaded when I came down. I can’t believe I reached the top the first time! And I can’t believe I let go so easily! This is totally not the old me, who would have probably double-checked the instructor’s resume, practiced for a bit, and learned the history and physics of mountaineering before even going out at all.

Wall Number Two was ok. The difficulty lies in the steepness and type of incline, as well as the kind of rocks embedded in the wall. I think it will develop my upper body strength; it takes all my arms’ energy to launch my ass up in the air. It reminds me of the first few times I tried to get into my bed at the top bunk in the WYA house (hmm, you guys think this helped make this easy for me?). This time, it was a lot easier to let go; I actually loved that part. It’s hard to keep your butt cheeks 30 feet in the air when you’ve never done it before!

Last on our list was Wall Number Three. (There are six walls there – the hardest one involves you traversing a wall that is parallel to the sky. Yow! I’ve heard that experienced mountaineers actually develop “Spiderman fingers” – their hands are so calloused and tough, the fact that they are even touching the wall gives them support.)

But halfway through, I was so exhausted, and the rocks were farther apart and smaller. Realizing I wouldn’t make it to the top of that wall, at least for the day, I let go and was swinging 15 feet in the air. “Are you ok? Are you terrified?” Sandra yelled from below. Hmm, other people in my situation may, but because I’m Filipino, the sentence that came out of my mouth was:

“Hey, can you take a picture of me?”

And she did. Woohoo! It came out a bit blurry since I was moving.

I was swinging happily in mid-air and shrieking “Woohoo!” every so often, wiggling my legs like a cockroach on its back. I attempted to glide in the air like a trapeze artist, which elicited snickers from the staff. This went on for a few minutes, with my mentor staring up at me as though I was mad. I stopped when I realized my harness was giving me a wedgie. They belayed* me slowly, and I was still laughing when I hit the floor. Man, I will never forget that day.

*(belay: mountaineering term for “controlling the rope,” in this case, to bring the climber down)

Ah, and to think that I used to be afraid of heights! (Or at least that’s what I thought to myself. When I was 8 years old, I nearly fell off of a roof in my school. We were spying on one of our teachers who was sleeping – when you’re eight, these things are quite scandalous to you. She jerked awake, I ran, and my arm hit a window and I fell to my feet. The edges of my fingers were hanging off of the roof. My arm was sliced open, bleeding, but hell, it’s better than dying.)

Before, I used to tell everyone that I’m afraid of everything, but I’ll do it anyway. Now, I think I’m accustomed to the fact that I will naturally and earnestly go beyond my sandbox and seek out alternative means of play, which means that I will have to forget the concept of fear anyway. This makes me even more grateful for immersing myself in martial arts, yoga, first aid, etc. – things that will keep me alive for as long as possible despite the shenanigans I will likely get myself into.

As for rock climbing though, I don’t want to do this for too long – your skin gets so dry and calloused. I’ll admit I’m vain that way. But I’ll try (almost) anything once, or for a while until the wonder wears off.

But until that happens, ha! Wall Number Three, see you next Sunday!

Lots of love,

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Sunshine Post #13

Hello dears!

My weekend rocked, you guys! So many things to tell, but let’s do this one post at a time.

Saturday: My first formal Adobe class. I’m largely – no, make that completely – self-taught, but I decided to see what a classroom setting will bring me instead of me pressing buttons and seeing what they will do. And ohmigod. I have not known joy like this since the first time I held my nunchucks. That time, I was so depressed in graduate school but learning how to use them made me snap out of it like that. It was the same this Saturday. Wheee!!!!! Eee!!!!!! I am happy again! This since I found out that:

Adobe Illustrator CS3 is the best thing since Luna bars!

It can complement colors! It can do 3-D shapes! I think I just died. I was palpitating like there was no tomorrow. IT HAS ALL THE PANTONE COLORS IN THE SWATCH LIBRARY IN DIFFERENT PAPER STOCKS!!!!

Whee! I love it I love it I love it I am back I Am Me Again!

(I am bouncing around so much, I can’t stand myself.)

My teacher is a graphic designer and is formerly a physical therapist. Filipino-Chinese, also the eldest, family gave him hell when he left medicine. Hello, he sounds just like me! Give me a few more days to pick his brain and yes! I have another ally! I might ask him to help me with my design manual. (Mary, you were right. I have no shame at all. But I make up for it with healthy baked goods.)

Looking back, I think the things that gave me the most joy were those times where I discovered something new, or when I pushed myself beyond what I thought I could do. It’s like a child realizing that he can walk on two feet by himself, instead of having his parents hold him by the hand. Winning, by contrast, only gave me … oh I don’t know, relief, I guess, that I satisfied other people and maintained what they thought of me. It felt so false.

Ten years ago, I used to be one of those people who felt validated only when I was stressed out or frustrated at the silliest of things. But over time, I’ve met people who were so much more than that and who I didn’t have much admiration for. They only had degrees that meant nothing to themselves and published papers that no one interesting would read. I guess I become allergic to people who were just so voluntarily self-destructive. Ugh. Get over yourselves. You’re not that important.

I think that’s the reason why I’m happy most of the time now. Happiness is my way of giving the finger to negative elements that be. Things may not go my way, or I may be with people I don’t like, but I have learned to play with the cards that I am dealt with and be the player at the poker table that gets the most exciting round. To be happy is a choice. I think that’s the one thing I learned while being in a place where smiles were rare, and in a city where we may have every material luxury available but no soul. I learned the hard way that to attain your goals with joy and integrity is doubly victorious. How you got there is more important that actually getting there; the only thing worse than failure is questionable success.

Lots of love,

P.S. Eww, you guys. I think I accidentally ate bread mold the other day. Bleh.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Sunshine Post #12

Hello dears!

You know you’re not so young anymore when your peers begin to get married, have kids, or worse, ask you to be godmother to their kids. The tally so far: Three people have asked me to be godmother to future children. One of my best friends has plans to tie the knot. I know some people in my class who have already done so, some out of wedlock. And one of them expressly stated that she wants a small torch as a present for her wedding this May so she can make crème brulee. (I also need to find a dress from the prewar era. Which war?! Maria? Bissy? Any suggestions? I’m a little lost in that department.)

Any other single people out there who think that if this keeps up for the next few years, he or she will give in to people’s well-intentioned but ultimately distressing suggestions to join an on-line dating service? Raise your hands. Let’s form a support group. There will be chocolate gatherings, panel discussions and cocktail hours. Let us toast the single life.

Ah the pressure to procreate and perpetuate the human race! To find love and live happily ever after! Mein Gott. Must I do it now? I haven’t even gotten my pilot’s license yet! I still have to go to school! And I am so behind in taekwondo! *sob* Somebody please hit the Freeze button on the stopwatch of life!

For what it’s worth, I’m sure that I will marry outside my culture. I think it’s a whole lot sexier and a lot more interesting. I’ve observed that those who are at least biracial or have been raised in at least two different cultures are less likely to be arrogant and more likely to be self-possessed and sensitive to other people. I think it’s because they’re already marked as “different” from the rest of the “purebloods,” and so become less cliquish and more open from birth. They’re not deeply entrenched into their own practices and actively seek out other perspectives and viewpoints. Or at least that has been my experience. The happiest and warmest people I’ve met usually come from “Melting Pots” – Philippines, Brazil, Australia, to name a few.

I also think you become prouder of your heritage because you get to pick the best of each of the bloodlines coursing through your veins. That’s one advantage of not being fully accepted – you yourself don’t have to accept everything about one culture. You can take your pick and make it your own. Culture becomes a link and not a barrier, and issues on racism are lessened because races themselves are diluted. Plus the bilingualism is built in, which I’ve found quite helpful.

I’ve always loved meeting people who are really mixed in terms of upbringing. They have the most interesting stories – like one of my yoga teachers who was raised in a kibbutz in India and traveled around the world. They also look amazingly interesting and striking. The best example I can come up with right now is Naima Mora (Irish + Native American + Mexican + African American. I love it! America’s Next Top Model Cycle 4, yo! Don’t laugh, it was my cheap indulgence back when I still watched TV – I think the photo shoots are pretty.)

I’m already three-quarters Filipino, making it half the battle (which supposedly means Malay + Spanish + Chinese + other stuff in there. Who knows?! Yay! My cousin told me she found out she’s part Portuguese as well, although whether that’s also in my bloodline is something I have yet to find out.) and one-quarter Chinese (i.e. my grandfather came straight from the Mainland) and I was raised in both environments, studied in a high school headed by strict French-Canadian nuns and in a university where fraternity men streaked through the school to protest government corruption as an annual activity.

So whee! Oriental + arguably Hispanic? Check! Strange and often-contrasting modes of education? Double check! Extremely questionable skin color? Hello, I’m whiter than white people! Now if I can only find a part-African, part-Caucasian part-Kiwi guy who spent his childhood scuba diving in Australia and once worked as an interpreter of Egyptian hieroglyphics, I cannot wait to see what my kids will look like. My household will be a mini-UN.

It’s the same with altruism and philanthropy too, I guess. I think the most successful non-profits are those that are very international. (Yay, WYA!) To be brutally honest, everyone is forced to behave themselves and really think outside the box in order to be diplomatic and to substantially address the cause that they chose to espouse, instead of half-assing their charity case and still feeling good about themselves but not truly addressing the issue.

I think diversity is the way it’s supposed to be for almost everything. People who were raised in one environment will never truly know what the outside world feels like unless they see it for themselves. For the most part, and with notable exceptions, I have found that those who want to help but whose philosophy is very homogeneous will be (unwittingly) condescending and culturally insensitive to the people they want to aid no matter how good their intentions may be – how will they know how the other side lives if they’ve only seen it in pictures? On the flipside, those who need help and who have insulated themselves may likely try to solve their own problems the usual way instead of looking for what other communities have done. The coolest people are those who have the richest and most varied of experiences.

Plus I think they have better pick-up lines. I remember one embarrassing incident in one of my many extra-curricular classes (which I’d rather not specify since I don’t want this to turn scandalous. This is just an anecdote.). One of my classmates thought that cupcakes and hugs and being nice equal to me saying “Let’s get it on” as illustrated in a brief but rather shocking e-mail.

I didn’t speak to him for two months. Argh. I feel like I should wear a T-shirt that says “Just Because I Hug You Does Not Mean I’m In Love With You” in front and “ ‘Dear’ Is My Default Name For All Living Beings” on the back. Good grief. It was just a cupcake, dear. Let’s not get carried away. What’s next? Do I complete you, too?

Lots of love,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Sunshine Post #11

Hello dears!

Ohmygod, you guys! Today, I saved the owner of a yoga studio from a completely heinous grammatical error on a poster he was going to blow up to be 53 feet high. Bad design must die, but grammatically incorrect design must burn forever! That cheered me up just a teeny bit. For at least a few seconds anyway!

"You know, thank God I'm not in medical school," was the one big conclusion I had after several weeks back in The Motherland. I think I finally had it with meeting friends in medicine who were so sick of what they were doing but didn't know what they wanted to do outside the box that they found themselves in. My Chinese side of the family has been screaming "Medical School!" since they found out I was out of research. Admittedly, I did think of this briefly. Surely there isn't anything bad in wanting to alleviate human suffering, right? But I just imagine myself buried under piles of textbooks, filled with drivel I have to memorize and spit out, being concerned with every single tedious detail only to have theories overturned the next year, and being obsessed with which hospitals to go to and which doctor I wanted to be with and that just did it. I can't do this, man. No more standardized tests – heck, standardized anything -- for me!

"Uh, Cathy dear, you do realize that's what we do, right?" my best guy friend who is in medical school told me after I had to explain (for the umpteenth freaking time!) Why. I. Don't. Want. To. Do. Research. Anymore. I think he thought I was allergic to doctors or something.

Well, not exactly. I think there are doctors, and then there are great doctors – the ones who really wanted to devote their lives to healing the sick, instead of those hacks who simply want the degree.

It might be an odd thing to say, but sometimes I feel that medical school (or law or business school) is Every Overachiever's Insurance Policy – what they would latch onto when they don't know what to do with their lives but wish to do something "respectable" in the minds of everyone else. No one wants to be in a phase where they don't have a "vision" of the future. But while they see it as a safety net, I see it as intelligence of no consequence if it's really not what you want.

It was August of last year when I experienced, for the first time, what it's like not to know what the future will bring. Oddly enough, while I was beleaguered with panic attacks during separate points, it was one of those phases in my life that kicked ass – the dreaded Transition Period. There is something to be said about being in a phase that wasn't in The Plan. Ohmygod, you guys! It was painful, but it rocked. For those who might be experiencing the same thing, here are the main points that I encountered:

1. People who are "transitioning" will take a language class because it's one of those things they can finally have time for, and it would be good to put on their CVs. In my case, I took up Spanish and French because I wanted to have a reason to wake up in the morning. Before I came to WYA, I planned to just pack it all up and go to Spain for a year. (When I tell this to my friends, they say, "Whoa, way to go, Cath! I didn't know you had it in you." Thank you. *takes a bow*) Language class also became my therapy session – you meet a lot of kindred spirits there. Everyone will say "Yo soy desempleado" or "Je ne travaille pas." I do not have a job. My favorite line was "Yo no se lo que hago." I don't know what I'm doing. Hell yeah.
2. Random strangers will applaud your dreams and share their life stories with you. In my case, I clearly remember a nice cheery Aussie woman in the top floor of Barnes and Noble Lincoln Center telling me to go for what I really want. The books you read, the movies you watch, the people you meet at that particular time will be very timely to your condition – it's like a film that Mother Nature is making out of your life.
3. There is an incomparable feeling of lightness that you will feel, letting go of a phase in your life and trusting that the next one will come. You feel like the world is yours to conquer again because you are starting on a clean slate, untainted by past (naïve) desires.
4. You meet a lot of people who are in the middle of the horrible state you were just in. They will tell you that you're lucky to have gotten out while you still can. This makes the period much easier.
5. Telling my parents I wasn't a scientist anymore was like coming out of the closet. And hel-lo! What a relief. Yeah Mom, I'm pregnant, a lesbian, and I work for non-profit. Just kidding about the pregnant and lesbian part!
6. I felt extremely happy being emancipated from having to decapitate rats all the time. I will never channel Lady Macbeth again, you guys! Out, damned spot, out I say! No more massacres!
7. I got through two taekwondo belt tests because I went to class everyday.

I've noticed that old friends want to meet up with me not necessarily because they want to catch up, but they want to see what I've been doing and what I plan to do. ( -- the latter of which I am so happy to keep to myself … My future, for the first time, is mine! All mine! Whee! You can bribe me with facials and massages and vegan desserts but I'm not telling you what I'm doing next year!) I think that it's the trend for those in their early-to-mid-twenties – we want to see how our peers are doing as a gauge to see how we are doing. Am I slacking off? Am I just on the right track? I hope I'm not the burnout of my generation. These are the thoughts that I can hear them thinking, mainly because my own brain is echoing them. No one wants to be the person who didn't "make it," especially when people had such high expectations of you.

You know, growing up, I've always had these nutty ideas and executed them until the end because they haunt me at night if I don't and I get these crippling migraines. But instead of "creative," they call it "obsessive compulsive." You have no idea how being referred to as The Creative One has turned my world upside down, you guys. I was just The Nerd before! "Happy" today was "Neurotic" in high school. Hahaha! Yahoo! Ah, how perspectives change when the wording is different. I think I hated everyone's previous labels of me because I haven't done anything with my life yet; I felt like they expected something of me that I couldn't give and because they implied some sort of defect. They laud the potential, instead of waiting for the actual achievement. They saw me as a freak. I think I like this now because it commands me to have something completely original and unaffected to give instead of being just another fraud. At least I hope so – Steve Jobs once said to stay hungry and stay foolish. I am both of those things right now and it will likely remain that way forever. But I hope minus the hungry part. It's hard to live on yogurt and granola bars alone, y'know. Vegetarian or otherwise.

I've been saying the weirdest things lately. Last week, at the Australian embassy when I attended the World Youth Day info session, I was waiting for a cab outside, under the blazing heat of Manila's summer. I skipped to the elderly woman ahead of me and said, "Excuse me! If I hold your umbrella, may I share it with you? My hair is starting to fry." Umbrellas during the summer are one thing you can see in Asia but not in the West. For them, it's because they don't want to darken; for me, it's because I don't want my thymines to dimerize and cause genetic mutations! Sigh. I wish I had a built-in tan.

Lots of love (and yes, I promise to be happier next time I write),

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Not-so-Sunshine Post #10

Hello dears.

Horrible day. Rahr. I want to crawl into a hole because some of my closest friends don’t understand why I do what I do and I hate having to explain myself all the time. You’re my friends and you’re supposed to love me! I tutored you when you were in training bras! I didn’t judge you when you dated your weird boyfriends! I’m just working for non-profit here! Bah. My cab driver today had engine trouble and left me stranded on one of Manila’s deadliest avenues. And I feel bloated and nauseous after eating cheesecake before yoga class. I poked out my classmate’s eye while attempting the Balancing Stick pose, and I didn’t even care! What’s wrong with me today?!

Aaarghhhh!! Rosa! Fabiano! Oh Master Lee! Yoohoo! Sniff. I need a black belt hug. Come here. We can train on the beach. I promise to stop horsing around. I’m distraught and upset and alone and I need to hit something but I can’t because I can’t wake up at 5 am on a Saturday for taekwondo class and arnis gives me zits. Boo.

I think I’m being made to feel like I eloped with some guy my family and friends don’t approve of, and now I’m a social pariah. Man, I hope this is an indication that I will marry for love and not money.

Ok, deep breath. And release. Aahhhhh.

Look, one reason I never wanted to do the corporate world was that I thought the lot of it was based on common sense – be respectful to your peers, be a team player, give work your 150%, don’t hurt anyone, be nice. I thought that I would be better off in fields where so much is unknown and where actual thought and innovation would have to come into play. Hence why I wanted to do research to begin with.

But I have no regrets about what I learned in university. I loved my major – Molecular Biology and Biotechnology – at that time, I was jumping up and down whenever I heard the word “DNA.” I was with the right class with the right mentor and at the right time. But it wasn’t handed to me just like that. There were only 40 slots for the entire country and these were usually reserved for those who went to specialized science schools. I, offspring of a private Catholic school (Yes, I was a Catholic schoolgirl. Shut up.), didn’t make the cut and was first relocated to Computer Science (Two semesters of programming hell! Dear God. When I dozed off during my final exam, I knew it was time to go.)

After my freshman year, I applied to transfer but they still didn’t want me. Persistent, indignant, and refusing to take no for an answer, I set up a meeting with the Director of the institute. I begged, pleaded, and showed her my writing portfolio, saying that, Ok, I may not have been raised in a laboratory but dang it, I can write! And I can write for you!

It was one of my happier stories. Whatever I lacked in training and intellect, I made up for in balls, and I guess this has been a recurring theme. I ended up doing my thesis in the lab that the Director shared with her best friend. The latter became my mentor and thesis adviser; she would teach me about science and life while I became her ghostwriter. She’s a really good friend of mine now and apparently is a friend of one of WYA’s Board Members. The rest, as they say, is history.

Looking back, there was something good in not getting what you want the first time. It made me value my studies a lot more, because it didn’t come to me easily, and because it made me endure a lot for the sake of the program. (This includes a rather traumatic Calculus class with one of the more heinous and perverted professors in my university. To this day I can’t look at asymptotes and hyperbolas without imagining the things he told us to. Insufferable jerk.)

I guess I’m hoping that because this new desire came after (and during) such a distressing time, then it means it’s the real thing and I will live happily ever after.

There is a faint scar on my left wrist that makes me unable to forget what I experienced in graduate school. (No worries; this wasn’t some suicidal drama – I was rescuing tubes of cell lines that disappeared into the abyss of a liquid nitrogen tank whose temperature was –80 degrees Celsius, and my wrist touched the lid. Ouch, yo! It burns, it burns! Two nice people from the lab next door helped me fish them out with bucket.)

When I glance down at my arm, I would remember that feeling of cold dread when I would enter a lecture and be with my classmates, who, hands down, would have to be one of the most discordant, insecure, cliquish, catty groups of people I have ever come across. (I was the lone Asian girl during my year. People kept asking me about Imelda Marcos’s shoes. Look, I don’t know, ok? I wasn’t born yet.) Or the thought of being in my old lab where I would wonder when I would get yelled at next, and when those degrading sessions would transpire, I was forced to just sit there and take it. Oh, and let’s not forget the rats; I don’t think I need to elaborate on that. It’s why I’m vegetarian, yo.

I have this involuntary fantasy where I face all the people who made me so unhappy there and just scream, “At least some of us have talent, you egotistical hacks! All you ever do is rip off other people’s work and read instruction manuals!” Then I take a bow and happily skip away. Fare thee well, lemmings!

Sheesh. I feel like that kid who was bullied in high school and wants to take a shot at her tormentors during homecoming. Oh well. Writers need to feel everything.

I look back at my really old journals and I feel utter disbelief at seeing how much I’ve changed in terms of what I value now. You know how if you’re in a very competitive academic environment, and at the end of every semester, everyone pulls out a calculator and tries to see what their foreseen average/GPA/end-of-year marks are? Dude, I was one of those number-crunchers; I even had index cards. Eww. I guess I needed graduate school to forcefully eviscerate that part of myself. God, I hate that old version of me now! Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and slap my younger self to her senses. My darling child, any idiot can graduate valedictorian. Rise above your number.


P.S. I’m sad and I’m sorry I’m taking this out on you all.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Sunshine Post #9

Hello dears!

I think I've finally realized why I was in a funk, and no, it's not PMS.

Geez, get a load of this post-quarter life crisis, yo. After the cycle of Depression, Desperation, Hope, Revelation, Excitement, and Giddiness, now comes the phase of Impatience, Restlessness, Hostility and Dissatisfaction. (I can illustrate this in a graph for those who are interested; the y-coordinate will represent my blood pressure.) When you finally know exactly what you want to do with your life, you become increasingly aggravated when things don't move fast enough. Patience is one of my two weak points (the other is subtlety).

I think now is also the time for me to start letting go of some things so as to concentrate on what I keep telling myself is The New Plan, which, may I add, so kicks the ass of the old plan. Woohoo! But I've become more realistic and pragmatic over the years. I've always believed in "following through" with my so-called "passions" and I've finally told myself that I should probably let go of wild dreams like playing the piano in public or competing professionally in archery, etc. – things where I showed some potential, but let's face it: I am no prodigy.

I've been thinking a lot of how I've always walked the line between journalism and science; those were the things I gravitated towards early in life. But I'm now vacillating between thinking whether I love those fields in their entirety, or because they seemed to satisfy a need for me to be productive. I've always steered clear of areas that concentrate on intangible philosophical ideas and arguments; I like things where I can produce something – anything -- at the end of the day and call it my own. The work is irrefutable because I printed it out.

I can't help but go back to this one time in New York City – the day when I played freeze tag with complete strangers. One of them asked what I was doing and after the usual stiff introductions, she goes "Director of Communications? You, like, what? Make sure the phones work?" There was an uncomfortable three-second silence.

Actually, Phil does that, I told myself silently. I suck at machines. The only association I have with anything electric is the fact that I am, ahem, the Voice of the World Youth Alliance International Headquarters' Phone Lines (i.e. If you get our voice mail, you get me! How do you do?). Unless they've already changed it.

(I think this was the first time I had to tell a stranger what I do. I have learned from this since then and now I just say, "Oh I work for non-profit. Bye!" I hate long-winded explanations.)

That got me thinking, too. I don't want to be known for positions I've held, or schools I've studied at, or fancy places I've worked in, or awards I've received. I just want to produce work that will speak for itself, and to have a lot of friends and loved ones while doing that. It's amazing how your desires are suddenly simplified when you're older.

Ah, output. The thing that has driven me since I was young; coming from an Asian upbringing, I thought that this showed a utilitarian mindset, but now I'm at peace with it. I don't care about titles, positions, corporate/academic ladders, degrees and opinions – I just want to spend my life perfecting my craft and hoping that this would do some level of good in the larger scheme of things. I'm uncertain whether to be alarmed at the fact that this may suggest a certain absence of conviction, or to be relieved because at least I know I will be happy doing something that I love.

I just hope it's not too late. I think it was during college when I started to become allergic to people who would rest on their laurels because they were, by society's standards, pretty young to be doing what they were doing. I was writing feature articles about kids who did well early in life, but looking back, I think part of the reason they couldn't recapitulate that "glory" as they grew older was because they were complacently luxuriating in their youth, thinking they were too cute and already successful, and therefore, they could stop exploring.

But in graduate school, I became exasperated at those who made excuses because they thought themselves too old; they refused to go outside the box because they thought they lost their chance. Sheesh. Why this dumb obsession with age? It just makes you limit yourself and come up with meaningless excuses for setting limits on what you can do.

Regardless of what I will do with my life, I think I'm pretty sure that I won't go for a Ph.D. ever again. I think it dissolves your sense of wonder because you keep hammering your subject down to the point that it may not even matter to you anymore. I'm not proud enough to want to be an "established authority" at anything, then feel like the walls are closing in when someone else's theory goes against mine. I would rather live in joy, and be able to live anywhere I please.

I guess it's a manifestation of a previous lack of self-awareness that I can admit this to myself now, and in hindsight, I should have seen this coming. My favorite book growing up was Alice in Wonderland. It still is.

But maybe things just happen in some odd precision in due time. I've had my moments of "Uh oh, time is running out" when I see my peers already doing their internships in medical and law school or getting married, especially when I am still on a journey career-wise, and single at that. (My mom is on my butt about this now, telling me that I'm "wasting my genes" if I end up a spinster. Ah, the quirks of having a mother who made a living discussing Mendelian segregation.)

Whew, that was a load off. But on a happier note, I have finally found my design heroes! Yay! I am getting poorer by the day, buying all of these designer monographs. They are pricey, man. I vowed to myself, as I was paying at the counter, that I will publish my own one day. And it will be as expensive as these.

My favorite designer so far has pushed the limits of art, at least in my opinion. I'm so happy to have found one of his last commercially available, slightly battered, and outrageously expensive monographs – in Manila of all places. (I called his studio when I was in NYC and even they ran out of copies). I begged, pleaded, and gave excellent arguments to the manager, but sadly, only got the price down by 5%. I'm losing my touch, yo. But still, it was so worth it -- every single page made me smile and now I have ideas once again. Maria Miriam Giovane Grizzetti, the rut is so over!! One day, I will be better than this guy.

Well, a girl can dream. At least we have some things in common. We both left something scientific, we're very playful, we have no sense of hierarchy and bureaucracy whatsoever, and (people think) we have no qualms about nudity.

Co-ed naked nonsexual yoga, anyone? :-)

Lots of love,

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Sunshine Post #8

Hello dears!

Show and tell!

Because I miss doing this with Maria, here is an e-mail with a photo. Look! Look! Happy-ness!

(I can't upload this right now. Oh boo. Will try again later.)

It's supposed to be a modern take on Asian basket bags, but made of a more durable waterproof material and was handmade in Thailand. It's one of the Happiest Bags in the World and it's mine for $15! The slots on the side are perfect for my arnis sticks! It's the happy bag with deadly objects.

I just finished reading this adorable graphic novel called, "Goodbye, Chunky Rice." It's about this turtle, Chunky Rice (I'm not kidding), who leaves home to see the world and has to leave behind his little mouse friend, Dandel. At sea, he meets Ruth and Livinore, a set of bickering conjoined twins, and Charles, their cynical captain. Aieee!!!! It is so happy and profound and I can totally relate to that turtle… I will make my own one day, but with weirder names. And I will reincarnate you all as happy creatures.

I have realized that it's already April and I have yet to read a novel. I've been busy devouring monographs, graphic novels, and design books that I have no time to read stuff like The Manuscript found in Saragossa (yet). Yay! I christen 2008 as the year where I just make my own stuff and look at other people's work in hopes of getting inspired. I think I have to temporarily leave the age where I read things just to escape from reality.

I had coffee with one of my best guy friends over the weekend (Phil! Phil! It just occurred to me that you two are so alike. Your birthdays are a day apart, you're both really tall and super smart, and you both have really low voices that turn falsetto when feeling shock and indignation.) It's great to know that despite everything changing, some things are still the same.

I am slowly bonding with the WYA people here in good ol' Asia Pacific. I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but I was holding myself back a bit, perhaps unfairly so, given that these are probably the most open, most accommodating, most outrageously happy group I've come across. I love them all! But I've had a lot of people enter and leave my life now. It's my weakness to rapidly get attached to living beings and I think I've evolved to not want to have too many strings attached to too many people, because they will leave me one day and I would not be able to bear it. If you lock me up in a room with a cactus, it and I will be best friends at the end of the day. It is almost impossible for me to un-love someone*.

* (As long as I remember that they exist.)

I was having lunch with one of them once, and she told me that I am "a bit hyperactive to be vegetarian." Haha! It's not the first time I was told this, and I doubt it will be the last.

I miss my jet-setting Grandma and my gay best friend.

Lots of love,

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Sunshine Post #7

Hello dears!

A couple of nights ago, I took my first arnis class after so long. Arnis, or kali, is a Filipino martial art that primarily consists of stick- and blade- fighting and emphasizes flow over power. I thought that I may as well re-learn it from its birthplace, and maybe even teach a thing or two to my teachers back in New York.

I was a bit afraid of getting hit in the face – something that is also possible, although less likely, to happen in taekwondo. As for the latter art, the worst thing that happened to me was when I was 13 years old. During kicking drills, I fell in line at the back of an eight-year-old kid who was pretending to be the Pink Power Ranger (He was a boy, too. How gay.) He turned to me, shouted "Yaaah!" and kicked me in the crotch, forcing me to my knees in unspeakable (!) pain. Never was I more thankful not to be a boy at that moment – I'm sure the pain would have been infinitely worse had that been so. (I'm ok, by the way.)

I've accidentally kicked many a boy in the nether regions over time; there came a class where I was standing to one side, absently observing my fellow students, and then thought to myself: "Hmm, you know, I have kicked everyone here in the balls." It's really the only reason why some of them are careful around me; they actually place their hands in front of their pants as a precaution. One of my teachers, Fabiano, would always yell, "Cate! Knees up!" to coax my legs make contact with the person's torso instead. None of my taekwondo teachers got my name right in the beginning.

Surprisingly, it was hard for me to find a class here; I was given a cellphone number of some stranger who told me they had an all-boys club that they don't advertise. That night, I left for the class and told my dad that my contact's name, Bernie, is short for Beatrice. (It's actually Bernard.) I just didn't want him to panic since I was the only girl there in the company of much older, much more muscular guys.

For the record, I have pretty good instincts and I didn't feel that there was any reason for me not to go. (As insurance, I did tell one of the interns here where I would be.) Plus, I think I've trained for a while and I have been under so many martial arts masters that if something happened and I couldn't defend myself for one lousy night where I had weapons with me and I was completely lucid, then by God I deserved to get a couple of black eyes.

There's something to be said about being the lone bouncy female in the company of grown men who live to fight. I think they are caught in between disbelief and amusement. Hmph. On the bright side, I didn't care whether I hit them. Haha! Do I look helpless to you? Take that! And that! And that! I think of all the negative experiences I have had in graduate school and that is enough to fuel my rhythm.

They were really nice; it was one of the best and well-rounded classes I've taken – double sticks, single stick, blades, and empty grappling! Woohoo! But I don't think I'll take the class again though, and it's not for reasons you think. The commute is just way too long and polluted; my face broke out in zits that night and I am now in dire need of a facial. I miss my aesthetician in Maria Badescu, yo. Olga from Ecuador! She exfoliates quite well.

I learned the hard way that martial arts was the way for me to release hidden anger that I am incapable of unleashing the verbal way. I used to think it was a cultural thing, but now, not so much. But I just can't scream at people for some reason; it adds to my stress and makes me break out. It is easier for me to ignore you and forget you existed. In hindsight, I've always lived in my own little world of happy. It is a selective form of ADD.

I think that's one reason I've always gravitated towards weapons. The first time I held my nunchucks was incomparable; you just cannot photocopy that kind of happiness anywhere, man. Whee! I was swinging them around like Day-Glo sticks, and my first teacher said he had never seen anyone take to them so naturally before. (I took that as a compliment for my sake.) Ever since then, I've been collecting and learning how to use contact weapons, and so far, I think my favorites are the sai and the bo staff. Now all I need is a samurai sword and I'm a walking Ninja Turtle.

I think it's also why I like arnis in general. The clash of stick on stick is supremely satisfying, with its frequency reverberating through my body, making me feel so high with adrenaline. It's why I like ending my days with martial arts, or yoga, or anything physical. I feel so much calmer, like all of the problems in the world are reduced to a swing of a weapon, a kick to a target, or a minute of meditation. It just makes life easier and bearable and puts things in perspective.

All the guys who trained with me that night had one common thing to say:

"Don't hit so hard!"

"Sorry," I said sheepishly. "I have a lot of aggression."

Lots of love,

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Sunshine Post #6

I have renamed all my e-mails of love to all you beloved New Yorkers and ex-New Yorkers into one uniform, numbered subject line. When I did this to my Asian brethren, there were 100 e-mails; my imagination is neither big nor patient enough to think of 100 titles. :-) Stay in touch, dears!

Hello dears!

I have been catching up with the art scene in Manila. The design bubble burst the year after I left, and there are now so many new artists out there who are making money doing what they love. There's a part of me that is so happy because I think I picked the right field to replace the lab. I actually intuitively get it, am consumed by it, and I wouldn't mind having to do it for a long time. I think I can even do this anywhere in the world, as long as I have peace and quiet, up-to-date software, and a speedy Internet connection.

The designers I've met seem more down-to-earth, less impressed with themselves, more in disbelief that something they love to do is appreciated by other people. I'm still a bit wary of the moody, arrogant-looking types, but I have developed a sixth sense for those people now and I just stay away. Run! Run! But on the whole, they seem less intimidating, since I look at them and don't see these scary degrees, but instead, immediately think of the work they've done. They seem so much happier as well, in contrast to my old life where the people looked like they were on the verge of killing themselves. Creativity is our lifestyle, and because of it, work essentially doesn't feel like a job at all.

But there is another voice in my head that bugs me about it all. I realize that I need to rethink my opinions about art. I grew up thinking that it's too self-indulgent, and that for all that ails the world, what I should pick is something that helps people, instead of just making the world pretty. Beauty is a good goal, and yes it has a lot of fantastic secondary effects, but I think we should strive for something beyond that: ideas that make you think and that prompt you to act on that thought, and hopefully make your environment better for it. I am not a big fan of the whole philosophy of "art for art's sake," although I can understand and appreciate this way of thinking. But dude, I can't just sell cute T-shirts and die a fulfilled person.

I think that's another fear: becoming one of those emo pseudo-artistes. I have this nightmare where I have an out-of-body experience and land in a parallel universe, where I see another version of myself. That person has greasy streaked hair and bad skin, is waving a paintbrush maniacally after shooting up on heroin, and then painting a freaking dot on a wall-sized canvas and calling it her masterpiece. She has no family, no real friends, no direction, nothing happy to give the world.

I will beat her to a pulp without a moment's hesitation.

I am hoping that there was a reason why I chose to study molecular biology to begin with. To love both art and science isn't new, but I've noticed it's more common to choose one or the other. That's one thing I'm relieved about with what I fondly call my "academic ejection" – I still truly love science. I think it's spectacularly amazing and beautiful, and that it belongs to everyone, not just to the sickos who need tenure. Maybe I just need to serve it in the best and happiest way that I can.

I hope I've found my calling, yo. I ran into one of our trainers in the debate team late last year – in the UN of all places! Ugh. After summarizing our lives in a few sentences, he told me that I can't go into law, business and finance – fields with a high probability of me meeting evil people. I feel very sad that despite me being raised to think I can do anything I want with my life, I am limited by virtue of personality alone. Crap. Maybe instead of finding my field, I have to carve out a niche for myself and die in my own little hole. *sob* But you can bet that it will be a happy hole!

But my irrepressible side of sunshine is still optimistic. When I was in Shanghai, a Chinese lady came up to me and said that my face was "lucky." I was with a group of delegates and we were shopping like there was no tomorrow. Another time, I was in NYC's Union Square going to my, uhm, personal mecca and headquarters, Barnes and Noble – still one of the best things about America, in my opinion! Along the way, a loopy blonde woman dressed in blue approached me and said that she was a "spiritualist" and that she saw "something" in my "aura." Both times, and in all other similarly creepy cases, I smiled uneasily and hurriedly walked away. I am wishing that this means there really is something important I'm supposed to do with myself and perhaps hopefully explain why my life always been pretty eventful and annoyingly dramatic despite all my attempts not to make it so.

Or maybe David, the guy who sat next to me on one of my earlier flights to NYC, was right: I look like a target. Hmph. I hope not. I still remember him: middle aged, white, hairy, gregarious, works in the field of aboriginal media -- one of those culturally insensitive guys who thinks I'm so exotic I'm like Pocahontas, and then feels like the earth moved when he finds out my English is better than his. Annoying cow. The flight attendant thought we were "together." Eww. Watch it, lady. I am no one's Miss Saigon.

Lots of love,

April 1st, 2008 - Sent to some of the staff and interns

Hello dears!

I have a sad confession to make. (Pause for dramatic effect.)

I ate meat! I'm not vegetarian anymore! Gasp! Press release!

Ah, we all saw this coming, didn't we? Manila is the worst place for vegetarians! It's impossible to enter a restaurant without the smell of cooked meat wafting through the doors, inviting people in. I didn't want to just end my love affair with rabbit food just like that, so I devoted an entire day to sampling the goodies that I've missed.

The first on my list was sisig – essentially a sizzling plate of everything you don't want to eat in a pig, but chopped, diced, minced and marinated to gustatory perfection to make you forget that you're ingesting the guts of a once-living being. Sisig is served on a charcoal-black platter, and you can hear the meat crackling as it is set in front of you. The smell assaults your olfactory nerves, and what can balance the savory taste of grilled flesh is a tiny squeeze of lime juice. People usually eat this with soft, sticky rice that was sautéed with garlic. I was in college when I first had this; I was a late-bloomer for a carnivore.

Since I was already there, I had my first taste of lechon – essentially a pig roasted on a spit. I am told that lechon lovers enjoy the skin the most – who knew that swine skin could be so crispy and tasty, kind of like popping Doritos? Crunch, crunch. I was with a group of meat enthusiasts and we succeeded in stripping off the bottom half of the poor pig. It's funny how it looks naked – it looks like it lost its pants. Out of sheer inspiration, I "repainted" it with ketchup, tomato slices, and bell peppers. It looked like it was dressed for a luau.

So to wrap up my day, I had one of my favorite things in the world that I hadn't had in years – adobo. To the Latinos, it's a spice; to Filipinos, it's an entire dish. It's essentially meat that's been marinated and stewed. The rich texture of meat steeped in soy sauce, topped with the fragrant infusion of garlic and black pepper, makes it one of the yummiest meals ever! Whee! I am so happy I could die. I went home tired from chewing but completely satisfied. I passed out in bed.

Mmmmm. Flesh and blood and entrails. So. Bloody. Good.

Meat is murder. Tasty, tasty murder.

And then I woke up.

Happy April Fools' Day!

Lots of love,

P.S. This was for YOU, Mary Eileen Halpine! Happy happy birthday! Besos muchos! I miss you lots and lots!

P.P.S. For those who still need their morning coffee, let me spell it out. This was just a joke. :-D But if I do end this veggie spell, it will be as delicious as I imagined, or probably more! (except for lechon, which I could never eat)

P.P.P.S. You know, I've been rereading this and I don't think I was very convincing. I think I just succeeded in disgusting myself with the lechon part. Bleh. I just traumatized myself anew. Oh boo. Hey, I tried. Miss you all! Have a great week ahead!