about the talking fish

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Writer. Wheelman. Occasional DIY mechanic. Walking collection of hang-ups. Hopeless romantic. Old-school. Analog soul in a digital world. I am all of these things and more.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Just like that, my vacation is over.

We arrived in Manila last Friday at 3 am. The first thing I noticed was this thick blanket of humidity enveloping my being as I disembarked from the airplane carrying two very heavy bags...and just how hot and sticky everything suddenly felt.

Taking a minivan from the airport, we had unloaded the four boxes that we carried along with us full of our clothes, our things and the myriad giveaways to our relatives here. It was then that I noticed the full extent of the trip's damage to my body. My belly had bloated. Apparently that was where all the weight gain went.

Floating in and out of jet lag, I immediately got to work with lifting weights, jogging and eating less. I'm proud to say that less than a week after we arrived I've lost all the 5 pounds I gained, and I'm thinking of losing 10 more.

One thing I noticed on our way to the Duty Free Fiesta Mall is just how rowdy we Filipinos are as drivers. We are uncouth, aggressive, undisciplined and disobedient assholes in possession of two-ton weapons deadlier than guns. After getting used to the sanitized driving environment of US streets I feel as if I have to re-learn my way driving through Manila's chaos.

I did learn a few things I try to incorporate in my formerly aggressive driving style. Nowadays I try keeping to the 80 km/h SLEX speed limit. I stop longer for pedestrians and at every intersection, no longer automatically assuming the right of way. I change lanes slower and more predictably when circumstance allows. I've even given up trying to bait other cars on the highway and outrunning them.

I learned that driving is not something to get worked up about. Driving should be taken easy: you will get to your destination anyway.

I miss them. A lot.

I miss JB's incessant chatter and "weird kid" opinions. I miss Czasha and her sing-song way of speaking. I miss Auntie Carole's warmth and shopping sense. I miss Uncle Butch's humor, good nature and predilection for Filipino tackiness.

Just like that, the de Leon and Chaingan families live separate lives once again.

I was wrong about Henni Espinosa, the editor who had asked me for the article I contributed for the Filipino Examiner in San Francisco.

It turns out she no longer works there; while she's still based in San Francisco, she works for the US arm of the Manila Bulletin now as part of the marketing committee. Just before our flight home she sent 5 copies of the February tourism issue of the Filipino Insider with my article inside, as well as a copy of the Manila Bulletin USA.

Thanks for coming through, Henni.

This morning while having breakfast, my dad was asking me once again what I planned to do with my life after I was finished with college, especially with having two degrees under my belt. This was after he had read my article in the San Francisco monthly earlier mentioned.

I told him perhaps I would concentrate on the marketing side, thinking that it would be easier in the short term to land a job as a salesperson. Positions for communications graduates are rather thin and I made a promise never to work for the local TV stations. Surprisingly he told me otherwise.

He maintained that I should concentrate on becoming a writer---especially to aspire for a motoring journalism career, with all the perks and fringe benefits. Priority drives for new cars and international trips are indeed tempting. He also told me that out of the 12,000 students in DLSU, how many would have proficient experience in marketing? Anyone could learn how to sell. The simple act of selling newspapers or fishballs is already an application of marketing. How many, in contrast, would have the same skill as I do with writing? He claims not more than 10% would have my proficiency.

He made a lot of sense.

I told him I sent my provisional resume to Henni on Uncle Butch's suggestion. He told me to send my resume to the local news dailies as well.

This final academic term of mine's turning out as a pretty interesting one. I have an honest-to-goodness Filipino writer as professor for FILIPI3, a hardened PR practitioner and shrewd Chinese pundit of a professor for MARKPUB, and a subject called MARKEVE---where, at the end of the term, we can truly say yes to the increasingly prevalent job interview question "Have you ever handled events?"

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Haven't been able to post much, but the past 5 days I've been staying with Uncle Bobby, Tita Susan (Uncle Butch's sister), their daughter Belle and their dog Teddy in Maple Valley, Washington State---a few miles from Seattle.

Washington is very different from California. It's consistently a lot colder but ironically I find it more comfortable here than in South Pasadena. This is coming from someone who usually gets chilled very quickly. It's akin to going to the province in the Philippines, going to Baliwag in Bulacan, although the urban sprawl of Seattle and Everett isn't so far away and discipline is even better instilled in the citizenry. Crossing the US-Canada border and making it to Victoria or Vancouver in British Columbia isn't too hard either---just leave or eat whatever Canadian meat before going back across the border.

If I were to live in America, Seattle would be a pretty nice place to stay. That much I'd say.

With respect to that last sentence, I meant it. I had doubts before coming over to the US about my ability to survive here. But having spent the past month, I find it's probably an adventure and a change of pace worth trying out. It's only been a month, I know, but I find it very difficult to say goodbye to the nice sights, to the very wonderful Filipinos residing here (whether in San Francisco, South Pasadena or Maple Valley), the higher wage rates and the prospect of a better life here without the abject hopelessness I feel back home.

I told Tita Susan that I'd probably go back to live in the US. I'd like to finish what little is left of my college degree, attain good financial standing and make arrangements for the permanent big leap across the Pacific pond---ideally before I turn thirty. It might be hard, but I'm quite convinced it'd be worth it.

My dad had told us to weigh ourselves before flying Stateside, and compare such weights with what figures the scale would yield by the time we went back on the 20th. Right now I don't think I need to do that.

Eating out all the time has taken a toll on my weight. I had gained some weight in the Philippine summer already, leaving at 170 lb., but I gained a further 4 pounds here, mostly from misjudging how big the American servings are and eating in restaurants all the time. I had fears and frustrations of uncontrollably gaining weight during my stay, but I realized that it's not as hopeless as I thought it would be.

Having exercised what little degree of control I could have on my diet (our hosts are taking us out to restaurants 80% of the time), and with a meager amount of physical activity a day, I managed to lose 2 lb. without much fuss. Of course it'd take me a lot more effort, discipline and reinforcement to bring myself back to my ideal weight vis-a-vis my height (150 lb. to my best knowledge), but having physical fitness isn't too bad a goal either.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Having so many relatives and friends in California, there's an inevitable question that rears its head in the whole scheme of things. Would I have any plans of moving to and living in the United States?

Truth be told, I've been mulling it over since I first got here in 1997. I used to be a bit sure back then that I'd spend my life in the Philippines. But now I'm giving the matter more thought than before.

Living in America sure is tempting. Driving seems so sanitized compared to back home that I'd have to relearn the ropes just so I could pass as a legal driver here. Sure, things seem expensive but minimum wage is US$6.75 an hour---a lot more than what I'd get in the Philippines. I'm doubtful if headhunters will be willing to get someone who'd graduated from De La Salle University Manila though---with not much on-the-job experience.

I'd have to become a bit more thick-skinned, too. Seeing how Americans like to push their liberties from the First Amendment, I'm bound to see and hear some offensive things directed at me, not least of which is directed to the color of my skin and none of my fault. Apparently racial discrimination is still alive and well in North America.

I'll have to say goodbye to some things I hold dear back home---my friends, my extended family, my little AVON sales sideline, my little blue dented Honda and my anime knick-knacks. Might as well say goodbye to some bad memories of home too.

So what's the final verdict? I'm not so sure. I guess I'll be equally as happy if I lived back home or here in California. I have a semblance of a social support network in place on both shores anyway so I'll never be all that lonely.

One thing I have to say though...if I do move to America, I'd better steer clear of eating in restaurants all the time. I've gained 4 pounds from all this eating out---and always because we misjudge how big the portions get here. Crap.

A couple interesting lines from a recent conversation.

Funny how, despite all this new and developing technology on our hands, we tend to use it first and foremost on sex-related things.

Uncle Butch:
Well, when it comes down to it, we're all just animals.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Two weeks into my vacation in the United States and I've had a relative blast so far.

Earlier than expected was the trip to San Francisco, where we met Auntie Nelly, Auntie Doris, Josie and Dorothy, Uncles Erick and Virgil, Nicky, Christian, David, Stephanie and all our very extended family at 1450 Cayuga Avenue. They took us to some very memorable sights: the Niebaum-Coppola vineyard at Napa Valley, scenic seaside Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge, to name just a few. (Thanks to all of you guys!) On the way there we were also fortunate enough to get to Santa Barbara and Solvang, Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey Bay and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Going there we took what would be just about my favorite road ever: California's Highway 1. It's a typical American freeway until you get to Big Sur and where the road just transforms itself into a tight and twisty mountain pass which I'm sorry to say I was not able to drive through. And man is it scenic! It's around 20 miles of road full of mountains, cliffs and the sea. The twistiest local route, Baguio's Kennon Road, simply pales in comparison. I swear, when I get to California once again and I get to rent (or own!) something decent to drive, that road's going to be one of my priority destinations.

This past month I've enjoyed the company of my Uncle Butch most of all. Apart from being our host for the vacation month, he's been working overtime to make sure the three of us enjoy our vacation to the fullest. It simply goes without saying that he's a very funny guy, but I'm also amazed at how well he seems to handle all his responsibilities and still keep a smiling face at day's end. He knows just when to be serious and when to let loose and have a little fun.

Regular readers of this blog know that Tita Vik's my favorite aunt...well, Uncle Butch has to be my favorite uncle hands down.

Speaking of letting loose and having fun, Uncle Butch took me to a different kind of fun two nights ago.

[inhibition off]

May 1 was pretty much my first ever visit to a strip club, somewhere in Beverly Hills. Being the newbie, I was told that having my gentlemen's club cherry popped here than in the Philippines would be better because the strippers here literally take it all off, not like the supposed half-assed shit back home.

When we did get there...well, I suppose I was underwhelmed. I'm no stranger to seeing women in the buff, but although the dance routines were new, ultimately they're a waste of money when you sit back and really think about it. You get to see girls of various races and sizes, dancing around poles and stripping their clothes to the benefit of the guy who gives them the fattest wad of dollars. The girls will tease you and offer to do a private lap dance or two, but they're just doing their thing---a carefully orchestrated and disguised art of making men part with their money. Big deal. It's not like they're necessarily going to bed with any customers or anything.

Uncle Butch himself says if I made a habit out of them, they really are just a waste of money. It's just his custom to take his male visitors out to these "female anatomy classes"---when they're legal, of course. I suppose there's wisdom in that. I don't see myself frequenting strip clubs myself in the near future either...they're just not worth doing so.

[inhibition on]

I should really stop being a willing contributor to strangers who want the work of my brains published for their benefit. In the past 10 or so contributions I've done I've received credit for just two of them so far. Age hasn't changed a thing.

Three months ago I willingly donated my Intramuros article and photos to what seemed to be a legit editor of some Filipino section of a San Francisco daily newspaper. I was promised credit for the article and a free copy of the issue it gets published in.

Two days before I left San Francisco, I tried looking for that newspaper. Apparently someone was lying to me. There was no person working with that name, and no Filipino section. Ohhhh-kay.

I was mildly disappointed, but it's not like I've been fooled like this before. Sigh.