Monday, December 17, 2012


There is the heavy drone of the AC labouring to keep the heat out. The sounds bounce off of the cement walls and glass windows in a way that oddly enough complements the humming bass of the AC. To me it is more than ambient noise that must be tolerated when one pays homage to our churches of consumption. I wonder what these sounds mean to others? What is it about noise that we value so much? My mom belongs to that generation (and class?) of Filipinos who seem to associate noise with gaiety, and with gaiety - well-being. Silence or lack of noise makes my mom uncomfortable. Noise means happiness.


We take for granted the structures which hold the shell of our bodies, and within them our diwa, our malay. Being away from home allows me to see anew these same everyday structures/strictures.I see class everywhere. Even more so in these conspicuous spaces of consumption. It is most apparent in the manner of speech. Today I went into two coffee shops. This morning it was Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. This afternoon it is Caffe Bene. Both times the ladies behind the counter who took my order addressed me in English even when I spoke to them in Filipino. Now I wonder if this is standard policy. Will the speaking of Filipino somehow break the fantasy of luxe which they carefully conjure the moment I step through their doors? Will it somehow remind me that the space out there - public space - is not like the privileged private space in here, the price of which is probably included in my
coffee cup? Class. I see it in Singapore of course. But right here, right now in Manila I am reminded that we need not be of different skin colour or nationality for there to be deep inequality.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I am going to stop procrastinating about not writing and just write. Whatever drivel comes will come. At least there is something to work on, something to cultivate, something to shape and mould into a semblance of something. I pledge to become a diarist once more. To write and chronicle, to put ideas to paper. So I start tonight.

I wonder if there is something about getting older that tempers the urge to purge on paper? Is it because life has become less urgent? Life is no longer a series of novelties and excitement? Is it because body and soul have learned not to keep looking forward to what lies beyond the curvature of time, and to savour the present, to count the precious seconds of now? I don't know. Perhaps it is that. It could have also been a mini burn-out. This past year was tough on my brain. If it were a muscle mine would have been fit enough to join a decathlon. I felt no urge to write the mundane. And no urge to write the not-academic substantial. So there was no middle ground. Perhaps I had learned to associate putting fingers to keyboard with hardship and chore. Writing was no longer a refuge, a pleasure, an unburdening. Writing was work. Thinking was work. Well, I have some precious weeks to not write/think as work. I am taking back this practice from the deep, dark corner of dissertating and bringing it out to the love and light of keyboard licks and clicks, of putting words to the voice in my head.


These always looked better on you. A moment of quiet since I got back in Manila. A moment to miss you. The city is never asleep. It is loud, kinetic, frenzied. Christmas season it is. I wish you were here.

Saturday, October 06, 2012


Belief is a powerful thing. It bids us cross unknown oceans, leap off buildings and commit acts of bravery. Belief is the anticipation of something else beyond the line where the sky swallows the limit of vision. We commit to such belief. And as we put one foot in front of the other, the horizon reveals, bit by bit, that which the earth’s curvature has so far concealed. And what do we see? The dreamer would have pictured an ocean of flowers, the pessimist - sure disaster, the realist - more of the same. Those of you who cast your votes in 2010, what see you now?

Monday, October 01, 2012

Little Red Dot

Two years have come and gone. There were so many things to write about this country, and yet a pathetic showing of 5 entries according to my 'labels.' I was otherwise consumed. Singapore can suck the soul out of you. I certainly felt so when I first landed here. I thought its spirit was as arid as the sea air was humid. I thought its denizens were hollowed-out automatons masquerading as humans. And even though now I do think somewhat differently, I still feel they are not as human as the creatures of Manila. Life here is centred around accumulation and its twin - spectacular consumption. The whole country is soaked in capital and calculation, from the kid taking tutorials and attending two kindergartens to the Ferraris zipping by in Orchard. It is what Manila aspires to be. Predictable, orderly, clean.

Don't get me wrong. I like it here, if only because its easier on my aging bones to travel, to launch myself from spot to spot. I am not held hostage my flooded streets, raging typhoons and horrendous traffic congestion. But for all the ease of transportation, I find my mind is not as mobile as when I am in Manila. The flatness of order does little to stimulate the senses, to tickle the imagination. The people here have been blunted and tamed. It is any wonder then that for all the millions they throw on the arts, they have not yet produced any artists? And for all the resources they have thrown on start-up ventures, they have yet to produce entrepreneurs?

This country produces nothing. But it is the richest nation on earth, with the most number of millionaires per capita. It has been engineered to service capital flows and has positioned itself strategically to skim off manna from mobile money. The price it has had to pay is the soul of its own people. Some will say, it is a good enough bargain.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


I haven't done any significant amount of work on my dissertation since I went home for a brief respite last month. Eight weeks have come and gone and my prospectus is where it was after my pathetic attempt at a defence. I look at it now and the reason why I have not touched it again is fear. I asked my supervisor, last I saw her, if I needed to read some other things to try and solve some problems. She said I should stop reading. I will not find the answer elsewhere. I will have to produce the answer myself.

It is so much easier being a natural scientist. You can easily confirm any claims of knowledge you make. If the formula works - then you know you're right. But as a social scientist? Your claim is only 'right' for as long as it is defensible. You are indoctrinated to believe that critique is part of your job. I suspect this plays a part in the deep insecurity of so many of these academics I have met. Its the realisation that really - what do I know?

Friday, September 21, 2012

My Eyeglasses

2012 marks ten years of having with me, this bit of utilitarian accessory. It has been with me as I slogged through my twenties. It fogged up when I saw my father die when I was 23 and has been put to hard use in work and graduate school in places as varied as Manila, the Gold Coast in Australia and now Singapore. In the past two years I have had to change the lenses of my eyeglasses five times. Due to some peculiar quirk of my astigmatism, I am unable to tolerate minute changes in the axis of my principal meridians, these neat little optic bits in our eyeballs that help us focus on objects.

As a social scientist, we use our eyes to observe the social world. Our eyes are our principal instrument to parse information, ‘data’ if you will. It is tempting to abandon this fundamental aspect of our work and our vocation. Especially when doing serious graduate work at the PhD level. As we wade through hundreds of books and journal articles, as we get lost in the text, we forget our primary reason for being. What must we do with these eyes? Is it to ingest tens of thousands of words, sentences and paragraphs? Is it to read and manipulate data in our mind’s eye? No. Our eyes should be used to explain or understand the social world around us. We must not forget that to produce knowledge about the social world means being immersed in it.

Just as well that I need to change my lenses every three or four months. It reminds me that I should keep my focus on what is truly important.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Note to Self

Academic life changes you. The first year and a half have been social. I had classes, I met and spoke with people. But the last few months have been time spent mostly by myself. 'Work' is time spent writing, thinking and working out problems in your head. Apart from teaching, an important part of work is producing knowledge - doing research and publishing. It will be a lifetime of this, of spending the whole day by myself, having 'conversations' with people who are not actually with me either because I have never met them in person or because they are long dead.

As such, it is probably perfectly normal to be self-involved. Nearly every academic I have met is like this - with a few exceptions. One literally loses one's social skills. One forgets 'pakikipagkapwa.' One becomes overly embroiled with one's own thoughts. And because most social interactions involve students, then this is the default mode of conversation. Monologue takes the place of dialogue. Listening skills get really rusty. If evolutionary mutations could happen faster, I imagine academics will lose their ears altogether!

So, here is a mental note to myself. Keep engaging the world. And by 'world' I mean other people. I am constituted by them as much as I constitute them  through my writing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

An Allegory of Good/Evil

What is good? What is evil? In Chris Nolan's Batman, what separates one from the other are convictions which fluctuate as characters plod on with life. Villains and heroes are either side of the same coin. In the last installment of the trilogy, Nolan's message is clear. There is evil in all of us, even when we are good.

If we must continually battle with these warring tendencies, then what separates Batman from Bane? Both fight for a cause. Batman's heroism and Bane's anarchism both warrant a belief in humanity's capacity for redemption. Both have sacrificed their lives for their ideologies. Both teeter on that precarious divide between rule and order. Both act in the name of justice. So how is Batman different from Bane?

The answer, I think, is that he isn't. What separates the two are contingencies - differences in matter of degrees. Perhaps Bane has experienced just that bit more of pain and despair in his life. By accident he has met such and such people who have influenced him in this or that way. The film's surprise at the end highlights the similarities even more. Bane is Batman, in substance and in form.

If we acknowledge that there is in us both good and evil, that we are capable of both care and harm, then I think we would be more far more forgiving of others and of ourselves. An intolerance of this duality leads to impossible expectations. Idealism is cynicism's twin.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


I miss when writing isn't such a chore. Its all I've been doing the past eight months. Write. And as my discipline dictates, I have had to write like a schmuck. Clarity and logic has killed the aesthetic. I am told it will come back. I am told that if I retain my 'voice' amidst all the disciplinary browbeating, then it means I am ready. Whatever.

Tens of thousands of words chucked. If I had known it would be this brutal, I'd have spent more time writing just for shits and giggles. When have my words become so precious? I would spend a whole day, 9-10 hours, sitting in front of the damn computer. A day's work will yield 500 words. 800 to 1,000 on really good days. I am told it is normal.

There is no room for poetry. Form must give way to substance. The bones of an argument must be laid out in its naked glory.

My supervisor says I am cryptic. That I speak the way I write, hiding things. Keeping things. She said for me to keep a journal and practice writing to lay out my thoughts. Right.