Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ship Ahoy

The air was thick with excitement. A band played loud marching music and young boys and girls dressed in bright colorful costumes were dancing. The atmosphere was festive, joyful. The workers at the shipyard were gathered around the dock and local government officials had just arrived to witness the launching of a ship.

And then it was time. The foreman waved a white flag to signal the launch and the 58,000 ton “Ocean Symphony” slowly started rolling towards the ocean. I was staring at it in wide-eyed wonder as firecrackers and confetti exploded in the air and suddenly, she hit the waters for the very first time and the entire place erupted in shouts and cheers.

It was magnificent. It was like New Year's eve, it was like the fourth of July, it was one of the best moments of my life as a journalist. I was overwhelmed. Feelings of joy, of wonder, of inexplicable emotions got me teary-eyed and I thought to myself, "Wow, am I a lucky bastard or what." I actually got to see this.

It all started when my bosses told me "We want you to go to Cebu."

My company wanted to write a story about how Southeast Asian nations are set to benefit from the so-called demographic dividend --- a term popularized by economists David E. Bloom, David Canning and Jaypee Sevilla in a 2001 National Bureau of Economic Research study. It happens when most of a country’s population is in the 15-to-64 working-age range. This increases a nation's productivity if supported by policies that promote health, family, labor and financial and human capital, the study concluded.

And it's happening. Here, now. In countries like the Philippines where a rising young population is luring investments from companies like Tsuneishi Holdings Inc., Japan’s second-largest shipbuilder. Tsuneishi's shipyard in Cebu supports more than 15,000 jobs and the company is considering building another one in the Philippines.

One of the best things I love about my work is our ability to tell stories that foretell what the future can be, to give our readers a glimpse of the trends and changes happening across the world. It teaches you to be inquisitive, to be curious, to be critical. It shapes your world view, your understanding of the political, social aspects and dynamics of human societies.

I became a reporter by accident. I thought I would perhaps be in advertising, or brand management, or in the sciences. One day, I saw an ad for a position at a local newspaper.I was unemployed at that time, and I thought: well, what the heck, why not? By luck would have it, they actually hired me. And the rest, as they say, is history.

In a world where people have greater access to information due to the Internet, it becomes more imperative that news agencies give more value to their clients/readers. As someone once told me, there is a difference between journalism and a commentary.

Anyone can comment on current events and we see this a lot in social networks like Facebook and Twitter. And this is good; it creates greater awareness among the public of issues whether it's the impeachment trial of the chief justice in the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino's state-of-the-nation speech, or the China-Philippines territorial dispute in Scarborough Shoal.

But journalism goes beyond making opinions. It involves research, fact checking, getting all sides, and asking and showing the big picture: so what? Why should I care who the next chief justice will be? Why does the territorial dispute matter?

The goal of journalism is to help people make better sense of things. Knowledge is power, it is freedom and history has shown that as citizens gain more understanding, they begin to wield more political power and influence on state policies and forces politicians to be accountable.

Most people in the world know very little about the Philippines. And what little they know are often about Imelda Marcos' and her infamous shoe collection, the white sand beaches, and then it's about poverty and corruption.

I used to dream that things would change. The kind of nation I inherited was because of the failures of past generations. But you see, it's my time now. No more finger-pointing, ranting and passing the blame. So as I said, I used to have a dream. And as I stared at the massive ship floating at sea, I told myself ... maybe, just maybe ... it's happening now.

To read the report on demographic dividend, please click here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gossip Girl: Tick Tock


"So tomorrow, I'll wake up and wish myself a happy birthday. I will look at myself as if I'm meeting my 32-year old self for the very first time. I'll remember what was, understand what is, and hope for what could be. I'm young, I'm happy, I'm free."

Gossip Girl:To the Ball, To the Ball!!!  

A few days after the New Year, I received a text from Arlan. 

"Hey K, thank you for loving me unconditionally," he said.

Wakey Wakey Upper Eastsiders, Gossip Girl here. When the summer heat fades and the rains start to fall, we all know it's time for K's birthday. But with nary a man nor family in sight, it looks like Birthday Boy's back to being Lonely Boy.

For the first time in a decade, I wasn't planning anything for my birthday. No birthday ball, no quiet dinner with a date, nothing. I was preoccupied with upcoming work-related trips, with handling the demands from my job, and well ... I suppose I just felt there wasn't really anything special to celebrate this year. A few days before my birthday though, it suddenly hit me: what exactly was I going to do on that day?

I was planning to do my usual routine: go to work, go home, go to the gym, read a book or watch television, then sleep. But I realized no matter what, you do want to do something special on your birthday. It doesn't have to be big, but the thought of spending my birthday at the gym just seemed so sad.

I missed my family.

"I guess sila kasi yung default na kasama mo dapat," I told Carlo. "It's either you're with your boyfriend or your family and well ... I don't have any of those right now."

What I didn't  say was that it's either you're with your lover, family or ... friends. Last year, some of them didn't go to my celebration and I was terribly hurt.

"K, you have me," C said. "Come on. If you want, we can have dinner. I can meet you after work."

"Talaga? Sige sige." Carlo had always been one of my most dependable and loyal friends and I was touched by his offer. I always loved our dinners together and I found myself slowly cheering up.

July 2
It was the eve of my birthday, and I was thinking of the years gone by. As someone once told me, by the time you're in your 30s, you already have a history.

And what a history it has been. Lying in bed, I found myself missing things, people, places. Midnight in Paris, shiny disco balls, isaw in U.P., kisses under the rain, these were but a few of my favorite things. I haven't thought about some of those memories in a while.

I was getting nostalgic. One of my favorite tunes played on the radio. 

"And now we're moving to new beginnings
But as we move we looked once behind
To see what we might find out
Lost loves and old thoughts of our nights of winnings
That lunge, tear and grasp
at lost wanting minds"

Where have they all gone now? I know I have many beautiful things to look forward to, but I missed the beautiful things I had. Especially the things that can never be again. 

With every choice we make, the path ahead becomes clearer. We strengthen the we that we want to become. But it also means we let go of a thousand other things; versions of ourselves that may no longer exist. 

I remember I used to love physics, chemistry, and math, and sometimes I wonder what if I became a scientist? Perhaps I'd be in some laboratory in some corner of the world researching about space flight. Who knows now right?

Ahhh ... the curse of being finite. To have infinite desires and just one life to live. But that's what we are all given. And I suppose it will have to be enough.

July 3
It was drizzling that night. After work, Carlo and I met up with Gino and Chris who wanted to see me that night too, and off we went to Chef Tatung, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant located in Quezon City.

"So why here?" Carlo asked. 

"Well, the truth is, I've always wanted to eat here. But I kept postponing it since I wanted to try it out with a boyfriend," I admitted. "But today, I decided to live in the present. Perhaps the important thing is I'm with you, here, right now."

The place was gorgeous. We were the only diners that night and the food was delicious. The chicken in roasted coconut and yellow ginger sauce was tasty but what took our breath away was their specialty: honey glazed slow roasted pork belly. The meat was roasted in a brick oven for more than six hours while resting on a bed of garlic and lemongrass.

Man, this is some serious food, I thought to myself while munching on belly after belly. I was feeling happy; the dim lights, the beautiful artworks decorating the room and the rain was making me feel heady.

And then suddenly, they came. One by one they trudged in with impish grins on their faces: Arlan, Vackie, and fuck, even Fran?

"Oh my God!!!"

"Happy birthday!!!" everyone shouted.

"Honey, we wanted to surprise you," A said, handing me his gifts. I hugged them tightly. "Consider me  surprised," I said.

We ordered more food and a bottle of wine. Outside, the storm was pounding hard, but it seemed like no rain can damp my parade. Fuck, I was so happy. I couldn't believe they were all here. These people are my best friends and somehow each one found a way to brave the rain to see me.

We were all laughing and talking about ... what else, but boys, sex ... work, movies, books, family, gossip, and then more boys, and sex. Fran updated us about her lover David and their recent beach getaway. After everyone had their fill, we transferred to a bar and danced to 80s music drinking bottles of beer and mojitos. 

After a while, everybody went home. Arlan decided to stay at my place and drink a bit more.

"So ... tell me. Why are you here? What made you decide to travel all the way to QC in the midst of a thunderstorm?" I asked him, taking a sip of wine. I was tired, tipsy and still giddy from the night. "I mean, I really wasn't expecting to see you."

"I guess ... I felt guilty," he slowly said. "I know I haven't always been there for you. I wanted to be here now." 

Outside the storm went on unabated. But somehow, I felt warm and happy inside. A and I have had a colorful, turbulent history spanning almost a decade. He always has been the most ... unpredictable of all of us. You'll never know when he'll disappear  for weeks or even months. But somehow, we find ourselves coming back to each other.

Are we really going to be best friends forever? I sometimes see my dad and his friends and I can see the love they have for each other. My mom always teases me and my sister, telling us we take after our dad. Mabarkada, party boy. Looking at their photos when they were younger, I can't help but imagine how I would feel like looking at my own photos year from now.

I hugged Arlan. "Salamat ha."

"I love you," A said. "I hope you know that."

I looked at him and took a deep breath. "I'm really happy tonight," I said, smiling at A. "You wanna know why? It's because ... I feel special. I guess I haven't felt that way in a long time."

Transitions in life are usually marked by major occasions. Birthdays, graduations, weddings. When we stop and look at where we are. And oftentimes, we find ourselves defining who we love as we tread our paths towards the future. 

There's the family you're born into ...

"Happy birthday Ahia Stay young, happy and free. We love you very much!" my shobe Honeylet texted.

There's the family you choose ...

K + V + A + C = GG

Maybe it's not blood bonds that make us a family. Perhaps it's the people that know us and love us. The ones with whom we can truly be ourselves.


I'd like to thank those who took the time to comment on my previous story to send me a message on my birthday. To Eon, Nate, Raymond, Rudeboy, Dane, Rei, Aris, Lee, Désolé Boy, LJ,  Mr. Chan, JJ, Mac, and Olivr, salamat ha. It means something to me.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012



Where Time Stands Still
A year ago, I was a different man.

I was in love and I discovered that what the poets and writers spoke of is true: there is nothing that compares to love. Those were the
happiest days of my life.

There were moments when I wanted to freeze time, so that nothing would change anymore, so that our love would last forever.

"Well, honestly, I didn't think I would be happy after what I went through last year," I said "But, surprisingly, I am happy."

"When I was younger, I had fantasies of how I would be like by the time I turn 30. I dreamt of owning an apartment in some strange city in a foreign land. Somewhere like Istanbul or Budapest overlooking the Danube river, perhaps. I thought by this age, I would be in a happy relationship. And guess what? Hahaha. None of it came true," I told her.

Perhaps, that day had come. If last year was about learning to be fearless, this year was about teaching myself to be grateful. And I am. I am incredibly lucky, and I realized despite the hits and misses in my life, I am happy.

once said it may be too much to ask for a life without regrets. That perhaps all we can do is to hope that our joys outweigh our sorrows.

Written on the eve of the 3rd of July, in the Year of the Lord 2012.

The relentless march of time is inescapable. It changes everything; people, relationships, friendships. Sometimes what once was, can never be again. It really is, perhaps, the most formidable enemy of all. But without it, we wouldn't be what we are: human. With all its frailties and tenderness and pathos.

So tomorrow, I'll wake up and wish myself a happy birthday. I will look at myself as if I'm meeting my 32-year old self for the very first time. I'll remember what was, understand what is, and hope for what could be. I'm young, I'm happy, I'm free.


Monday, July 02, 2012

The Way We Grieve


Kirsty Mitchell's mother was an English teacher who spent her life inspiring generations of children with imaginative stories and plays.

When her mother died from a brain tumour in 2008, Kirsty channelled her grief into her passion for photography and created Wonderland, an ethereal fantasy world. The photographic series began as a small summer project but grew into an inspirational creative journey.

"Real life became a difficult place to deal with, and I found myself retreating further into an alternative existence through the portal of my camera," Kirsty said in an interview with British newspaper Daily Mail in May.

"This escapism grew into the concept of creating an unexplained storybook without words, dedicated to her [my mother], that would echo the fragments of the fairytales she read to me constantly as a child."

Kirsty, who has a background in fashion and costume design, collaborated with hair and make-up artist Elbie Van Eeden to create these images. They created props, wigs, and sets using a tiny budget and shot in the woodlands surrounding Kirsty's home in Surrey, south of England.

I have been observing someone grieve over a lost love recently. We are not particularly close, but having gone through something similar, I feel for him. His thoughts and actions made me realize perhaps all grieving is the same. There's an emptiness, a longing for the lost one. And despair.

Tragedy strikes us and we are often caught unaware. Some turn to alcohol to numb the senses, others to drugs or sex to escape reality, while some lose all desire to live. The pattern is similar: there is a loss, the person suffers, and then begins the long and arduous journey back home.

Looking at these photographs, I am reminded once again of the mystery of life. That something so beautiful could come from something so painful. Perhaps human suffering is as important as happiness. Perhaps it is the root of all beauty, all pathos in this world. The knowledge that most things in this world is finite; and therefore we strive to find meaning in our lives, the search for that which is infinite.

This is my favorite photograph of Kirsty and Elbie. No matter how cold the winter is, spring will always come.

"For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?"
---The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot