Terminal Illness: Part One

 

Prologue

I have always had problems with authority. When it comes to rules, like in the story of Bre’r Rabbit and the Brair Patch, if you want me to do something, tell me to what it is and I will pathologically do something else, gaining some sort of undefinable satisfaction from refuting imperatives that may be as simple as ‘No Entry’ signs to as practical as ‘Please sit down while you are on the (insert the ride or transport of your choice).’ My point of contention is not the rule itself–this is for the good of the general public–but that it should always apply, when I feel that there is room for exceptions. This knee-jerk rebellion kicks in most especially in ‘controlled’ environments, places where authority is unquestioned and absolute. Places like embassies, restricted areas in offices and hospitals, prisons, military camps (I was detained for 6 hours in 2012 while working as a courtroom sketch artist for an Al Jezeera – English documentary. I will expound further in a future post), and airports.

Airports and I have quite the history together.

2010: Stopped at the security check of NAIA 3 for packing a Swiss Army knife in my carry-on. They told that I would have to get rid of it before I could board the Cebu Pacific flight to Samar, where I was headed for a surf. Not seeing any alternative, I gave it to the airport security officer.

At the departure gate, I thought about how I really liked that Swiss knife–it was a present from my godfather–so I ran back to the security check to ask for it back, gave it to a Cebu Pacific desk agent, saying that I would be back in Manila in a few days, and would she mind keeping it for me? She said yes, we exchanged numbers, and ran the considerable distance back to the gate where boarding was already in progress. Upon returning to Manila, I contacted the Cebu Pacific desk agent, but I think she had grown attached to the Swiss knife and I never saw it or her again.

2012: On a trip to visit my sister in Brisbane, I received this lovely letter from the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service:383013_318786388131377_204919405_n On the immigration form one is asked if they are bringing in any foodstuffs. I had some granola bars on me, and I assumed the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service meant produce, meats, fish, and so on, so I indicated ‘No.’ Apparently that was a mistake. During the security check they took me aside and sternly informed me that I had breached Australian Quarantine Law. Fortunately, I simply got a slap on the wrist instead of the fine of $AUD220 or even 10 years’ imprisonment.

2013: While traveling to Hong Kong to visit my friend Dominique, who was living and working there at the time, I was detained for around two hours. I had just landed, and at immigrations the officer took a cursory glance at my passport then beckoned me to follow him. I was led through a door, a starkly-lit hallway, then into a  holding area with other travellers, 90% of whom, as far as I could tell, were Filipinos, with some Papua New Guineans and a Taiwanese girl who was traveling as an unaccompanied minor.

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Trying to sneak a photo of a holding area in the Hong Kong airport using a handheld camera is not easy.

I figured that being a 33-year old, single Filipino male, I fit the profile of someone who might want to overstay in HK, something that Filipinos have earned a reputation for doing. In colloquial Tagalog we even have a term for this: TNT, which stands for Tago Nang Tago, translating to ‘Constantly Hiding From the Immigration Authorities.’ Maybe it was because on the immigration card I indicated ‘the Omni Hotel’ as my residence in HK, a hotel I had stayed at with my family over twenty years ago. Why I put that down can only be explained by that innate problem I have with authority.

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Hong Kong circa 1989. Since I’m not in this wonderful group photo blocking pretty much the entire HK skyline, it is reasonable to conclude that my rebellious streak was already beginning to find its voice during this time.

In broken english, they asked me questions about my profession, how much money I brought, and so on. This was not so bad, considering the other detainees were interrogated in rooms, asked to switch on their computers, and questioned more aggressively than me. When they asked me where I was staying I provided them with Dominique’s address and phone number, and they gave her a call. She had been expecting me to call her hours ago from the train station from the airport–where she would meet me–once I had arrived. She later told me she had fallen asleep waiting, and when her phone, she immediately asked “Where are you?!” upon picking up and was surprised to hear a strange voice on the other line introduce himself as someone with the Hong Kong Immigration Authority.

After two hours or so I was finally free to go. I got on the train (didn’t even buy a ticket), and was greeted by the Dom’s bemused expression as I proceeded to pay the fare at the counter to exit the train station.

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“Hm, I’m sure he’s somewhere out there…”

2015: For the holidays, I was flying to La Palma in the Canary Islands from Barcelona to visit my aunt Susan whom I hadn’t seen in over twenty-five years, and my cousin Anja.

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Baguio City, circa 1984. I’m next to Tita Susan who is on the far left, Anja is second to the right.

My flight was at 0900. I was up by 0500 and it was still dark when I walked out to catch the bus which would take me to Plaza España, where another bus would take me to the airport. Simples.

After reaching the first bus stop and waiting and walking from stop to stop for around 10 minutes, I realised that the bus wasn’t coming and that walking to Plaza España would take too long. I hailed a cab, got to the bus station in less than ten minutes, where I saw the next bus waiting. At that point I should have leapt out of the cab like in the movies, telling the driver to keep the change. That would have been the right and cool thing to do. But instead, I waited while he counted out the few cents I had coming, lost the few precious seconds, and missed the bus. But no problem, there was another bus coming. In fact, there was an express bus that went straight to the airport. It was more expensive, but after waiting for the regular bus to arrive, I decided that I’d need to to shell out the €5 to get there in half the time. But then these express buses do not make change for anything larger than €20, and I was only carrying €50’s. The driver shook his head when I asked him to give me a change, so I proceeded to ask the other passengers. No one had any change. I spent fifteen minutes running around like a fool. On the curb was a queue of taxis waiting for passengers. I went from one to the next, but at seven in the morning, no one had any change. In desperation I approached a couple of street sweepers, who looked at me like I was crazy, exclaiming (and I am paraphrasing) “Can’t you see we’re working? We could use 50 euros!” They directed me to the Metro, where I went down but there wasn’t a soul. I tried cafés in the Plaza, where the first said they didn’t have change, the second one was closed. Returned to the first cafe, asked to buy a bottle of water, figuring that they had no choice but to give me change then, but the lady insisted that she really didn’t have any at this hour. I realised that I had no chance of getting on the express bus so I decided to wait until the regular bus arrived.

Around 0745 I was headed for Terminal 1 of Barcelona airport.

But my true ordeal had yet to begin.

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Year’s End

 

If you look at your past and are not embarrassed by who you were a year ago, you probably haven’t grown.

For four years now I’ve been taking two weeks or so at the end of December to take a good look at how the year went.

Following Chris Guillebeau’s Annual Review Template, I start by asking two questions:

“What went well this year?”

“What didn’t go well this year?”

Answers to these questions, some of which I will share here, make me grateful once more, and sometimes, to see events that, at the time, didn’t seem like blessings, but which later on, turned out to be catalysts for positive change. Looking at what didn’t go so well would help me avoid making the same mistakes in the future, or perhaps adjusting my goals.

After this, I set seven to eight goals for the new year under the following categories:

1) Legacy Work – the most time-consuming, legacy work involves knowing what you want to do with your life, basically what your purpose is for being on this planet. This is the important work that I want to accomplish before my time is up, the work that I would do regardless of pay or acclaim. It is the Great Work that I want to be remembered for. Sometimes I call it The Work For Which All Other Shortcomings Will Be Forgiven.

2) Finances – my goals are divided into earning, saving, and giving. How much do I want to make each month? Each year? How much do I want to have saved or invested in stocks, properties, and other value-generating assets? And how much do I want to give to charities, foundations, and to the poor and hungry?

3) Interpersonal – this category is divided into family, friends, partners, colleagues. How do I want to improve the quality of my relationships with my parents, siblings, a significant other, children, or people I work with? Do I want to broaden my social circles, interact more with people whom I admire or respect, or to improve my social skills? Is there something in my personality or behaviour that I should change in order to become a better partner, family member, co-worker? This could involve initiating social events like trips, hosting get togethers, themed parties, and so on.

4) Health – everyone wants to be healthy, it saves you money, you feel good, and you look good, and hopefully, live to a ripe old age–or at least die of natural causes. It could be to lose or gain weight, to be able to run or swim a certain distance, join a race or competition, to overcome a chronic illness like diabetes or hypertension, or just to eat better and take care of your body more, which in the end, will pay off in dividends.

5) Luxury – how do you want to treat yourself this year? It could be travel, gadgets, clothes, cars, food, art and culture, properties, whatever suits your fancy. Now’s the time to think big.

Click to continue reading. Continue reading “Year’s End”

Learning To Live With Others

 

It’s been sixteen days so far–two weeks–and just yesterday I’ve already pissed off one of my flatmates. Twice.

Here’s how it went:

There wasn’t anything incriminating in the photos. But I understood (now more than ever before) how photographs are personal property, and are extremely private. We have since made up and things were cool between us. For a few days.

The second incident happened a few days later at the university.

Hobgoblin font by David Kherkoff (hanodedfonts.com).

On both instances I had crossed an invisible line, one that many people can see, and which I, for some reason, am at times, painfully blind to. On both instances, I had invaded Masha’s right to privacy. First, by looking through her photos, and second, by looking through her bag. She was right to be pissed off at me.

I’ve made it up to her since then (a story for another day), but the two incidents made me think about how my notions regarding privacy and boundaries are not only woefully inadequate, not to mention very different from others, but also how growing up, the right to privacy was not something that was fiercely upheld in my home. It’s no secret among my friends back home that I tend to disregard other people’s property, especially when it comes to food.

In the Spanish Apartment–as I’ve taken to calling our flat–it’s more than just ownership. It’s about trust. And it is essential if we are to survive the next nine months. There are no locks on any of the doors for one thing. Not even the bathrooms. But this doesn’t seem to concern any of my flatmates, who have clear notions about privacy. I actually made signs for the bathroom doors–but for the most part, we haven’t really needed them.

My cardboard bed came in handy
Yes, I made them in Spanish, but believe me, my Spanish sucks.

As reality TV has so gleefully proven, bringing complete strangers under one roof for an extended period of time oftentimes results in conflict. In my case, not only am I living with four other people whom I’ve never met before, they are from different cultures and backgrounds as well.

For this reason, I thought it would be good to write down some guidelines on Living With Others (Harmoniously).

Go to page 2 to continue reading.