Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Literal Waking Nightmare

Photo borrowed from My Haunted Life Too:  Image Link

When you dream, you usually forget about it. You may recall it for a moment, but then it quickly fades. I, for one, have experienced recalling dreams just a few minutes into my waking state and then completely forgetting about them barely another minute afterwards. But not this one.

13 January 2018
The following narrative is deliberately written in the present tense. It's an account a dream, so duh!

I'm in a very dim room. A pair of distinctly rough hands grab my shoulders from behind. I turn to see who it is and notice a tall, skinny man with hairy arms. I look up, but the faint light only permits a view up to his chest. I see no face. It does not occur to me to try harder to see one. Instead, I turn away.

I regain consciousness and suddenly my surroundings change from the vague scene of a dream into my own room. I am awake, but the hand is still on my shoulder. I could feel it fully on my bare skin -- rough, warm and worn out, like a fisherman's or carpenter's.

My heartbeat begins to race. It's a horrible feeling. Normally, sleep paralysis accompanies something like this, but I am fully mobile. Now taking notice of the light piercing from the lamp post outside my window through the makeshift curtains made from a microfibre towel and a blanket I once took from an Etihad flight, I am fully conscious.

I move my shoulder and the hand is still there. I come to terms with the idea that there is another person in the room with me. I lay frozen, feeling almost helpless. Then I realise I could tell it to go, so I do just that. It obeys. I feel the skin on his palm part from mine as he lifts it off my shoulder. And now, silence. I hear no footsteps, no doorknob turning, no door hinges creaking -- nothing. It takes a minute before I turn my head to the blindside of the room, to what the subdued light piercing through my drapes shine on. And nothing, thank goodness. It was only a nightmare. Or was it, though?

Who was that ? Was it a malevolent being ? Was it benevolent? Was it neutral? It did not harm me in any way. It just left me a little shaken. I was afraid, sure. But not all that we fear are bad, and not all that we trust are good.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Fake Name, a Bean Stew and a Self-Inflicted Heartache


I remember a romantic encounter over a year ago when I was in La Paz, Bolivia. He was an Argentinian artist who co-owned a bar and painted murals on commission. He had spent the past week juggling broken old mobile phones and walkie-talkies on the streets of Sopocachi and Calacoto, hoping for people to be amused enough to spare a few coins and notes so he wouldn't have to rely on his bank account for food while travelling. Prominent among the plethora of bracelets on his left wrist was a band with blue and white stripes, and a stoic-looking golden sun. The dialect of Castilian he spoke was like gentle rain on a dry wheat field.

We met at Plaza Murillo one cold Friday afternoon in the Southern Hemisphere summer of 2015-2016. It could easily have been 8°C, so I wore the new alpaca wool hoodie I'd bought the previous day. He spotted me petting a bystander's puppy and stopped to ask if I had any dogs myself. I was a little weirded out but I responded, anyway. I told him I had four back in the Philippines. He said he had one back in Buenos Aires before quipping about how I might not need such a warm sweater in my country. "Sho me shamo Miguel," he went on. "Y vos?"

My response would become one of my biggest regrets that year. It was the destruction of possibilities. It was the beginning of something that could never last more than a night. After honouring his accent with a friendly mock -- "Jefe, BOSS, por qué hablas como la shuvia?" -- and telling him he wasn't getting my sweater, I said my name was David because I liked the sound of it and I also didn't think I wanted to see him again after that day. He was handsome, sure, but I stereotyped him as an Argentinian. After all, they do have a global reputation for being cocky. And it didn't help that he was clearly fully European-blooded. I don't think one could get any blonder than him. Think of Draco Malfoy's hair, but up to the waist.

The puppy's owner had to leave, so we took over his bench and chatted a bit more before going for an aimless stroll all over the district. The chemistry was undeniable and the sexual tension was intense. We covered topics ranging from fire-juggling to Eastern Spirituality to progressive Christianity to Ayahuasca, while exchanging innuendos and stealing glances at each other. Before we knew it, the clock had passed 19:00 and the sun was about to set. He stopped walking just in front of a place called Casa del Sol and asked, "Cena?" I was hungry and all there was to do was walk in, so I said yes.

I was so pleasantly surprised that it was a vegetarian restaurant that I grinned from ear to ear, browsing through the menu like a little boy at Disneyland deciding which ride to go on first. I was 100% sure I didn't tell him about my eating habits so I asked him how he knew. He responded with something along the lines of "I wouldn't like you that much if you had struck me as the meat-eating type. And I like you that much." My heart melted. I regretted so much giving him a fake name.

I sat there, ate and chatted all while trying to figure out how I could possibly take my lie back. I went to a bar with him and had around four beers, pretending to have a conversation but really thinking "Will he still like me that much if he finds out I lied about something as basic as my goddamn name?" I went home with him to his Couchsurfing host's flat, stayed the night with my head spinning over how stupid I was to have lied to this incredibly beautiful human being beside me. When the sun returned for another day and we needed to part ways before his host woke up, he wrote his email and number on the back of a faded receipt. I dropped it in my day pack's main compartment and gave him one final kiss before disappearing, never to be seen by him again.

I'd like to romanticise this tale by saying I let the paper float away on a river somewhere, but that would be like saying my name was David -- another lie. I actually just lost it. I tried to dig for it in my day pack and my huge rucksack as I was leaving Bolivia, during my stay in Lima, in Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur, and after I had landed in the Philippines. Nada. It's been over a year and I've given up already, but I will always remember that day. A day of could-haves. A day of what-ifs. A day that gave me a glimpse -- a taste, if you will -- of something beautiful but impossible.

So what does this story have to do with my bean stew in the photo? I ordered one off Casa del Sol's specials menu when Miguel and I were there, and I was absolutely bowled over by how delicious it tasted. It was just sensational! No bean stew has since surpassed its quality.

After I complimented the chef, I was blessed with a piece of culinary treasure when he told me the secret to great chilli is to grill the tomatoes whole until the skin burns and ruptures. Cut them in half, sprinkle a pinch of salt on the inside of each piece and let them sit for at least 15 minutes before throwing them in your pan to sauté in olive oil with onion and garlic. Absolutely lovely, but I can't help but think the chef spoke of more than a recipe that night. For during the days that followed, it was as if my heart had been ripped off my chest, grilled whole, cut in half, salted and thrown in the fire.

Friday, September 1, 2017

In other news...

Al Jazeera English

How does one weigh one injustice against another and how does one decide which one to talk loudly about or take action against? It's easy for those of us who are not directly affected to say that the more people suffer, the more grave it is and, therefore, the more attention it requires. But what about those of us who need only cross a border or open a gate? What about those of us whose neighbours -- in a sense a little more literal than the word's Biblical meaning -- actually suffer injustice? Do we continue to take the general perspective of many outsiders who base gravity on numbers and statistics? Perhaps we don't. Perhaps what we can sense most clearly is what we think of as the worst.

The media is a whole different story. Outside the miracle that is Al Jazeera, relevance is based primarily on economic considerations. It seems as though the basic question they ask themselves when they feature disasters or reports on injustice is "Is it in North America or Western Europe?" if not "Is it something directly consequential to North America and Western Europe?" It seems like there is a wealth bias. If you're not rich enough or if what's happening to you doesn't affect the rich, you only get half a drop of attention, if any--no matter how dire your situation may be.

How many times have citizens of Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria been victims of extremist attacks since the beginning of the year? How many times have South Asia and Southeast Asia experienced cataclysmic events? How many Rohingya men, women and children have fled Myanmar's government-sanctioned violence to seek refuge in Bangladesh in the last couple of weeks? How many died on the way? Why does it seem like the world is blinkered like racetrack horses to be fixated almost solely on the movement of refugees fleeing West Asia into Europe? Why are there digital blinders training us to see only the flood in Texas when more than 1,200 people have died across India, Bangladesh and Nepal in the worst flooding brought on by monsoon rainfall to strike South Asia in years?

I understand that social commentators and journalists in mainstream media outlets have niches. I suppose each of them has a personal choice. However, I think the blatant bias for global economic relevance is wrong. It breaks my heart every single time I hear my region's issues relegated to words after "In other news" after hours and hours of talking about North America and Western Europe. This should change across the board and I thank Al Jazeera for standing firm amidst the senseless bullying it has had to suffer from its stupid neighbours.

Friday, August 25, 2017

H5N6 - Humans Just Never Learn

avian flu

Sure, perhaps as long as it's cooked well enough and it's not at all bloody or pink on the inside, you're good to go, but you should know that humans in the earlier stops of your precious fried chicken's journey from farm to plate may be at risk. And you're totally OK with that as long as you're not? For now, the health department says it's totally fine for us Homo sapiens. There are zero cases of fowl-to-human transmission. For now. But if you care to take a brief glance at the history of avian flu in Asia, you'll know it's bound to happen at some point. And WHEN it does happen, will you really be OK with taking a bite at your juicy piece of Jollibee Chickenjoy knowing that perhaps the man who handled that bird when it was alive may be in a hospital ward struggling to breathe because the H5N6 influenza strain is causing his immune system to make his lungs produce an insane amount of mucus? Think about that for a second. I won't guilt trip you about dead birds because you probably don't care. But these are humans. Oh, wait. No. You probably don't care either because you probably comfort yourself with the idea that maybe--just maybe--that ill chicken handler was involved in drugs, so it's totally OK for him to die. Right? RIGHT??????

One might argue that a collective refusal to buy and eat fowl meat in the Philippines would kill small-time poultry farmers and farm workers, anyway, because then that would cause a significant dent in their income. Gosh, I don't even know how to finish this rant. I guess all there is to do is to see how this all plays out.

May all beings be happy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Let it be me


Let the pain not be mine.
Let me not be a survivor.
Let me not live with wounds.
Let me not wake up in tears,
Yearning for hugs I once felt,
For sounds I could never hear,
From a voice forever silenced,
Consigned to essays & books,
Memoirs, poetry & whispers
Living in a mind that lies
About what words were said,
What songs were sung,
What's alive, what's dead.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Culture of Violence and Impunity

Sometimes I induce laughter whenever a new friend adds me on Facebook and I say, "I'm the black guy. As in, my profile photo is plain black." When asked why, I say because I've found that there's always something to mourn about these days--my country, the world, idiots running and ruining the government, greed, etc. But last week, after a good break from my ongoing bout with a certain black dog that refused to stop following me around for weeks on end, I finally considered posting a real photo of myself.

Why not, right? Celebrate life one awesome Facebook profile photo at a time.

Alas, it's not going to happen anytime soon. While the murder of more than 7,000 other people (for various reasons) over the last 7 months does anger me, nothing quite fuels the fire like something not just close to home but is, in fact, home.

Two days ago, one of Bohol's most able and prolific human rights and women's rights defenders was shot. A close family friend. A lawyer. A mother. She was in her car with her children after picking them up from school when two men on a motorbike gunned her down. Her eldest daughter was hugging her while her body took several bullets. She was taken to hospital but she did not survive. My whole family is shaken. My friends who also knew her are shaken. One of my aunts who is a judge, one of her best friends and her contemporary in law school, rushed to the hospital to see her but she was too late. Her wounds were too severe. She succumbed to death quickly. With very little suffering, we hope.

This makes us feel so goddamn defeated and devastated not just because of the fact that we lost a good human being but because this has become the new norm for my country. This is the new Philippines. A place where a blatant culture of retribution has grown stronger and stronger over the last half a year.

This culture of violence--this reliance on the perceived gifts of impunity--must end. We, as a nation, have revelled in it--basked in it--for too long and we seriously need to stop. And SHAME on those who suggest that the same fate must befall the perpetrators of this heinous crime. Have you not learned that an eye for an eye would only make the whole world blind?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

So, what else is in Bohol?

Some tips on places to see...

- Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (nicknamed CHAP) in the town of Carmen. There, you will have a good view of more than 1000 hills and you can do sporty things like ride a sky bicycle from one hill to another, walk on hanging bridges and ride a zipwire. There are two Chocolate Hills viewing areas in the town. If you take a bus from the "Dao bus terminal" at Dao District near Dao Public Market and Island City Mall (ICM), ask the driver to drop you off at CHAP and not to the old resort.

- Abatan River in the town of Cortes. There you will be able to do kayaking or do a river tour on a boat with a bigger group. If you come in the daytime, you can kayak the river and enjoy the view of palms, plants, houses and everyday life. If you come in the evening, you can kayak and watch FIREFLIES peacefully resting or dancing on some trees. It's a very surreal and magical experience for some. Ask for Sherwin or Beryl. They are the best guides there. If they are not there, all the other guides are also good. You may take a jeepney from Dao Bus Terminal near Dao Public Market and Island City Mall (ICM).

- Pahangog Falls in the town of Dimiao. A hidden gem in the mountainous parts of a coastal town in teh eastern part of Bohol. Take a dip at the fall-drop lake or climb the mossy rocks up the waterfall and get a massage from all the water rushing towards you. It's nice and serene and there are not many people since it is not yet well-developed and the accessibility is quite limited. It's quite an experience, really. To get there, go to the Dao Bus Terminal and take a bus or jeepney to the town of Dimiao. Ask to be dropped off at the main market near the old church. From there, take a hired motorbike and tell your driver that you want to go to Pahangog Falls. The fee is 80-100 pesos for a return trip for one person. You will be dropped off at a small single-ring make-shift basketball court. From there, you will need to hike the rest of the way. A little less than 2km. You can ask for directions from the people living in nearby houses. If they can't communicate well in English or you are concerned about a potential accent issue, just say "falls" and make the raindrops sign with your hands.

- Kawasan Falls in the town of Balilihan. When you are in Abatan River either kayaking or on a motorised boat, you may tell your guide that you want to visit Kawasan Falls if it's possible. On high tide, you can definitely go but it will be a bit difficult especially for a motorised boat to go if the tide is too low. Just try to ask. Water coming out of it will depend on the rainfall of the season. Sometimes it is strong when there has been a lot of rain, but sometimes it's also not so strong if the season has been dry. Also, it used to have very nice rock formation but it has been changed by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Bohol in 2013. It's still nice, though, so you may still want to try to visit. You can go swimming there in the pool near the fall.

- Mag-aso Falls in the town of Antequera (pronounced: an-ti-ke-ra). It's a beautiful waterfall where you can go swimming, too. Take a tricycle from anywhere in the city and go to the main terminal in Dao (pronounced: da-o). Ask for a bus or a shared van (called V-hire) to take you to Antequera market or say "Antequera proper" to take you to the town centre. The ride is approximately 30 minutes. Once you are there, look for a motorbike for hire called "habal-habal" and ask the driver to take you to Mag-aso falls. It's about 2km away from the centre of town on a rocky dirt road. Bargain the price with him but do not pay more than PHP 200 for a one-way ride on one motorbike. That is already very high. Try bargaining to pay for just PHP 100 for a one-way trip. You can ask the driver (or drivers, if you take 2 motorbikes) to wait for you until you finish swimming and enjoying yourselves or you can ask for his mobile phone number so you can contact him when you are ready to go back to the town centre. Make sure you are back to the centre before 4:30pm because it will be hard to find a bus or van back to the city after 5pm.

- The powdery white sand beaches in the town of Anda. If you enjoy a provincial setting where people from rural areas of Bohol usually go, you will enjoy Anda because not much is happening there except occasional family beach parties and some karaoke singing in the background. You can take a bus or a shared van from the main terminal in Dao and it will take you to Anda on a 3-4-hour trip. Ask to be taken to Quinale Beach (pronounced: ki-na-le). It is near the public market and free for the public. There are shops nearby where you can eat and order beer and there are also lots of cheap places to stay by the beach if you decide that you don't want to go back to the city on the same day. Aside from Quinale, there are other beaches in Anda which are more quiet and peaceful but they are privately-owned and they will be more expensive in terms of food and accommodation.

- The white sand beaches of Panglao Island. If you like beach-side parties, having lunch beside the ocean or having dinner while watching people dance with fire, you will enjoy Panglao. It is the more touristy beach in Bohol where you will meet lots of expats, backpackers and probably Couchsurfers. You can take a tricycle or a motorbike for hire (habal-habal) and ask to go to Alona Beach in Panglao. 250 pesos is the maximum pay. Do not pay more than this. You can also take a jeepney near the President García House (Old Bohol Museum) that goes to Alona. Just go to the plaza and ask where you can find a jeepney that will take you directly to Alona. The fare is 25 pesos for each person. Alona Beach is the party scene in the island where there are many bars, pubs and restaurants, both local and international. There are also many places to stay there and nearby that range from cheap (PHP 300 in a backpacker hostel with hammocks and tents and complementary breakfast) to very expensive (PHP 15,000 in a 5-star hotel with everything you can imagine). I recommend NOT to stay in the expensive places because they don't feel like real life. I have stayed in a lot of them (just to try it) and they felt like a fantasy but they were not really good for my young spirit. They are good for people in their 60's who only want comfort in life but not for true adventure-seekers.

In Alona Beach, there are also lots of SCUBA diving shops where you can just try diving OR get your diver's certification license if you want (but it takes 1 week of training so maybe you will just want to try it without getting licenses). All of the dive shops there are legitimate and registered with international diving organisation. The most common and most trusted is PADI (the Professional Association of Diving Instructors), the biggest diving association in the world. I got my license from them.

- Balicasag Island off the coast of Panglao Island. Balicasag is a smaller island famous for its coral reefs and underwater cliffs. You may go there for SNORKELLING or for SCUBA DIVING. If you just want to snorkel, you can ask any of the tourist touts walking around and asking people "Island hopping, ma'am? Island hopping, sir?" They can take you to the island on a boat and you can go snorkelling there. But this is quite unnecessarily expensive because if you want to snorkel there, you will have to pay an additional fee for the boatman for small boats that will take you around the reef and another fee to rent your snorkels and masks. However, if you want to dive there, you may just go to any of the dive shops in Alona and ask if you could dive in Balicasag Island. Most likely, they will ask for a fixed fee per person and they will put you with a group of other divers or first-timers who will go there and you will dive together--with instructors and guides, of course. You will not regret it. Diving is one of the most magical experiences on Earth.

- There is another famous touristy river called the Loboc River. It's more famous to tourists than Abatan River but there is a clash of monopolies and political entities operating the boat and catering companies there. Also, they run a night cruise and they have installed lights on the riverbanks. Over the years, these incandescent lights have caused great stress to the riverbank ecosystem. The animals cannot sleep in the night and most of the fireflies have gone away already. It's not a healthy business. But perhaps you can visit Loboc River in the daytime when you are on your way to the Chocolate Hills.

- The tarsiers. Small primates. There are two organisations who are running a business to show tarsiers to the public. One in the town of Corella and one in the town of Bilar. They are supposed to be non-profit foundations and conservation organisations but they are really businesses. These two companies are not treating the tarsiers very ethically. It's not too horrible, though. I will not go into too much detail. It's basically about noise management, disturbances, proper handling and caring for their living environment... And a few other issues. Anyway, I think you should still go see the tarsiers because this opportunity to see them is rare. I recommend the Tarsier "Sanctuary" in Bilar. If you go to the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park, you will pass by it since it's just beside the highway. It is a few kilometres after passing by Loboc River and central town Loboc. It is more accessible to the public and the enclosure is bigger. The entrance fee is about 50-70 PHP. Like 1 to 1.5 EUR.

These are not the only things you can do in the province of Bohol. There are many others. But for first-timers who will only stay for a few days, this is a good list to choose from.