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Under a different set of circumstances, I would’ve fallen in love with Saigon (I know its name is now Ho Chi Minh but Saigon just rolls off the tongue better) — with its narrow buildings where residents still strive to nurture a bit of greenery in their urban habitat, with its cheap and tasty food, with its numerous parks and wonderful architecture.

I found Saigon easy to navigate on foot, which, I am gradually discovering, is my preferred way of initial exploration. (Riding the bus would have been the next option but we were utterly confused by the city’s public transport system.) Most of the roads have sidewalks that actually function as sidewalks as opposed to the streets of Metro Manila where sidewalks are fair game for vendors of all kinds. The only deterrent to exploration by walking are the motorists who drive with almost no regard for pedestrians and road rules. If I were at high-risk for heart disease, crossing Saigon roads would be enough to give me a heart attack.

Ah, Saigon would’ve totally captured my heart had it not been for those two men on a motorcycle who managed to make away with the DSLR camera I borrowed from my sister. I would succumb to nostalgia for the city — and its spring rolls and unforgettable iced coffee — if I didn’t remember how it felt to be standing in the middle of a street filled with people just staring at me. I would be longing to stroll along its streets again if it didn’t make me think of an afternoon spent in a police station unable to explain your predicament to officers who didn’t speak English.

That first day in Saigon gave me a paranoia for the entire trip, a paranoia that stayed with me even when we had crossed over to Cambodia. Granted, I was probably too heedless a tourist to begin with, so perhaps Saigon only gave me a healthy, much needed, dose of precaution.

The next day, we were terrified of going out again. The fear, however, was conquered by the conviction that hiding out in the hotel room would just give more power to the experience we still couldn’t believe actually happened. I couldn’t bear for that to be the strongest memory of Saigon I would carry home. So we headed out to be all touristy and shiz — this time riding a cab.

War Remnants Museum. The Reunification Palace. Notre Dame Cathedral. Central Post Office. All typical tourist sights — but they all gave a glimpse of how Vietnam frames its history. The War Remnants Museum, in particular, was an interesting study of how the country constructs memories of the violence it has experienced. (It is by no means an “objective” display of the Vietnam War, which made it both fascinating and disconcerting at the same time.)

I am glad that a. we decided to venture out of our room that day and that b. the Central Post Office was our last stop in Saigon. I have not yet let go of the romance of the post and the act of faith that accompanies every entrusted letter or package, and the hope that it would indeed reach its destination. Standing on that site where connections meet and words converge, it was a moment of clarity: how I wanted so much to go home and yet I really didn’t.

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You’ve heard creative directors of fashion houses speak of the “woman” (such as the McQueen Woman or the Prada Woman) — that concept of the ideal embodiment around which a specific collection is designed for. Upon viewing Geraldine Javier’s “Curiosities” collection exhibited at the UP Vargas Museum, I saw in my head “the curious woman” — my vision of a woman who would have owned these pieces, collected them, and preserved them.

“Curiosities” seeks to explore the practice of accumulating things and how tastes and personal ideas of value contribute in the gradual construction of a collection. Thus, UP Vargas Museum is, therefore,  such an apt location to house “Curiosities” — given that it was founded to be the dwelling place of Jorge Vargas’ collection that he donated to UP. (This is a loose, interpreted paraphrase of the commentary that accompanies the “Curiosities” exhibit).

The Curious Woman in my head is in the make of literary characters such as Ms. Havisham (Dickens’ Great Expectations), Ms. Emily Grierson (Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily), and the unnamed landlady in Roald Dahl’s short story, The Landlady. Isolation, obsession, and desire reside in the habitats of these women and it is not hard to imagine the same of The Curious Woman.

Javier

There is a consistently dark and fascinating mood that oozes out of the collection. What strikes me the most is the application of crochet work in adorning the found items — sometimes covering entire branches and large pieces of wood. The obsessive dedication this demonstrates was the first to draw me in the collection.

The use of preserved objects that were previously living things — leaves, flowers, twigs, wood, insects, and birds — denote the Curious Woman’s preference to interact with nature in a static condition. This pervading desire to preserve is also identifiable in Ms. Havisham and her wedding finery, in Ms. Emily and her lover’s corpse, and in the landlady and her stuffed former living creatures.

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“Thinking of Autumn”

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“The Cat Fairy”

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Part of the Cabinet Display. This is my favorite of the lot.

The Curious Woman also seems compelled to display her collection. Lanters, glass jars, and globes host an assemblage of these preserved objects, arranged in cabinets for viewing pleasure or displeasure of anyone privileged enough to examine the collection.

My favorite piece in the collection is “Sing Me a Song,” a two-sided installation of sleeping forms: one, a cradle housing bones and dried leaves, and the other, a crocheted girl sleeping in a hammock. The merging of the depiction of peaceful slumber and the morbid element of death is haunting.

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Inside the cradle

Inside the cradle

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“Curiosities” by Geraldine Javier is on view at the UP Vargas Museum until April 20, 2013. If you do see it, allot a minimum of an hour to savor the collection — more if the collection managed to pull you in its vortex as it did me.

Under 30 minutes

Last Saturday, I completed my first “regulated” 3K run. I know that three kilometers isn’t really an astounding distance to run and it’s fairly easy to accomplish. But I was seriously scared I wouldn’t be able to do it. And I hate not being able to do things.

The entire week, I was kind of dreading the impending Saturday. But I also prepared for it: I woke up early everyday and exercised and ran around the neighborhood. I also got to experience the probinsya feel of Little Baguio in the wee hours of the morning.

Participating in that run was a challenge to myself. And I was happy to discover that I rose to the challenge. As I passed by numerous people on the route, I silently, in my head, said, “Ha! A fat girl just passed you.” (I finished in the middle of the pack. Really, majority of the 3k runners were just walking).

As I raced across the finish line, just barely under 30 minutes (I am slow, I know), I couldn’t stop smiling. It was awesome.

I always say that I have only done two brave things in my life. One of them was quitting my first ever job — with no back-up plan, no new job lined-up. (You can read more about that here.) Since then, several friends (and acquaintances) have approached me for job-quitting advice. Choosing to be a bum at 23 has apparently given me cred. Thus, this post is for those who’ve asked and are currently asking. You know who you are.

So why did I quit my job? In summary it was because I was unhappy with a lot of concrete (and not imaginary) things, I had learned all that I could given the capacity given me, and I felt I was not contributing to society.  (The last reason was particularly highlighted during the Ondoy aftermath. I wanted to help more than doing what I could during weekends but I was stuck in an office spinning stories. ) But most importantly, I quit because I finally no longer had any doubts. I’ve thought about resigning for years but I was always see-sawing with a decision. When I finally did it, there was not a single tinge of regret. It was such a liberating experience.

If you are planning to quit your job without a back-up plan, I implore you to be both pragmatic and  reckless. Being unemployed is a period of uncertainty. Many of us from the middle class are incredibly lucky in that we are not our family’s breadwinners, we do not have to pay rent and utility fees because most of us live with our parents until we marry or migrate, and there are other options for college graduates apart from an 8-5 job.

Quit for real reasons. Real reasons could be anything but these reasons should stand the test of time — your reason should still be true in a month’s time and there are no foreseeable factors that could change it for the better. Continue Reading »

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25th Birthday Wishlist

In 28 days, I am turning a quarter of a century.

I haven’t done this the past few years, but I just thought it’d be fun to put together a list of stuff I am hankering for. I am, I admit, pretty selfish about my birthday because it’s the one day in 365 days that “everything” can be legitimately about me.

So here goes:

1. A mini oven toaster. I almost always make my own food for lunch and snacks at work. A toaster would be awesome so I can eat real hot food instead of wrapping my container in scarves and cardigans to trap the heat.  This could also mean I could eat toasted wheat pandesal with cheese on top.

2. Watson’s Wet Tissue. I cannot leave the house without a pack. I always buy three packs each month so I won’t ever be without a pack. I buy the purple ones because purple is my favorite color.

3. A REALLY LOUD alarm clock. Every one who knows me knows how hard it is for me to wake up in the mornings. I need something super effective.

4. Angry Birds plush toys. I have this inane desire to crowd my bed with Angry Birds plush toys. Especially the piggie ones.

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From "Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank's" Facebook page

*As of the time of writing, Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank is still showing in cinemas. Please, please do watch it. It’s awesome and you won’t regret it.

A scene where the protagonist ends up swimming in feces is not exactly new to moviegoers — Slumdog Millionaire. Jamal. Ring a bell? That scene, among many others, earned the Oscar Best Picture winning film the label “poverty porn:” the exploitation of the desperate quality of life of the poor for controversial, cinematic purposes.

The Philippine independent filmmaking industry is no stranger to poverty porn accusations. This is the theme that Ang Babae sa Septic Tank explores, armed with effective wit and brilliant acting.

Like most members of my generation, I love self-reflexivity and all things meta in art, including film. (I mean, you could probably make a case in arguing that Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank is also exploiting the exploitative nature of filmmaking.) In the deconstructive tradition of Bayaning Third World with a humor reminiscent of Adaptation, the film explores the strategic process of creating a film (titled Walang Wala) that will bait the international film festival market to shower awards on the two male protagonists, Bingbong (the producer, played by JM De Guzman) and Rainier (the director, played by Kean Cipriano).

The main strengths of Ang Babae sa Septic Tank are the writing and the acting. The screenplay, written by Chris Martinez — whose ability to hit both comic and dramatic notes has been proven in past films, Here Comes the Bride, 100, and most recently, Temptation Island — is full of astute observations about the indie filmmaking world. The cast, lead by the seriously funny Eugene Domingo, is as perfect as a cast can get, even down to the female documentary “subject” the filmmakers imagine in their heads. Apart from Eugene Domingo’s nuanced performance, Tad Tadioan as Direk Arthur Poongbato was a scene stealer. Every second of that coffee shop scene was gold. Continue Reading »