Saturday, December 6

I Need A Plastic Bag

I was just thinking that that first line from Katy Perry's "Firework"--"Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?"-- had to be an allusion to American Beauty, right?

Here's an old Salon article where Alan Ball talks about how he came up with the plastic bag scene. He encountered the wayward plastic bag in New York in the early '90s, when he was a television writer by day and writing plays for a doomed theater company at night. It sounded like a midlife crisis, when you think about it. That plastic bag circling around him felt like a moment of grace, and it came at a time when he was feeling lost and needed direction. Just like Lester in the movie, Ball felt like he had written himself into a corner, and all he felt was "anger at having to write television characters over and over who did nothing more than 'trade insults.'" 

The moment with the plastic bag stewed in his mind for years, and it was only in the late '90s that he came to write "American Beauty," which the article describes as something of a "minor miracle." Ball sold the script eight days after putting it up for sale, the director Sam Mendes allowed him to be on the set during filming, and eighteen months later, it was in the theaters. 

So I suppose one could say that plastic bag sort of saved Alan Ball's drowning soul in that moment. Of course, after getting accolades for "American Beauty," he continued to write for television, i.e., "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood." But perhaps winning that Oscar allowed him to call shots after that. 

Monday, August 11

Ang Tunay na Kuwento ng Hustisya

Spent the past week mostly holed up at the CCP watching Cinemalaya movies. The last film from the festival I watched yesterday was Joel Lamangan's Hustisya featuring Nora Aunor. 

Nora Aunor's Biring is full of idiosyncrasies: a devout Catholic who donates money for the construction of a church in her province, but refuses to give alms to a mother who uses her child for begging, but later gives her some help anyway, wants to care for her family with hard earned money that came from dubious ways, stays loyal to the one who has helped her in time of need, but will turn around when she finds another master to serve. 

Biring believes in the city as a living, breathing being--a kind of master/monster or demon to whom she must give offerings of wishes and money so that it might not devour her alive. It's a sight to behold, to see Biring on top of Manila City Hall's Watch Tower throwing her hopes and hard earned money to the winds of the city. At the end of the screening, a foreigner viewer--I think she was Japanese--asked us if it was possible to go up that tower to view the city. We said, probably not. Or else there would be throngs of people up there trying to do the same. 

Then there is that ending: The movie opts for an open, hoping to be ambiguous and edgy ending that has Biring laughing. So what did that man whisper to Biring during her bongga birthday dinner? What became of the notebook? 

Perhaps we will never know. So I opt for this one: 

Thursday, July 24

The Nagtahan Mabini Bridge

This year, in honor of the Mabini Sesquicentennial, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) has recommended to rename Nagtahan Bridge to Mabini Bridge. 

Nagtahan when it was just a pile of wood across the Pasig River.

It's not so much as a renaming but going back to what it's been officially called decades ago. Apparently, Nagtahan's official name really was "Mabini Bridge," after Marcos's Proclamation of 1967. But we know what happened with that effort. Since it was built in 1945, and rebuilt in the 1960s after a barge rammed into the wooden piles, the bridge on Nagtahan Street has always been called Nagtahan and nothing else.* Presidential proclamations notwithstanding. The Malacanan briefer has this to say: "However, little notice was made of this, and in time the name was forgotten." 

And so they try one more time. They even had the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) change all pertinent road signs to read as such. 

This bridge shall now be called Mabini, okay? 

Even in Ingress, the portal that exists is not the bridge per se, but the image of Apolinario Mabini near the top of the bridge's crest, in the general area of where the Mabini Shrine used to be. 

Ohai, Apolinario Mabini! 
Maybe this time, Mabini Bridge will stick around.  

*It's the same way with Otis, now known as Paz Guanzon. All the bus signs still say Otis. Even all the establishments along that road refer to it as Otis. Some names have a way of staying "sticky" that even several generations and name changes later, people still know it by the name they have always known. 

Thursday, July 17

The game as tourist guidebook

Chris Suellentrop's review of Ingress for the New York Times had me nodding:
Video games are a spatial medium, filled with words like “map” and “world” and “travel,” but in the physical realm, most games are played indoors by stationary players who sit in basements and living rooms in front of TV screens and computer monitors. 
Instead, my favorite way to use Ingress is as tourist guidebook. Beyond that vampire grave in Rhode Island, Ingress also led me to a home on the Upper West Side where Babe Ruth once lived and to the site of Thomas Paine’s death in Greenwich Village...Even so, I discovered plenty of plaques and markers that I didn’t know existed.
Because this is also my favorite way of using Ingress. Yes, part of the motivation of visiting as many portals as possible to score the Explorer badges. But I take the exploring seriously (but in a fun, geeky way). 

My favorite, mostly accidental finds include the house where the body of Jose Rizal was hidden after his execution, the birthplace marker for a top Filipino poet I stumbled upon as I shuffled from one campus to another, and this fantastic graffiti in a parking lot. 

I'm sure there will be more to discover. As soon as I get off my lazy ass and start walking around again. 

Sunday, July 13

Pandacan Pho

Sometimes, when I feel under the weather or need to cheer up, a steaming bowl of pho is the way to go. Since the bridge is still under repair, I haven't really passed by that area. So imagine my surprise when I saw the signage for what appears to be a Vietnamese food place.

There used to be a Cebu lechon place there that I never got to try. But since I was in a rush to get a cab to get to Diliman to join the really long line of people waiting for possibly their last chance for a taste of Beach House barbecue before it closes down, I only got to check it out a couple of days later, when I had some errands to run. 
The first thing that greeted me upon entering Nguyen Food House was the chatter from a table of Vietnamese aunties by the door. There must have been five or six of them, all talking excitedly with each other. The shop assistant gave me a menu and I asked what their specialty was, and she pointed to the bowl of pho. I asked for the steak and tendon kind.

She came back with a bowl of thinly sliced meat ("steak," I assume) and beef balls with a generous heap of spring onions and a tub of togue and calamansi. There's also some hoisin sauce and hot sauce--I don't think it's rooster sriracha. This has obviously worked with what is available in the area. So don't expect lemon wedges or big stemmed supermarket beat sprouts. You're looking for "locally sourced," here you go--togue kung togue. 

But a slurp of the broth confirms that a bowl of pho is a bowl of pho. Yes, this is slightly different from what we have been used to from the mall-based Vietnamese food we have been used to. Aside from using local ingredients, this bowl is also about 20% cheaper. What it has going for it is that it is made by a Vietnamese mommy. I asked her where she's from and she said she lives in the Nagtahan area. Again, you can't go any more local than that. I also assume that the owner's friends live nearby for them to hang out in her store. 

It's also a nice addition to the sort of eats one can have. If you want Indian food, it's only a few minutes away from Assad's in the UN Avenue/Otis area. And now we have pho. Really, what this town needs is a decent coffee shop. There was a cafe in that building area once, but it didn't last long and the space is now occupied by a spa. So maybe people want a massage more than they want coffee. 

A bowl of noodles that cost Php199 (but can be comfortably shared by two people) is probably expensive by the town's standards. Perhaps they can have a sampler or "merienda bowl" at Php99--you know, just so the people in the area can try out the noodles and get used to it and make it an alternative to the mami that they know. I just want the place to stay open for a really long time. 

Nguyen Food House is on the ground floor of Residencias de Manila, Jesus Street, Pandacan. 

Sunday, June 22

Sound and the City

What does the city sound like?* 

When one thinks of the city, our first thoughts are visual: the skyline of tall buildings, streets and avenues all lit up with neon. There are more elements which make up the urban landscape other than the visual. The sound of traffic, vendors plying their wares, pedestrians hurrying down sidewalks. 

Even more curiously, do all cities and urban areas sound the same? How is downtown Manila different from Las Pinas or the fringes of Rizal beyond Ortigas? 

Project Bakawan, through its Sound+Movement component, aims to explore this facet of urban life. Project Bakawan is a collaborative art event seeking to increase awareness of current environmental issues. Set on February 2015 in celebration of the National Art's month, it will engage artists in collaboration with the academic community to formulate an acute analysis of our environmental situation and come up with creative responses that will interact with the UP Diliman community.

Curator Dayang Yraola invites Metro Manila's inhabitants (or passers-by--or anyone, really) to contribute an audio recording of people, events or activity, places recorded from anywhere in Metro Manila. 

It could be a recording made using professional machines, mobile gadgets (mobile phone, tablet, etc) or any portable recorders; minimum of 30 sec, maximum of 3 minutes; on AMR, MP3 or WAV format; and not more than 2.5MB.

Please follow this format for your contribution:
Filename: Contributor’s name_Content_Date

Additional notes:
Contributor’s name can be a pseudonym
Identify content as: Nature, People, Machines, Structures, Event, Traffic, Others

Composers and sound artists will use the collected sound files for their individual compositions, which is part of a sound installation in U.P. Diliman for Project Bakawan in 2015. Project Contributors will be duly acknowledged.

Please submit audio files to with subject heading [Bakawan Audio]. 



*This reminded me of Jodie Foster's character in The Brave One, where she hosts a radio show about the city life. Alas, i never got around to blogging about it. 


Sunday, June 8

Botong Francisco at the PGH

I was at the PGH last night because I wanted to capture the portals I had submitted that have gone live this past week. But because I had somewhere else to go, I wasn't able to go inside to reach the hallway murals. I stayed at the flagpole area and the lobby. 

There were five murals inside. A hospital lobby isn't really the best place to stand back and admire those murals. There were too many distressed people worrying about the state of their loved ones. I didn't really have the heart to make them move to the side so I could take full detailed photos for portal subs. But a closer inspection lead me to a marker in between one of the panels which said that the murals were by Carlos Botong Francisco. Yes, the National Artist Botong Francisco. 

I knew two have already been submitted as portals: Awit ng Maharlika and Ang Albularyo The Healer. I had a renewed appreciation for them, as well as the other three.

This morning, when I checked out information about the murals online, I found out that only 4 of those 5 murals belonged to the original series by Botong Francisco called “The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines." The oil on canvas measured 2.92 meters by 2.76 and 
"depict the history and development of medicine in the country from the pre-colonial period, the Spanish colonial period, the American Occupation era, and the modern era of the 1950s."

First, a correction from art expert Ana Labrador: Because the paintings are oil on canvas and not made directly on the wall, they are properly called paintings, NOT murals. “Murals are defined as paintings done directly on the wall and have been conceived as integral to the architecture. These paintings are not murals since they have been commissioned in 1953, 43 years after the PGH opened to the public." Given the number of people who pass through the PGH lobby, the paintings have probably been seen by millions. But distressed patients aside, the paintings were also “the least written about of all the artistic works of Carlos V. Francisco."

Photo from Dr. Rico Quimbo's Flickr.

But all the years of humidity and thick crowds have lead to the paintings being as distressed as the patients there. So in 2007, the National Museum stepped in and took down the panels for restoration, which was funded through a cultural preservation grant from US Ambassador Kristie Kenney. They had a photographer make reproductions and that's what we now see in the PGH lobby. Meanwhile, the original panels are now in the National Museum.

The restored paintings at the National Museum.
Photo by Buen Calubayan from the GMA online article.

If only four of the panels are by Botong, that means that the fifth panel, the green one, has been added much later. I'm no art expert and couldn't identify paintings by artist on sight, but somehow that last painting was different from the others. It was probably added to "continue" the story of medicine in the Philippines since Botong's ended in the 1950s. The question now is: Who made that last panel?

Not by Botong: The mysterious fifth panel.

Of course, if it's only for Ingress portal submission purposes, I doubt that the casual player or NIA Ops would ask for the painter or a portal would be more valuable because it was by a National Artist. But if you're a geek like me, one of the joys of playing Ingress has to do with "accidental" learning about things like history and public art. The itch of not knowing would be there to scratch until you learn for sure who made the darn thing. 

Thursday, March 21

The Life in Between

When I was putting together the Django post, I happened to dig up this old interview with Quentin Tarantino. He's not known as a prolific film maker, like the way Woody Allen or Steven Soderbergh average a movie a year. Tarantino takes at least three years in between movies, or seven years between Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. And it's not because he's lazy: 
"I want to make movies. I have to make movies. The reason I don't make more movies is that I want to live life in between. I give it all to the movies, and it's like I'm climbing Mount Everest every time. When I get off the mountain then I want to be able to enjoy some time in the chalet at the bottom.
When I make a movie it's an adventure, but when I get through with it then I get back to my friends I've put on hold for a year. The opposite sex, adventurous travel, sleeping late, watching mindless television, reading a novel, trying to go to sleep at night - they all become very appealing again.
But the real, real reason I don't make more movies is that I'm a writer, and I always have to start with the blank page and that's hard. You are starting from scratch every single time. Nothing you've done before means a damn when you've got to start all over again."

Tarantino acknowledges the difficulty in trying to balance work life with real life. Whenever one is involved in a project, it takes up all your time and everything else takes a backseat until it's done. With movies, from concept to writing to production and roll out, it's a year and a half. With television, it's at least 3-5 months in preparations and another 3-5 months or however long it is on air. 
Then when you're done, it's the only time you get to breathe, hang out with your friends. And only then, it's only borrowed time until the next project comes along and you disappear again. In the interview, an unnamed friend of Tarantino's is quoted: "It takes a pretty special kind of girl to give up her life to watch kung fu movies with him for a year and a half." I think I was actually more surprised that he dated Margaret Cho than the revelation how difficult it is to carve a life when one is in the middle of a project. So I guess this means either you find someone who understands the grind or just date Margaret Cho. 

Tuesday, March 19

Tarantino, Unchained

Poster by Federico Mancosu.

Django Unchained reminded me why we should watch movies in theaters, in the company of friends or strangers, where the distractions of real life melt away in the dark. 

It's the most fun I've had at the movies all year. To be fair, I've only seen  4 of 23 movies in a theater*, and the rest at home on a television or computer screen. I had the option to watch Django during that rush before the Oscars, when bets were being hedged and screeners ran aplenty. But something told me to wait for the theatrical run, and I am very pleased that I didn't give in to instant gratification. Because Quentin Tarantino created a visual spectacle, and it's the only way to appreciate it is to see it 
the way it was intended.

Django Unchained is part spaghetti western, only set in the American deep south. In a 2007 interview with The Telegraph, he talks about his plans to make a "southern":
I want to explore something that really hasn't been done. I want to do movies that deal with America's horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to. But I can deal with it all right, and I'm the guy to do it. So maybe that's the next mountain waiting for me.

It's also a road movie that involves the unlikely journey of two men on a mission. It's a revenge fantasy that takes on something that about a country's past that is so shameful, it could only be talked about in a big, sweeping serious historical epic. *coughLincolncough* 

But Tarantino was never interested in an historically accurate depiction of the slave trade or racism in the Midwest or the deep south. This is the guy who made an alternate universe where a Jewish girl and a band of basterds separately plotted to take down possibly history's greatest villain. Of course, it's going to be funny, it's going to shoot people in the knees and then poke in the wounds repeatedly, and there will be blood--lots of it. For every sweeping mountain vista, with our guys making off like Marlboro men, we get a scene where Schultz teaches Django how to be a good mark by shooting a snowman. 

The movie's trailer bandied around Leonardo diCaprio's participation, yet his Calvin J. Candie only showed up halfway through the movie. I didn't mind. The most interesting relationship was between Schultz and Django. Why does a white man, a bounty hunter at that, take interest in what becomes of a freed slave? 

Christoph Waltz's character Dr. Schultz** could have parted ways with Django after they had successfully hunted the Speck Brothers down. Schultz replies that he has never handed anyone his freedom before, and because of that, he has become invested and interested in how things turn out. Schultz rode with Django side by side, reminding everyone they encountered that Django was a free man, and must be treated as such. He taught Django his trade, trained him to shoot, and said nothing when Django picked a bright blue suit as his outfit. Let a man wear what he wants. 

So when Django told him he wanted to get his wife back, Schultz could not let him do it alone. Django couldn't just waltz in a southern plantation and get her back, could he? Or maybe they could, but they needed a ruse, an elaborate one that was hinged on the flattery of a greedy plantation owner, a francophile who couldn't speak French but loved his slave girls in French maid's uniforms. 

While watching the movie, I was actually surprised that except for the exaggerated blood spurts from shoot outs, it was relatively tame for a Tarantino movie. But I spoke too soon. He saved the bloodbath and the big boom for the finale. When Candieland went up in flames and Django and Hildy rode off into the horizon on their horses, you got a sense of fulfillment. Their story was the exception. In reality, it would be a few more years before the American Civil War and slaves are granted their freedom. It would be a hundred more years before the color of one's skin stopped dictating what one could do. 

If this is how Tarantino takes on the questions of history, first with Inglourious Basterds which I loved to bits*** and then this, I want to see what he does next. Perhaps an irreverent take on the Revolution, or chicken pox, the Mayflower, a ship crossing the ocean to the New World? Or maybe he would jump ahead a few years, decades, centuries and worlds into the future. Whatever journey it is, wherever he's headed, I want to go to there. Just make sure the blood doesn't get on my popcorn. 

*2 of 4 movies involved Nicholas Hoult wearing hoodies and one involved torture by live singing and being forced to stare at Anne Hathaway's pores. Surely, there are better reasons to watch movies. I need to get out more. 

**Christoph Waltz's bounty hunter in Django + his Jew Hunter in Basterds = evidence he can pull off the mercenary who grows a conscience role swimmingly. 

***True, I had a moment of doubt somewhere between Kill Bill Pt. 2 and Death Proof, but Basterds restored my faith in Tarantino. 

Wednesday, March 13

Kilig Theory: How to Open the Stone Cold Heart

We know that figure well: The One Who Keeps to Herself, The Ice Queen, aloof and mysterious, doesn't say too many words, and when she does talk it's in a voice that's usually small, and then commences an even more  more awkward silence.

In theory and in story, it's the distance and silence that makes her alluring. This is why she is pursued, and for every step forward that allows a glimpse of What Goes On Inside That Head, where we see the slight shadow of a past hurt, we are forced to take two steps back. There might be whispers of What Went Down: a spectacular breakdown uploaded on YouTube, the beloved who met an untimely end, a heartbreak so devastating that the only response is to build a fortress and not let anyone in.

Sometimes the hurt is shaded by Words and Acts of Cruelty, a General Meanness that is sometimes viewed as a quirk, ie, if her feet are hurt by uncomfortable shoes, then she forces the boy to switch shoes with her. And then have him march around in public, with an escalation of humiliation. But we are told to see this awful treatment of other human beings as adorable. That is she is merely a sassy girl or a shrew who can be tamed into possession later on, or perhaps he's a sparkly vampire boy who is only avoiding you because he doesn't want you to be his next meal.

The only way to get through The Armor of False Strength is by wearing her down with your Constant Badgering Presence. If meanness is shown, accept it. Endure it all the cruelties. If she asks you to go away and leave her the fuck alone, do it. But keep her in your mind. Learn new skills that will impress her later on. Or you can annoy her with your own quirk: a passionate assertion that music will heal the soul, or that John Hughes' entire ouvre can be summed in that last scene where Judd Nelson raises his fist at the end of The Breakfast Club.

In real life, the mystery of the silent one can only be endured for so long. It will most likely annoy and frustrate you to no end. Why don't you call? Why won't you text me to tell me you will be late instead of making me wait for the better part of the day? Disappearing will no longer be a quirk but a dangerous fault. Camels burying their heads in the sand are charming only if done by camels or if accompanied by an ironic statement in 42 point text.  Like Beca in Pitch Perfect, the shutting out is a passive-aggressive tactic: a blanket offensive, a defensive move to protect oneself and not targeted at a specific person. 

It is never easy to open up to anyone, ever. It doesn't matter if Madonna offers to "give you love if you turn the key." Nobody wants to display their vulnerability out in the front lawn. Badgering can only make things worse. But at the same time, it is only by persistence that one can get used to someone else's presence.

Someday, after she has succeeded in shoving out everyone who ever cared for her, she will remember that annoying assertion and watch all the movies and listen to all the songs. Only then, when she has processed it all by herself will she be convinced that somehow, you were right. This is the start of The Conversion.

She will begin to reach out and open a shutter to her locked out heart. A sliver of light will creep in and the thawing of her cold, cold heart will begin. The cause of the hurt that drove her to be mean will be revealed, and suddenly, it all makes sense.

She will reciprocate your feelings by echoing your formerly annoying assertion in song, by mashing up that song in the end credits in the middle of a playlist made for public singing. Or the crowd will part in a crowded train station and the two of you will be reunited. And it will be revealed that you were meant to be together all along.

You can never force open a broken heart that's been sewn shut. The sutures will bleed if it has not healed yet. The ice will be smashed to pieces with the use of force. One can only wait. And thus, if one wants to pursue The One With the Stone Cold Heart, the One Who Keeps to Herself, the one requires extreme amounts of patience. It will be difficult and frustrating to keep up with this one step forward, two steps back. But if one endures, when trust is earned, it is only a matter of time before the ice begins to thaw, before a word is said and war wounds would have healed. Then all that's left is the scar and the story behind it that begs to be told. And so we hope that this will be proven to be true in real life as in story.