Thursday, November 16, 2017

When in Manila 2017

Before October ended, me, my mother, and my sister went to Manila for three days to visit my brother studying there. I admit that we did shopping a lot since there are things you can only find in Manila. We also went to places we haven't been to before and some great restaurants. Here are some places worthy of note.

Pinto Art Museum (Antipolo, Rizal)
This museum showcases art by local artists. It was a surprise because I expected one building but the whole museum is composed of several structures with different works of art. The small buildings are unique and can stand as works of arts themselves. Wandering around the place without a map can be an adventure, with art surprising you in corners and unexpected places.

The whole place feels like a surrealist landscape with white beds scattered all over the place. Be prepared for a hike, because it can be quite tiring to walk around and climb many stairs. We had lunch at Cafe Rizal, which had great food as well. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Hello Kitty Cafe (Uptown Mall, BGC, Taguig)
This coffee shop sells coffee and sweets with a Hello Kitty Theme. It's quite more expensive than the usual cafes but I guess we're paying for the *official* Hello Kitty. I wasn't disappointed with the food and the place was cute.

Din Tai Fung (Bonifacio High Street, BGC, Taguig)
Din Tai Fung is one of the top restaurants in the world, and every time we passed by this place before, it was always full. Their specialty is Xao Ling Bao, dumplings with some sort of soup inside. I ordered dry noodles with pork and shrimp wontons, and it was good. We had chocolate-filled Xao Ling Bao for dessert. It was also my first time to eat somewhere with fast, efficient, and systematic service. We had to get in the place early to avoid the lunchtime crowds, but it was really worth it. I will surely go back here the next time I find myself in Manila.

We ate the mascot.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Is success really 'the best revenge'?

I was reading a career and life advice book for millennials, and while it was good and practical, I stumbled upon a page with advice that I questioned.  I also had thought before that it was right, but now it didn't feel that way. It is a popular notion today, and maybe you've heard this somewhere.

The idea that success is the best revenge. You're being bullied and put down today? Then focus on bettering yourself so someday you'll be so far above them that they will regret ever looking down on you. People don't see your worth? Then work hard to accomplish things and succeed, until there will be accolades on your name while they are forgotten.

At the surface level, it makes sense. We all love stories where the underdog has risen above his situation, proved the critics wrong, and ended up more successful than the people who have put him down. I admit that I thought that way before. When I felt that people were bullying me, I always thought to myself, someday you'll see, and I'll be better than you. Now you're laughing at me, but wait until the day that its my turn.

I ended up counting the wrongs done to me, always imagining a future scene where they will remember what they did and regret it. I ended up seeing my accomplishments as something to use against other people. When I graduated with honors in college, I had thought, if only I could show this to people who told me I was dumb and a pseudo-intellectual. Now those who have laughed behind my back will respect me.

I had thought the same things when I passed the board exam. My, what a boost to my ego! I loved the praise! I had thought that I was so good and so smart! Now if only I could slap this award to my enemies' faces, I thought. Then I ended up feeling empty. Instead of thanking God for the blessing and moving on, sharing it for the good of all, without clinging to past successes or failures, I was thinking, see me, acknowledge me, because now I am better than all of you. Instead of feeling vindicated, I thought that my perceived enemies probably have forgotten who I am and don't really care if I succeed or not. It made me focus on myself too much.

Then soon I realized that what the world thinks of as success is isolating and full of expectations. I sometimes regretted the so-called 'accomplishments'. I began to question the notion that the best revenge is success. If others look down on us, it can be a good reason and motivation to better ourselves. But if we obsessively chase after it and demand acknowledgement in our hearts, and if we don't get it, we'll just be depressed and desperate.

I know someone who still holds on to grudges from years ago. It's sad this person did everything to better himself, and finally was in a position of success, but in the end no one still likes him. Everyone seemed to sense his insecurities, and while he is successful he still wants to be acknowledged. He keeps repeating the same old stories and rehashing the same old accomplishments, but it seemed that he didn't get the acknowledgment he wanted.  Actually, no one really cared. This person ended up being a toxic presence, getting in the way of other people just so he can accomplish his own agenda and be acknowledged.

While I disliked his behavior, I still have a little compassion. I realized that even if I dislike this person, I'm not that different from him. Then I thought that I don't want to be like that. I want to tell him that his life could be so much easier and people will genuinely care if he just let go. There's no reason to hold on so tight. But this person's perceptions are clouded, and I just hope that he will realize it too.

The Bible instructs Christians not only to forgive our enemies but do good to them. Always easier said than done, when our natural inclinations tell us we need to hit back. Jesus was spat on, flogged, kicked, and killed. But instead of returning it, he chose to sacrifice himself for our forgiveness. With that thought, I feel that I have no right to harbor ill will towards anybody. Our accomplishments and their acknowledgment will do nothing if we don't already accept ourselves. It is the more difficult way at first, but in the end, forgiving and letting go is better than chasing revenge.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Bad Genius [movie reaction]

The cooler South Korean movie poster.
From left to right: Lynn, Bank, Grace, Pat
I've heard of Bad Genius from a student before, its only showing in the Philippines now so I watched it. I loved it and I never thought a movie about an exam could be this suspenseful. Though, I have written a lot about the board exam in this blog and as we all know, exams can be the most nerve-wracking and stressful experiences as students. Many of us  can relate to cheating (we all have done it at least once in our lives), and I think that is a huge factor on this film's popularity. The Thai movie and the actors have won many well-deserved awards.

The story is about Lynn, a smart but introverted high school student. Her father is a teacher who wants a better life for Lynn, so he persuades her to a more prestigious high school against her wishes. She befriends Grace, a pretty and popular student who's not that smart. Lynn helps her cheat in some exams so she can make her grades higher to qualify for the theater club. Pat, Grace's rich boyfriend, soon 'employs' Lynn to help them for their exams.

Bank, another unpopular but top student, becomes Lynn's acquaintance when they both represented their school for a quiz contest. Bank is not that rich, he lives with his mother and they have a laundry shop but he aims for a better life. Bank's honesty exposes Lynn.

Soon, Pat and Grace convince Lynn to work with them again in cheating for a SAT-like exam that students must pass to study in the US. Lynn also convinces Bank to join the scheme, and they also get other students to pay for the answers. Lynn proposes an elaborate scheme, and the main suspense of the story is how they will do it. Will they succeed or will the plan fail?

That's a pared down version of the plot, its better to watch the movie to see the complex motivations of the characters. We see that Lynn is being 'used' by her classmates and friends - so far, after all that she did for them, she still took the blame and none of the others were found out. Bank, who is a genuine and good person at the start, soon changes after being hurt in the process because of other students who'd rather pay than do the hard work of studying.

I was kind of hoping for a love story between these two
As I watched, the true antagonists were the students who 'used' Lynn to cheat (her so-called friends). The movie's story also showed how unfair life is, especially in school - the rich kids get away with anything because of their cash, and those who work hard are sometimes unappreciated.

Bad Genius has the right mixture of suspense, drama, humor, and delivers a moral lesson. Viewers can have a good laugh over the complicated 'techniques' that students have come up with to cheat on exams and maybe some of us can relate. Bad Genius is one of the best movies I've watched this year.

Some more unrelated personal thoughts
As I watched the movie, I was in tears in some scenes (the actors playing Bank and Lynn are really great) because it reminded me of painful experiences in school. I can relate a bit to Lynn and Bank, and I have also felt that I was being 'used' by some people, not for friendship, but for some sort of personal gain.

I was reminiscing about my college life the day before and if I could turn back time, I'd have probably gotten rid of some toxic friendships that only sapped the life out of me and didn't bring me any genuine joy. I sometimes found myself trying to change in order to please certain people, and I felt sad because of the regret - I should have thought of myself first rather than them. It was late when I realized that some people were merely 'using' me for their own personal gain. I'm civil with them, but I don't think that I'll let them be that involved in my life again.

I liked how Lynn said to Bank (about the more popular Pat and Grace): "We're losers. We're not like Grace and Pat. We have to work a lot harder." It was harsh, but it was true. In the adolescent high school world, it's the extroverts who win, and most introverts just remembered having a hard time.

One last lesson: cheating is a fast remedy, but it will not solve the problem. In my opinion, it is better to fail than to cheat. The best solution to your grades is actual studying and understanding your lessons in school. I'm really amused that the people in the story had to go all through that when in the end studying for the exam is easier and less stressful than a heist!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Iloilo City Library Tour: 2017

Last October 27, 2017, we had a small library tour in Iloilo City libraries with the LIS faculty and international students of MLIS-TL (Masters in Library Science - Theological Librarianship with ATEASEA scholars from Southeast Asia). We went to four different kinds of libraries and also dropped by Molo Locsin Mansion and Museo Iloilo. I have visited some of the libraries for other tours before, and its good to see some more innovations and new programs in these libraries.

The Library Hub by the Department of Education

DepEd's Library Hub serves public schools throughout the region by providing books. The boxes you can see in the picture are many copies of book titles for the schools.

They also have one new program for the Mother Tongue program of DepEd where subjects are taught in the native language. Public school teachers are encouraged to submit their own teaching materials for widespread distribution. They have a new online system, LRMDS, which catalogs and makes the reading materials available for teachers online. The DepEd selects some books that can also be translated to English and other regional languages in the Philippines. When we visited, they were handling a story-writing contest for teachers to encourage them to produce works for Mother Tongue education.

Saint Paul University

St. Paul University Iloilo is known for their leading health sciences courses. The library also has computer workstations for online resources.

Iloilo Provincial Library

I'm glad to see many changes in the Iloilo Provincial Library since the last time we visited last year in our library tour. I noticed the large new television and shelves. They also have new equipment for the Iloilo Archives - scanners for digitizing documents for easier access.

For those who don't know, the Iloilo Provincial Library and Archives is located in Casa Real near the Iloilo Provincial Capitol. It is open for all and their usual opening hours are Mondays to Fridays, 8:00-5:00 pm. Its a good quiet place for reading, studying, and whatever you are working on.

University of San Agustin - Elementary Library

Our last stop for the day was the school library of University of San Agustin Extension Campus (Basic Education Department). The interior design of the small space was good, and there's a space where the pupils can play, sleep, and read books. I admire the librarian for keeping up with the kids! We can see that he enjoys his job and the pupils always visit the library. I can't really imagine myself working in a library with children.

Thank you for the schools who accommodated us and the librarians for taking the time to introduce their libraries and answer our questions. We ended the day with a surprise advanced birthday party for Maam Ann. I hope that in the next library tour, there will even be more innovation and improvements in our local school, university, and public libraries.

Here are links to blog posts about previous library tours we had:

Friday, November 3, 2017

How's life?

Let's take a break from the usual articles and talk about life currently. I just came from my university to get my last (and not that great) salary for teaching one subject this semester, after some tiresome procedures of submitting final grades and running around school getting clearances signed. I know its needed, but sometimes its really tiring to correct mistakes in procedure and people didn't tell you that you need to accomplish this or that. I was thinking that if this is the case, I won't teach here. But then, every job will have its difficulty and problems.

Speaking of work, I have a new job as a freelance writer. It was luck that I found something that's perfect for me which involves reading books. Working and relying on yourself to manage time and beat procrastination is a new challenge that's way harder than expected. I'm in a cafe right now since my room and house is just a place full of distractions.

I'm not teaching this semester or enrolling in any subjects for graduate school, but I do need to prepare for the comprehensive exam February next year. I wish that for this time I can focus on writing and reading. So far, nothing remarkable in life but this year, 2017 was a year of many firsts. There's two months left, and I'm posting this since this blog will not be that active for the next few months. So here's nothing, just a rant to talk about life.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok [movie reaction]

[Note: may contain some spoilers but nothing major]

The last film I saw in the movie theater was Wonder Woman, an amazing superhero movie on a character based on Greek Mythology. Marvel's Avengers franchise have produced a string of successful superhero blockbuster movies for a long time now: we're all familiar with Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, and of course, the Norse god of thunder Thor and his trickster brother, Loki.

I'm not a huge fan of this franchise or comic books, but I can enjoy a movie from time to time. I watched the first movie Thor in 2011, it was funny and entertaining, and I followed the storyline of Thor and Loki through the next few Avengers films I've watched.

Thor: Ragnarok is the third installment of the Thor movies, and here Thor is battling a new (yet old) enemy: Hela, the goddess of death played by the superb Cate Blanchett. She also played the other-worldly Galadriel, leader of the elves in Lord of the Rings. I loved how one review said Cate playing the character Hela "screams of Galadriel taking the power of the One Ring and using it to destroy whole worlds." Hela is part of a forgotten past in Asgard, and she shows up to claim her 'inheritance' as Odin's first daughter.

After Odin's death, Thor and Loki meet their sister Hela who decides to take over Asgard. She banishes Thor and Loki to another realm and the two brothers find themselves on the planet Saakar, some sort of garbage dump ruled by a dictator named the Grandmaster. Here, Loki is no longer an antagonist but fights for Thor's side. Still a trickster, but mostly reformed.

An alcoholic, bottle-swinging badass lady appears, sells Thor as a gladiator for the Grandmaster's entertaining games, but they soon discover that she's linked to Asgard. After Cate Blanchett as Hela, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie is worth watching. They meet the Hulk again, with no memories of Earth or being Bruce Banner. I really liked the soundtrack of this movie, which reminds me of 80's electro-pop. The neon vintage vibe of Saakar was a nice touch.

What I loved about this movie is the humor - the movie theater was filled with laughter in almost every scene. If you want a good stress-reliever, this is the fun movie to watch. I wish that Hela was explored more, I think she's a great villain and I'd love to see more of her. Thor forms a haphazard group he nicknamed 'the Revengers' - with himself, Loki, Valkyrie, and the Hulk. Together, they try to defeat Hela and save Asgard.

Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) slayin' it
Some quotes:
Thor: I don't hang with the Avengers anymore. It all got too corporate.

Thor: She's too powerful, I have no hammer.
Odin: What are you, the god of hammers?

Monday, October 23, 2017

Book review: Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan

Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan is a Filipino crime novel which has won numerous literary awards: the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize for the English Novel in 1999, the National Book Award 2002, and the Madrigal-Gonzalez Award 2003. It was first published by UP Press, but the edition I bought was a revised version published by Soho Press New York. It has been made to a movie with the same title in 2016 starring Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero. It claimed to be the 'First Filipino Crime Novel' and since that's a genre I like, of course I bought the book.

The story is about a series of gruesome murders of young boys in the Payatas Dumpsite, and two well-educated Jesuit priests aid the investigations. Father Gus Saenz is a forensic anthropologist and his protege and former student, Father Jerome Lucero, helps him in solving the case. The killings have a pattern: the victims' faces are ripped off, the heart and genitals removed, and they all seem to occur the first Saturday of the month.

The cast of characters include NBI officials, both honest and corrupt, and members of the media. The two priests who have honest intentions are delayed by politics and red tape. The description of the atmosphere and environment is familiar and distinctly Filipino. It's an accurate portrayal of the imperfect justice system in the Philippines. The two priests try their best to catch the suspect. The serial killer doesn't appear until the last parts of the book, but for me, the character felt... flat. The motivation behind his actions was shown, but I felt that he could have been 'explored' and developed more.

It is a good book, however, it kind of fell short of my expectations. I'm probably just comparing it to American crime novels and serial-killer stories, and I was watching True Detective with its rich imagery, suspenseful action, religious philosophizing, and Lovecraftian cosmic horror. I was kind of expecting some discussion on religion and more action. Its not bad, but maybe not for me.

Though, I'd love to see the two priests solve another crime in another setting with more conflict between them. Anyway, for a crime novel, it is still an achievement and I do hope that more Filipino writers write in the crime genre with a local setting. I mean, even now there's a lot of crimes going on in the country, potential crime writers won't run out of ideas and inspiration. This novel is a great start.