A Reggae Kind of Morning

I think these moments come more frequently than we think; we just forget because they can be easily overshadowed when you start doing something as small as reading the news or sending emails. You’ve woken up to a crisp, bright morning, sweater and PJ’s still on, tea boiling in the kitchen, and reggae playing.  Term just ended the day before and revision week has begun. Your students are going insane with the amount of work they still have to do and you’re not off the hook either – there’s still make-up classes,  an infinite number of papers and tests to mark, an entire affair of exams, grades to submit, and you’re going to the office in fifteen minutes. But this calm right now, you don’t just pass it by. Another semester has come and gone and you punctuate it with a big breath. Good job, one and all. The next semester is peeking around the corner of another month, there are news to read, emails to send, and another hundred things to worry about once you open shop, but right now there’s this, there are people who care about you, and everything’s all right.

An Excuse for a Post

Work gets cancelled (hence adding to the hours you need to make up for) because of the typhoon signal and you go back home irritated but at least high and dry because there’s barely a drizzle. After the signal lowers and you return to work, you wonder what an umbrella is really for because you got drenched anyway.

(It’s got the workings of a “Funny thing, life” post in it but it’s not going that way. Funny how we use the word funny for something that isn’t necessarily so. Good way to euphemize the irritation but not very accurate in meaning. Neither is the word “euphemize,” which is not one, apparently, according to the squiggly red line in the WordPress ADD NEW POST text area.)

No, this is my attempt to show that this blog has some semblance of being alive by sheer dint of writing anything. When you login to WordPress and everything looks different…well, you know how it goes. Yes, I have been busy (and this blog has every right to be jealous of my Twitter account) mostly because there has been work done, writing completed, meetings attended, trips made, books read, and people seen. (Hopefully there will be more of that later. And yes, I also feel like my virtual presence has mostly been answered for by Twitter. This is why I cannot be bothered to sign up for Facebook. Boys, boys, one at a time, please.)

An update on current causes for celebration on the writing front:

1. “The Man on the Moon” will be published in the anthology The Dragon and the Stars by DAW Books in 2010.

2. “The Startbox” will be published in RocketKapre’s Usok 1 next month.

3. “Wildwater” will be published in The Farthest Shore. Voila the cover art.

4. Haruka and I are planning for the new play / film, The Pink Elephant. I’m not doing the playwrighting this time like what we did in The Foundling; we’re just basing it on a short story I had already written. Haruka has big plans if it’s turned into a film. She’s thinking Cannes. I’m thinking down the more realistic road towards the Hong Kong Film Festival. But if it weren’t for Haruka’s more daring way of thinking, we’d never have done the first play in the first place. So Cannes it is.

5. I’ve been invited to join a podcast by Bookbabble.net.

There is 24% remaining in my laptop battery and it is 1:30AM in the morning. Thank goodness I have a late class for Wednesday morning. But not late enough.

Next time we’ll have a real post. Somewhat. It feels good to write more than 140 characters.

City Rat

When I’m getting a little stressed out at work, I find myself wishing a kind of dream-life scenario in which, oddly, I live and work in a ranch in Canada, with the occasional grilled steak for dinner and a quiet beer at the end of the week. Which, I guess, means that I have two dream-life scenarios for myself after all – that, and the one in which I live in a big cultural city and am a rabidly successful novelist. :p And the two of them can’t be further apart. I’ve always had the writer scenario in my head for a long time, but this ranch one has only come out this year and yet it keeps automatically dominating my imagination whenever my energy levels are failing, like some kind of mental comfort zone. (I never imagine the writer scenario during those times; in fact, I think it would just stress me out even more to do so because it’s a scenario I’m actually trying out for, in one small way or another.)

I must have been brainwashed about the whole North American frontier lifestyle at some point. It’s such a National Geographic picture. The distance and novelty are probably what’s so attractive; it has to be located in vast cedar and redwood forests, not like the jungles and rainforests at home in the Philippines. I think that’s why I’m not very impressed by the idea of the Amazon forests; it’s too familiar already. I demand rugged expanse and a smack of conifers and all that.

I think sometimes I just get a bit claustrophobic in Hong Kong.

Log

I make it a rule never to bring work back to the flat, and at the same time I hate leaving unfinished work in the office. When I do, it plagues me all the way home till the next morning because I know how absent-minded I can be, so I have to keep reminding myself to finish it. (Usual scenario: I write a note to myself as a reminder. I lose that note.)

So I do end up finishing a piece of work a nice comfortable distance from the deadline and have sorta ended up with a reputation of being pretty “early”.

(Usual scenario at work starts.)

Senior: Have you started preparing for….etc.?

Me: Uh yeah, I finished it a few days ago.

Senior: Great. Can you furnish me with a copy?

Me: Sure, of course. It’s here somewhere…(*rummage rummage*) Geez, where did I put it? Just give me a minute…

(Usual scenario at work ends.)

(I have found all my work so far, I really did just need a minute. And my senior does the same rummaging movements as well sometimes. XDD)

Still far from what we call an OC, though, which is short for obsessive-compulsive. (A friend of mine had explained, back in 2001 when the term was born, that you’re OC if you go to bed and your door is slightly ajar and a thin ray of light is seeping through and you simply cannot go to sleep without closing the door first.)

(Since I left Manila, I’ve met up with some pretty hardcore OCs who make me look like an absolute, sloppy slacker. I met one in Beijing, two in Sydney, and one in Hong Kong. It’s a pity that it’s a slang term only in the Philippines; tsk, missed all the fun provided by an accusation of OCness.)

I knew plenty of OCs back home though.  One of them was in the same course as I was in UP and we had some classes together, though we majored in different areas. Prime specimen of OC, she was.

Anyone who’s ever been a student in UP knows what kind of hell semester enrollment is. (A friend of mine used to have nightmares about it before the event.) I bumped into my OC friend when we arrived at Palma Hall (este, AS!) and she pulled out an index card from her handbag and crossed out the first item in her list of things to do: Arrive at 9AM. She didn’t understand the bewildered look on my face.

We used to hand in our papers by stuffing it into the prof’s pigeonhole (this was before the English department stopped this and just left a general dropbox) and she would actually collect everyone’s papers into a pile and insert her own paper right in the middle so it wouldn’t fall off it. And when we had a prof who would rather we slip our papers through the crack of the locked door to his office (in a certain way, it was pretty risky. If you slid your essay with a little too much might, it could skitter across the floor and be wedged under some object that would keep the prof from seeing it), she would wait outside his door until he came back so she could hand it in face to face.

And once, by some extremely fortunate encounter, I discovered that our grades from a History class we had been in had accidentally been overlooked by admin and had not been forwarded by the History department to the Office of Student Records, in typical UP fashion – meaning we were never credited for that class. And because they had forgotten it, they said that I, la student, had to do it myself. (??!! Moving on.) And perhaps because I had a heart of gold or perhaps because I did not have much of a life, I ran around for more than an hour to and fro between the two places and singlehandedly manage to transfer all our grades to the Office by hand. Anyway, I had a Biology (or was it Geology? One of those general ed stuff) class after that, where I told another friend about it and hastily assured him that I had fixed it so it was OK. OC friend was sitting behind us. And he slyly suggested telling OC friend about the mix-up without saying that it had been resolved. I told him to do it because I was a crap liar. XDD Chaos. The commotion she raised.  I had never tried so hard not to laugh in my entire life.

Best of all. Graduation day. Our department head had muddled up the names in the roll, separating the names of those who were graduating without honors and those who were graduating with them (the names were supposed to be called alphabetically without segregation). OC friend was graduating with honors…which means she didn’t get called on the first round. Which she interpreted as not being able to graduate. Which meant she hiked up her gown and started marching toward the podium with a furious look on her face before the dept head started calling out the honor names. XDD My dad got the whole thing on videotape. With a very good angle.

(Lord knows where OC friend is now.)

Geez. Has it already been four years since I got my undergraduate degree?

Es Sabado!

I understand completely why God rested on a Saturday. There’s nothing like waking up late on Saturday morning in autumn. I’m usually bone tired from work, and with the term papers coming in around this month and the next, I’ll be up in my elbows with the bloodbath of marking. Carpe Saturday!

The other day I read one of the novels I bought in Prague, The Golem, written 1914 by Gustav Meyrink, who’s someone like the Edgar Allan Poe of Austria in terms of his contribution to gothic literature . Very dreamlike feel, starts out without giving you any obliging exposition as to what to expect at all, the writing very fragmentary (it was originally written in German and I found the full-text of Der Golem, and it’s just as fragmentary. I wonder why I was thinking otherwise.)  In any case, I was expecting that it was going to be a turn-of-the-century fantasy-thriller involving the mythical golem; turned out to be more of a psychological study than anything else, with the golem itself making only a few rare appearances and symbolizing the city of Prague itself (the blurb at the back was so not helpful). So I was rather confused at the first few chapters, especially since the protagonist is a fellow who had lost his memory, and all you know is that he’s Austrian living in the Jewish Quarter of Prague during the Austria-Hungarian empire, which is a milieu that’s unfamiliar enough for me. (Well, to start with, I thought he was Czech, and it turns out he wasn’t, which completely reshuffled his context. Of course when you have a protagonist who had lost memory, you have to keep guessing with him just who he is.) Good book, though, and the excitement did start to build up when he found the underground staircase, and the ending was like a good cheesecake at the end of dinner.

Anyway. And Hong Kong’s finally selling the paperback of Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me. Lightweight chick-lit galore! How very unfitting for me, but I’m a Sophie Kinsella fan (there goes one of my dark secrets skittering over the carpet), and truly, she’s the only chick-lit author I’ve ever read. 😄 I do insist on that.

The Vesturport Theatre of Iceland is coming here for the 39th Hong Kong Arts Festival and they’re staging their production of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis from February 19 – 21, 2009. I am so looking forward to that. I have to get tickets as soon as I get to TST.

And now I’ve got to get some writing done.

Streets of Gold

Young and Arab in Land of Mosques and Bars – NY Times

A couple of months ago, when Machao, my Thai friend who worked in Dubai with Siam Cement (and is now in Sweden doing his MBA because higher education is free there, even for foreigners, but it’s about to change soon, I remember reading), came over to Hong Kong for a holiday, we grabbed dinner and drinks together with some friends and he started talking about working in Dubai. No tax, money flowing, company-provided car and accomodation, huge salary, beautiful infrastructure, money flowing, swinging lifestyle, freedom, money flowing; this was just the tip of the iceberg. When he was done with the whole iceberg, there was an impressed silence at the table. And when Machao talked about the big sums of money teachers make there – well, let’s say Jane and I never thought that life in the Middle East could be that attractive.

Then the food came. That was in an Italian restaurant in Central – not cheap by my standards and is reserved only when overseas friends (and parents with credit cards) come over. Machao’s seafood pasta relatively looked like the most expensive (and it was) and we started ribbing him about how much his dinner was going to cost him, and he said that an ordinary meal in Dubai would cost the same anyway.

Speedbump.

Then Machao started talking about how there really wasn’t anywhere else to go aside from the city and how the city lifestyle was and the heat and the ambition oozing out of everyone and other expatriates who got on his nerves, among other things.

So I was reading the article this morning and was even more convinced that Dubai was sounding like the Hong Kong of the Middle East. Full throttle develpment, the same dizzying, suffocating intensity, no god but money (The Holy Trinity of Hong Kong are the Bank of China, the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation, and the Standard Chartered Bank. Those are the cathedrals we show to our tourists), a place that is similarly unified not by identity or culture but by ambition. 

Don’t get me wrong; the past month has been the happiest and content I’ve been in HK (in a more constant manner).  I think I’ve finally adjusted. But there really is no escaping the crowds and the materialism. It feels as if everyone, even the trees, are on crack in this city. Nell and I would usually go for lunch together after church every Sunday, and we would usually linger in the church discussing where to go for lunch, because once we stepped out of the place it was back to that threatening feeling of being eaten in the streets and our tempers would run short, which is not conducive to any amicable feeling when both of you are hungry and are undecisive about where to go for lunch.

And the thing is it’s really nobody’s fault. You can’t fault anyone for wanting a better life for themselves; that’s what everyone who works in Hong Kong is here for. And of course there will be ambition and competition, and in such a tiny place as this, even when it comes to lining up in for the MTR, it’s understandable that standing still would be a fatal step behind everyone else. And it’s not malice that turns people cold to one another – it’s  what naturally happens to your priorities when you have to compete with everyone else just for a step in the escalator. I’d assume it’s similar in Dubai. It certainly sounds like it. Instant gratification is not hard to find in these places and people get too used to it.

My high school friend Gori wants to be an architect in Dubai; apparently the market for architects there is huge, given all the construction they do (and the money that comes out of it). Jane, who was staying with me when Machao came over, is still skeptical about working in a Muslim country, given her experience as Indonesian-Chinese and having to flee to Malaysia when the riots happened, but money is hard to ignore for someone who will be a fresh graduate looking for work soon.  As for me, should be sticking around here till the end of my contract. After which depends on how the wind blows.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Dubai at some point in my life, to see if the streets really are paved with gold. :p

Eat, Drink, Be Merry

This summer will prove to be an eclectic one. Mid-July, Jane, whom I haven’t seen for 2 years, is coming from BJ to HK for a month to visit me (and this I only found out today). Get ready to behold an insanity that can only be borne from a friendship forged in the sulfurs of Beijing. Then end of July, going home to Manila and will meet the usual culprits (Karen + Steph, check; Ressie + gang, check; Jo + gang, check; Jason + Charlene + whoever’s free, check…Tin’s the only one left I need to advance-book with). Mid-August I’m planning to hie off to the Czech Republic and Hungary, where I’ll be crashing at Gyongyi’s place (hope I get the visa). Then by  the end of August I’ll be back for my new job.

Why all this hedonism? Because these two months are going to be the last summer holidays I’m going to get for the next two years; my new teaching job doesn’t give extended vacations. Just the usual work calendar and annual leave. My Mardi Gras before Lent, if you will. If I don’t enjoy them now, I’ll have two years to regret it.

So enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! And on top of that I have been requested to write a story for PGS‘s crime issue, and to write that play Haruka (no, wait, Mrs. Ashida-Ostley!) wants to direct for her theatre group in Hong Kong (“Wendy” in lights in the Fringe Club…well, one can always hope. Rather desperately. Esperanzaaaaaaaa.)

I don’t think I have even been so decided to enjoy something that hasn’t even happened yet. Carpe that diem over there and all that. It’s nearly hysterical.

Scenes From Work

For anyone who’s ever wondered what I had gone to every weekday at 8 in the morning at YCIS Secondary for the past year.

My work desk at the staff office on the 8th floor.

The hallways at 8:30AM after form time when the students go for their classes.

My Year 8C English class, a…challenging bunch, haha. Click on it for a larger size.

My 9B English class (that’s not all of them, though. I took this on the last day of class and a third of them had already gone from school.) An intelligent bunch. Click for the larger picture.

My 7C English class, the fun bunch. Though they look a bit solemn here because this was just after I managed to calm them down after the boys did the whole “Ew, cooties!” act while the girls rolled their eyes, lol. Click again.

On the last day of class, my 7C students wrote me little messages on the board. That’s not even all of them; I ran out of batteries before I could take any more pictures. Click if you want to read some of them (and find a very glaring grammatical mistake.)

On that last day, I asked 7C two questions about my English class: “Did you learn something this year?” and “Did you have fun along the way?”

Two big yells of “YESSSS!”

I had to smile. “Then my work here is done.”

Haha, my friends always made fun of the way I always called all my students “my kids.” (Well, it’s certainly much shorter.) But you spend one year with these people and you get quite fond of them at some point, however grudgingly. And in the end when one of the boys in your class pipes up and says he thinks you’re the best teacher in the school…well, you can’t help but feel that you had a good run with the kids this year. =)

Changes

Life always takes you for a ride, and while you do have that seatbelt on, you can never tell if you really won’t be thrown off. So you might as well enjoy it.

Hello, my friends. It’s been one year again, and as is traditional for my life these past three years, this brings another round of pretty big changes.

(Well, at least I’m still going to be living in the same country, not to mention city and apartment. That’s a first.)

I’m leaving YCIS and the Hong Kong Baptist University has offered me a position as a lecturer in English in their community college. I just signed the contract today and I have a pile of paperwork to fill out and a medical check-up tomorrow. Work starts on the first of September.

Today was very fittingly my last teaching day in YCIS. There really is something very nice about receiving two boxes of chocolates (Meiji and Royce too!) from your students and them leaving you little messages on the whiteboard. I do wish I could see them grow up into young men and women because this is the age when that happens. I don’t understand how some parents can even miss it. They really are a nice bunch of kids. A handful sometimes, but you just have to be firm with them.  I’ve grown quite fond of them, in some way.

Tomorrow we’re having the awards ceremonies and the reports, and lunch with the English department. On Thursday, the graduation ceremonies. Then on Friday, the last inset day for teachers. And beyond that?

Your desk, as cleared as it was when you first arrived.

It’s still difficult for my mind get around the entire situation, in the sense that I can’t believe it’s already been a year. I’ve learned so much, from working full-time and supporting myself alone, that it seems impossible that it’s only been a year. It’s been very humbling. I guess that’s what work does to you – puts you and your ambitions through a little trial by fire, gets you to decide how important (or not) things are to you, forces you to see how much you can be in the mercy of circumstances.

And as much as I don’t like being jokingly compared to JK Rowling by my acquaintances when they discover that I write, I really must salute her for something she quoted from Plutarch when she delivered the commencement speech at Harvard this year (titled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”), because it’s exactly what I have learned from 2007-2008: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. Oh, so true.

A friend was telling me how much of an exception I am from my peers back home. Usually our friends start on their first jobs still living with their parents, never having to worry how much the rent has gone through the roof or where the next meal is coming from or what to do when black mold attacks your bathroom during the rainy season in the tropics (keep the vent on, don’t let the humid air in, get the Clorox ready) . We start early back home. Nearly all my friends were working full-time at 20 years old; I was pretty late to have joined the workforce at 22, though my colleagues and students here have been pretty stunned at how young I am. In any case, I think it was a good time for me to start learning. Harder for old dogs to learn new tricks and all that.

It’s been a jolt, I suppose. But I’ve had a good run. February to June was a real crimp but I got through it OK. And I’ve learned that while planning achievements and accomplishments to hang on your belt in the future is fine, healthy ambition, if you’ll be having a dreadful time in the present juggling everything precisely because of that, you’re doing something wrong. I think I’ve mellowed down a bit now; if you can’t be flexible with the world, it’ll kill you.

(There are people who actually enjoy the juggling, though. I can’t fathom them.)

So bring on the good times, eh?

Cheers.

Good Day

1. Sign copyright clearance form for Casula Powerhouse.

2. Get leave from work.

3. Get a tourist visa for Australia.

4. Get air ticket.

Work today was really good. My Year 7s have gone to Orlando, Florida for World Classrooom. Taught past simple vs past continuous to the Year 8s – and they showed a real interest in it! In tenses, for heaven’s sake. They asked intelligent questions about the past continuous (e.g. “Could you switch the order of the simple and continuous when you combine them in a sentence?”) and were really into the textbook exercises. The sky must be falling.

Continued the lesson on summaries with the Year 9s, which went really well too. Could have heard a pin drop when they were doing the summary exercises paragraph by paragraph; they were scribbling away like mad. Must have been something in the cafeteria food. Incredible. It’s been a really good day.

Now back to American Idol 7.