October 2005

Timing. You've got to give it to the Japanese.

When the Chinese closed its doors to Western-led global development during the Qing Dynasty, Japan's Meiji era opened and started its Western-style modernization. When colonization was turning into old school in the West, Japan started its Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere campaign. And when Hollywood movies were lording over world cinema in the 1950s, Japan created Godzilla (OK, the segue isn't exactly brimming with logic here).

Half a decade after the 21st century began, Japan is about to do something the world has (arguably) embraced since Godzilla's debut: a leapfrog to feminism.

Recent news reports the Japanese Parliament is set to allow a female royal succession into the Imperial Chrysanthemum Throne with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi endorsing such an unprecedented move. This development could not have come at a better time when (1) an overwhelming pressure to produce a male successor to the Imperial line from Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako reaches a disappointing turn with Masako openly admitting stress and depression have eaten her Harvard-trained, high-brow upbringing self; (2) the dominance of the Japanese salarymen — the Japanese patriarchy personified — is demystified and dissipated, and; (3) the population in Japan is dwindling and aging.

What's wrong with having a female imperial leader anyway? Queen Elizabeth has been ruling UK for more than 50 years. There's Beatrix of Netherlands and Margaret of Denmark, too. Women presidents and ministers have come and gone. And so fussing over the possible female rule over the Imperial Household of Japan should not become an issue, at least in the eyes of the more progressive and open socities, but should be considered an inevitable reality (as inevitable as having a female or an African-American president).

It's hightime the Japanese eat up its traditional past and embrace change. Feminism in Japan? Finally! 



I was 6 when I first heard of this medical jargon from an uncle whose profession is both a physician and a smart ass. 'Pep' in peptic ulcer was supposed to stand for Pepsi (how plainer can it get?) and drinking too much, especially early in the morning results to, well, ulcer. I had to suck everything in without question. But my smart ass of an uncle failed to mention that early research findings listed alcoholic and caffein beverages as contributing causes of ulcer, too, so (had I put my nerdish pursuits to good use then) I should've made a smart ass of myself and admonished his fondness for beer and capuccino.

Fast forward to 2005.

The recepients of this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine are scientists Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, whose research on ulcer makes them more than winners but winning smart asses as well. As early as 1982, these Australian scientists discovered the Helicobacter pylori bacterium (now known as the ulcer bug) that breeds and infects the stomach lining. But instead of shouting 'Eureka!', the medical community saw this discovery as a product of two smart asses out to debunk the popular belief that ulcers are caused by acid, stress, and (to some) spicy food: Earth became the center of the universe all over again and Marshall and Warren became the Galileos of the 20th Century. Popular Belief: a common conundrum encountered by smart asses.

Well, thanks to the Nobel Prize, this conundrum was reduced to misconceptions on ulcers; thanks to the Nobel Prize, the smart asses were acknowledged and recognized to the hilt.

And so we find that ulcers are mere infections that can easily be treated by doctors with simple antibiotics. Hail to Marshall and Warren for their discovery for we can now truly enjoy drinking beer, soda, and coffee without worrying about ulcers! The only symptom to worry about now is gaining pounds and the dreaded beer belly.

G and I are engaged!

Although momentous, this development was welcomed by most family and friends as highly overdue and anticlimactic.

Not too surprising.

G and I have been a pair for six years since our film school days in Manila. We both worked in Public Relations for two years before spending three years studying (yet again!) in Japan. Six years is quite considerable a number for people to expect nothing less than marriage or engagement even. Six years is quite considerable a number for a couple to dismiss and end up disengaged and unwed. Well, we live up to such expectations and we don't dismiss a single day spent together. We put premium on marriage and the sanctity that goes with it. Of course marriage is more a social caprice or prerogative than a social requirement or responsibility these days but the sucker for social conformity and convention overwhelms the avant-gard and cosmopolitan in us.

And so after a year of plotting a proposal worth remembering – nothing ostentatious but at least teeming with brilliance – I finally popped the question, in Times Square no less. OK, so the place wasn’t exactly brilliant – some might regard it as something short of mediocrity – but I believe the moment was there. It was supposed to be in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on her birthday but a month’s delay and a change of venue didn’t diminish the intention and purpose, at least in my book.

It may not be surprising to others (I imagine eyes rolling and a nonchalant 'Finally!' expression here), but nothing beats the experience of devising a grand plan, buying an expensive ring (albeit cash-strapped), conspiring with relatives and friends to finally ask the right person to marry and spend a lifetime of bliss and surprises with.

Engaged, at last! Overdue? yes. Anticlimactic? yes. Surprising? I say yes, too — for us both and the years ahead. Kampai!

While taking photos in bustling Times Square in Manhattan, G and I came across a common friend in college. Finding a familiar face whence I grew up among 1.5 million diverse individuals streaming in and out of Times Square was like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Small world? Not quite. After all, the Small World Phenomenon — popularized by Yale theorist and psychologist Stanley Milgram — is not only a widely misused concept but also a disputed one. I will not belabor this argument but make merry the point of finding a familiar face in an otherwise unfamiliar and unwelcoming place as Manhattan (OK, OK, so I’m a newbie in NY).

G and I, taking a respite from the daily bum-of-a-life in suburban Long Island, were wandering in Times Square on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon; The purpose of the supposed aimless wandering about in NYC was suspect given a personal agenda I intend to make a blog of later on. But finding our fickle and indecisive selves at the center island of Times Square, pondering heavily whether to stay a bit longer (and relish the busy-ness absent in suburban living) or proceed to Central Park (and exhaust the camera to its weary end), led us to a seemingly pre-destined situation of meeting our friend, who we last rubbed elbows with a good six long years ago.

Imagine that scenario! We could've been on opposite ends of Times Square; We could've been in the same place but on different occasions and different times; We could've been walking and walking further on parallel paths where high rise buildings or speedy taxi cabs demarcate us — oblivious to possible what-if encounters (thereby negating the thought of crossing paths altogether as merely wild and unlikely a probability).

And yet, there we were: In the same, invariable, exact time and space! I couldn't think of an appropriate word on top of my head to describe the happenstance but the banal slang-of-a-word COOL.

OK. So you might conclude that it IS a small world. But I'd like to think more of it as English author Horace Walpole would call serendipitious — an instance of making a fortunate discovery by accident. Indeed, finding an old friend in New York is a remarkable discovery; A fortunate accident worth running into; An occurence deserving a celebration.

And so the next time G and I encounter a friend or an acquaintance in a seemingly impossible situation, we would perhaps compound the events that led to it not as a case of the world being a small and dense one but a divine phenomenon called serendipity. 

I came across an article today on the internet as I was on my usual daily news browse binge. It's quite interesting, actually. The article is titled: Science Behind Travel Troubles with a subtitle saying: You May Not Be Able To Avoid Travel Woes, But You Can Understand Them.

The article suggests that external factors such as road conditions, weather, and traffic are part of travel that should be understood, not cursed by the ordinary traveler: Tires skid water-pooled pavements because of hydroplane effect (heavy build up of water in front of tires) for drivers to easily lose control; Traffic moves faster and safer when almost bumper-to-bumper; And, violent winds are main culprits for flight delays, not thunderbolts.

But what about lost luggage? On our 14-hour trip to New York from Hawai'i last week, one of our 6-piece luggage didn't come out of the airport baggage carousel. It was frustrating, simply put. We were deadbeat from the trip; with two stopovers, bad in-flight service (headsets were sold for $5! — how were we supposed to watch the friggin' movie?!?!), and unnerving co-passengers (three young moms with wailing infants in tow — enough said), waiting for a lost luggage was just like trying hard not to scratch the sore tip of a nasty zit.

One week since and still no luggage, I googled for a scientific explanation on such occurence (the rate of which is, according to Men'sHealth magazine, 6 bags lost per 1000 passengers!), and there wasn't any.

Why, oh, why does this happen everytime G and I travel?!? If it isn't a late express airport train (the irony! the irony!) or a delayed plane that puts you on wait-list, it's a lost luggage!

Friends rib us if either or both of us have cursemark on our behind. I checked. There's none.

Jinxed is the word.

If it weren't for the $2500 luggage insurance (and the one time my seat was upgraded to business class), I'd seriously think we just might be.

It's so hard to get old without a cause […] So many adventures couldn't happen today. So many songs we forgot to play. So many dreams swinging out of the blue. We'll let them come true. Forever Young. I wanna be, forever young…"

Ah, bless Alphaville for such a song; A nutshell of a song that contains my sentiments (frustrations, mostly) as I turn a year older today. Yep. Today is my birthday.

Happy Birthday!

Rewind. Year: 1998. Place: Venom Bar, Singapore.

Out clubbing (how 90s!) with my friends, I was dancing and boozing the night away. It was, after all, a Friday. The DJ popped Alphaville's Forever Young on the turntable. As the song started to blare, yuppies threw eager wails and mimicked faux epileptic fits on the dance floor. They sang the song as if it were an anthem and danced wildly through it as if it were their last. What gives, I asked? None of my friends knew for sure.

I know now.

They were reliving their youth; Revelling the good, carefree times and rebelling from the routine, work-cuffed life today.

As I turn a year older today, I feel I'm still in a good and carefree time. Untied from big responsibilities, uninvolved in social complications, undaunted by life's challenges, and still unrealistically idealistic. I know these will not last for long. Times change. And so must I.

As I turn a year older today, I'd like to move on. Take risks. Compromise. Dive into the unknown and douse doubts with possibilities. I'd like to discount age to mature ("age is a high price for maturity" — Coelho) and find a betterman in me.

But as I turn a year older today, I'd still like the feeling of being Forever Young to linger on. I'd hate to see myself too serious and work-driven to watch MTV or enjoy theme park rides. I'd hate to part ways with my sneakers for a moccasin pair of shoes (hiyaiks!) or trade in my Low Rise for pleated starched pants (Noooooo!). I'd like to keep some Peter Pan in me as I grow and mature . Besides, if there's anything I put to heart from Nietzsche, it's his take on maturity:

A person's maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child — at play".

So happy birthday to me, yeah?

Got to go start and find a cause, make adventures happen, play songs, and turn dreams true to feel forever young!

A trip to Hawai'i is dousing oneself with the three S's of ideal vacation life: Sun, sand, and sea. Sun is all around the powdery beaches and cool waters of the Pacific Ocean (okay, so it's not a sea).

Of course, Waikiki beach is the most popular one in Hawai'i, but for backpackers and ordinary tourists (read: no money!) there are plenty of public beaches to go. Two of these are Waimea and Northshore, both located near the historic Hale'iwa strip — the same strip preserved to provide tourists a glimpse of the old plantation town life in the islands.

An added attraction to this part of the island is another essential S: Shave Ice. Not just any other shave ice but a Matsumoto Shave Ice. As Japanese immigrants in Hawaii, the Matsumotos pioneered shave ice back in 1951. Back then, it was just a come-on for surfers and tourists to visit the Matsumoto general merchandise store (as there were a string of stores that peddled the same stuff). As fate would have it, shave ice took a popular turn with the emergence of the hippie generation when all things bright and multicolored (and addictive, hehe) were, well, cool.

Shave ice are far different from snow cones, as any native Hawai'ian would argue. Shave ice are finer in texture and the syrups are not artificially flavored, unlike the real (exotic, even) fruit syrups of shave ice (although, this part is arguable what with shave ice bubble gum flavor). The best part of this Hawai'an concoction is the ice cream underneath. After eating the powdery flavored ice on top, one finds a generous serving of ice cream treat at the bottom of the cone *yumm-eh!* Just a bit of advise: Don't oggle at the shave ice too long, it (as any frozen produce) melts!

So if you ever take a vacation in Hawai'i, don't forget to add the extra S in your SSS itinerary, okay?