Game On

I love to read, but I’m quite a picky reader. Unless it’s within the genre I like, has some relation to my interests, has been recommended by an opinion I value, or I’ve read the author’s work in the past, I’ll finish the book from the start to finish. Books as gifts are always welcome, but half of them, I never bothered to finish. The one time I actually got a novel I embraced from the beginning was from my former editors, Eugenides’ Middlesex. They based it on the titles I initially posted on the Kris Kringle/Secret Santa, none of which were available in local bookstores. The books I picked out for myself, Murakami’s Underground, Jane Austen’s never-gets-old Pride and Prejudice, I remember thoroughly. My number one source for literary titles–my dear sister–is another good source for similar tastes. Thanks to her and other valuable opinion’s praises, I finally got into reading Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games.

Collin’s dystopia universe brought me right in, almost making me late for work. It’s a story you can’t leave smack in the middle of a chapter. As soon as the clock hits 5:30 on weekdays, all I can think of is settling into my bed and finishing the book. The dystopia setting is similar to the movie Battle Royale, but executed much differently. What was once North America is now Panem, which is divided into poorer districts. A boy and a girl are randomly picked from each district to participate in the hunger games, a fight to the death. Only one winner can emerge alive.

It wasn’t just the suspense of the games themselves or the vibrant characters begging to come out of the pages. Panem, as the front cover blurb puts it, has unsettling parallels to our present world. It is an exaggeration of today’s world, but not an impossible future either. The author’s “inspiration” from today’s reality shows and their ability blur the lines between entertainment and honesty are obvious, making you question how genuine emotions are conveyed through the screen. Of course, I’ve always had the suspicion that these shows weren’t reality at all–simply staged to up ratings and increase sales. I may work in the printing side of media, but even there the influence of advertisers is obvious. The media is a business and money is what runs our capitalist society. Is it a good thing or bad thing? Reading through the book, I began to question if creating needs and marketing all these products just erased the value of living in itself. A bit of an extreme perspective for a lover of shoes and clothes, but I guess we’ve lost ourselves in diversions–whether it be gadgets or heels–that the things which truly last, are taken for granted. Not only do we leave the less privileged deprived–we also forget about what really matters. It’s not a matter of being spiritual or religious even, when it comes to these material things. It’s more of, what have we gotten ourselves into? And why are we buying it all (literally and figuratively)? What real purpose will we have, once all these material aspirations are taken away?

I’m obviously veering away from an actual book review, but such is the power of her work. It takes you beyond what’s on the page, and rethink what is happening around you. Maybe a teenager going through the book will be after the romance or action. But it’s the kind of novel you back to as you get older, and revisit the crucial moments that make you go “a-ha!” with a more adult perspective. How would your world be reshaped after reading such striking work? No better way to find out than to read it for yourself.

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Culture Clash

“There is little difference between the Mafia and the governments in some countries I’ve visited. The corruption in the Philippines was especially surprising. It isn’t just the people at the top who are corrupt. I’ve seen cops shake people down on the street for money, cigarettes or booze” -Gary Arndt, 20 Things I’ve learned from Traveling Around the World for Three Years

As a Filipino whose relatives have been flagged down for out-of-the-blue “traffic violations”, this statement comes as no surprise at all. Top that with the common knowledge reporting to the police is useless and having friends who’ve been framed by the “higher powers that be” themselves. It is an unfortunate inevitability the middle to low class Filipino struggles with. The common Filipino’s solution? Well, explains why millions are making more money and resettling abroad right? I used to think migrating was “unpatriotic”, but as I grew up, realities such as high tax, not making enough to be independent, and heavy inflation showed why the grass is greener on the Western side. It’s not that I would want to serve another nation; everyone just desires a better life to look forward to each day.

The hostage-taking incident has internationally exposed the incompetence of our local police. A lot could have been done better, as admitted by President Aquino and officials from Hong Kong. Even more disheartening is the anger from China’s side–and who can blame them? It was tragedy that could have been avoided or at least the casualties lessened to guarantee everyone’s safety. A half-Pinoy friend living in the UK felt crushed seeing commuters read the headline “SLAUGHTER”. I would not say that I’m embarrassed as a Pinoy–we have more than enough representation all over the world as engineers, domestic helpers, caregivers, and nurses–but I am embarrassed at how our authorities will never learn. During the presidential campaigns, various parties were in a “patriotic” rush, promising change, revolution, and galing at talino. Now is a time for them to strut their promised stuff and step up as leaders. How can one say this is news if it’s just a larger, more sensationalized, and publicized incident that is similar to the other corruptions and injustices that have happened before? I cannot help but be a cynic, and pray I find better opportunities elsewhere, somewhere that I can grow without immature and unnecessary incompetence getting in the way. Say what you will, that all I do is complain, but a greater responsibility is really expected of supposed enforcers of justice and order.

“It’s an isolated incident and I think the government needs to think of a way to make sure that’s understood — that there’s not some lawless situation in the Philippines and it’s not a terrorist act,” Hamlin said. “It involved foreign guests, who made it an international incident — it wouldn’t be resonating around the world right now if it involved only locals.” -from previously linked CNN article

My country’s government is now on the spotlight, and if it takes an international mess for them to get their act together, then so be it. Maybe this is the huge slap-in-the-face us struggling citizens have been waiting for.

As Filipino nationals, it is a time for us to make everyone more aware of developments and make opinions based on fact (and not other opinions). In an age where anyone can post a status without citing proper references and state things like know it alls, let us first consider who are statements are affecting and where/what/who they are based from. We are the best sources for this matter, living and breathing the unfortunate part of a culture that has transpired this event. Such responsible citizen journalism is necessary as many international sites draw opinions and facts to develop and update their stories from local sources. Let us stand up for what should have been done right and can still be done to correct the effects of the hostage tragedy.

Money, honey

Ah women. They translate money into shoes, bags, and clothes,” a friend once quipped with conviction while I insisted to my girl friend that we go shopping after a poker session. Although the statement is rather stereotypical, I can’t help but confirm the truth in his statement. We girls are naturally attracted to shiny, pretty things that come in the sexy shapes of stilettos and the complementing shapes and colors of dresses. “You look so pretty! I wanna look pretty too!” is the estrogen-inspired response of a girl upon seeing another sporting an attractively designed dress. Why else would the fashion industry be thriving until today? An officemate calls looking at shoes “inspiration”—for me, flats and heels blur the lines between inspiration and desperation. Of course, the desperation seeps in when I do make the purchase and find myself struggling weeks later but days before pay day.class=”MsoNormal”>Money gives us weakness and power at the same time. Unless of course, you are a talented and successful entrepreneur (Gates or Ayala ring a bell?), it remains a power to keep and grow. Otherwise, the money-making employee (or money maintained trust fund baby) has the power to purchase so much…and feel powerless when it all runs out. Just today, I was forced to save and stick to a tight budget since I forgot all my ATMs at home. It was a difficult but necessary exercise; a slap in the face, reminding me that a balance must be maintained for me to survive.

Not that I should treat myself once in a while—it’s just that passing by two to three malls on the way home makes the temptation difficult to resist. The world is full of unnecessary diversions; it is the creativity (or maybe manipulation) of the human mind that makes these shops, promos, and “innovative” products a so-called necessity.

How then does one draw the line between money as a need or want; or the act of buying as a weakness or power? Having chosen a job that will never pay big, I must come to terms with budgeting as a responsibility rather than burden. It’s a challenge not only pushing numbers (and somehow expanding them) but also in testing my shopping creativity. Where can I get lower deals for the same design or quality, but still look stunning? Brands do carry reliability and durability in their name, but if there’s something similar for less out there, then practicality must take over. It’s crazy to just buy something for the sake of its name and not for what the product is. The diversions are also a test of will power and a gentle reminder of what really is a need. As my economist friend likes to put it, that’s an expense, don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s an investment.

With pay day just around the corner, I’ll have to keep these practical definitions in mind. Apart from saving to get by, there are other bigger things to save-then-spend-on in the future: a master’s degree, living expenses on my own, a car, another hobby, etc. The clutter that is shoes, bags, and clothes can only last so long—similar to the fleeting nature of money. There’s no point in saving money unless wisely placed into something that will benefit you in the long-run.

My motherland

Yesterday, my country made headlines in major news networks CNN and BBC through a hostage-taking incident in the Quirino Grandstand. At work, I could only rely on tweet updates. The FX ride home was tuned into a FM station that had the DJs discussing the incidence. After an afternoon of wondering how on earth any hostage-taker thinks the act will end well, I came home knowing eight Chinese nationals had died. The event’s tragic conclusion answered my question: acts of insanity, done out of desperation and madness, will never see a successful ending.

At the least, the police could have done more to keep all the hostages alive, particularly the tourists. I may not be an expert on hostage crisis management, but local police have yet to impress me. It’s annoying and unnecessary enough they “catch” middle to upper class drivers missing (well, read that as MISINTERPRETING) a turn or two during early morning, lunch time, or snack time. Now it’s just downright unfortunate, infuriating, and somehow pathetic they didn’t do a better job. Articles on the victim’s statements always emphasize them saying that help should have gone sooner and that no assistance was felt while they waited.

Apart from the lives lost, the incident leaves a tainted mark on Philippine tourism and yet another negative impression of Filipinos around the world. We’ve gone from an adolescent botox scandal (thanks to an local-turned-international singer Oprah loves) to nearby neighbors discouraging their people from visiting my motherland. On a lighter note, there’s Venus Raj’s rather unclear and wrong grammar-d answer at Ms. Universe. Top that with our main overseas “sale” as domestic helpers (leaving other professions unnoticed and more focus on the stereotype).

Not that this drives me into the “so embarassing to be a Filipino!” mentality many of my kababayans (countrymen/women) are going into. Who are we to generalize, even for ourselves? Sure we represent an entire race with our individual actions, but to let that incident–or any embarrassing or negative acts–represent us entirely, is just idiotic. Remember how unfair it was that a Muslim would be detained because he/she was so after 9/11? Thankfully, reports from Hong Kong say that Filipinos living there have not experienced any trouble since yesterday. Let’s stick to that mature and responsible reaction. There are more serious issues at hand and other problems from the past that have yet to be resolved. Hopefully though, the police also take this is a HUGE wake up call and finally clean up their act. Although the ending was more than unfortunate, this is only the beginning of the new direction our country needs to shift into.

A time to pretend

Most people wouldn’t admit the following in their public blog, but as someone who prefers to embrace what she does and enjoys, here goes. On weekends, like any other working person, I cannot wait to unwind and have fun with friends. But unlike most people I know, my weekdays are spent counting down till my next game. These games take me back to the days when I played pretend as a child, stretching my imagination and somewhat losing myself in another world. But since I do so as an adult, there are rules, numbers, and preparation that comes into play. Also, a lot of human elements and the crafting of the story is inspired by an adult’s ability to create conflict and let things fall into resolution. During the last few months, I tagged along with my sister as we fought off monsters and bargained with all kinds of creatures as elves. Just yesterday, we entered an alternate Metro Manila universe reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Inception in a game of Shadowrun. She gets to move her metaphorically agile legs around while I got to spew lightning and feel like Zeus, even for just a minute.

I wouldn’t call myself the most dedicated Dungeons and Dragons player (that would be her). Similar to how some people enjoy dancing the night away or having coffee late at night, this is how I prefer to unwind and still practice a little logic. I think they’re great platforms for a writer, as the stories that go on test players to get into their chosen characters and see how far their attributes and powers go. I have to admit, I tend to be rusty on the creative play department, but I think with enough time and planning, I’ll get the hang of going off elsewhere without spending thousands on a plane ticket.

Not that these games are a replacement for travel. I’ve decided they’ll be part of the creative exercises I need, especially as an aspiring storyteller-slash-storyweaver. This new goal is partly inspired by Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid and having heard Inception‘s allusion to Ariadne in Greek mythology. As human beings, we have the incredible power to create the fantastic legends and myths that have inspired all kinds of art forms: novels (which sprung from epics, songs, and poems that were just sung or said), photographs (which draw from the technology of light but follow the aesthetic rules of painting and drawing), fashion (where color, structure, and everything else that can inspire comes together), and the list can only go on. Here’s to more fun on the weekends and hopefully, a future story that gets people talking and wondering.

a week’s gone by

No matter how many times I remind myself that one must write everyday to “perfect” the craft, my body and confused schedules get in the way of my daily goal. This is definitely a bad sign since lately, I only seem to get projects through when they’re paid for. I have yet to master the discipline of finishing something through out of my own resources and “free-er” will. About time I get back on track on my morning requirement and start finishing (editing and uploading) those supposed blog posts saved on my Nokie E63’s office files.

Time will and always be my greatest challenge, even if in a greater scale of things, doesn’t really exist. As a colleague once said, it is a concept made by man to deal with change. But I have no excuse in saying I no longer have time because I don’t see much change in my writing. Change is gradual but it won’t occur until I’m fully into it.

On the brighter side of life, Johna and I attended a shoot for one of the magazines we work for the other day. Our lovely friend Kristine did an amazing job on the styling and I learned so much by just hanging around and soaking in what the photographers had to say. Holding on to Kristine’s camera while she was styling, I was also able to enjoy using the Canon G9. There’s a mental post it note in my head considering blowing some of my savings on it this Christmas! Finances aside, a small part of me also considered going into the visual medium. Such is the incredible power of reading daily about the latest cameras and impressive photographers around the country. But I have yet to master the power of words (as read in my previous article’s draft comments! eep! :)), so maybe I’ll archive the thought for now and save it for a better period in my life.