Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Minute Activities for 2009

It's New Year's Eve and I'm online. I haven't been online this time of the year since perhaps 1998, my last New Year's eve during my 3-year stint in Yokohama. That time I had to sneak into the lab to send a few emails. I must admit I had nothing to do at home then and New Year's celebrations in Japan were quite different from those we celebrate in the Philippines. Fireworks displays were in parks, mostly organized by cities and many sponsored by corporations who believe the Hanabi will usher in good luck for them in business.

The past few days have been hectic - but in a nice way. They were not "toxic," which was how we usually described days preceding report deadlines or leading to conferences or seminars. In fact, they were pleasant as they were spent reconnecting with old friends. Healing was also part of the agenda as both the Clairvoyant and I nursed colds since Christmas Day. There was also the opportunity to organize things at home - finally re-installing the stereo component system that was among the things brought up for safe storage during the Ondoy event in September. It was definitely a feel-good situation after sorting through photos, both in print and in digital form.

There's a lot to be thankful for in 2009. I would rather be reminded of even the most simplest blessings and the happy moments in a year that was full of emotions. I would like to believe that after all that went about in 2010, we came out not scathed or scarred or branded but resurrected, reinforced and ready...for 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Interrupted?

The gifts are all wrapped up and grouped and bagged accordingly. A cool breeze announces each December morning. There's the sound of carolers, mostly children singing to homes of their playmates. (Thankfully, there are none of the adults that tend to pressure one to allow them to sing - whether intentionally or not.) Christmas won't be delayed and not even the events of the past quarter - typhoons, massacres and now, a volcanic eruption - can stop this most anticipated season, especially in the Philippines.

We have always been a happy people. In the face of disasters we always come out being able to transcend the challenges, the stresses, the disappointments and frustrations associated with whatever disaster or trials that come our way. I'd like to think that political leadership (or the lack of it) is the only hindrance to us being happy AND wealthy at the same time.

Indeed, if material things are to be the basis for happiness, a lot of us won't even make the cut for many of those surveys that get published in newspapers or online. Formal studies do not do justice at all to how we celebrate Christmas, or more appropriately, how we celebrate our lives. Life after all is what is important and it is the gift of life that we celebrate in Christmas. Come to think of it, we are actually celebrating an Easter - our resurrection after a passion-filled past months.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Savory

I've always enjoyed eating at restaurants that help bring back memories of childhood days when life seemed so much simpler. Today, I had lunch with the Clairvoyant at a newly opened Savory restaurant at the nearby mall. Having a light breakfast before an appointment with the dentist, we were quite starving and eager to have a hearty meal. We were not disappointed as we enjoyed the set meal consisting of fried chicken, pancti canton, fish fillet and turon (yup, that's right - turon). I just had to order the almond jelly and lychees to complete the experience.

I believe Savory us among the restaurants that had that signature taste - one that makes you recognize immediately that you were eating there. I consider it alongside Max's, Aristocrat and Ma Mon Luk; though I must admit I haven't yet eaten at Ma Mon Luk and don't have memories of eating at Aristocrat (I may have been too young to remember we ate there before.) If I were to extend this category of childhood dining I would definitely include Shakey's (tasted my first pizza at Ali Mall), the old Jollibee in New Frontier cinema, and perhaps that old resto near COD (I don't remember the name) where I enjoyed many toasted bread (my taste was that simple then). The taste of food in these restaurants were familiar and may I say haven't changed so much through the years (otherwise we wouldn't return to eat there).

Meals at restaurants like Savory bring back nice memories as evidenced by the many older people who ate there. One could overhear that they enjoyed their meals and engaged in conversation, exchanging tales about a past era, and I can imagine them picturing the old branch in Escolta just as what was illustrated in the restaurant. I look forward eating there again in the near future and that next time will be with Tatay and Mama, whose stories I look forward to hearing again and are sure to make the meals even more enjoyable.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reminiscing through music

I always remember my father playing songs from his younger days on our old stereo and later on component system. I grew up to the tune of Nat King Cole (whom he preferred over Sinatra), the Cascades and Ilonggo Folk Songs, thanks to a collection of vinyl records that I assume is stashed away somewhere after surviving the floods that brough havoc last September. I have come to appreciate that music - his music - as part of my upbringing, even as my tastes evolved to including classical, jazz, new wave, rock and pop from a wealth of talented musicians I was exposed to from the 70's to the present.

I must admit the guilty pleasure of listening to Bread and England Dan & John Ford Coley Songs. I sing along to Earth, Wind and Fire as well as to Air Supply and feel good when Barry Manilow plays on the radio. It's even more satisfying to hear tunes from high school times - Spandau Ballet, The Cure, The Smiths...and the list goes on and on. "Nakakabata nga talaga." It's the same statement I remember my father saying when he listens to his music. I guess by now I also have my music and am entitled to it if only because my taste is influenced by almost 4 decades of listening to various artists including one hit wonders (anyone for some Vitamin Z?).

I sit back and relax on Fridays and Saturdays. I'm content listening to Magic Madness or Slide on Fridays and Freestate Sound and another New Wave program on Saturdays. The music allows me to recharge and maybe, at least for those times I allow myself to indulge in it, turn back the clock to a time when there was less worries and less complications in life.

Two Months After and Looking Blankly as Christmas Approaches

It's 2 months since that fateful weekend of the deluge brought about by Ondoy. I'm still driving a car graciously provided by a friend (Thanks!!!) with my Crown still sitting and under repair at another friend's shop. The Mazda 3 languishes in Makati where God knows when essential parts would be arriving from Japan and God forbid that more damage is brought about by disrepair - the result of the casa's non-action. The costs of having 2 cars repaired have escalated. The damage is mainly due to the continuing deterioration of the newer car with the estimated costs now exceeding 200 thousand pesos for the Mazda alone. It's bad enough being hit by a flood (we survived after all) but it feels so much worse being f^%$&d by the casa.

I've said farewell to the idea of having a new notebook to replace my 3-year old Satellite. Farewell too to having our garage covered. Now, I'm eager to get my Professorial Chair money but only because we need it badly to pay for the Mazda. There are actually more important, more personal items already in the pipeline but were derailed...no thanks to our finances in shambles after Ondoy. We're still luck, I continue to convince myself. So far, I've succeeded but I'm not as hopeful as what try to project. After all, I'm not the kind of person who will admit defeat though I accept it.

Th only bright spot now is the work being done at home. The contractor we hired is very good and has so far completed most of the repairs and renovations we had planned even before the inundation of late September. Is Christmas really just around the corner? I hope it isn't and I'm sure not looking forward to its material implications. 2010? Who knows what's lurking next year? I hope it doesn't beat 2009 in terms of the hurt and the sadness of losing what's left of childhood memories and the sense of security that comes from owning a home.

Kahayupan

The recent events in Maguindanao clearly shows how backward people still are in an area where government and international agencies have poured so much resources to encourage economic activity and improve quality of life. Progress? I look at the videos of Maguindanao shown on TV and can't help but notice that the only modern infra they have are roads. And we know that building those roads probably amounted to a lot more than what it actually should cost.

In this day and age where information spreads fast and news about such crimes as the massacre could be broadcast to the entire world, one would think that being escorted by a journalists would at least be a deterrent to the grim ending experienced by the victims. Indeed, a lot has been written and said about the circumstances. Comments here and analysis there are a dime a dozen, and from where a lot of us stand they seem to be falling on deaf ears. Frankly, to me its similar to that saying about how hard it is to wake up someone who's pretending to sleep. In this case, the moves by the ones in power are token and just for show. Heads should roll (pun intended) in such situations where the gains of having a 7-time world boxing champion and a world recognized hero for the common man was all but snuffed out by the heinous act of a clan.

Perhaps, as pundits say, "nakulangan pa tayo sa world class." We also wanted to establish ourselves as tops in terms of being the most dangerous place for journalists. The news say that...we leapfrogged over the cream of the crop that is Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia...the list goes on. It's a veritable who's who in a chaotic world and it reflects sadly not on Maguindanao alone but the entire country. I see the defiant faces of those who are obviously guilty and I squirm in my seat knowing they will eventually get only a slap on the wrist (or maybe less!).

I was reminded that the term "kahayupan" probably does not apply here. Being a pet owner, my Lab is too kind and "malambing." It is an unfair term because what was accomplished (yes, I think the perpetrators would use this term and even take pride in it) was more than "kahayupan." So at the very least, many say perhaps they deserve a similar fate. Perhaps, for all to see, they should be made to suffer in a manner brought about by animals like spike their drink with rabies or rat piss...then we'll see what "kahayupan" is all about. That way, they can be made examples for those planning on similar acts.

In this day and age, there is no place for people who think they can do whatever they want. Man-made laws and those from the Divine are not deterrents for those who are already ruling hell on earth. Maybe Satan should be worried when they cross over to the other side.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Singapore

Singapore is an aberration of sorts. But it is an aberration in a nice way. Compared to its ASEAN neighbors, it is a city-state, so unlike the archipelagos that are the Philippines and Indonesia and the nations located in the Asian mainland like Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. In fact, her history tells us that Singapore was originally part of Malaya, which was for some time under British Rule and part of the Empire where the sun never sets. It seceded and declared independence back in 1965, establishing its identity as a distinct nation and eventually setting the standard for economic development in this part of the world.

Some people would say that Singapore would always be suspicious and to a certain extent paranoid about Malaysia. After all, the former is still quite dependent on the latter for water and other essential resources. In recent years, however, such paranoia has been lessened as the Malaysian economy grew and with the latter experiencing a measure of prosperity that itself is a deterrent to unrest.

Singapore will always be an exceptional case for Southeast Asia. For one, it never had to contend with population growth and rural concerns like its neighbors - with the exception of another rich state, Brunei. Thus, it is not surprising that in academic fora, some care is applied when mentioning Singapore in the same breath as Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Such exceptions notwithstanding, the city state is a fine example of how a city with limited resources must develop. It has reinvented itself, using technology as a tool for leverage in a very competitive world. It has provided excellent template for urban planning and development including welfare and healthcare in the sense that it has evolved into a people and environment friendly haven that should, in spite of its size, be emulated by cities claiming to have similar targets.

A friend always mentions that he doesn't mind visiting Singapore as long as he didn't have to live in the country. The city is "too clean," he says - pointing to what many would term as sanitized, too orderly. He even proceeds by comparing Singapore to Tokyo and other first world cities that seem to have more (much more) character than the city state. Perhaps Singapore's weakness is also its strength. While being a model for stability, it is too sanitized, too perfect for people who are used to the hustle and bustle of "regular" cities. While being a welcome destination for people is search of order and stability, it is also often taken as a symbol of artificiality and a reminder of something that would just be too difficult to attain, unless you had a leader like Lee Kuan Yew.

Nirvana it might be for people seeking to escape from such turmoils as that brought about by recent inundations. I myself welcomed the trip to Singapore a couple of weeks back and almost right after the floodwaters receded in Antipolo. Singapore will always be a necessity in this part of the world where chaos and change are part of the norms of life. It is always a welcome alternative to a country that evolves according to political and social dynamics that have significant, though hopefully not detrimental, impacts on our lives.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Faith or whatever you wish to call it

In my relatively short stint in making myself informed about (or as the clairvoyant puts it - tracking) the weather, I have never come across a typhoon that moved so slowly, the process also weakening itself even before making landfall.

Lupit developed into a Category 4 typhoon while in the Pacific, slowly and menacingly moving towards the Philippines to finish off what Ondoy and Pepeng had earlier set out to do - lay waste to Luzon Island. The two earlier visitors (or bwisitors) were very efficient and any experienced military commander or Sun Tzu fanatic will tell you, very surgical in terms of strategy and tactics. Hit NCR first and hit it hard - at its weakest point, the drainage system. Devastating Metro Manila assures you that there won't be any help coming from it when the rest of Luzon is hit by the next wave, which happened to be Pepeng.

But destruction aside and climate change notwithstanding, doesn't it make you wonder what's keeping the typhoon Lupit from breaking out? Lupit is actually weakening while moving at a snail's pace. Is this normal behavior for a typhoon or is an unseen hand holding it down? I would like to believe that after all that people have been through, having our backs against the wall and being desperate for whatever can spare us from the impending onslaught, we decided to turn to God, to our faith in an Almigthy Being. Watching on TV and hearing the Catholic Church appeal to people to pray the Oratio Imperata and people actually doing it is but one example of how people decided to plead to a Higher Being, knowing it was scientifically, mathematically and maybe statistically improbable for a typhoon as strong as Lupit to slow down, barely grazing Luzon and weakening by itself.

Call it what you want. Be scientific and meteorological or whatever. For a lot of people it is only one thing and something they can hold on to - a miracle!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Post deluge

My mind was full of ideas of what to write after going through what water resources engineering or hydraulic engineering textbooks term as a 40- or 50-year flood. From my experience (and I am a certified flood veteran) I am more inclined to say that what hit us last September 26 was actually a 25-year flood. I am basing this interpretation from the 1985 flood that inundated our village of Kasibulan in Cainta. Our whole family and all others from the subdivision had to evacuate our home when floods reached waist-deep at road level. We found safe haven in the factory across Imelda Avenue. The guards allowed us to seek refuge in the huge steel structures that housed heavy machinery no longer operating after the factory shutdown because of a labor problem. The striking workers actually assisted many families in getting to higher, safer ground that day.

Fortunately, no one from our village drowned from that 1985 flood. But it left a lot of deep scars that painfully reopened every year for the next 10 years that we were to experience flooding - not as terrible as 1985's but some comparable if you weren't used to them. A lot of memories were lost in those floods. My parents' wedding photos were lost including many of their photos before they got married. We were able to save many photos though - mostly mine and I'm afraid those were all damaged if not wiped out by typhoon Ondoy. We shared the same losses with our neighbors and made people closer in our village. In fact, we there were many of use there who studied at Lourdes Mandaluyong and one of our neighbors happened to be the high school principal at the time. Mr. Ben Dayo would always vouch for us when we claimed we had to miss classes because we had to help in cleaning our houses after the floods receded. I believe those floods have somehow influenced me as I grew up.

I wanted to believe that the floods in Town & Country wouldn't be deeper than what I had experienced in Kasibulan. I desperately wanted to believe that it could get deeper. But it did. When the clairvoyant and I bought a house there, one of the information I sought was about flood experience. Referring to the designs of the houses as well as neighbors stories, our home was supposed to be safe with the deepest flood experience in our area reaching only our gate. We were fortunate to have ample space in our second floor rooms. The clairvoyant and I were able to transfer our books and other personal properties with the help of Manang Aileen with an efficiency anyone can be proud off. Most importantly, we didn't have to abandon our home like many of our neighbors and we always had non-perishable food and drinks stocked. Many, we discovered afterwards, weren't as lucky as we were. We all lost our vehicles that day. Most cars went under overnight and emerged still parked in what everyone thought were garages that were flood-safe. But that's another story.

I was able to save my stamp collection from my parents' house in Kasibulan. Many items from an old brief case (what was my school bag when I was in high school)survived including old letters and bookmarks I had put aside as souvenirs from visits to Kamakura. These included old bookmarks from Tatay's visit to Kamakura in the 1960's.

The past days were blessings in that another super typhoon veered away from Metro Manila and still another will not hit the country. I honestly want to believe again that I won't experience another flood of that magnitude in say, 25 years (not the 40 years that would probably be much more damaging). If there was one thing I didn't want to share with the clairvoyant I guess an actual experience of such a flood would be it. But we did share the experience and we came out survivors (not victims as other people might label us) and I would rather believe that we came out better and will be stronger for this. We still have, after all, our faith.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Safety First

Road traffic accidents are already regarded in the same breath as killer diseases. The World Health Organization ranks it among the top ten (9th as of 2004) causes of death together with strokes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and influenza. The WHO’s Global Status Report predicts that road traffic injuries will rise to become the 5th leading cause of deaths worldwide by 2030 while already being the top cause of death for 15 to 29 year olds. However, like many diseases, traffic accidents can be prevented or if “diagnosed,” can be “treated.” Moreover, we already have a wealth of resources including tools to enable us to address the problem. A major roadblock seems to be that we have not yet been able to bring all these resources together as government agencies and the private sector entities continue to struggle in cooperating to slow down the rapid increase in the number of traffic accidents.

There are no quick solutions or cures to this disease. We can, however, treat symptoms to alleviate its impacts – among which are economic losses that are estimated to be in excess of US$ 2 billion a year for the entire country. Diagnosis of the symptoms is the collective responsibility of the DPWH, local government units, and the Highway Patrol Group with the enabling of the DOTC through the LTO. Road safety audits should be undertaken for major roads and this know-how needs to be transferred to local governments for them to make similar assessments for local roads. It is necessary for the HPG to intensify their campaign in monitoring roads as well as apprehending errant motorists even for minor offenses. But the latter should not do this “to instill fear in the heart of motorists and pedestrians” as some officials have often declared but rather to firmly establish a culture of responsible motoring and discipline for road users through informed, fair and consistent enforcement.

In Metro Manila, there are a significant number of accidents occurring everyday but these are not all reported and recorded. Such are relegated to the profusion of anecdotal information going around about how frequent and how serious accidents have become in the metropolis. However, with the installation of video cameras at critical locations around the metro provides an opportunity not just for monitoring and recording but for studying the behavior of drivers, riders and pedestrians. Footage from the cameras, if clear enough, may also be used to go after traffic violators.

Local government units including the MMDA would do well in refraining from overdoing efforts that employ unconventional or unorthodox methods for traffic engineering and management. While “out of the box” solutions have been successful to a certain extent, caution must be exercised when applying these schemes elsewhere. The prevailing practice is to over-generalize the application of traffic schemes resulting in what are continuing experimentations that bring about situations that lead to accidents as well as traffic congestion.

I’ve always taught my students that it is important to go back to the basics when dealing with the safety aspect of roads. In highway design we have to keep in mind that there are many elements that come into play including those concerning the vehicles, the drivers, and the environment. Key to the design is to have an understanding of the interactions that take place among the elements for one to be able to come up with a suitable design. Such are the basis for design speeds and curvatures as well as determining the appropriate traffic control or management schemes for the road. One has to ensure the natural movement of vehicles as well as enable conditions where motorists are able to assess the situation on the road with minimal complications that may bring about drive error. Failure to account for the design elements or to understand the interactions among the elements will lead to higher risk of accidents. Thus, a person can have all the skills and experience of a good driver and still be involved in an accident due to a poorly designed (or located) island or barrier. Also, a person could be the best defensive driver and yet be hit by a drunken driver or a motorcycle weaving in and out of traffic.

Highways need not be declared as traffic discipline zones if efforts are firm, consistent and sustained for all roads. It is understandable though if authorities would want to focus on particular corridors or areas in order to gain quick wins and confidence in the campaign for safe roads. However, such campaign must be fought simultaneously along several fronts. It is here that the DOTC through the LTO and the LTFRB should play a lead and active role especially since they have the mandate in as far as licensing and franchising are concerned. In addressing the accidents involving public transportation, for example, it is recommended that stricter policies be formulated and implemented with respect to licensing and employing drivers, and that operators be made accountable for accidents. There should also be initiatives towards emphasizing transport as a service rather than a business and a source of livelihood or employment.

Road traffic accidents have become an occurrence that is too common. The newspapers relate stories of men, women and children being victims of accidents. Television and radio news programs report incidents round the clock; often putting the spotlight on those involving public transport and particularly ones that have resulted in fatalities. All these scream the obvious and that is that our roads are unsafe. We are all vulnerable whether we are behind the wheel, a passenger of a public utility vehicle, or maybe a pedestrian just standing at roadside.

For now, it is important to sustain the sense of urgency generated by the recent spate of accidents and take advantage of this increased awareness and clamor for safe roads. The opportunity for genuine reforms that would lead to safer roads is here and it is imperative that we act decisively. Needless to say, this will require strong commitment and cooperation among various stakeholders to ensure success in reducing the rate of traffic accidents and making our roads safe for the present and future generations.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cory Aquino, 1933-2009

Thank you President Aquino...may your legacy sustain us and serve as a an enduring example of the sacrifices that have to be made if we are to emerge as a peaceful, progressive and united nation in the face of adversities.

May you continue your advocacy and may you intercede for us even after you have left this world to gain eternal life. Perhaps it is only fitting that the analogy be made to events as related in the Silmarillion, where EƤrendil made the voyage to Valinor to seek the aid of the Valar in vanquishing the pain and suffering that brought upon by Morgoth, Sauron and the elves and men who were corrupted in so many ways. So too do I hope that your passing remind us of what needs to be done to make this nation great!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Thoughts on a SONA day

Every now and again I am reminded why I opt to drive to work rather than take public transportation. True, I am an advocate of public transport over private car use but that advocacy is anchored on the public transport being safe and comfortable. Efficiency is another thing as people can argue that efficiency can be equated to speed. And for these people, many probably would exchange speed for safety and comfort.

This morning, the driver of the jeepney I rode from the LRT 2 station in Santolan seemed to be a frustrated airplane pilot and intent on reaching Cubao in 5 minutes (that's the reasonable time in takes to reach Barangka, Marikina from Santolan). Nevermind that there were no traffic jams because it was only 6:00AM and there was the fact that classes at all levels were suspended in the Metro due to today being the day the President of this country deliver her final (and a lot of people have their fingers crossed) State of the Nation Address. This was the kind of driving that brings a lot of people together when the driver remembers that the vehicle is equipped with brakes.

To be fair, the ride from Katipunan to UP was safer if not more comfortable considering that a 16-seater vehicle was being loaded at the terminal as if it were an 18-seater. The result being the last few passengers having only half the space for one's ass to be seated. Aside from that, travel was okay considering that Ateneo and Miriam generated vehicles were absent from Katipunan. I was about to conclude that Ateneans were still in shock after being soundly defeated in yesterday's Battle of Katipunan.

This brings me to the subject of grading our transportation system...remembering that only last Saturday, I was asked the question of what grade to give this administration. The producers of the segment wanted to use a grade school report card approach to assessing this administration's performance based on its promises of SONAs past. Particularly mentioned was the battlecry BEAT THE ODDS - that personally I find quite amusing in its construction (read: pilit na pilit).

To focus solely on transport infrastructure while neglecting to check whether the root causes of problems are addressed completely misses the point in as far as governance is concerned. True, we lack the basic infrastructure to ensure efficient movement of people and goods in this country but it is this basic infrastructure that is exclude from the grading. What is included are grand projects that are the SCTEXes, the nautical highways and the airports of international standard that were constructed during her term and probably made not a few people wealthier. What are not mentioned are the transport systems inappropriate for growing cities, the farm to market roads and the novelty transport modes that keep appearing on TV documentaries. Damang-dama ba natin ang progreso? Well, my overall grade if anyone should ask me is a passing mark...77...almost pasang awa and mind you, the palakol (as my father refers to the sevens) is quite symbolic not only of the trees that were sacrificed during relentless road widening but also of what needs to be done by 2010 and by means of an electoral exercise. Guess!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Buhay na buhay

In the Homily during yesterday's Mass, the priest made a good point regarding life. He explained that while death is the complete loss of life (though theologically and based on my Catholic upbringing I believe it can be regarded as the beginning of eternity - in St. Francis' Prayer "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.") we actually lose part of our life force through the pain, suffering, sickness and other tribulations that we experience as we journey in this physical word. It is quite easy to imagine what pain, suffering and sickness are. What is too often difficult to realize are the small things, the minute losses that we experience that we tend to disregard as insignificant yet in summary contributes to a larger loss.

The bottomline is we should keep in check these "losses," both the obvious and the not so obvious types. I liked the analogy to the cell phone where references to being low batt and needing recharging should remind us of the healing power of faith and that it is by God's grace that we are restored. I would just like to add a personal note on this. We should also learn to "let go" if not most of the time (that it is necessary) then at least once in a while. As they say...don't sweat the small stuff. I myself am guilty of making mountains out of molehills and most of the time this occurs in my mind - a surefire way of getting stressed out with only oneself to blame.

Take the case of a meeting I attended last week. As we sat waiting for our room to be prepared, the lawyer beside me mentioned something. I had to ask him again what he said as it didn't immediately register what with our preliminaries on the contract we were to discuss as well as the work activities for our project. I must admit I was a bit surprised and pleasantly amused by his observation..."Ang ganda ng paintings. Buhay na buhay ang kulay." In my many previous visits to various offices such as the legal office where we had our meeting, I had always had my brain full of things we regarded as important yet in my preoccupation, I failed to see what was around...nice paintings indeed. These are but simple things we often disregard, we often assume are trivial and yet we lose something when we fail to appreciate such little things around us, forgetting that God is in these little things - we are restored in so many ways that we have always tended to diminish.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Freeflow Music

It's been quite a while again since the last post and I had wanted to write about recent trips to Davao and Baguio. I haven't been to Davao since 2000 (that's nine years) and Baguio since 2004 (five years ago) so I'm raring to describe these places as I remember them last time I was there. Baguio will always have a special mention as it was the city where I did my first gig after graduation. It wasn't as crowded then but all indications pointed to a problematic future. But that's another story and I promise to write about this soon.

Meanwhile, allow me to talk about the music I love to listen to. I must admit that I listen to a variety of genres and was hooked on Jazz and New Age for quite some time while I was living in Japan. The radio programs in Tokyo and Yokohama made that possible and they were more (much more) welcome than the J-Pop that dominated the airwaves. However, the CDss I purchased told a different story. Most were of artists who were popular during my high school and early college years.

New wave albums and recordings by bands like A Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and the Housemartins alongside the more pop Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and Tears for Fears seemed too difficult to find when I was in Manila and the CD stores in Japan offered delight as I haunted the gigantic Tower Records in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. But most fruitful were expeditions to the smaller shops that also offered used CDs in excellent condition. I found that such CDs included imported ones from Europe, more specifically the UK, where the New Wave sound reigned supreme back in the 80s.

The result was a hoard of CDs taken home everytime I took a vacation. I just wanted to secure my own collection while I had the resources and the sources for the music I would play again and again and again. I've managed to rip some of them unto my MP3 player and get more music via friends and what used to be the popular sharing sites in the net.

On the FM radio back home in Manila, I have always looked forward to Fridays. 89.9 always had Friday Magic Madness on and it allowed for some reminiscing. Now I can put myself in my father's shoes when I imagine how it must be from back in the 70 to the present, to be missing the music of the good old days and loving times whe you can sit, relax and just listen to such music. Don't get me wrong. I also love standards and other "old" music. But let's be realistic, these are not the music that defined MY good old days.

These days, I've always looked forward to Fridays AND Saturdays. Friday Magic Madness is still holding steady but the selection can get quite predictable especially for one who's usually tuned in on Fridays. A welcome surprise is 88.3's Slide on Friday's and it would in my opinion give 89.9 a run for its money if people attempt to surf stations. The real deal of course is Freestate Sound on 88.3 Saturday mornings 9 to 12. The show distinctively features Manchester music and became quite amusing not just because of the lively (and lovely) DJ but the cuts that seem to have been resurrected from some old "baul". Indeed, 3 hours of bliss always made my day. But let's not forget the whole day treat that is Saturday's at 99.5. The 6 to 9 pm should be difficult to overlook and would complete the day if not save the week.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shall we dance?

I've always wanted to learn how to dance...correctly. And by correctly I mean technically, gracefully and what other adverbs or adjectives can be used to describe this art form. I think it was quite unfortunate that I grew up at a time when New Wave and Punk dominated the airwaves. Dancing then was, can I say, free form. Not really like what freestyle was for swimming but free in the sense that you can basically just sway around and maybe flail your arms in a wave like motion to simulate the style of those days.

That was high school for me. But don't get me wrong, I now look back at those days and could still vividly picture in my mind how we were during our version of the good old days. Honestly, I wasn't even among those whom I remember "dancing" in those times of soirees and interactions with our counterparts in exclusive girls schools. I remember joining only two - an informal one with St. Paul Pasig and a formal (read: school sanctioned) one with Stella Maris. While I wasn't mostly among the walls, we (yes there a few of us) were pretty much close to the concrete.

My exposure to dancing as it should be mainly comes from my being in attendance at high school homecomings of my father's. I would watch as oldtimers and newly grads all went to the floor to perform - throwing caution to the wind when it was unnecessary because they did know their stuff. They would dance the whole night until early in the morning - swing, boogie, tango, disco, cha-cha (not the political kind), and yes...new wave. My cousins would always pull me to join them and I would always shake off my shyness, taking comfort by the sheer number of people I was with (I had many relatives) and knowing that people wont care if I had two left feet (or right). And I was always happy to see my father and his classmates dance the night away. I can see their joy and Tatay was a good dancer so I guess he can really enjoy reminiscing old times with his barkada in the Class of 1955.

Recently, I was reacquainted with the Ilonggo's love for dance. We were in Iloilo City for a seminar and happened to have dinner in a popular restaurant. We were a bit early so we thought that the band was just setting up. There were similar places in Cebu and Davao where the live band would even accept song requests from diners or even invite people to sing with the band. Then we saw people coming to the restaurant somewhat dressed for some occasion. We tried to disguise our laughs as some matrons arrived looking like they were going dancing, escorted by DI (dance instructor) types. A few minutes later they confirmed our suspicions when the band started playing...they were there to dance!

And dance they did as more people arrived including politicians, who surprisingly arrived with minimal bodyguards; instead opting to be surrounded by family and friends. Everyone seemed to know each other and I felt something I had not felt since the last time I attended my father's high school homecomings. I could see couples - young and young at heart - dancing together, the elder ones slowly but surely as you can see they knew how to dance, knew the steps and tried what their bodies allowed them to. Later in the night, the younger crowd joined in the dance floor, dancing in three and foursomes, just like what my cousins and I did while simultaneously exchanging stories and renewing ties. I understood then as I understood before but had seemed to forget, the Ilonggo way of having fun. It was already evident in their language - they can be angry or sad but the language was always malambing - and it was very evident by how they socialized, using dance as an instrument to disarm those with inhibitions and, regardless of who you were, let you in the circle to make you feel connected.

I miss those homecomings though they were not mine. I always felt I belonged as relatives from almost all high school batches where there making it appear from my perspective that they were actually our family's homecomings. I particularly miss dancing and wouldn't mind if I could relive those times and remember those few steps I picked up, and maybe, even learn a few...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Books and Taxes

I love to read. Whether its books (both tech and non-tech) or magazines, hard or soft copy, old or new, I would always find something to catch my interest.

Recently, I bought 2 compilations of a variant of the X-Men comics. The Clairvoyant suspected I was again renewing interest in collecting such, especially after watching the Wolverine movie over the weekend. She, however, did not expect I'd actually purchase a few copies this week.

Another interest, or hobby if I may, is history. I loved Ambeth Ocampo's writing of popular history and his style, I believe should be adopted in our schools for our youth to have a understanding of Philippine history without the fear of having to memorize dates and becoming bored with "formal" retelling of history. I do have all his compilations and often re-read these, if only to relax and clear my mind of the complexities that are identified with my chosen profession - engineering.

This brings me to the hot topic these days. Books and taxes. I have been a victim of our stupid (yes, I think that's an appropriate yet kind word to use) imposition of taxes on books, regardless of their use. I remembering ordering textbooks and manuals via Amazon and ending up with taxes almost as much as the amount I paid for the books.

These are books and manuals, mind you, that are far superior to what we have here. One book, on Engineering Statistics, was even written by a Filipino who has resided in the US since the 1960s, and has been the preferred textbook by many excellent universities. Meanwhile, similar material here that claim to be books are actually review materials for various licensure examinations. Using these books encourage memorization of formulas and a culture of problem solving that emphasizes the memorization of solutions without understanding the concepts that would actually develop analytical skills in students.

It seems to me that our government, in its reckless drive to collect revenues, is actually getting such from the wrong sources. Books are a form of investment. Their consumption would ultimately lead to economic development and perhaps, liberation from the thinking that we as a nation cannot go beyond what we have achieved (meron ba?) given the system that we have now. The current interpretation by our Bureau of Customs, and consequently our Department of Finance, that all books should be taxed, and the silence by our DepEd, CHED and other institutions that claim to be for education, only promotes backwardness and a future that will not get us anywhere except mediocrity.

Interesting read:
http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20090504-202929/The-great-book-blockade-of-2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Courage

This is supposed to be the Holy Week issue for this blog. However, I never really got to writing as I instead chose to take the week off and contemplate on the simple things of life. You know, waking up to a nice sunrise in the morning. Having a terrific mug of hot chocolate prepared by the wife, cleaning up after breakfast...I could go on and on, and it seems I wouldn't run out of material for a list of simple things you can do at home while not thinking of work, of the office and those other complexities that a typical day would bring.

I use courage for lack of a more appropriate word to describe what a friend and an acquaintance did - convert to another religion. A close friend, I learned only in February, became Orthodox while an acquaintance of old became Muslim. These were their choices and I guess and must believe that they decided on this after much reflection, after much assessment for the implications of their leaving their old faith (Roman Catholic).

For my close friend at least, I can claim that I have seen the transformation initiated back in our college days. We were always kidding him about the award he got in high school - Best in Religion. I still remember one of our barkada quipping "Like that award would help a lot in a school like UP." And we all just laughed, including my close friend who was always the cheerful type and good-natured.

He even wrote a book, containing research made that I can now assume was a part of his way of searching for the meaning of his faith. I must also assume that this "search" continued even after he married and while raising two wonderful daughters, blessings if I may state myself. Throughout he was able to understand his faith and himself more than we even attempt (or claim to attempt) ourselves.

Do such ideas even graze our minds as we attend Mass on Sundays? Perhaps it is even appropriate that we use the term "attend" rather than participate as we seem to be spectators in church. I remember our school rector admonishing us for being present physically but with our minds and spirits elsewhere during what many Masses we celebrated in grade school and high school. There, I said it, "celebrate" the better word for "participate." We too often are passive about our faith, taking for granted that rules, dogmas, tenets, and even commandments must be contextualized in the face of reality - not practicality, which is always associated with convenience. True, there are hardliners among us and even I must admit that I maintain certain beliefs to hold my faith together. Yet I am very flexible in as far as my being Catholic is involved - I do have a lot of opinions about and against certain principles. But I do believe that this is what living faith should mean - to be able to ask the difficult questions and not be in denial about the realities happening around us. Keeping the faith to me is to embrace my being Catholic including all its flaws while maintaining and nurturing my liberal views.

I admire my friend for his courage - to ask questions, to question himself and his faith, even to challenge himself to get out of the proverbial shell and come out liberated, redeemed. I could only hope I can be as courageous in my life - or so it seems.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

(Micro)management

We all have different management styles. Some claim to have adopted or adapted their ways from the experts; having attended one or a few seminars or workshops on management. Some are self taught - maybe using references such as the popular literature written by Drucker or digesting books on the experiences of successful people or companies (Trump? Starbucks? Toyota?). Also among the self taught are those who evolved from direct experience, often being thrust into the position because there were either no other choices, no one else qualified, or a consensus was made among qualified people. The last one is not unusual in organizations that have achieved a level of maturity and have established a system where there is a collective, proactive and cooperative effort to promote the thrusts of the organization.

While I would like to qualify myself and my office under the last, there are those who deny this. The sad thing is that those in denial are not even those who are within the organization and have only interpreted the organization according to their own grand plans rather than seeing the organization as being larger and relevant at a bigger stage.

While the organization is far from being flawless and despite stability in the past few years, it is still subject to occasional reality checks given its relationship with the national transportation agency and the continuing standoff with unaffiliated experts from the same university. Indeed, these are but temporary and ultimately, it is expected that the organization will come out for the better as it had always had in the past. After all, it is the premiere research and extension institution in the field of transportation - a fact that should not be lost upon insiders and outsiders alike including those who have and are to attempt to put the organizations under it (subsume?)

Which brings us to the subject of this blog entry - micromanagement. When does micromanagement apply? To what kinds of organizations will it be effective? IS it effective for my organization? Is it applicable to me? Or maybe the better question is - is it being applied to me? Management xperts would always have their opinions about micromanagement. I must admit I have very limited formal knowledge or experience in micromanagement but I am proud to learn about it from Dilbert!

From what I learned in the numerous Dilbert books I've read, micromanagement is supposed to be a style by which bosses could directly influence those under them to come out with results according to their specifications. While it can be an effective style - it can only be so if wielded by people like perhaps Donald Trump or Bill Gates. But wait, even Bill Gates and Donald Trump micromanage in a very limited way. And the guys in Google have proven that micromanagement is not exactly a prerequisite to success.

Micromanagement, if we are to believe Scott Adams, can demoralize an organization thereby endangering its outputs in bot quality and quantity. It can convey a message stating that the superior (if that word really applies) does not have any confidence on his/her people. It is a presumption that the superior is most knowledgeable in pretty much most of the things that are being done and are supposed to be done by an organization. But then, given an organization that has been trimmed down and is now top heavy with doctorate holders, engineers and planners, many of whom have practiced in the field of transportation for over 10 years and are veterans of offering, managing and conducting numerous training programs, who is to say that they do not know what they are doing.

Such an insinuation that they know not what they do and that the superior knows better is almost always confusing if at times, micromanagement is relaxed and the bosses make it appear that they can put their trust in the decision-making of those in the organization (especially the head). Thus, micromanagement can be both confusing and insulting if applied to an organization that is, well, organized as it is.

Micromanagement then, can be an exercise in the imposition of will(s) on an organization one has perceived and still perceives as not going by the norm. That norm though is subject to much debate and can be the subject of another blog entry. Is it good? Is it bad? Perhaps I am not the most articulate in discussing micromanagement and its effects on my organization. I am not a micromanager. I have all my confidence on the people I govern. And I am happy to state that this has led to our success. No not mine but our success. After all, the most important part of the organization is not its management but its people and one has to trust that the persons working with you (and not under you) will work towards the greater good.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

37

There, I finally wrote it...I'm 37 today and I can proudly say that I feel quite good. I have many wishes but the one I most like to be a reality is one that I share with the clairvoyant.

=)

Journey to Incheon

The flight to Incheon was quite enjoyable given that we were transferred by Asiana Airlines ground crew to a Philippine Airline flight and was generously upgraded to Business Class. I haven't flown Business Class on a regional flight since...well, 1997 so it was a welcome development in an otherwise routine flight in Asia.

Incheon...now why was the name of the place so familiar? Was it because it was the relatively new international airport for South Korea that happened to be the topic of many presentations on major airport constructions? It was not the memory I had of a place called Incheon.

In 1950 or 1951 (I didn't bother to check the year.) the UN forces led by the US were reeling from a North Korean blitzkrieg that they along with the infant South Korean armed forces could simply not resist. The UN forces retreated to the tip of the peninsula facing a very humiliating defeat and the total collapse of a free Korea - certainly a big statement for the then aggressive and victorious Communists. China had fallen earlier in 1949 and the Soviet Union was openly supplying arms to the North, whose cadres and armies surprised the newly installed democracy in the South.

Then, in an unprecedented move...just when everyone was about to raise the white flag, a certain general by the name of Douglas Mcarthur led a daring naval landing operation in Incheon. This led to one of the most effective counter-offensives in military history...and the rest, as they say,is history.

I have fond memories of an uncle telling so many stories about the Korean War. He was with the 10th Battalion Combat Team, the first Philippine contingent to a UN sanctioned operation and the first Philippine unit sent to Korea. They landed in Incheon only a few days after the daring operation and fought the North Korean so fiercely that they were often far ahead of the allies in the offensive.

I can only imagine the conditions in Korea back then and how Korea looked like. It was also winter then and they were ill-equipped for the cold weather until the US finally supplied them with the winter gear after about a month. Yet they endured and raised the Philippine flag proudly alongside other UN forces.

Korea now, especially Seoul and Incheon (with its excellent airport), is so much different from what it looked like in 1950. We can only imagine from the photos and can only wish that something like that war never happens again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Miss Teapot

I discovered this nice little place along Marcos Highway, just across from the village were I reside. It wasn't really a discovery in the sense that it was the first time I saw it. The clairvoyant and I have always passed it as we drove to work or returned from the grocery. Always, we've mentioned we'll try it sometime - but always, too, we just didn't have the opportunity to check it out. Then, last night came the call and I must admit that it was my impulsive side that brought me to finally sample what the place had to offer.

I couldn't quite call it a cafe though they have coffee and the size of the place and ambiance pretty much states "cafe." What they did have was a lot of tea and the menu provided one with a nice selection of concoctions whether the preference would be hot or "iced" tea.

I figured the name "Miss Teapot" was a good enough name for a place offering good tea and from what I tasted I would agree that they did have something there. I browsed the menu while asking the crew what they recommended. I was informed that they served their hot tea on a burner. Unfortunately, I figured I didn't have time to savor the taste of hot tea as I was just trying to pass the time while waiting for the clairvoyant to arrive at the village gate. I decided instead to try one of their iced teas, the Chi tea. and sample one of the many cakes they offered. The chocolate cake, after all, beckoned from the time I entered the place.

I must admit I was a bit surprised and was happy when the tea arrived on a tall glass that looked more like a mug. It was a generous serving considering the price was about half of what I would have to shell out for something similar in one of those fancy cafes.

I will look forward to the next visit when, perhaps, I will be with the clairvoyant to jointly evaluate (and enjoy) the tea. After all, I am more a tea person than a coffee person. Chocolate? Now that's a different story and one that would need more space and more blogs posts.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February!

I have always claimed and believed that February is my month. It may partly be due to February being my birthmonth or it may be just be pure luck that it is during this month that I have my best days (sorry December).

If history will be the basis for my claim, the facts and trends will surely be on my side. My scores, for example, are always highest for exams and quizzes taken in February. That is why I always was frustrated if one of my teachers or profs didn't schedule an exam during this month. I felt that these were practically lost opportunities on my part as I was always sure to ace whatever it was that was given in February.

Weather is also most pleasant in the Philippines in February and there is that sense of summer approaching. When I was in Japan, I had cold Februaries but these were always tempered by the promise of Spring, often manifesting itself in the suddenly warm days abruptly inserted between windy, chilly times.

I will always love February, whatever it brings. It is my month. It is THE month.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dental Appointments

I used to dread going to the dentist. I've been to many dentists including a family friend (my father's, actually), a company dentist (again from my father's), dentists designated by HMOs, dentists at the University, and dentists referred to by friends.

I've been traumatized by a very unpleasant extraction back in my grade school days (I was probably Grade 3 at the time and the anesthesia technology was probably quite primitive still.). Since then, whether its a simple cleaning or a routine filling, I've always been stressed up just thinking of the "ordeal" that I would have to go through. The smell of tooth being grinded or drilled, and the sound of the drill adds to the anxiety felt in a typical visit.

All that changed in the recent months as I finally found the dentist that made all the fear go away, as if exorcising me from the nightmares of past dental appointments. Indeed, my new dentist is a very good one. Magaan ang kamay, as is the common description by patients who are happy with their dentists, especially after they have a tooth or teeth extracted.

Truth to tell, I had a worn out wisdom tooth extracted to start the New Year. This was no mere tooth, but something that has become quite notorious for me procrastinating about its fate. It had a long history as I monitored its deterioration since 1997 when decay set in, most probably the product of too many grape-flavored Mentos I used to consume during my regular walks to and from the University.

I felt nothing as I became acquainted with modern dental anesthesia. But credit really must go to the dentist, my dentist if you allow me, for doing the best extraction in my not so pleasant dental history so far. I now look forward to my next visit - for a filling or two. Braces? That I may have to think about...and maybe soon.

And oh, before I forget, the contact information for my dentist:

my dental space
17 Barcelona Tower, Marquinton Residences,
Sumulong Highway, Marikina City
(Tel) 02-933-1717

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Compromising EST

I, together with my colleagues at the University of the Philippines, have been advocating for environmentally sustainable transport (EST) in the Philippines. In one of our more recent workshops with representative of various government agencies, some participants insisted on identifying targets that we attainable based on agencies' present capacities. That was obviously premised on these same agencies not making any significant effort to improve themselves through capacity building or enhancement. As such, it was to me a resignation, an act of compromising when the stakes are high and there are no clear terms being offered by the enemy, which is environmental degradation due to transportation.

The results were tell-tale and indicative of how government has engaged the challenges brought about by unsustainable transport systems. Strategies convenient with respect to the status quo were stated, and any real effort to come up with more aggressive (and challenging) targets, such as those critical in effecting EST, were not achieved.

I believe that our role is to influence these people and, if necessary, take them by the hand and guide them like a another leads a blind person, so that they may realize the urgency of the situation. That same urgency is inherent in the inconvenient truth that Al Gore and other advocates for the environment, for the survival of our future, our descendants, have bravely presented for all to reflect and act on. We should and must formulate and implement inconvenient strategies. Strategies that will translate into meaningful programs and projects that will stave off the detrimental impacts of our present activities, if only to preserve this world for the next generations.

The advocacy for the environment and EST requires sacrifice. Indifference and resignation to our current lot will get us nowhere and ultimately dooms us as well as our world. It is not too late to try and it would certainly help if we do our part and make a genuine, honest effort to keep our earth alive.

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

I learned this prayer from school and it has been a great guide for me. I start my day with this prayer and it has set the tone for me as I continue my journey that is life.

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to life eternal

Amen.

Try it yourself and I can assure you that it will help you begin the day with a light, calm heart that will surely get you through any challenge or obstacle you might encounter.

Happy Holidays!

I have been aching to blog since the holiday break started. Unfortunately, I've successfully fought the urge and have gone online only to check on my e-mail as well as my Facebook account. I still believe though that holidays are best spent with loved ones and to recharge batteries so that I can be energized in preparation for the new year.

There was indeed a lot to be thankful for in the past year. 2008 has been a very good year. I wouldn't want to call it luck. All the blessings were graces that were the result of genuine hard, honest work guided by the Lord. There are a lot of people I am also thankful to and thankful for. Without them, a lot of the good things and results wouldn't have been possible if not for their inputs and cooperation.

I look forward to 2009 and am hopeful for a peaceful and prosperous year tempered by the experiences, the wisdom gained from 2008 and the years past.

Cheers!