Tuesday, January 31, 2006

At the Marco Polo

As usual, I arrived late for the Wednesday Club 888 press conference. I thought there was nobody inside the little bar just beside the hotel's concierge counter, when I saw the empty chairs near the glass door.
But when I entered, everybody was there. I saw Q and Joel Esco and the rest of the group gathered around the bar, sipping lukewarm coffee from their cups while Awi and the others were crowding around a man in pink in the next table, ambush interviewing.
I was in no mood to join them because I just had a row with Karl, who lost his ID when we were supposed to go to the bank to open his savings account this morning. I stormed out of the house in Matina and boarded a jeepney, feeling ill-used and exploited despite my having screamed so loud, I must have awakened the neighbors.
Even as I took my seat very near the presscon's speakers, my anger at Karl's sloppiness had not left me. Probably it had borne a hole in my stomach. Waves of nausea and exasperation swept over me. I've been reminding him about his ID since the other day but it was only when we were about to go that he finally decided to look for it.
"I don't need an ID," he was saying earlier with that sheepish grin all over his face, the same grin used by his Dad, when he was trying to tell the children, "Don't mind Mama, because we know better. She's just plain neurotic, paranoid, etc.. ."
I was angry. I still am. He needed an ID to go to that bank and he had been postponing going there since eternity. Urgghh, children. As if it was for our own sake that we are doing things for them. I've been feeling sooooo bad in being treated this way. I'm a disgruntled ONE. I feel like I could start a WAR!

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Woman in White

I don't know how to go about my story. Angst, according to Nico, would lead to pangs or hunger. I got to write as fast as I can to earn my bread but I can't because I think, I don't have to eat that much to stay alive. Besides, I need to blog.
Today is the last day of the ASEAN Tourism Forum and all the guests are doing the last minute shopping before their flight tomorrow. There's going to be dinner hosted by some city or town somewhere. I don't think I can go there. I don't need to go.
All I care is to be here, inside the press center, sitting before a keyboard and a computer. Somebody left a cup of coffee and a pile of saucers near this desktop I am using. Except for one or two computers, the press center is full. I don't understand my notes. The woman to my right is talking to her companion from Manila. A while ago, I've been laughing at something that Jessica Zafra has written on her blog and this woman asked me if I had done my stories for the day.
Maybe, she was making an accounting, I thought. I heard she was from DOT or something. I told her I have done wwwooooolll my stories already. I was about to tell her, I've done so many stories for ATF, some came out of the Inquirer business features, some did not come out at all. As long as I can blog here all I can, I really couldn't care less whether they come out or not.
She opened her computer and I can tell that she's under some very visible throes how to go about her story. She typed on her keyboard, "media release," all caps. Thirty minutes passed and she was still staring at the white monitor. I don't know what she found there. It must be quite interesting. She's wearing a white blouse and a pair of black pants. Then, her companion pulled a chair and sat beside her and she said, "She's with Inquirer." Her companion smiled. "From Manila?" I said, no. "Provincial," the woman said. I wanted to strangle her.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bargaining with the FireDog

It’s getting late in the year and I haven’t exactly known the FireDog yet. But I can smell hunger stalking in the halls as I sit lusting in the corner after the things that the FireDog can bring, if I manage to strike a successful bargain.
I promise the firedog the most memorable year in terms of pictures if he brings in one of those four to eight megapixel Canon Powershot digital cameras, with 7x optical zoom Canon was selling with a free powershot radio and USB card reader last Christmas season as a holiday treat to unsuspecting customers. Or, I can settle with any of Sony’s Cybershot line with 32 MB internal memory and the Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar lens, as long as these are brought to my doorstep for free before the end of the month.
Or, even that V530 Kodak Easy Share digital camera, now advertised as an amazingly stylish camera, in a very hot deal ad on the Philippine Daily Inquirer, will do for a moment. That V530 is now selling at P20,995; free with 128 MB Kodak SD card and a camera case. It’s a five megapixel digital camera, sleek and stunning in red, grey and black colors, powered by the exclusive Kodak color Science chip. I wonder if this camera is really as good as it looks but it is equipped with Schneider-Krueznach V-Variogin lens, with 3x optical and 4 x digital zoom and an MPEG 4 video that capture high quality, true-to-life colors, so that ad says!
Now that the reign of the firedog begins, I promise to deliver my part if the firedog fulfills his part of the bargain. I’d take pictures of Davao at six o’clock in the morning, standing at that portion of Magallanes street, just a little behind the SP building where the gables of the Royal Mandaya hotel jut out of the old shabby rows of buildings along Bolton street.
I’ll disembark from a jeepney passing by the Bankerohan bridge and take a shot of Davao river, framed by shanties that populate the riverbanks. Or, hang around Bankerohan public market shortly before dusk to take pictures of crowds crawling over the open ukay ukay stalls like ants, under the backdrop of the setting sun.
Walk along Matina’s McArthur highway to buy pan de sal early in the morning, to frame the peak of Mt. Apo blanketed by clouds, with the concrete overpass hanging over the road by the Matina public market.
I promise to be as truthful as I could get, whatever truthfulness means. I’ll take a walk along the seedy aisles and alleys in the city to capture a glimpse of life that other people deem ugly. I’d choose the often forgotten and taken for granted street alleys as mementos to the future. I’ll start with that alley in between the Grand Menseng Hotel and the carinderias lining down Magallanes street that hide the Community Hospital at the back. This alley leads to the bank of the Davao River where people take the boat ride across to the SIR village of Matina. Another small pathway running parallel to the river, branch from this alley going to the emergency room of the Community Hospital, where patients’ relatives keep vigil late at night. This alley stinks of dried urine, where foul-mouthed teenagers ply at night, something that could not be captured by camera. But the sights of barbecue stalls and street food and the transaction going on near the riverbank surely will give future anthropologists something to think about.
I promise to take them all to treasure--but only if the firedog gives me one hell of a chance of owning one of those cameras, instead of just leaving me here drooling over the pages.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Notes from the Year of the WoodCock

Was it a good year? Was it a bad year?
I don’t know. But throughout the year of the Wood Cock, things had a way of turning up.
The year started the morning I was dancing frantically in my room with no lights on. It ended with my blog at some downtown internet café towards the midnight that signaled the start of another year.


I WAS DANCING in my room at the start of the year (that was) while outside, Dad sat at the corner near the door, sketching a brigantine. The boys--Sean and Karl--were staying mostly in the kitchen, eating biscuits and watching Nickolodeon on cable TV, which was eventually cut off later in the year for our failure to pay the subscription fee.
I was dancing not because I was happy and excited but because I was afraid. I was wondering what the Year of the Cock would bring (to my boys) and dancing had a way of chasing away the bad spirits, keeping my heart open and my mind alert. I’ve been hearing things about the Cock even before that. “Isang kahig, isang tuka,” somebody warned. “One eats from whatever she can get from scratch,” went my very poor translation.
But how this creature, the Cock loved to crow and how cocky it can get, how flamboyant and how whimsical---and also how lucky! The Cock had a knack of finding anything wherever it scratched.
Indeed, it was the year I scratched everywhere like crazy. In the nearby city of Tagum, I documented a mining conference where the Mansakas, Mandaya and Dibabawun tribes were angry at what’s happening to their lands and because they can’t understand the paradoxical things the government was telling them about mining. Months later, I documented again the making of the “Tagum Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration on IP Education,” where I watched a Dibabawun balyan (a tribal priest) doing the ritual dance under the mango tree. Midway through his dance, the balyan stopped because the “abian” (spirit) was complaining about the altar. The balyan was using a four-legged wooden table somebody dragged from the workshop hall instead of the traditional “tambara” (altar). For atonement, the abian required the balyan to come back on the full moon, on the 16th day the following month to do another ritual dance.

ALL THOSE scratching yielded gems. Things that I loved simply turned up in the most unlikely places to cheer me up when I was about to lose hope. Bruce Chatwin’s “Songlines” selling at P35 at the NCCC Bookshop when my spirits were down. Or the Winter1993 issue of “The Paris Review” featuring Wang Meng’s fiction, “The Stubborn Porridge,” and Joanna Scott’s “You Must Relax!” and many others I never expected to find.
My dear friend Ava Vivian’s story on the Free Press, I chanced upon to read one afternoon when I entered the City Library while waiting for the rain to stop. Or, the email I got from Janis, the author of the Waray poetry whose lines had always made me cry, now telling me she had survived a year working for the Department of Labor and Employment!
Or Keith texting me from out of nowhere because he was going with us on our trip to Mamasapano, Maguindanao at the height of the rido conflict there when some other colleague had tried to scare me off from riding the helicopter.
Or, when I was running out of everything to give to the house help, Inquirer texted me to pick up an unexpected check for a story I wrote the previous year that the editors had picked up as the newspaper’s Best Feature for the month.
But most of all, the allure of working in our paperless news magazine www.davaotoday.com which never ceased to make me feel both magically invisible and visible, at the same time.

On the first month of the year when I was reeling from friends’ betrayal, I unconsciously opened the old copy of “The Complete Handbook of Astrology,” left lying in my elder son’s room. On the left bottom of the page was a pen and ink drawing in sepia of a girl fainting and being helped by the dwarves. I read, Cancer Affinities, and discovered the archetypal Cancerian: Snow White, the innocent whose trust was betrayed but who found comfort and shelter in the bosom of her tiny family. I have never been a “Snow White,” I hated all the things she represented but the day that I discovered this “archetypal Cancerian” was the day I beamed with gratitude to those bosom friends in my life.

It was also a year of outrage and endless running away. Realizing that the battle I’ve been fighting in the kitchen (or the home, as a whole) was something that I could not win, I decided to run away from home. I took refuge in my sister’s house in Butuan and began thinking of endless possibilities. Loving the taste of freedom and the unbearable lightness of being freed from all weight of responsibilities, I kept dreaming of flight. But in the end I went back home to the kids, quietly cursing myself for having the mentality of a slave.

But things, indeed, had a way of turning up! On the day when we finally launched the maiden issue of Davao’s newest online magazine www.davaotoday.com, I went home to hear the heartwarming news of Karl winning the editorial cartooning contest in the Davao city division elementary school press conference. Towards the end of the year, he would win in the region. But he’s still a boy. He hardly cleaned his room last year. He got me worrying 90 per cent of the time for always coming home late and staying too long in those internet cafes, playing games of Ragnarok, or whatever online game it was that caught his fancy. He found numerous exasperating ways to circumvent the rules we set at home. On the day that he won the division press conference, his campus paper adviser scolded him for coming to school late. On the day that he won the region, the only sign pen that he brought to the contest would not write. So, you see!

BUT STILL, the year ended with a happy note. Like magic.