Weekly Ketchup 39 - Three Things

First thing: Late last week, there was a typhoon. Been there, done that.
Along with the rising flood waters came the sudden swelling of my lower lip. I suspect it was either the pin prick of a sore I noticed a couple of nights before (either I bit on it or an insect did) or the unsanitary way I shaved that part of my face just the day before (yeah, it's a thing). Either way, it was itchy, heavy, and painful and, once again, another medical emergency that I couldn't afford to have at the moment.
Both unfortunate circumstances threw a wrench at last weekend plans, which should've included Play Like A Pirate Day, the Manila International Book Fair, and game night with a bunch of geek friends. I did see a doctor when the sky cleared up and was prescribed an antibiotic. Thankfully, no surgery or needles were required.
While I spent the entire weekend feeling feverish (maybe my body's reaction to the rather strong medication), the rest of the work week was just me going through my normal daily routine, except with a comically large lower lip (and a bit of puss). Thankfully, the damn thing has healed now and life is back to normal.

I was glad that I didn't have to see people; then I snapped this selfie.
Second thing: I received an unexpected but very welcome call last Monday from someone I haven't heard from in a couple of years. The nature of our conversation has immediate ramifications for my plans to leave. It may derail them, in fact. On one hand, I don't want months of planning to unravel. On the other, the opportunity offered to me happens only once in a lifetime. Sorry if I'm being vague but I've been sworn to secrecy but I'm sharing a bit of it here because I kinda wanna track the progression of this story as well, Hopefully, I get to dedicate an entry to this situation in the coming weeks.
Right now, I'm trying to focus on the solution aka to have my cake and eat it too. It's a dilemma, to be sure, but I find that focusing on the problem is just gonna weigh me down (like that time). But this new development is gonna involve plenty of sacrifices on my part but, hopefully, it forces me to grow and evolve. So challenge accepted (I guess?)

Lastly, this past week is memorable for the number of pitchforks slung. I agree that rape is not funny and leashing a performer is distasteful (notice I did not say "female"). However, the number of opinions and discussions surrounding both incidents are already staggering plus I already spent last week on an overarching ramble about another societal issue so I'm not gonna get into them here. I will just point out three things:
a) The irony of timing as both issues went viral at the same time that Emma Watson's speech at the United Nations did.
b) Watson, of course, emphasized the responsibility of males to take up the feminist cause as well. The thing is: As someone whose earliest memories happened during the time of a female president; whose parental figures were my grandmother, my mom, and my aunt; whose earliest comic heroes were the X-men and their powerful female characters; and who has worked with more female bosses, the idea that women are inferior in any way have always been alien to me. While that may not mean much coming from a guy with a queer identity, I look at my closest male friends who've had a traditional hetero-normative upbringing and I think we see women the same way. Must be a geek thing.
c) I do wonder: If rape did not exist or if it wasn't a prevalent crime, would joking about it be simply cathartic? After all, Greek dramas were all sprung from exploring aspects of the human experience that were not realized at the time. Similarly, if male patriarchy or slavery were figments of our imagination, would the image of a man holding a woman on a leash just mean to satisfy our curiosity? And to tie this matter off with last week's conundrums: If it had been a black woman holding a Filipino man (two cultures with no common histories) on a leash, can it just be art?

Obviously, I didn't really see a female being ensnared by the patriarchy. I just saw another human being and it is disturbing (but was it also cathartic?), especially since the concept did not call for it. Writing this just now made me realize I wasn't as offended by the imagery as my friends were.

Just like racial and cultural issues, matters about sex, gender, and representation are important to me not just as a person but also as a would-be creator. Unfortunately, our lot in life is that we're born either one or the other, so the "write what you know" principle is harder to follow when you're talking about the opposite sex or people of other cultures so it helps to collaborate as well as to keep the dialog open.
In the age of social media, however, there is the added challenge of sifting through wanton activism and knee-jerk reactions to get to little nuggets of enlightened opinions. Thankfully, there is an abundance of smart people in my life to mine them from.


Weekly Ketchup 38 - Racial Ramblings

As soon as I finished last week's catch-up, I immediately had an idea what this week's blog was gonna be about since the thought weighed heavily on my head days after posting it.

When I made the jump from talking about 300: Rise of an Empire to the Islamic State, I did not mean to imply that modern-day Persians (aka the Turks and the Iranians) are in anyway related to the terrorist group. I actually had to research about the difference between Persian and Arabian people because for the longest time, and I'm sure I'm not the only one guilty of this, I thought they were one and the same mainly because of geography and religion. I guess it's the same how some people can't differentiate between Koreans and Chinese (or even Japanese) and assume that the cultures are interchangeable. This doesn't necessarily mean that lumping unrelated peoples together is racist but I do understand how the ignorance can be offensive, regardless of the intent.

Though I wonder why everyone else but white people seem quick to cry "racist stereotyping". Since I talked about my love of the fantasy genre last week, allow me to make examples of elves (a Norse creature) and satyrs (a Greek creature) or, more similarly, fairies and nymphs being lumped together in games and books. Why is noone crying foul over the homogenization of European culture?

I also wonder: People were up in arms when Ziyi Zhang, a Chinese woman, was cast as the lead in Memoirs of a Geisha but I don't remember a single protest raised against the "Indianization" of the Fire Nation, which had a more Japanese inspiration in the cartoons, in "The Last Airbender". The latter, of course, had bigger problems when it was accused of white-washing peoples that had distinctively Inuit and Chinese origins.

Of course, the difference between "Geisha" and "Last Airbender" was that the former was explicitly set in Japan - a real location - whereas the former was set in a fictional world, so I can maybe give the producers a little leeway when it comes to reinterpreting the source material for the big screen to appeal to a wider domestic audience (same thing that happened with the Dragonball movie).

I admit I'm also given to a bit of bias. I really don't mind if a traditionally white character gets made over into a totally different race in a reinterpreted adaptation. Michael Clark Duncan as the Kingpin? Sold! Fan Bing Bing as Blink? Loved it! Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch? Well, let's see how this goes but I'm open. There really isn't much room to wiggle here since these are characters that have been canonically illustrated as white people with a back history set in an idealized "real" world that specifically establishes such but I'm still all for it! But hell will be raised if War Machine or the Falcon were depicted as white.

That being said, I do wonder if a reinterpretation of "The Lord of the Rings" or "A Song of Ice and Fire" set in a more Asian-inspired fictional world, going directly against the authors' visions, would work? I wonder if I would be open to the idea. Right now, I'm a little curious about it as that sounds like an awesome production, travesty to the source material aside.

Admittedly, the modes of pop culture I consume - fantasy novels, comics, cartoons, even the CGI-laden summer blockbusters, and games (possibly) are all constructs of white people's imaginations, so it makes sense that some of the early works, even some of the current ones, in those genre were about them. I guess noone's crying foul about the homogenization of European cultures because the perpetrators are themselves white. We, as non-white consumers, cannot feign ignorance either because our education system has been Euro-centric from the get-go, which is why it's easier for us to accept the Greeks as heroes and the Persians as villains. Heck, I knew more about Greek mythology from high school than I ever did about Filipino lores. And no, it can't be that empire-building just leaves a bad taste in our mouth because the Romans and Alexander had empires and are venerated for it.

Why all this matters to me has to do with what I intend to leave in this world as my life's work: A fantasy epic that has gods, monsters, magic, heroes, and all sorts of creatures. One of the original ideas for the story was a desert-dwelling, moon-worshipping tribe of villainous ogres, which was immediately dropped after 9/11. I also wanted to present a human race that was far more diverse than what JRR Tolkien had in his legendarium, so I had main characters that resembled and were based on American Indians, Chinese, and Persian peoples. Meanwhile, the human halves of my humanoid creatures (aka harpies and minotaurs) are black. And yet my main character was a white boy. Even the gods I imagined then were Greek-inspired so they were naturally white.

As time wore on and my knowledge of the real world increased and deepened, the fictional world I have in my head also evolved, albeit somewhat conflictingly. The gods are no longer white humans but magical creatures instead. I have now added more humans into the world, including those based on the East Indians and the Africans. All of them inhabiting the same world as elves, fairies, djinns, dragons, and vampires! I feel like in the effort to not be racially biased, I have created this rather colorful but convoluted world and lost track of the story!

Another question that have plagued me in recent years was whether to write my Filipino ancestry into the story. After all, Tolkien drew much inspiration from his Irish ancestry for his Hobbits. I tried to rewrite the story in this vein when I joined NaNoWriMo a few years ago but I ended up with a totally different story than I originally intended! This got me thinking: Regardless of whether I find a large enough audience, should I bear the responsibility of bringing my world into this genre that I love and aspire to participate in?

On a related story: This past week, some of my friends from UP have been accusing the NU Pep Squad (and other squads) of "cultural misappropriation" in their choice of themes following last week's cheerdancing competition for which the UP Pep Squad, despite their strong advocacy theme, placed second. While I don't doubt my friends' objectivity about the matter, it can't be helped to taste bitterness in their objections. The same can be said about me expressing this observation coming from the school that placed third.

Now all was on my mind a few days ago when I thought: Maybe the only way my work would not come of as Euro-centric, racist, ignorant, culturally misappropriated and not worry about representing my ethnicity was to instead create a whole new race of humans that are far removed what exists now - like people gray skins with blue hair. I can take what little tidbits about real cultures however it would serve the story. How cool would that be to have samurai-like warriors headquartered in a pyramid, for example?

Of course, I'm rambling about a piece of work that doesn't exist yet but as my life's work, I need to really think hard about these things and educate myself.

Anyway, I'm currently feverish, fighting off a lip infection, so I apologize if this week's edition isn't studded with links and images. I'll update when I feel better, hopefully this coming week.


Weekly Ketchup 37 - Flight of Fantasy

Geekdom is a vast realm of varied interests and I have long cast my lot with fantasy and mythology. Last week alone, I found myself gorging on as much magic and fantasy as I can handle - and somehow found some connections between my hobbies, current events, and existentialist questions.

First things first: I finished the entire second book of Avatar: The Legend of Korra and, while not awful, it just didn't quite capture my imagination as much as Legend of Aang did. Its world of automobiles, "movers", mechas, etc. were just alien to me. In fact, the only episodes I fully enjoyed were the saga of Wan (spin-off please?). I would've appreciated the world better if bending somehow explained the new technologies. That being said, I'm sure still gonna follow book three.

Wan/Raava vs. Vaatu
On the gaming front, I'm still on Warlords Battlecry 2 and Age of Wonders 2 (yeah, it takes a while). I've been playing WB2 on a daily basis since Geekstractions and I've now conquered three quarters of the world (with a sad win-loss record of 1:2). Meanwhile, I've been spending my free Saturdays on AoW2, playing a couple of really long levels at a time, and is now one level away from finishing the game! Yay me!

Book-wise, I started Daniel Arenson's Firefly Island. I didn't remember the premise of the book and why I bought it so I went into blindly, not certain if I liked it a couple of chapters in. But the more I unraveled Arenson's world, I became so much more invested that I plowed through about eight chapters last Saturday! The narrative is easy enough to follow, the characters are likable, and the world-building was wonderful! It reminds me a lot of David Eddings' and Brandon Sanderson's works!

I also caught up with some movies that I deliberately missed because of bad reviews: Wrath of the Titans, The Immortals, and 300: Rise of the Empire. Titans was just plain awful in every conceivable angle while Immortals and Empire were serviceable enough - they were at least pretty. My main problem with the mythology in Titans and Immortals, though, was that the "twilight of the gods" was a Norse concept and not Greek. Can somebody just make a film about Ragnarok and be done with it?

Coincidentally, I saw Rise of an Empire last Thursday - exactly the anniversary of 9/11. Just the day before, Barrack Obama addressed the ISIS situation. It was then that I acknowledged (internally) that I am afraid, especially at the prospect of another world war (thinking about Russia and North Korea as well). While violent conflicts are par for the course of any fantasy epic in any medium, I don't think I'm prepared to handle such a situation if it hits close to home.

Gorgo and Artemisia were the best part of the movie!
While we're on the subject of fantasy and religion, I've always wondered what it said about me that I am now averse towards the magical and fantastic doctrines of organized religion but sold on anything with dragons, fairies, avatars, titans, and the like. Then again, fantasy doesn't force me to believe that wizards are real the same way that religions venerate their saints and prophets. Then again, I'm no atheist. I'd still like to believe in a powerful unknowable force that permeates the universe. Maybe that's why I haven't lost my sense of wonder? Or maybe they're not connected?

Anyway, I also had the pleasure of teaming up with Paolo and Denice, both members of the Geek Fight committee, at last Wednesday's Boho Quiz Night hosted by Jon (one of my usual quiz night teammates). We didn't win but it was a fun evening nonetheless. I got to participate in Paolo's impromptu mini trivia game at our table since he was showing us some of the questions he used before. As usual, if it's not related to fantasy and mythology (or comics), I'm useless.

In other news:
I went to my college friend Hanna's kid's baptism way up in Bulacan yesterday. It's always good to see the old gang, especially Tintin who's been based in Singapore for more than 5 years. Of course, I found something deplorable about the priest's sermon. It's the thing I hate most about religious doctrines: The divisiveness.

We tried to catch the livestream of the UAAP Cheerdance Competition on the road but eventually our feed was cut off just as it was getting interesting. And while the general Thomasian community is glad that the UST Salinggawi Dance Troupe finally made it back to the top 3, I'm glad they delivered a performance that I can get behind because the past few years have just been mediocre at best.


Weekly Ketchup 36 - Overcoming Depression?

Last Tuesday morning, while on the train to my office from the printer's (ie, not my usual daily routine), I was suddenly and unexpectedly overcome with an overwhelming sense of grief - for no apparent reason.

Every time I get this way, I just keep thinking to myself that it's a chemical imbalance and proceed to busy myself and do something - anything - to get out of that state because it's an awful place to be! Even daydream!

Of course, being stuck on that train meant I had nowhere else to go. Thankfully, I had my sunglasses on to hide any external manifestation of that inexplicable despair. But for some reason, I didn't have music blasting in my ears like I usually do (then again, that morning was not my routine).

And so I scrambled to find songs to play and hopefully drown out my unseen foe. It was then that I remembered a couple of things I wrote a while back: one, when I wondered why I'm suddenly allergic to being idle; and two, the wandering and wondering voices in my head (figuratively, of course; I'm not insane - yet).

As I calmed myself down, I began to wonder whether my interests in a variety of things, most recently my search for new comics to follow, and my entertaining these "voices" are my means of subduing or coping with this unseen enemy. My hypothesis is that in those moments of complete stillness, when I don't think or feel anything, that's when it strikes. Of course, I can't really confirm that since I didn't keep records of previous episodes and there's no way to test it conclusively moving forward since I am now aware of it.

If there is indeed a correlation between keeping my head busy and fighting off what I can only describe as an anxiety attack, then this blog is a liability. There is a certain catharsis about putting thoughts into words. It frees my head of clutter, which could either leave space for more vapid ramblings or, as I have now theorized, leave me open to irrational bouts of depression.

(As I write this, it occurs to me that something else might also be at work here. If it's just a random chemical imbalance as I rationalized, why is it so easy for me to stave off with various distractions?)

Outside of this brief episode, I did have a good week.
Or maybe I'm just overcome with distractions?

First of all, I finished Mistborn: The Final Empire. I liked it well enough.

Read a few more FREE comics from Kobo: Midnight Nation (didn't like; set up mysteries I couldn't care about) and Hunter Killer (didn't think I'd enjoy it but I did).

Started watching Legend of Korra season two. I have yet to make my mind whether I love it (the steam punk may have a lot to do with it but that's a carry over from season one) but I do think the conflict Korra had with her mentors in the first couple of episodes felt a little forced.

The alternate ending to How I Met Your Mother had been leaked ahead of the DVD release. I already shared my views on the matter but it's an interesting timing for me since I just saw this video a few days ago and I thought it was pretty spot on. It's from a channel I subscribed to not too long ago but not in time to catch this as it went live.

Lastly: I went to Geek Fight after a long while along with my usual teammates and placed second. We're pretty split actually as a bunch of us were also in Amici for the monthly quiz night there (they won). We could've won but there were so many instances when someone had the answer but was unsure and someone else would suggest another answer and it would turn out the previous answer was already correct.

So that's my week. Hoping for a good week ahead!