Weekly Ketchup 26 - Unforeseen Health and Money Woes

So, I'm midway through this blog thing and I'd like to congratulate myself for actually sticking with it. Yahoo!

Earlier this week, a long-absent face returned to my life. Our household help, who left early last year, is suddenly back. The thing is the only ones in the family who really need - nay, want - her services are my mom and my sister. I've been doing my own dishes, laundry, and other chores, including taking care of the dog, like a perfectly good housemate and has absolutely no need for help. But I'm expected to pay part of her salary anyway, essentially paying for services that I don't need, which I resent because of the whole saving money and prepping for the big trip thing.

This new development couldn't have come at a worst time seeing as I had just spent a bit of money on an emergency dental surgery and I expect to fork over a bit more to install synthetic teeth where the old one used to be (as per my dentist's advice anyway).

I need to have this procedure done
So imagine all these things are happening and then come last Wednesday, boom! I suddenly have these inexplicable rashes in my arms and legs. Mom wanted me to go to the hospital right away but I decided to see if they will go away the next day. I just can't afford another emergency!

Thankfully, the rashes - whatever they were - weren't accompanied by anything else like fever, itchiness, etc. They eventually fizzled out though there are still some redness as of this writing. My theory is that I somehow developed an allergy to something - I just couldn't fathom what it was.

I've lost teeth and an appendix.
Please don't take seafood away from me too!
Strange thing, though, was that ever since the surgery and the removal of the years-old gum infection, I've actually been feeling a lot better. Newsflash: For a while now, I've been feeling heavy and bloated, sometimes constipated. My feet have been feeling like they've been running marathons even if I hadn't gone anywhere. I would even wake up exhausted. Me being me, I chalked all this up to signs of aging.

Yet weeks after the surgery, I actually feel back to my old self again! I can only assume that fighting the infection actually took a lot more from my body than I realized. Either that or it's the steady diet of mango sherbet, which was all I had to eat for days after the surgery since I could't eat real food.

If this is the secret to good life, sign me up for immortality!
(Photo credit)
I realize, of course, that I do need to get my body checked eventually and sort all these changes out. The last time I did that was in 2012 and the only thing my doctor found was an inflamed thyroid, which is thankfully okay now.

All these recent developments gave me a lot to think about this past week. Going back to previous blogs, the idea of staying at a lower paying job that affords me the time to pursue my true passions is obviously a romantic but impractical choice. What I also perceive as ambition in other people may actually just be a general sense of survival.

As it stands now, I'm not exactly broke. I may have priorities and looming expenses ahead but I'm not desperate. At least, not yet. Or maybe I should be? The thing is I've been in dire straits before and I pulled myself out. This is no different, at least I'd like to think so!

I'm thankful for the constant stream of extra income and now with the extra help around the house, I actually have less chores and more time to pursue additional side-jobs, so I guess that works itself out. That reminds me: I must set-up my raket.ph and Odesk profiles right away!

Moving forward, I'll have to cut down on my hobbies more. My geek friend Karen is currently in the US in time for SDCC and I always buy something that she can carry home but I suppose that's not gonna happen this year. I guess I'll have to miss out on Rak of Aegis again, which is okay since I wasn't really looking forward to it anyway. Hopefully, things work out by the time The Last Five Years rolls along. Fingers crossed.

Hello, life. Nice to finally meet you.


Weekly Ketchup 25 - Discipline, Game of Thrones, and DISNEY!

I really don't like it when my blog is delayed. It's a small thing really. It's not like there is a cult out there hanging on my every word or that the secret to world peace and eternal youth can be found in these pages.

However, I do like the discipline of maintaining a regular schedule. And the lack of discipline on my part is actually the reason why this week's entry was behind schedule, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Before anything else, here are a few things I enjoyed last week.

Obviously, the Game of Thrones season 4 finale was a big deal. As someone who's read the books, I really appreciate how the show is faithful to the material but also finds ways to keep me on my toes. That scene between Brienne and the Hound, for example, had me going like "what the hell is happening here?"

At the same, books being a totally different medium from TV, I can also understand why certain plots from the book would have to be moved forward or backward in the show's timeline. What happened to Theon last season and to Bran at this finale were all news to me but were apparently covered in A Dance with Dragons, which I should probably get to reading before season 5 begins. Similarly, the Lady Stoneheart storyline, as much as I desperately wanted to get a glimpse of her, can wait until next season. That Night's King though.

All in all, I thought the these past two seasons of the show were pretty exhausting. I had to remind myself that both seasons happened in a span of just one book! Looking forward to the next season, I can't wait for my friends to meet the awesome Greyjoys, Euron and Victarion, and Arianne Martell (Oberyn isn't the only awesome Dornish noble)!

From one sandy locale to another, I also scored a copy of the original Broadway cast recording of Aladdin some time last week and I've been obsessed with it ever since! At first listen, I didn't like the show's arrangement of "A Whole New World" but it eventually grew on me and I loved it!

I got to see the local production some time back, which surprisingly enough actually preceded the Broadway run, but now I think I want to see the show again!

Finding the soundtrack was actually supposed to be part of my crusade to find a music alternative to Amazon or iTunes and Steam, same way I did with Kobo and Gog. I thought 7Digital would be a great alternative but no dice. Regional restrictions be damned. I still found the album one way or another. (*wink*)

I had even more Disney fun over the past weekend. I had volunteered to be a handler for the 501st Legion for last Saturday's ToyCon opening and, while I'm beginning to outgrow conventions (though I still have my sights on SDCC), seeing some friends and other cosplayers dress up as Disney characters just really made me giddy happy. It's like that feeling I had during the Flights of Fantasy Parade at Hong Kong Disneyland a couple of years ago!

The following day, my geek friend Jay-R's baby girl, Bea, had a Frozen-themed first birthday party. Of course, the decorative reindeer headband reminded me of something else.

I obviously had a fun weekend but now on to this matter of discipline. I knew that I was going to Toycon and this birthday party at least a month ago and was committed to both of them. I also knew that I was likely gonna be writing the past weekend, which was why I couldn't fully commit to another invitation for last Saturday, ie, geek friend's DIY pizza party.

Remember the article I had a hard time writing in the previous blog? As expected, me and my editor decided to do an entirely new topic and so I was supposed to spend the period between the ToyCon and Bea's party working on it. But then I felt so bad that many of our friends couldn't make it, so I ended up going anyway.

I had fun but I couldn't make a good pizza to save my life. I did, however, play as a Cylon in Alec's Battlestar Galactica board game and lasted the entire game without getting revealed.

I guess I could've been more firm about needing to work but the thing is I've been working on the article after my day job hours since Thursday and only finished it early morning Tuesday, which I was surprised to discover was a holiday (thankfully)! Essentially, I could've been finished or had gone a long way by the time of the party. It's ridiculous the time I time I took and the amount of distractions I allowed to creep up on me while working on this article. Hence, this blog's delay. And I hate it. I'm not usually this cluttered when writing.

Thankfully, my editor still gave me a new assignment after the long delay of that piece. I obviously need to work on keeping my focus in spite of all the things that keep me happy and excited. Oh, look! A bunny!


Weekly Ketchup 24 - Manila, Toothless, and New Games

Sometime last week, I was given a Planet Philippines assignment to write the top ten things that Filipinos abroad miss about Manila. I thought it would be a fun and easy lifestyle article to write, so I took the job.

As expected, that didn't turn out to be the case.
I had a hard time coming up with a list that would make Manila shine compared to other cities in the world, other cities in the Philippines, and even the provinces. Everything I suggested, like authentic Filipino food, culture, etc. can be experienced, sometimes even better so, in the provinces. Even jeepneys, that ubiquitous symbol of life in the Philippines, are better experienced elsewhere. Night life, campus life, shopping malls, even bargain-huntings - all items on my list - can be found everywhere in the country!

The thing is I had written similar articles that might make Pinoys abroad miss the country and, in most of them, I mainly advocated or championed the provinces, which, in my opinion, is really where the action is. I've even, on more than one occasion, advised foreigners I've come across to skip the city entirely. Seriously, this city is an overpopulated and extremely populated mess. What's there to love? Why would anyone ever wanna come back?
Image source: amadeusphotography.com
Unless you have business or people here.
Those are the only logical explanations I can think of. For the purposes of the article, the first reason would be irrelevant - but the second is possibly the only compelling reason. Even that argument isn't solid considering that there is a significant number of Filipinos based in the provinces who have also gone abroad. How do I market this city to them?

I turned in my draft and expressed my concerns with my editor. The article is due for a rewrite, so I have to be creative again. Thankfully, I have a background in the industry of making mediocre products flourish. I'd probably describe Manila as the one place where you can experience the Philippines in one go! That's a stretch even then but wish me luck.

Manila skyline from Wikipedia
I must've been stressed out about this piece so much that on the day I submitted my draft, one of my teeth hurt and had to be pulled out. Granted, I accidentally bit onto it early in the morning. Also granted the gums around that tooth have been swollen for some time now, which was the reason I went to the dentist late last year to begin with but ended up having an impacted wisdom tooth removed instead. Basically, I just had a couple of teeth removed within a span of less than a year.

Because of this ordeal, I had to miss my college friend Pat's birthday that evening - and you know how I feel about missing birthdays!

Between losing people and losing teeth, this whole growing old thing really sucks - but I chose to be zen about it. Again, I had to remind myself that I'm still lucky. Who knows - I might even live to see all my teeth fall off. And I just disgusted myself. Moving on.

Coincidentally, losing a tooth signifies death in dream interpretation.
Anyway, submitting the draft and losing a tooth happened on Wednesday - the same day that How To Train Your Dragon 2 came out. It's quite a funny coincidence because, you know, I'm toothless... and the movie has a dragon named Toothless (for anyone who may not get the reference).

The first movie was one of the best films I've seen when it came out. I certainly felt like Dreamworks finally had a worthy challenger to Disney's classics in terms of capturing people's imaginations for years to come (sorry, I just don't think Shrek, Madagascar, Ice Age, Kung Fu Panda and their sequels hold a candle to The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast or any of Pixar's offerings). So this sequel was a big deal for me.

Unfortunately, as sequels go, great expectations are rarely met, so I approached the new film with a bit of caution - but I knew I had to see it.

As it turned out, HTTYD 2 joins The Empire Strikes Back, Spider-man 2, X-men 2, Attack of the Clones, The Dark Knight, and, more recently, The Winter Soldier as one of those movies that surpassed the potentials of its predecessor (no, Two Towers and Desolation of Smaug do not count - their saga is one movie as far as I'm concerned). It retained the humor, energy, and heart of the first film but I felt that this film was much bigger and more ambitious. The animation was just as mind-blowing as the first one, if not more so. I'm glad I saw both films in 3D.

Of course, what really made HTTYD2 really great were the dragons.

I totally just added that line so I can segue into my last item for the week. I'm bound to experience more dragons because I got a bunch of new games from GOG.com, which were mostly strategy games with high fantasy, sword-and-sorcery themes, which means dragons. The site is currently on a massive sale and so I took the opportunity to pick up some titles that I've been curious about for awhile, though some selections were, admittedly, more impulsive.

Of course, I can only buy so much and had to put a cap eventually. While I did just get paid for a writing racket months ago, I also just had dental surgery (tragically, on the same day I collected payment). I also still have a bunch of games from my previous raid, which I actually just started playing last Thursday during the Independence Day break: Age of Wonders 2, Warlords Battlecry 2, and Heroes Chronicles.

My recent haul. pid was from a previous purchase.
Maybe not coincidentally, this was also E3 week, so I was all about games!

I'll give my thoughts on those games some other time as this blog is getting kinda long. So cheers to the next week. Here's hoping I won't lose anymore teeth in the near future!


Weekly Ketchup 23 - Age of Farewells

My week started out rather sadly. I found out, through the power of social media, that another person I knew from college passed away. Red wasn't my classmate - he was an upper classman, in fact - but we belonged to the same organization: The Students' Democratic Party.  As such, we both figured into some common experiences, including organizing events and running election campaigns (we take politics and governance very seriously in our little college). We weren't particularly close (then again, I wasn't close with a lot of people in college) but in recent years, his was one of the presences I still felt among members of our organization. Again, thanks in no small part to social media, Facebook in particular.

Freshman year with the SDP peeps. Red is the guy in front of me.
Red didn't post anything much. I don't even know what he's been up to lately, if he ever got to law school, or what his job was. But every now and then, he would reply to one of my posts and we'd engage in a virtual conversation. In that way, he was still present to me, even if I hadn't seen him in forever, than many of our partymates. So to find out that he was just suddenly gone really took me by surprise. I didn't expect to be so affected but I was - possibly even more than I was with my classmate Kate who had been absent - actually and virtually - for years.

I visited Red's wake last Tuesday of my own initiative because I had neither the time nor the patience to coordinate and synchronize schedules with someone else, though a part of me hoped to see our partymates there as it would be a good time to catch up. As it turned out, they visited the night before and so I spent the entire hour that I was there by my lonesome. I did get to meet his sister though, which made for one of the most embarrassing and awkward moments of my life. Upon introducing myself, she told me that Red did talk about me, to which I said "Really? What did he say?" I didn't even realize until much later that I didn't get her name or gave my condolences. I'm just really awkward at funerals!

Anyway, Red was just 30 years old when he passed, and so was Kate. That fact reminded me of my own misgivings about turning 30 a few years ago and my latest ramblings about aging. I realized then that there are already so many people I knew in my youth who will never even get the chance to grow old, to say sorry to people that they feel they have wronged, to make up for lost time, to build or rebuild new friendships, to discover new experiences, to dream new dreams and see each one come true - all opportunities that are still available to me and, hopefully, I don't take them for granted.

I remember that when I was in grade school, I wondered what it must be like for my grandmother who I was sure then had already lost so many of her elementary classmates. Flash forward to the Fandom Cafe days and, although I don't recall the exact nature and context of the conversation, I remember that Sandor once said that the age of 30 is when you'd start counting who among your friends have passed  on. Well, here I am - 32 and already four people short of the total number of people I encountered and shared meaningful experiences with in college (aside from Red and Kate, I lost a batchmate and another partymate in the past couple of years). That's not even counting the people I met after college graduation. I arrived on the geek scene pretty late but I was still fortunate enough to meet Ricky and Vic. In recent months, a couple of people I met briefly who were really close to my friends have also passed on. The biggest tragedy, of course, is that they still had their lives ahead of them, that they went before their time. At least, we'd like to think so - but we don't have control of these things, do we?

This is why I hold that birthdays are really important. I used to feel insecure about turning a year older but then, sometime in my mid-20s, I came to the realization that celebrating birthdays really isn't about me but rather it's for the people around me who are are just glad that I'm still around - that I lasted one more year. Sometimes I do forget that but I hope to do better at remembering.

(On a related note: This is why I don't understand why some people opt to hide their birthdays on Facebook. On one hand, I can also make the effort to remember my friends' birthdays without getting reminded by social media. More thoughtful that way.)

Speaking of birthdays, I made it a point to celebrate my good friend Mika's 26th at Agave last Wednesday - despite my aversion to going to BGC on a weeknight. The MRT was down but Jovan, Alec, and I still got there thanks to some last minute rescue from Jon and the BatJon (as Deniece christened his new ride, much to his chagrin). Meanwhile, the traffic was so bad that Mika herself was late to her own party, but the waiting did give me time to catch up with fellow fantasy bookworm Sabby who I also haven't seen in ages!

The next day, I met up with some college friends for dinner at Caffe Dolce. One of our own, Fiona, is leaving with her daughter to be with her husband in China (they left yesterday actually). Sadly, only Pat, Dayang, and myself were available but it's okay - we had fun anyway. We had some really lively conversations about bed times (glad to know I'm not the only one in bed by 10pm), things to do in China (underground cable TV, anyone?), and even got to play some iPad games - mainly because Fiona's daughter was forcing us to. Anyway, I wish her well and best of luck in her new life.

I don't have a nice photo from last Thursday so here's one from 30th birthday.
Sidenote: Another highlight of that evening for me was finally figuring out where the Del Monte/Banawe area is in the grand scheme of things (seriously, I have the hardest time picturing where that area lies)! Yay me!

This is getting a little too long for a reflection and recap post. I wish you all a great week ahead. I just hope that I don't have to say goodbye to any more people for the rest of the year.


Weekly Ketchup 22 - Conventions and Identity Issues

Before anything else, I want to congratulate my friends Adrian and Macy and their partners at Cosplay.ph for successfully mounting NexCon Manila, which is a celebration of everything geek - from toys and games to cosplay and comics.

I don't know if it's fair to consider the event either as a spiritual successor to the New Worlds Convention or as an amalgamation of other niche conventions like Komikon, ToyCon, or CosplayMania, but I did feel like the team built upon what has come before to deliver an experience that is both unique and familiar. And while I did question whether we need another convention when I first learned about it (honestly, I only ever wanted to attend to support my friends), I realize now that yes, it is necessary - because NexCon will do to the new fandoms (like the Thronies and the Whovians) what the New Worlds Con did for the old ones: Proclaim to the world that they exist and set up a point for their fellow geeks to rally upon.

On a more sentimental note, I realized earlier today that, for the most part, I'm probably at the happiest and most content point in my life and I'd like to think that it all began with my very first New Worlds Con nine years ago. I can only imagine that there are kids out there whose life would be changed upon attending their first NexCon. They suddenly have people to talk to about similar interests, access to materials that they otherwise wouldn't have, new experiences to participate in, and most importantly: life-long friendships.

One of my favorite experiences from attending yesterday's event was actually seeing these Whovians, some of whom are strangers to each other, just gravitating towards one another and casually striking up conversations. It's an amazing thing to witness and, for some reason, I get emphatic whenever they get excited about something (obviously I'm not a Whovian). But I realized that this is really not the first time that this has happened to me. The thing is I hardly attend conventions anymore because I feel like there's nothing new for me to experience; but in those instances when I do, especially if I was called in to handle the troopers of the 501st Legion, it's not so much the event that I draw euphoria from but the collective experience of the people discovering that a thriving geek culture exists!

Anyway, I'm glad I turned down Adrian's invitation to volunteer for the event, otherwise I wouldn't have fully experienced NexCon the way it was meant to be. I got to play a board game, hung out with troopers (yes, I'm not a member of the 501st delegation this time), enjoyed the toy displays, took photos of cosplayers/costumers, participated in a film panel, and, of course, competed in Geek Fight's fifth anniversary game! I hope the turn out met my friends' expectations, so much that they'd consider mounting another one next year!

Earlier this week, as part of X-men nostalgia, I was reading up on some characters. One link led to another and I found myself reading about gender identity. It's a fascinating subject that brought to my attention the myriad of ways that people identify themselves. The thing is I was just blogging last week about my distaste for labels and expectations. However, it dawned on me as I was reading up on the subject that by putting labels on their behaviors, people can identify with something that they can belong in. And that's the magic word: belonging. When scholars have a word to describe how you feel or think, then you realize that maybe you're not a freak after all because your existence or experience is being acknowledged, which can be very empowering but also divisive.

Me being me, I got to thinking about my own experience. As I mentioned last week, identity - gender and otherwise - has always been the big issue for me growing up. However, in the past few years, being able to revel freely in geekdom, doing away with expectations associated with labels, and burning bridges with organized religion certainly helped clear my head of clutter and confusion (ie, I know I'm a man but what that entails will not be dictated to me by society).

As much as I'd like to think I've worked out the kinks in my personality and mentality, I can't help but feel like there are some lingering issues that I still need to personally address. And it hit me that, even until now, I never felt like I really belonged in this country and I don't identify with its people and its culture. If my life was a TV series, this would be like that storyline that people thought already ran its course back in season two but was somehow revived in season six. It's like the Phoenix. It just keeps coming back.

I hated this deus ex machina part of X-men: No More Humans
The truth is - and I haven't told anyone this -  I've been having doubts about leaving these past few weeks, despite my inner rationalization that I have to in order to grow, which is still true for the most part. Maybe I'm beginning to realize that it's a bad idea and I'm just looking for reasons to convince myself otherwise, but I think going back to the place that I feel more connected to and reclaiming the life that was constantly denied me would finally put this particular matter of belonging and identity to rest. Whatever happens, at least I can finally let go of one last hang-up from my youth and move on with the rest of my adult life with no regrets.

I don't know if there's a term for this identity issue but if there is, I hope someone would let me know - just so I don't think I'm a freak. Or pretentious.