Saturday, April 24, 2010

In Defense of Weirdos

I have been trying so hard to keep quiet about politics. While the national elections are just around the corner and the country is bracing for another circus possibly and eminently fraught with violence and cheating, I have relegated myself to an audience status. Yes, while the rest of the nation will be exercising their right to vote and decide the course of the country for the next 6 years, I am resigned to my corner in this circus - those seats reserved for the irresponsible Filipinos who failed to register for this pivotal moment in our nation's history , blaming the lack of time, the lack of money, or even the lack of plain common sense.

Yes, I have been irresponsible. Yes, I am apathetic, I am useless. I am not a registered voter of my beloved country. While I have accepted the ridicule of my fate, I could not help but share a few words about some of the things I feel strongly for. I wouldn't have spoken out if I didn't watch television or read in the ever-reliable links of my Facebook friends that one of this year's presidential aspirants have been labeled as "weird". I was just so appalled by this label that I had to speak out what I think, in defense of the type of people I love the most - the weirdos.

Is this the face of weird? When did weird ever become synonymous to "just like everybody else"?

I have nothing against weirdos. In fact, ask even my closest friends, and they will tell you that I have a peculiar fondness for weirdos. To me, eccentricity is not a fault, it is an asset. Calling anyone “weird” is, to me, one of the highest forms of compliment for an individual. Eccentricity denotes an audacity to be different, a boldness to stand apart, to think out of the box, to see things beyond convention. Being weird means one has the capacity to embrace ideals that are generally unacceptable, to dream beyond what is probable, an ability to stand apart from a crowd and adamantly insist on an identity, to tell oneself and the rest of the world, “I am not weird! You are!”

So when the newspapers and Facebook discussion groups circulated the word that presidential aspirant Noynoy Aquino is weird, and that his detractors must have had bad vibes about eccentricity in general prompting them to expose the faintness of his personality and his psyche, I was infuriated and even mortified. Oh please, Mr. Aquino is NOT weird. He is NOT crazy. He is NOT geeky. He is simply a politician, burdened by a legacy of a family name, thrust into the limelight which he can’t handle.

If Mr. Aquino had been truly weird, truly eccentric, as most people describe him to be, he would have passed a number of bills that would make the lives of the weaker and less privileged members of society better. After all, that’s what weirdness is all about, right? Weirdness is about being rebellious enough to speak out for those who have no voice. If he had been truly eccentric, he would have spoken out for the many farmers and workers out there who barely feed themselves at the end of the day because of unjust compensation despite inhuman labor and agrarian conditions. If he was weird enough, he would have gone against his family’s wishes - he would have broken those so-called laws and corporate rules so that the farmers working in Hacienda Luisita would earn more than P9.50 per day and eventually get that patch of land that they so rightly deserve. If he was crazy enough, he would have spoken up, debated and argued against, fought tooth and nail against the strong and apparently undefeatable forces of evil and corruption in the government while he had the chance. Six years in the senate, more years in the congress and even more years in local government service would have afforded him enough chance – if he was weird enough.

I am appealing to the media, or even to Mr. Aquino’s detractors. Please don’t call him “weird” or “geek” or “eccentric” or “crazy”. Oh please, let’s give the real weirdos and eccentrics of this world enough justice. The weirdos are the ones that stand out, they are the ones who speak out, they are the ones who make loud, convention-defying statements even with their silence. The crazy ones are the ones who dream the most outrageous of dreams, and who live their lives in pursuit of these dreams. As that Apple commercial once said, the crazy ones are the misfits, the rebels, the round pegs in the square holes who dream of changing the world, and who actually do!

Mr. Aquino is not weird. He is not eccentric. He may appear slow, weak and scrawny-looking, but so did Abraham Lincoln. He may have done poorly in his schools, but so did Albert Einstein. He may just be a rich, bourgeoisie kid raised by affluent parents with a silver spoon in his mouth when he was born, but so was Mahatma Gandhi. He may have been an unruly kid while he was growing up, but Nelson Mandela grew up that way too. He may be sick in the mind and psychiatrically incapable of being President of a republic, but so were several of our past presidents (Or so I declare).

You see, being eccentric doesn’t disqualify anyone from a claim to a presidency. In fact, eccentricity IS the ticket to rule a nation. “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do…”

So please, Mr. Aquino is NOT eccentric. He is NOT a geek. And most definitely, he is NOT weird. He may be battling a psychiatric illness as a lot of people claim, but nah, I just don’t think he’s crazy enough.

Otherwise, I would have been campaigning for him.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Intimations of My Mortality

After my short adventure in Sipalay, south of Negros, I proceeded to Silay - the Paris of the Visayas during the early 1900s. Home of the local barons and baronesses of the then booming sugar industry, Silay is famous for its old buildings and its well-preserved ancestral houses - affording us a glimpse of affluence and the sweet life of the town's landed gentry during that time.

The city was somewhat typical. It was laid out the way most of the small towns in the Visayas were: town plaza in the middle, with the municipal hall, Catholic church, hospital, cafeterias flanking its sides. The streets were narrow and one can walk around all the main streets of the city in an hour. What was most remarkable however was the unmistakable feel of antiquity hovering over the place - the stores, banks, restaurants were all situated in what appeared to be century-old establishments, with the ornate 1930s style awnings still undamaged, capiz-shell windows still intact, and the thick elaborate pillars still sturdy. some of the faded hand-painted signs were still visible, occasionally carelessly posted over by modern tarpaulins and computer-generated signages.

I visited two of the ancestral houses that were open to the public: the Bernardo Jalandoni Museum, also affectionately called the Pink House (although I didn't see pink at all), and the grand and imposing Gaston Ancestral House, also known as Balay Negrense.

The Pink House was just on the main street, near the public market, where the smoke from vehicles can readily corrode into its ancient wooden walls and fixtures. Nevertheless, the Spanish-style residence still retained its old charm. The receiving area, with the relics of the aristocratic horse-drawn carriage imported from America, parked side-by-side with the local carabao-drawn wooden cart, still emanated class and a stately charm. The second floor displayed a dining room, complete with antique hand-painted china, an original pre-Hitler Steinway piano with complete ivory keys, an authentic early-edition Singer sewing machine, an old phonograph and a wall telephone, and other priceless antiques that should have been more carefully stored and immortalized. The presence of a local museum guide who was able to expertly answer relevant questions made the museum tour more interesting and educational.

A restored ancestral home in the middle of Silay City, now a modern bank, but still retaining its old world charm.

One of the antique dolls in Balay Negrense. This one reminds me of Chuckie. If I'm not mistaken, that is blood on his face. Perhaps it was native revolutionary blood.

A seraphim on the wall, silently watching, perhaps for the past 100 years.

One of the rooms in Balay Negrense, perhaps the sanctuary of a sick master, with his old wheelchair by the window.

Silay City at dawn. Despite the rapid and overwhelming changes brought about by technology and industrialization, it brings me great comfort to know that some things remain just the way they were.

Balay Negrense, on the other hand, was located on the city's side streets, a few minutes walk from the town plaza. It was in the middle of a walled-off lot, with an old fountain in the center of the driveway, conveying aristocracy and high-class living. The huge parlor was flanked by three airy rooms on each side, with a grand piano on the left corner, and several black-and-white portraits of the old owners on the walls, giving the house a somewhat eerie atmosphere. The original wooden floors made of hardwood from Mindoro were still shiny and very well-preserved. Even the tiled bathrooms with the ancient lavatories and toilet bowls were still intact, though this was already cordoned off from the few tourists like me who have a peculiar interest for the toilet habits of the old rich.

The second floor displayed the bedrooms of those times. There were several four-poster beds with knitted bed covers and drapes made of Chinese nylon and lace. There were also a number of porcelain dolls, reminiscent of Michael Jackson's Neverland. If there was any perversion involved with these dolls, well, I could only wonder.

Old churches, old houses, and old towns always make me pensive. Sometimes I just touch their walls and I imagine the old years, an era I never saw, a history I could only read about with wonder. What was life like during their time? How much of my life now would change if not for them? What would it be like in the next 100 years? Would I even be remembered? Does that even matter?

William Wordsworth was right when he said that "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." It would be wonderful to live your life the best way you can, live a life of anonymous greatness and leave the world just a tad better than when you were in it.

To live and die nobly but anonymously - that is my dream. But it would have been nice if somebody else will celebrate my life and mourn my passing. And yeah, perhaps it would be really sweet too if somebody will have even the faintest memory of who I was, what I did, and how I lived.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chasing Sunsets in Negros

After a prolonged hiatus brought about by the exigencies of my profession, I finally unearthed my backpack and my Lonely Planet book last weekend, and set off for an expedition to Negros Occidental. I arrived in Bacolod City early evening of Thursday, when the entire city was engulfed in darkness due to the scheduled black-outs because of El Nino. Because I was on an extremely limited budget, I settled for the most dimly-lit and shabby, but apparently safe pension house I could find. Despite my unfortunate decrepitude, I survived my misadventure in what appeared to be a lovenest for the city's rogues and rascals - a local version of Victoria Court of Hotel Anito.

Always a dim-wit for directions despite my map and a pre-travel internet-based research about the city, I ended up wasting my first evening in the City of Smiles wandering its streets, walking around its plaza, until I was too tired and too hungry to even find myself a uniquely Negrense restaurant. I ended up having dinner in Jollibee.

I hurriedly left the city the following morning. By 4AM, I was already on a bus to Sipalay City, a beach-side town way down south of Negros. It is famous for Sugar Beach, a well-hidden, remote community, 4 hours away from Bacolod. Partly because of my destitution and partly because of my exploratory nature, I disembarked at the village of Montilla, took a tricycle to Lauhang, and paid a child to paddle me across a small estuary to get to Sugar Beach. There was a row of foreigner-owned resorts in the area. I had expected to find the place rather uninhabited. However, a number of foreigners have gone ahead of me. Accommodation was hard to come by, though I was fortunate enough to be able to scrounge around for one I was able to afford.

The beach was not spectacular. There was cream-colored sand admixed with some grayish soil, but it had the consistency of sugar. No wonder they call it Sugar Beach. The water was perfect for swimming. The waves were gentle and the ocean bottom was smooth. I am not much of an ocean-person, and I travel more for the feel of the place, much less for the sights. So after 10 minutes of dipping in the waters and after walking along the entire length of the beach, I settled on a hammock, immersed myself in Hemingway's Farewell to Arms until I fell asleep.

I woke up to a glorious sight. The sky was on fire and the sun seemed to be floating on a see of amber. The sand that used to be plain and ordinary reflected shades of gold and silver. Indeed, no beach is ever the same. Each one has a certain brand of beauty, some sort of a mystery hidden under the sand or beneath the waters, that is nothing less than enchanting.

One of my teachers once said that "The secret to the beauty of a sunset is its brevity." As I tried to savor every moment as the sun descended to its rest over Sugar Beach, I remember some things in my life that seem to be so much like the sun - fleeting and transient as they slowly disappear, only to come back again, so predictably, in pure astounding glory.