Friday, November 26, 2010

train spotting

I love trains. It may be because we don't have them where I live -- it would take the strongest political will to overcome the protests of all those bus and jeepney operators. But I also love trains for what they are.

I love that they are predictable: you can go to a station and be confident that, barring the majeurest of forces, a train will come along in a couple of minutes and take you where you want to go. I love that they are interconnected: your nearest station can be a stop in one line, and you can simply get on the train, get off at the right interchange, get on another line, and get to your destination for sure. I love that they are immune to the plague of road congestion: on some days, someone's shoulder may be smack in between your nose and your right cheekbone (or worse!) but at least you will not have to wait for hours for the traffic jam to dissolve or let you through. I love the way that the train is honest: it will not try to weasel more money out of you by taking you on circuitous routes or blackmailing you into paying a flat fee five times more than the meter would have proclaimed. I even love the way you can just put your pass in one of the pockets of your bag, and you can just swish the whole thing over the sensor, and a short bleep will welcome you into the station.

My earliest memory of riding a train is a vague one. Perhaps it is even a fake one, as I was really young at that time, and the image in my mind could have been culled from an old photograph. At any rate, my first train was the old Manila LRT. We were visiting my relatives in Pasay, and I remember something about going to the zoo, and going to Luneta, and going to Harrison's Plaza.

What I really remember as my introduction to the wonderful world of railways is my family's first out-of-the-country trip, Hong Kong. I vividly recall a short old Chinese man barging into me like I was invisible. But even the passengers' lack of manners, or the strangeness thereof, did not prevent me from appreciating the experience of efficient travel. Indeed, what I really loved about the next country we went to, apart from the cultural enclaves and the variety of food, is the reliable Singapore MRT system. Bangkok has the Skytrain, but it is not yet as extensive as it could be.

Some train enthusiasts -- the over-the-top ones, mind you -- are actually called foamers by railway workers because "they foam at the mouth in their excitement over train operations." I am not that crazy. Still, when presented with a myriad of train options such as those of the European railway system, I find myself borderline hyperventilating. How I wish I could travel all over Europe, and ride on sleeper trains, and find myself in another country when I wake up the next morning, and gaze at mountains and fjords and Gothic spires from a comfortable seat by a train window.

A girl can dream.

Whenever I try to explain my fascination with trains, I inevitably remember Gabriel Syme waxing eloquent about the reliability of trains in GK Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday:

"The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria.... [E]very time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word 'Victoria,' it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest."

Trains. Europe. Writing about adventures. Someday.

counting blessings

At work this morning, we celebrated Thanksgiving with some pizza, barbecued pork and mint chocolate ice cream. Before we dug in, though, Tiffany had us enumerate some things that we were thankful for this year. We all got a little teary-eyed when Nina, whose sister died of cardiac tamponade just a few weeks ago, said that she was thankful for family -- that, although her sister passed away at a very young age, she was thankful she got to experience what it was like to have a sister.

Out of all American traditions, celebrating Thanksgiving is the one thing that I think is a pity we didn't copy. We can of course count our blessings everyday, but to have an actual official holiday in which to do it is beyond cool.

A thankful heart lets you look at life in a new way. A thankful heart lifts you above the drudgery of the day-to-day. "We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures," said Thornton Wilder. I think it's true.

There are so many things to be thankful for this year, and there is so much to look forward to next year. But I thank God most of all for the blessings that I enjoy daily -- family and friends (you know who you are), and all the little things I take for granted.

Happy Thanksgiving! :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

seven things to think about before watching harry potter 7

1. It's Harry Potter SEVEN. If you haven't read the books, haven't watched the previous films, and haven't heard of hallows or horcruxes -- in other words, if you don't know what the heck is going on -- don't watch the movie. There's no point. You will just annoy the rest of us to death by asking your date stupid questions every 30 seconds.

2. Most movie adaptations are never at par with the books on which they are based. Focus on the unbelievably stunning landscapes and the unbelievable way Emma Watson looks stunning while hunting horcruxes. Adjust your expectations and you will be reasonably happy. As in life.

3. Even for those who are familiar with the story by virtue of having watched the previous films, Deathly Hallows can be confusing. If you don't mind spoilers, some people actually came up with this: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 Explained For Casual Fans (that's you). If you just want a recap of past events, you could also peruse this: What to Know Before You Watch 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I.'

4. Don't go, "Aw, Hedwig..." (Sob.) "Aw, Mad Eye..." (Sob.) "Aw, Dobby...." (Wail uncontrollably.) on us. Fine, we'll let the Dobby tears go, but they only gave Hedwig a few seconds, and did not care enough about Mad Eye to include scenes of his untimely you-know-what, so there's really no reason to go all *sniff, sniff.* (And this is me turning into a grouchy old lady. Hehe! But still.)

5. We know the Harry Potter story better than you do. At least we believe we know it more than you think you do. It annoys us to no end when you start explaining the plot to your friend. We want to listen to the movie. Okay? And God forbid that the two of you should turn out to be insufferable know-it-alls. Your loud conversation will be the death of us.

6. Bring popcorn and drinks. The movie is roughly 2 and a half hours. And yet, you know what, it still somehow feels lacking. But, yeah, I do understand that it's a movie and could not possibly incorporate everything that is in the book. And, actually, critics have already said that this movie, more than the others, made a conscientious effort to mirror the book. I don't feel it, but they're probably right. I still wish the movies could have brought JK Rowling's understated humor to life, but I won't complain.

7. It's the beginning of the end, as they say. Enjoy it for all it's worth.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

from 3 to 30

Some people spend most of their younger years wishing they were older. Not gray-hair, arthritic-knees older -- just old enough to do this, or have that, or try whatever.

I did not.

It was therefore with some aggrievement and a teeny tiny feeling of betrayal that, yesterday, I found myself taking out the trash and realizing: I am old. Holy crap, I am a grown-up. And I don't even know how it happened. One day I was 3, and the next day I was 30, and I was taking out the trash because if I didn't do it, no one else will.

I know that growing older is something that has to happen some time, but you don't really think of it happening to you until it does. Even now I don't actually think of myself as a grown-up. Rather, I think of myself as a kid who has to act like a grown-up sometimes. I suppose I wouldn't mind taking out the trash every now and then, but I don't ever want to be a king, or a conceited man, or a tippler, or a businessman. I would always want to see the elephant swallowed by the boa constrictor, rather than a hat.

Being older isn't all that bad, I suppose. The good thing, for example, about having to cook dinner is that I get to cook it for someone. When your loved ones finish the food you prepared, sit back contentedly and declare themselves stuffed, it feels like a million pats in the back.

And you get to see things in a different light. It doesn't take a grown-up, for example, to know that a fridge costs P16,000. But when you're older, you get to see that a fridge costs a vacation you could have taken, a dress you could have bought, a movie you could have watched. And it's okay, because you get to drink cold water, and buy ice cream and save some for later, and keep your fish fillets and tomatoes fresh for weeks.

I could say it sucks. Every time I chance upon airline seat sales and find myself having to pass them up, I am tempted to say that growing old, and the responsibilities thereof, suck big time. But when I look back and realize what a fortunate childhood I had, when I look ahead and see possibilities opening up, especially when I look around and find myself in the midst of people I love who love me in return, I begin to have a sneaking suspicion that growing older might actually be worth it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

the cooking adventures, 1st edition

This week was the week we finally hooked our new gas stove to my parents' old gas tank. As I had afternoons off, I was determined to prepare dinner myself.

Day 1
Three fish dishes! I'm so proud of myself! (Admittedly, none of these three require too much talent to make.)

Day 2
My mother said she was preparing chop suey so I figured I would whip up something that would complement a vegetable dish perfectly -- a meat dish. I know it's technically just Hungarian sausage and corn, but restaurants do sell stuff like this (and make a ridiculous profit too).

Day 3
We had leftover KFC Hot Shots, and my mother was making mongos, so I figured...
My sister laughed when I told her we were having Spam for dinner. It's all in the presentation! Oh, and I learned not to place veggies over the rice cooker from the very start of cooking rice, or else they will be super-soggy. But, if you already have, you can just fry them -- and take all the point out of steaming them in the first place.

Day 4
I love tomatoes and anything in tomato sauce, and we had filleted chicken so...

Hey, I know these aren't culinary masterpieces, but if people can make an entire cooking show out of just one brand of tuna, I think my 6 easy dishes are a passable plunge into the adventure of cooking, if I do say so myself. Coming up: carbonara, Cajun dishes and all sorts of unpronounceable stuff. (Di bitaw. Hehe!)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

the new state of things

I was a few months shy of thirty and still living in my parents' house. Now I'm a few days shy of thirty and living in the house next to my parents' house that is also actually their house that they have lent to me because I don't have a million pesos to buy my own.

(Technically there are houses out there that don't cost a million. But buying a starter house and saving up for the house makes less strategic sense then staying in your parents' other house and saving up for the house, not that the house is in sight anywhere in the near future.)

(I use long sentences and over-use parentheses when I'm not quite sure where I'm heading and consequently get easily distracted by side-thoughts. Sorry.)

The change in residence (a few meters eastward) was due to a change in the state of things. That is, I got married a few weeks ago.

(Did you know that, traditionally, you're supposed to say "Congratulations" to the groom and "best wishes" to the bride? You can play safe and say "congratulations and best wishes." Speaking for myself as a recent bride, you could also go ahead and add "and good luck" because boy do we need it.)

I wish I could say that I have been terrifically independent ever since, but right this very moment, my father is outside working on a screen to keep mosquitoes out of The Other House. And my mother still prepares my breakfast. I do cook dinner and pay for the outsourced laundry, but that isn't saying much.

I could give several reasons for this:

1. I am a lazy good-for-nothing. But that's not totally true. I hope.

2. I wake up at 4 AM so as not to be late for my 6 AM work. If I had to cook breakfast, I would have to wake up at 3 AM. And I get off work at 12 NN, so there's no way I could put a timely lunch together. But those sound like lame excuses.

3. This is just a temporary setup. Now this, I hope, is true. I really hope that someday I will have a schedule flexible enough that I could take care of my family, fix breakfast, lunch and dinner, write something immortal, dabble in arts-crafts-and-all-other-sorts-of-hobbies, keep an eye out for airline sales AND earn a decent living all at the same time.

In the meantime, I am just incredibly fortunate to have incredibly supportive parents -- while I was preparing my first dinner, they checked in every 5 minutes and asked how I was doing -- and an incredible husband who doesn't mind amateurish meals (and cleans the house whenever he can).