Sunday, September 26, 2010


Strange are the weeks when the days bring rain on a regular cycle. Round about three, four o'clock. Every day. Often a light, sometimes heavy, the rain comes down and does what it does. Slickens things up. Cools things off. Departs an hour later, waving goodbye with its wispy wet fingers and promising to return as soon as it can. I wait for its arrival as one waits for a friend who picks you up without asking.

Relatives are always strange, but 'strange' is also relative. It's only odd because I come from a place where the seasons are textured and tailored to suit everyone's fancy. Don't like snow? Wait four, five months -- you'll get some spring sunshine to melt off your slush. Hate the heat? Be patient, child -- the fall's crimson colours will dot the sky in scatters of vivid small dots, making everything cool, or as much as it can. (Don't believe me that the leaves somehow affect the weather that arrives? That's your pregorative. Me? I trust in the illogic that transcends all our convictions.) Where you are born is where the world sets its standards and your own sense of balance.

What to make of place that has, for me, only two valid seasons? A wet one whose water is sporadic but steady; a dry one whose heat is intense, flawed but not fatal. And up in the mountains, here, in the north of the country, the weather is pleasant, almost cordial in nature. Down south, five hours south, in the heart of Manila, the heat is a jacket that rests on your shoulders. Not the bludgeon-style heat of Tokyo in August; the Philippines' heat will sap your energy, to be sure, but also leave dignity behind as nature's one courtesy. You can still feel like a person in the heat of this capital. I can exist far up here in the country's one north, or shuffle around in that heat but not drop like a dog at the end of a hunt. These seasons perplex me, but not because anything about them is especially complex, or peculiar, or even intrinsic -- weather is weather, wherever you are -- but because my body's own rhythms are jolted, then broken. I knew that time has a way of breaking such standards; until I travelled, I didn't know that distance, too, could punch a little damage.

Invigorating, though. Early October, with shorts and a t-shit. The prospect of the Christmas to come and a sun that's still shining. Something inside me knows that I'm still quickly aging, that the mirror's harsh truth is vivid and valid, but living away from my home, from weather's bored clockwork, provides a tilt to the years that somehow allows my dead youth to revive, then endure.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Rare are the days when scenes from a cop show come into your life. The boys in blue do not often ask you to help lift a corpse that was found in the alley beside your fish shop; the detective in charge, with his bedhead of hair and an unlit cigar dangling from tiny pursed lips will not ask you questions and look for deception. The police that we see are usually driving quite slowly through quiet side streets, or pulling us over to ask for I.D. Would we want it any other way? To ask for upheaval is to invite the untidy, and who wants more chaos in this fucked-up old world?

Unless, of course, such an intrusion is an oddly benign interruption that surprises, then perplexes, then gradually shifts into that pleasantly puzzling offshoot of the status quo that every so often asks us to pull up a chair and take in the show. No matter how brief it may be.

Just beside the Jollibee chicken franchise at the corner of Session Road a group of old and young women sit and sell fruit. Fresh fruit, I'm presuming, with varying varieties of bananas and strawberries, apples and oranges, alongside some other small food that I don't know how to quite name. (One of the unexpected pleasures of living in various Asian countries is that you come across an inordinately astounding numbers of fruits that you didn't know existed.) They sit there so often -- meaning, constantly, forever -- that I never take much notice of them, unless I decide to grab a bunch of bananas for an afternoon snack.

Last Friday, though, I sure as hell caught wind of what they were up to, and I suddenly realized, roundabout the time the police truck slid to a halt with a surprisingly quick jolt, that there are layers to life here above and beyond me. The truck stopped; a handful of men and women in faded blue uniforms leaped out, if only half-heartedly; the young women behind him, the ones with the fruit, leaped up from their perches and, giggling, grabbed their boxes of goods and raced across the street and somewhere not here, laughing the laugh that you laugh when a game that you know is played well and played often.

And me, standing there, watching two forces at work, two groups that were partners in one all too strange new game. Strange, for me. A game, for them? I don't know. What I saw was this: A handful of cops jumping out of their ride in a half-hearted, half-assed, completely half-whatever manner. A few of them seemed to have billy-clubs raised; a couple of them looked like they'd rather be watching cartoons or cockfights. Their gait was casual, their pace rather slow. They didn't run so much as lope. This all happened in the span of five seconds and ten feet. (Life's confusions usually are that short and that narrow, I'm finding.) Within that time, the ladies bundled up their boxes of fruit and raced away -- 'away', being, literally, ten, fifteen feet away. Within sight of the cops. Who didn't chase them. Who watched them run. Who smiled and laughed themselves. And me, wondering.

Seems like, somebody was going through the motions. The usual bunch of somebodies, maybe. Official, anonymous ones. They were told, I'm guessing, to go check out what was going on at the corner with the fruit-sellers, who, presumably, were not supposed to be there, had no permission to be there, and yet were there, as they've always been, every day, forever. I've seen the same thing happen with English schools run by Koreans and staffed by the locals. Somebody comes to inspect the place where nobody is supposed to be, yet the people who shouldn't be there are informed of this inspection, and so they hightail it out of there before the inspectors come to inspect. Simple. Circular. The rules are followed and then flouted in a few easy steps. You do what you're told to do.

And me, thinking I've come up with a solution. That I've figured it out. You look at the foreigners as they look at you, and you devise your own theory, and hope that it's true. If it's not, who cares? The day's first few moments have offered a new set of standards. Chips in the china of this still foreign land have been spotted and pondered, and all before lunch.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Nine dead (or was it eight, or was it ten?) including the gunman. Blown away. Shot through the heart. A bullet in the head. The details all differ, there to be tracked down and mourned over, discussed with the calm of yesterday's strange weather. I haven't done it. The specifics, I mean. I'll leave such a morbidly clinical task to the police and the families. I speak in generalities, initially, because to mention the names and the weights, the heights and the hair colour of all these poor vicitims begins a long process whose end has no end. How do you classify a person's whole being? Alive, that morning, deceased by their usual bedtime that night. Who can collect all the dreams and sweet heartbreaks that filled each of these souls as a child fills his bucket with sand at the beach? To, and I quote (from whom I'm not sure, the nameless and faceless void of our culture), 'count the human cost', is a process which, if done properly, must topple us over with its own absurd weight.

The cynic inside me throws down the newspaper and rolls his tired eyes, disgusted at the incompetence, at mismanagement, at tardiness, at laziness, at the slow-burning rage of a policeman who turns his own gun on those people he once swore to protect with his life. Dismayed at his own disgust. For here we have weariness, writ large. An oversized example of a soul -- the gunman's -- that has been battered, if not destroyed, by the life that he chose, corrupt as it became, and a soul -- this writer's -- weary of people in general, their weaknesses, their selfishness, their cruelty, their indifference, all that contains and surrounds them, and this comparison between himself and a killer can only disturb this writer even that much more further. Who wants to compare oneself to those that have lost the will to succumb to life's subtle disappointments or grand it's-not-fairs?

For modern psychology insists that we look at this mind and this act and probe them with care, to seek out the dark secrets that led to this end. Perhaps not literally, of course. This man's brain, I am certain, which once was attached to a body that fell to a sniper's swift bullet, is still in the head, in the grave, in our earth. No need to weigh it or slice it to see who he is, the true self, organic in nature, tactile in tissue. No Einstein -- not here.

What is so special about a man who kills eight other souls and their spirits? Nothing! Yes, of course, indeed, it goes without saying, as a matter of course, a bus full of Chinese from Hong Kong held hostage all day in the plaza where the nation's new president spoke mere weeks ago has a quality of pathos, albeit a tabloid one, that creates a good story, international in scope, and allows an example of provocative themes to unfold as we sit comfy on couches: the safety of SWAT teams untrained for such chaos, unfolding live on TV, while countries away these hostages own relatives watch their hurt loved ones while we munch on our snacks. A story that demanded an ending in blood. (Isn't that what prime-time TV offers on each weekday night?) Which we get -- a sniper's sure shot that takes down our mad foe, but this movie-type climax takes place only off-screen! A disappointment as precise as the one that we feel when finding the car window half-open after the first storm of spring.

Suddenly, it's over. In the rain, in the confusion, in the tilted camera angles that hint at access only partial and skewed, we're left with exhausted announcers to fill in the blanks that lead to an anti-climax that offered us death, muted and distant. The days that come soon will give us our fix: nations at war with their words and their sorrows, a movie script's denouement played out for much too much long. We've long since left the theatre behind to piss our sweet piss in the lobby's dank toilets, but the story goes on in the endless end credits that rise up from the screen and into eternity.

What are we left with? A third-world country's soft pleas for understanding and patience. Perhaps I'm not as angry as I should be. I've grown familiar with the pace and the lag between my home and this one. And something larger is at play, even greater than nations, and their frequent huge squabbles. We are, in the end, left with a man and a gun, and a bus full of people. Fill in the name of a country, and watch what would happen. To quantify how to deal with a man at the end of his rope is tantamount to predicting our own fragile ends. We work with our brains, and he works with his, 0nly he has that trigger he can so easily pull. Ba-boom. Cosmic questions of life are reduced to gunpowder. Tour bus heroics end in dark endings. To make sense of the senseless? To prevent one's mad rush to his doom?

I can't follow these roads, for I know not where they lead, nor, should I follow them, how to get back to the start of this land's constant soft sun and its light that can soothe as it burns, turning white skin to red in subtle slow shades.