UNFINISHED BUSINESS | 8 books I left unread in 2013 for reasons lame and otherwise

My Granta magazines, arguably the largest such collection in the Philippines.

#SHELFIE. My Granta magazines, arguably the largest such collection in the Philippines. But literate frenemies have disputed my claim, which I’m unwilling to give up.

It’s the start of 2014.
It’s time for some people—myself included—to look back and take stock of the books they read the past year.
Except that that’s so last year.
For 2014, I’m doing something different.
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#justasking: does Manila really have one of the world’s worst airports?

The Changi airport’s terminal 1 train approaching the terminal 2 station.

EN ROUTE TO MANILA—It’s a question that’s been raised ever since the Philippines got on the global investment map after surviving two crises (the 1997 Asian flu and the 2008 meltdown) and after posting successive stock market rallies since 2010.
Substandard facilities and services at the Philippines’ airport—named after the current president’s father—have been discussed anew, although with significantly less fanfare and intensity, in the March 1-3, 2013 print edition of the Asian Wall Street Journal.
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Three reasons to skip Victory Liner’s Manila-Baguio Deluxe buses

Some Victory Liner deluxe buses have wire-type basket bags on seats while some have none.

Let’s say you plan to visit Baguio, the Philippines’ summer capital.

Except you’re unwilling and/or physically unprepared for the long drive to the city (a pity, especially if you don’t have a car.)

What to do?

Easy: You can buy or rent a car and hire a driver.

But that’s only if you make as much money as a good-for-nothing corporate vice-president, a useless government executive, or a corrupt jueteng lord.

For mere mortals, the only remaining option is to take the bus to Baguio.

But what kind of bus?

Will you take the one that leaves every half-hour, forcing you to scramble madly for seats while burdened with luggage heavier than your teenage daughter’s romantic angst?

Or will you choose a pricier but more convenient alternative?

Depends on your priorities and resources.

If you have cash to spare, you can hop on a Victory Liner Manila-Baguio Deluxe bus, which charges more than half for its regular aircon trips that cost P400.

But is P700 worth the whole trip?

For some passengers, it is.

Why?

Wider seats, faster trip, bragging rights, and yes, toilets. [See: Five reasons to take Victory Liner’s Manila-Baguio Deluxe Buses]

But some may disagree, especially those with limited supplies of cash.

After all, why pay extra for convenience that may last for less than a day? Why indeed?

Here are three reasons why you may want to reconsider the decision to hop on that bus, Gus.*

(Disclaimer: No arrangement, financial or otherwise, has been entered into by Victory Liner, its competitors, and this website.)

1) Prehistoric ticket reservation process.

Has Victory Liner ever heard of the Internet, that nifty gadget invented by former US vice president Al Gore (who also created the myth of climate change)? If it hasn’t yet, then the company should call up the US Embassy and request a free briefing. But seriously, if an airline company which arguably has more complicated operations can allow passengers to book their tickets online, why can’t Victory do the same?

To this day, Victory’s system is laughably prehistoric.

To book a reservation onboard the Manila-Baguio Deluxe Bus, passengers are required to personally pay a visit to its Cubao terminal at least a day before departure date, fall in line at one of the windows, and hope that the clerk gets the time and seat number right.

And passengers better make sure that their dogs don’t eat their tickets. Because if they do, little old Brownie better cough it up.

Since clerks don’t ask for your name during booking, showing proof that you actually paid for a seat is going to be more difficult than taking a crap inside the toilet while the bus is on Kennon. (Fortunately, none of that has ever happened to me yet.)

2) Buses have different standards.

Different buses serve the route.

Therefore, each bus has a different feature.

Others have electricity outlets useful for juicing up your iPod or your netbook. Some do not.

Having said that, only three things stay the same: comfort room, television, and free bottled water and snacks onboard.

Next time you climb onboard, don’t count on charging your phone and/or gadget while en route. After all, you don’t want to miss that incoming spam text message, even while sleeping.

And since cellphones have been brought up: Stewardesses onboard trips – stewardesses, yes, that’s what they call themselves – would do well to ask passengers to put their cellphones on silent mode during the trip. Hearing cellphones go off can ruin perfectly good B-movies shown onboard.

3) Buses lack features and suffer from poor upkeep.

Although seats offer more space, some may not work at all.

As a result, whenever passengers need to recline or push the seats back up, they almost always require staff assistance.

Which actually happened to me on the very first time I got on a deluxe bus to Baguio.

For some reason, the knob that controls my seat’s leg rest was broken off from the whole mechanism.

Whenever I felt the need to put my foot up, I had to call the attendant, who didn’t trust me enough that she kept the knob to herself.

Good thing I’m not a finicky passenger – reader alert: I am talking about myself here – so I let that whole inconvenience issue slide.

That same bus also didn’t have those basket-type wire bags attached to the back of the seat in front of you. (The bus that I took on the way back to Manila did have this though).

As a result, items I wanted to have easy access to during the whole trip was stored improperly.

The book I was reading was squeezed into one of the handles while my bulky, overused smartphone was able to withstand my heft as it snuggled beside me.

I’m happy to report that both items – a Vintage UK trade paperback edition of Martin Amis’ Money and a Treo 650 – survived the trip.

And yes, one other thing: Since the bus provided internet access anyway, is a lap desk for each deluxe passenger who can use them for their laptops too much to ask?

_______

*From the No Need to be Coy, Roy Dept. The phrase was borrowed from the lyrics of Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover as sung by Paul Simon.

Three good reasons for reading Kerima Polotan’s The True and the Plain

Move over, Charice Pempengco.
Kerima Polotan is here — she’s been here for more than the past half-century actually — and it’s about time an intelligent, sophisticated, accomplished, and articulate Filipina gets some credit, airtime, and probably even some online publicity via this website (however few the page views and visitors).
Sure, Ms. Polotan is already a senior citizen and may not have a botoxed jaw or the promise of worldwide fame.
Except that I don’t care about Charice and I haven’t seen Glee and that may be a major major oversight for someone who carries a Philippine passport.
So pardon me kids, but I’m placing all my bets on Ms. Polotan.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that she’s currently in hermit mode, refusing friends to visit her.
But that’s a choice — and a fundamental right — no one can deprive her of.
In the same way that no right-thinking, literate Filipino should ever deprive himself/herself by choosing to ignore her work.
So if you have the chance to read any two books this year, you better grab Ms. Polotan’s Author’s Choice and the True and the Plain from the University of the Philippines Press.
Sure, she wrote a hagiography of Imelda Marcos and may have been part of the delegation when the Marcos family left in 1986.
Does that mean her essays are worthless?
Absolutely not.
Reading Kerima Polotan will make you proud of being a Filipino more than Venus Raj or Charice Pempengco ever will.
But I talk too much.
And so now, here are my three good reasons why you should read Polotan’s The True and The Plain: A Collection of Personal Essays, which were previously published in Focus Philippines Magazine from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. (Also: thanks to Red Constantino for introducing me to one of my favorite writers of all time.)

1) It will transport you to a Manila that we have never known about — and perhaps never will.

Taken in February 1986 at the Luneta (express000/Flickr.com)

Do you know what a Matorco is?
I do.
But that’s because I read the book and came across the term in her essay entitled “My Misbegotten Christmas.”
Thanks to Google and Flickr, I discovered that a Matorco is a double-decker bus that used to ply Roxas Boulevard.
Polotan wrote that she rode it one December night with her children and husband, Johnny Tuvera, who was an aide of Ferdinand Marcos.
And that bus — and the ride that could have provided special thrills to cynical urban dwellers such as myself — is long gone.
Same goes for the many panciterias and restaurants that have disappeared from the city, eating the dust left over by monolithic fastfood chains, local and otherwise.
Who recalls having lunch at Wa Nam, Moderna, and New England?
How about Texas Cafe in Malate, which catered to colegialas? Or the Waldorf Astoria also in the same area?
No one remembers anymore. (I was just an infant during that time. Yes, seriously.)
It’s about time someone did.
And reading about these establishments through Polotan’s pieces is just one of the many ways by which we can celebrate — and perhaps even express regret over — the little lost treasures of our country’s capital.
Below is her take on Luneta, from The Happy Hoi Polloi:

“In the Luneta, all colors blend ‚ the brown and the white and yellow of people; the green and blue and red of shrubs. Towards the sea, the great sward stretches, and the globes of light hang like huge pearls, are caught in the waters of the lake. People flow by, stop and eddy, break and whirl again. Across the pond, a band plays; a balloon breaks loose from some child’s grasp and floats towards an early star. Here, the land lies flat and green, broken only by stone; there, it rises in a series of small hills that hide the curving tips of a pagoda. The doves come, cooing and beating their wings around a man, dressed in a tiger’s suit, and giving away candy. The lovers try not to be conspicuous. A family spreads the contents of a bag — kropeck, juice, biscuits. One mother lies on a mat, unashamedly nursing her baby. On other mats, men and their wives, kicking their heels at the sky. The park guards  watch when they can but soon grow weary and give up. The sky is like a canvas washed clean, gray along the edges, and you think, looking over the heads around you, how distant the heat of living is — tonight’s dishes, tomorrow’s bundy clock. Joy is a fitful moment, but better that than nothing.”

2) It will make you appreciate literature — especially Philippine literature — better.

Abraham “Abe” Cerojano, my former editor-in-chief at GMANews.TV, happened to work under Polotan as a proofreader of the Evening Post, a newspaper she edited and which I remember reading as a kid whenever I visited my mother’s office in one of Escolta’s side streets.
Polotan was a very good writer, said my boss, who is himself famous for writing the news story about the failed assassination attempt against the late vice-president Emmanuel Pelaez, whom he quoted. [See: What is happening to our country, General?]
I don’t doubt my boss one bit.
Reading Polotan allows you to encounter certain gracious turns of phrase that current writers — Filipino and foreign — can only envy.
These phrases include “a carpet of dead leaves,” which she encountered after the vehicle she was on had a flat tire while en route to General Santos City from Davao.
She also writes about “the airy language of fashion [crowding] out the spare idiom of human tragedy,” referring to how the New York Times juxtaposed a story about a fashion show and a rape inside a subway car.
Polotan also mentions “the courage and the strength that can love the imperfect and the maimed,” recounting a visit to the doctor.
And, last but not least, talking about her son’s circumcision, she writes:

“[H]e would be in an elder sister’s skirt, lifting his dark and laughing eyes to me, torn between chagrin and pride, hesitating ever so briefly when I asked to look at the object of his ordeal. He would pull that…skirt open and I would see his possession cradled tenderly in a sling.”

3) Polotan is anachronistic but nice.

The phrase is from the Steely Dan song, Green Book, which is from the group’s Everything Must Go album. [See: Everything Must Go]
It describes her perfectly because her prose is way ahead of her time.
She may have used epithets — Mongoloid, Negro — which were deemed acceptable during her time.
However, her ideas and observations and the way she expresses them are just about the very best examples of modern Philippine writing in English.

From Apartment:

“Apartments invariably mold a kind of person quite hard of hearing and more than a trifle uncaring of the rights of others. His dwelling forces him to be that way. Stifling, airless, shockingly public, the architecture of the pupular three-by-six apartment, though stylized with the latest in doorknobs and light switches…is still oppressive to all that is human in one. The soul must have room to move in, where it is quiet and dark and private, where neighbors don’t intrude with their sneezes and their grunts, where walls protect and not reveal. It isn’t a stray theory that  children who grow up in apartments must suffer some twisting, eventually acquiring much of their elders’ malicious curiosity. Thrown too closely together, separated only by a thin plaster of cement, apartment dwellers pry, listen, peep, keep track of, speculate with more than subliminal interest.”

Last stand at the grandstand


Photo from Danny Pata/GMANews.TV

(Decided to post this blog entry written by fellow drinker and deadline beater, Alex Magno, the writer, not that other guy, after I read the piece in a note on Facebook. Thanks, Alex. I owe you a beer, I guess. Or at least a link on the left. That’ll come soon enough, don’t worry.)

Let’s all spare ourselves the fancy analysis.

Rolando Mendoza, a former police officer, decided to arm himself and take a busload of tourists as hostages.

Why? He claimed to have been a victim of injustice and he wanted that corrected.

How?

By doing an injustice to total strangers so that the authorities would hear him out.

We all saw that on television, heard it on the radio, traded posts about it on the Internet, and today, just a few hours later, will read all about it again in the papers.

What he did was clearly a matter for the police to handle. But as many of us witnessed, the police failed to handle the matter successfully.

An agitated Mendoza shot some of the hostages, nine of whom were reported dead as of this writing, after which he was shot dead himself by one of his former colleagues.

They have their reasons for their failure, no doubt.

But I’d hate to be the cop who’d have to explain what happened to the relatives and friends of the dead hostages.

Who to blame?

Well, if Mendoza had not taken those tourists hostage, we’d probably be grumbling about some other headline, like the floods caused by constant rain.

Whatever his reasons, sympathetic we may be or not, he was apparently “pushed over the edge,” as President Aquino put it.

It was he who started the whole thing.

Let’s not forget that in the sound and fury of the buck-passing that has already started.

But that’s why we have cops — so they can prevent people like Mendoza from hurting other people, and if possible, even themselves.

That could have been the ideal end of this multimedia drama, if only the cops had done their job well.

So blame them, and by the principle of the chain of command, let their superiors share some of the responsibility.

Unfortunately, things always look easy in the commentary after the fact.

I guess that’s why it’s called a post mortem.

My sympathies go to the cops who, despite their limitations in training and equipment, might have really tried to make the best out of a really bad situation.

And my condolences to the survivors of both the hostages and the hostage-taker.

We all wish this never really happened.

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Timelime of what is now considered as the mayhem in Manila can be accessed here.