We Need to Get Our Friends Back

Lily James and Bella Heathcote in Screen Gems' PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

Their social media personas seem to have been taken over by monsters who took away all the fun out of our friends’ posts and their capacity to share Oatmeal comics and Buzzfeed listicles that used to bring joy into our life. Now our friends in social media share only dark, disturbing discourses about geopolitics and narcotics, seemingly bedazzled by the genius of their statements on the latest ‘insanity’, ‘idiocy’, ‘inanity’ of world politics. Where have the how- to-make tiramisu videos gone? Where did the Starbucks posts go?!

We don’t have to demand from these monsters to stop talking about what’s happening in the world. It’s good that some of them are doing it and enlightening those who have, at this bleak time in social media, chosen the path of complete silence. Even though we need our friends back, some of our friends do seem, thankfully, uncorrupted by said monsters and manage to post things that don’t get in everyone’s nerves. They remain sensible in what is shaping up to be one of Philippine social media’s darkest moments.

But it’s too late for some of our friends who have succumbed to the allure of seeing their obnoxiousness attract engagement from folks with similar inclination.

Some friends of ours might even try to provoke/compel/trick you into coming out of voluntary silence and contribute to all that racket. These are friends that might even tag you and ask you to change your profile photo to that of a sunflower in protest of … something. Whatever happens, don’t allow yourself to be bullied into thinking you have to contribute to the noise. Any time you feel like adding to all the drama, think about whether what you’re about to say will add anything of substance. Think about the fun gifs of cats you could be posting instead. Post those instead, why don’t you.

We really need to get our friends back. Make social media fun again.

Where I Was When the King Died

Photographers, spectators and mourners at the Grand Palace
Photographers, spectators and mourners at the Grand Palace

I was at a newly opened chichi Italian-French restaurant called La Casa Nostra when the official announcement was made. On my way there, people on the MRT were noticeably extra-attentive to their phones. That has always been how people behave in Bangkok trains, ie, glued to their phone, but on that afternoon the air was thick with worry, anticipation and grief.

La Casa Nostra is one of those restaurants that are annoyingly dim. The lighting is so minimal that you would have to squint your eyes to read the menu, and when the food arrives you’ll have to use your phone’s backlight to see if your food is as you ordered it. The restaurant’s design calls attention to its classiness and for a brief moment, I considered roaming around as there were only a few customers. That night, though, it was impossible to think about anything other than what Twitter already knew at least 3-4 hours in advance.

The staff were wearing all black but it could have been their normal uniform. I was halfway through my meal when Richard Barrow tweeted the inevitable. I was ready to be ushered out of the restaurant and be told to go home and respect the people’s mourning. I had expected a lot of unrealistic scenarios upon the announcement. I expected most of the staff to break into tears and kindly show the customers out, but even more people came in. The photographer who was taking photos of the neatly lined wine glasses on the bar counter seemed unmoved – a true professional. Despite the room’s dimness, we saw a waitress break into tears. Customers were not asked to leave but were left alone with their meal.

The king’s death reminded me of Cory Aquino’s death. I remember the collective sadness that swept the Philippines when she died. That was before the country was divided into ‘yellows’ and ‘rainbows’ (hindi yellow), which let the observance of her burial be peaceful and free from the ugly taint of politics. But that couldn’t possibly be the same as what just happened to the people of Thailand. They have just lost a king, the only one they’ve ever known and revered in their lifetime.

As foreigners, we are expected to behave in a strictly respectful manner during this period when the country is experiencing its greatest sorrow. That means refraining from engaging in any festive activities. Smiling in public might even be frowned upon. Black shirts should probably not contain any unsavory graphic.

It’s not uncommon to see expats expressing their sympathies online, although there are those that can’t be bothered. And because people want to know things, they are probably asking themselves and others like themselves these questions: Am I supposed to demonstrate full-on commiseration or should I take it easy with the sympathies? When going to Tesco, should I wear black or should I save those for the malls and office?

The last thing an expat would want to be seen as is unsympathetic, although it must be said, failure to show an aura of being deep in sorrow won’t likely to get one in trouble as long as the line between nonchalant and disrespectful isn’t crossed. It wouldn’t be outrageous to think that some expats are feeling the need to be extra-sympathetic and may be compelled to overdo it. They are in a very safe place. At a time like this, one never knows of one is in the company of a mourner who would look down on your refusal or inability to wear black. Some might not be too concerned about what color garment you wear, but some might be too concerned.

When Someone in Your Life Has Cancer



I was once tricked into watching the first season of ‘Breaking Bad’. It’s a great show and I love that the driving force behind Bryan Cranston’s transformation from science teacher to science teacher/meth dealer is his need for cancer treatment money. I love it when money problems work their way into the plot or become key to a character’s motivations. I don’t mean I enjoy financial problems fiction like ‘Julia’ (starring Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton) or ‘We’re the Millers’, but I enjoy a story more if it doesn’t conveniently ignore the reality that about 80% of the time, people make life-altering decisions based on how much money they have or don’t have. Think gone girl Amy Dunne when she realized she has no more cash with which to torment her victim, Nick Dunne.

I couldn’t watch the entire first season of ‘Breaking Bad’ but, mightily, I tried and succeeded. I don’t remember much of the show except for how it made me feel. It took me back to a time when my mother was being destroyed by cancer, and it’s not because she resembled Academy Award nominee Bryan Cranston; she looked like Academy Award winner Julianne Moore when she was healthy, but because the reddish piss and the hair loss were painful to watch. Every time I write about my mother’s cancer and death, and speak seemingly so dryly of it, it’s as if I’m so detached from that scarring life event and as if I’m about to send it to an essay-writing contest which, I don’t know why, isn’t something I would want my mother-cancer essays to sound like. The truth is that I will never be un-detached from it and going off on tangents like this is why I would never ever win essay-writing contests that I would never ever join.

I found myself working for a cancer clinic company, which required me to read about cancer and immerse myself in that disease’s world. I’m not just being dramatic when I say ‘I found myself working for a cancer clinic company’ because truly, I did not know that when I hit ‘send’ on that application button, I would have to immerse myself in cancer reading material. In general, responsible people shouldn’t be finding themselves working for clinics that they didn’t know would necessitate cancer readings. It’s just insane.

There is but a tiny connection between my brief stint as cancer content manager and finding out that someone I love has cancer. I guess the connection I’m trying to make is that… cancer is forever? That it will haunt you (me) in ways that we can never anticipate. I thought I wouldn’t have to think about cancer again, but it apparently is not through with me. Here are some things that I’ve realized.

(They’re all for ‘you’ because that’s what I want.)

You make the cancer about you.

By thinking about what could happen to you when someone in your life is diagnosed with cancer. One of my dearest friends was diagnosed with a type of laryngeal cancer and somehow, or not surprisingly, I found ways to direct discussion about what it could mean to me, who is, for 31 years now, has never wavered in making itself the unrivalled center of my attention in any event that has ever occurred.

‘How about me? Am I healthy?’ ‘Have I said enough affectionate things to her today?’ ‘How is she for money?’ ‘If it had been me, would I be able to handle it as bravely as she does?’ are some of the thoughts you may have. Someone in your life finds out he has cancer and you think about your own health is perhaps not the best way to be. I think it’s sick. I also think it’s the kind of impulse that is inescapable.

You develop a protective brotherly or maternal instinct previously absent.

There’s a reason why some people are single or childless. That reason often has to do with a person’s inability to care for anyone but themselves. What grows is not a parental instinct but more like a strange desire to punch the face of those who dare disrupt the ill person’s aura. You are not always capable of doing something about this but you develop the instinct anyway and you are helpless against this. Don’t fight it.

You see the rationale behind people’s habit of posting inspirational quotes superimposed on pictures of waterfalls.

Not until you are faced with the sickly face of the person whose problem you didn’t previously know existed will you realize how valuable, how encouraging to the spirit a life-affirming quote as plain as ‘Life is short’ is to the person who posts such things.

I’ve never read a waterfalls-backdropped quote and thought, ‘Hmm, what a wonderful thing to post on Facebook,’ or ‘Hmm, thank you Facebook friend, I really needed to know today that I’m blessed beyond my wild imaginings,’ until recently. I’m often the kind of social media participant who scrolls down fast to get to the Onion and Gawker posts, then scroll further down to find a Guardian or New Yorker literature essay that I would share a link of as part of an ongoing and hopefully not a lifetime effort of making myself seem smarter than I really am, as reinforced by the supposedly non-stupid things I occasionally share. The truth is I’m not above appreciating these quotes; I just don’t often acknowledge the little ways in which they help some people’s spirits.

You turn into a cancer expert.

Sometimes, you even become an alternative cancer treatment expert. Precious health tips such as ‘Don’t eat sugar’ or ‘Eat vegetables’ become staples in the list of things you occasionally tell that someone in your life who has cancer.

You give such pieces of advice like parents who scold their 9-year old children maybe in an attempt to be funny and frivolous. This is fine, well intentioned, and makes you feel good about yourself, but it fails to consider that the reason why sick people eat whatever they want is because they have lost the ability to taste food. ‘Eat kale chips and tofu salad’ isn’t something a person whose tongue is razed with chemo meds wants to hear.

You have to stop whining.

Specifically, you stop lamenting your lack of reading time or, say, the woeful state of your professional career. It’s tricky because you feel like your problems are valid and deserve great, undivided attention, but is not having a stable job really that life-threatening in the grander scheme of things? Yes, of course, especially if you’re feeding babies, parents, or anyone else that isn’t you.

When someone you care for has cancer, all of your serious problems suddenly seem so trivial, stupid and basic. Especially, iTunes kinds of problems. People who are way ahead of their peers in gauging the level of basicness of some problems don’t need for someone in their life to be struck with cancer to realize that some problems aren’t worth cultivating drama for. Then of course there are those who do. Uncertainty about your future shouldn’t be thrown away, but when the wallowing gets to be too much that it consumes your entire being for days, an angel whispers a gentle reminder about how being a whiny bitch isn’t the best way to be. That whispering angel may be using strong language (eg, ‘whiny bitch’) but it does so gently because it realizes that your problems are yours to own and handle and they are still real. Angels are considerate and in-the-know. Angels are real.



A Sexy Songkran, a Non-complaint


I should be very pleased with how Bangkok handles its party city aura. To have a truly enjoyable night out in this city, you must be out by 7:30 pm and getting tipsy by 8-9:00 pm. Go out late, say, 10:00 pm, and you miss the best seats and people in the crowd are already on their way to sobering up. This teaches you to schedule your nights out responsibly. But do you always want your nights out to be scheduled properly? You do not.

In Manila, you text friends at 10:00 pm and tell them, ‘I’m in the cab now and on my way!’ while you’re stepping out of the shower, secure in the knowledge that they will believe your claim of being stuck in eternally horrific EDSA traffic – they know how it is and they will spin the same yarn about traffic. You shower at a very early 10:00 pm if you feel like being punctual for once.

You arrive at your pre-party bar, usually Barcino or Distillery at The Fort, profuse with apologies. Mostly, no one cares and your friends would even commiserate. By 12:00 midnight, you go to the main bar whose bouncers are at their most alert and from 12-1:00, Manila party peak hours. At 00:00 in Bangkok, you’re on your way home telling your party companions in Line that you had fun! In Manila, you call in sick for work the next day because there’s no way you would make it to the office after partying ‘til 4-5:00 am. Here, you take an instant soberer sold in 7 Eleven.

I should be very pleased because, like my daddy, I believe that conversations beyond midnight cease to make sense – I’m okay to separate from friends when the conversations start to get punctuated with yawns. He had a more cutting phrase for it but the essence of his belief is that you’re bound to find yourself deep in bullshit, enjoyment-free conversations if you stretch your drinking sessions when the beer stops tasting like heaven (if it ever did) and starts to have the consistency of vomit.

During this year’s Songkran, I was home by midnight, very safe and quite dry. I wasn’t shivering in my soaked shirt and shorts and not delirious with naughty glee from the water-splashing extravaganza. My face was chalk-free and my feet were just sufficiently yucky from Silom’s muddy sidewalks strewn with trash. On the contrary, last year was truly gross and dirrty. Songkran 2015 had us crawling our way through Soi 4 and debating the merits of going home while things were just beginning to get interesting. But that’s nothing compared to Songkran 2012. Tiger beer in hand, I was destroying Caucasian men and women with my water-powered armalite, demolishing fellow tourists left and right.

What happened?

I’ve only been to a few Songkrans and I hold no authority on fun, but it looks like the joyousness is drying up. As long as there’s water and soaking-wet voluptuous people in white shirts or shorts, there ought to be no lack of joy for people who delight in such a sight. I don’t know if Songkran is getting repetitive for me or the festivities have really been watered down so that the water fights seem very controlled and less outrageous, but it doesn’t feel as fun as it used to. This year, Songkran was just sexy.

Only 550 Words on Manny Pacquiao and Facebook Friends Who Support Him

I didn’t think it was my straight friends’ duty to come to my defense when Manny Pacquiao so famously said very ignorant things about gays and animals. I didn’t think I was entitled to their charity because it’s not as if I have been very supportive or vocal about causes that any of my friends – gay or straight – may have wanted me to support. I’m sure, though, that if it had been any of their basic rights that were suddenly called into question, I would not have acted so callously.

On the other hand, straight and “straight” friends who urged/are urging everyone to just move on from the issue as there are more pressing problems that are more worthy of discussion than Gay Problems are just as awful as MP. I could have lived without that kind of admonition to practically forget about the fact that for years, my peoples have been denied civil rights. I could have lived not knowing how they feel about their fellow human beings not enjoying the same rights as them.

I have around 600+ FB friends, so I know there’s bound to be a few profiles who would say shit like ‘Move on!’ or ‘What is your problem?’ or ‘If one man’s words can shake your beliefs, your beliefs aren’t too strong to begin with’ or some shit. What a waste. They’re about as wasteful as those who didn’t think to just use plain and fewer words to expose the homophobia that runs in their hateful, spiteful veins. Them and the sports fans/Pacquiao fans who don’t realize that if he wins, takes a seat in the Senate, votes against a cause they fiercely support and believe, and uses the book of Revelations as the basis of his decisions, they will be very sorry, and it would be too late. I’m not a fan of stupid-shaming (although it is often fun to read) but it is hard to deny that stupidity and lack of patience for the art of thinking is what’s causing all this.

Also hate those who have nothing to say, but thought it worthy of their time to write 2,000-word essays about how everyone should just respect everyone’s opinion. It’s the equivalent of wanting to shush everyone who are raising valid points about granting certain people some basic human rights, and knocking yourself out writing an essay that says nothing and wastes everyone’s time. This issue reveals something rotten about their personality, specifically their inability to see beyond the Pacquiao fanaticism and into the sheer stupidity of his comments and the seriousness of the matter.

I realize I’m not making brilliant contributions to this discussion myself, but this affects me as a person who might want to marry a person with dick someday, and I just need to say that I’m not going to take any more shit words and phrases from ‘friends’ who are expressing opinions that are shit. I truly do not want to become the kind of angry writing person in the internet who adds so many words so he can… add more words. Fiery discussions are on their way out, but it won’t stop here. To friends who are aware that I occasionally post feelings up in here, stop pretending people like me don’t exist in your life.


Us and Them


When ‘Brokeback Mountain’ came out in 2005, I loved it so much that I bought the soundtrack even though I never really liked country music. I thought that if I could at least play the score at home, I would be reminded of what such a beautiful movie made me think and feel when I first saw it. If it had been a love story between a man and a woman, I would not have bought the album but it’s doubtful I would have liked it less. But then, it would have simply been a film about two adulterers cheating on their spouses, and therefore would not have been as tragic and as touching.

Incidentally, tragedy is what makes ‘Brokeback’ an unforgettable, moving movie-going experience. This may be such a dramatic way of describing it but if you’ve actually seen it in a theater, you’d know that it definitely is an experience in as much as a movie with two men kissing induces hysterics, hoots and howls in the audience is an experience.

‘Brokeback Mountain’ is depressing but it’s the kind of gutting you want to relive. I want to do the same for ‘Carol’ which, although not half as tragic as ‘Brokeback’, is just as devastating.

The film, adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, takes place in the 50s when it was tough for lesbians to be openly affectionate with someone they love (I don’t know this for sure but it seems like it). Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara) meet in the toy section of a department store where the latter works as staff. Amid the frenzy of the Christmas season, when eager-to-please mothers and overworked retail store attendants can’t help but cross paths, the two lock eyes and sparks instantly fly. They are lipstick lesbians in a conservative decade, so much of their dates have to be done in a manner befitting two criminals conspiring to unleash unspeakable crimes on their unsuspecting victims – Carol’s  semi-estranged husband and daughter, and Therese’ live-in boyfriend. There will be struggles ahead.

The pacing and acting are languid and understated. You wait for Carol and Therese to get it on but all you get, at least in the first hour, are furtive glances and cautious touching of hands. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara do not have big acting moments, except for one in which Carol snaps and cuts through the lawyers’ argument, and snatches her husband’s attention away from everyone to tell him to fuck all the lesbian accusatory shit as all she wants is visitation rights. The most touching scenes, though, are when Carol and Therese hold back on their emotions, so that when they find themselves alone in a motel, they hug and kiss as if someone might pop up and handcuff them, and hold them forever as captives in straight world prison.

Much like ‘Brokeback’, ‘Carol’ has gay characters fighting for their right to love. To say that someone is ‘fighting’ for the right to love is to risk sounding like song lyrics from a 90s boyband (specifically a 98 Degrees song). But Carol has actual battles: for the custody of her daughter and for the defense of her mental state, seeing as her lesbian ways were viewed as symptomatic of ill health.

It sounds a bit too much to say that Carol and Therese are ‘fighting’ for their right to love, but that is what is going on in films with and about gay people not being allowed freely to make out publicly, not even if they do it classily. Having bought but never read The Price of Salt, I feared it would end the way most of these types of films end: with someone getting raped, murdered or banished in a mental hospital. None of these potential endings are inconceivable; it’s a Patricia Highsmith novel after all. Fortunately, neither Therese nor Carol commits suicide.

I’ve always felt that lesbians have entirely different experiences in matters of forbidden romance. Even though I’ve known some lesbians, I never really felt like us and them have a shared struggle for the probably idiotic reason that girl-on-girl displays of affection raise way less eyebrows than boy-on-boy ones. But, to paraphrase a Lisbon sister, clearly I’ve never been a lesbian person. It might also have to do with the fact that I’ve never heard or read as many coming-out anecdotes from lesbian friends and acquaintances as I have from gays. Movies have been informing me about lesbians and ‘Carol’ has just told me that I’m wrong, and that in fact we have the same struggles and difficulties. What a beautiful reminder this is.


Thais Don’t Have ‘Nose Bleed’ When They Speak English Imperfectly


Because why would they? Nose bleed is what happens when a person gets punched in the nose, or when the brain is too stressed beyond human capacity, so blood can’t help but ooze out. It’s what happens when you’re Carrie and teenage girls are mean to you. Nose bleed happens in other instances that have nothing to do with speaking a certain language imperfectly. Thais don’t have the jokey nose bleed the way Filipinos do when they are suddenly made aware that upon speaking to someone who speaks English beautifully, they, native Tagalog or Filipino speakers, fail to match the proficiency and the beauty of the proficient English speaker, which is such a Filipino thing to do and feel.

I have to say, though, that there is nothing wrong with feeling inadequate with one’s unspectacular English-speaking skills, which compels one to make a nose bleed joke. I’m saying this because I’m a coward who feels the need to make a disclaimer, and also because I really think there is nothing wrong with coping with a perceived deficiency. That coping mechanism happens to be cracking a nose bleed joke which I’m not sure if people are still doing. I sure heard a lot of it in my former office when certain native English-speaking (sometimes, non-native speaking) executives pay us a visit for the sole purpose of hearing us speak English beautifully. Of course, they couldn’t care less about how we speak (or maybe they do which should explain the visitations), but that joke got cracked a lot (eg, ‘I have to take Katarchina to dinner tonight. Nose bleeeeed!’ etc.).

I’ve thought about it, deeply, and realized that being good English communicators does great wonders for the country and its people. If it weren’t for our relatively stellar English proficiency, we would probably be less adaptable as a people who feel the need to grace all corners of the earth with our presence. We probably wouldn’t be one of the most human resource-exporty country in the world, which we are. More importantly, I probably wouldn’t be here in Bangkok doing what I’m doing and loving the shit out of not being in the Philippines where things can be sometimes not so great.

It’s frightening to imagine Filipinos not being such good English speakers because if we didn’t have that, we would have much less, but maybe we would have something else. All that would be left would be our world-class resiliency and singing voice. Horrific. We would just be hospitable islanders who make laughable signages that other excellent English-speaking people would ridicule us for. Since we are such great communicators, we do this to ourselves. If we weren’t the occasionally vicious grammar Nazis that we often are, we would probably find alternative ways to be cruel to each other. The nose bleed joke is therefore essential in perpetuating our strong English communication culture.

I sometimes fantasize about a Philippines that is peopled with Pinoys who would speak Tagalog at least 95% of the time, the way Thais, and presumably other Asian nations, do. I just wish we were less obnoxious about this proficiency.

But who am I kidding? I used to find hilarity in those emails passed around containing jpegs of atrociously worded signs in China or any other country that doesn’t revere English the way we do. But I have changed and my humor leans towards other brands of jokes now. I still find hilarity in playing with open and closed vowel sounds and that might never fade. I used to sing LFO’s Summertime for this very reason (‘New keeds on the black had a banch of heets, Chinese food makes me seek. And I think it’s fly when the girls stop by for the sammer, for the sammer.’).

Thais, and presumably other nationalities who don’t give much thought (ie., give zero fucks) about their English proficiency, don’t have nose bleeds of the variety that is caused by English-speaking deficiency. In place of petty nose bleeds, they have hypertension when some foreigner has the nerve to engage them in conversations that would require more than yes or no answers which, in the absence of English language knowledge, they opt to answer with a nod or a shrug. This is wise as it keeps them healthy and free of nasal blood flow.

In truth, non-native English speakers (eg., Thais) might only be slightly peeved, or some of them might actually feel like this lack of superb English communication skills poses a major barrier to achieving potential greatness. I once asked a Thai if non-excellence in English is something that can get you ridiculed in Thai society, a reason to have your Facebook post screencapped and showcased to ridiculer’s own feed to be liked because shittily-worded compositions in Facebook are hilarious. I forgot his exact words but the meat of what his answer was that Thais ridicule fellow Thais for other reasons. And even though he was just one person, I believed him even though he was attractive and probably doesn’t get ridiculed for much so embarrassment is probably not something he experiences regularly.

Some Pinoys, on the other hand, make cracks about lost apostrophes and misplaced commas. Sometimes it’s well deserved such as in instances where the grammar crime is committed by someone with heinous thoughts. Sometimes, you can’t help but be on the side of the grammar criminal. It’s strange but an understandable phenomenon. Think about it: If little notes about turning off the faucet in our public bathrooms were heinously worded, where would we be?