What are you watching

Early this week my housemate convinced me to see Shameless (US version) on Netflix, and I’m glad I did. I’ve been meaning to start it last year, but I was deep in Fresh Meat, Stranger Things, You’re the Worst, Fargo, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (lol), Bojack Horseman and other shows that make me feel human, like Chef’s Table.

There’s something about shows set in a house that gets me. Maybe because I’ve started living with strangers since I was sixteen, and now I’m living in a sharehouse in a foreign land with sitcom characters from different parts of the world. There’s currently eight of us in the house – five Filipinos with only two speaking Tagalog (that includes me), an Italian, a German and a Pole. For the most part, we’re a pretty normal, fun-loving bunch – drinking and smoking together in the garage, watching movies together, going to the beach together, talking about sex and consoling each other afterwards. But there’s also the occasional shouting matches in the kitchen snowballing into a confrontation extravaganza with at least one person crying, leading to a grand assembly where we take note of our realizations and promise to move forward as better people. I love those idiots.

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Shameless is about a dysfunctional Chicago family, and that’s about all you need to know to give it a try. The dad is an absolute scum of the earth; Fiona, played by Emmy Rossum looks like an adult Nancy from Stranger Things; Steve the boyfriend is played by that actor from the spectacularly problematic Dragonball live action movie where he played white Goku; and Veronica is that girl whose face became the basis for Rochelle’s character from Left 4 Dead. I’m only on the eighth episode of the first season, and I’m glad I still have a long way to go because it’s already on its seventh season.

The characters themselves were conjured from a fiction writer’s wet dream. There’s the genius kid who loves to fuck around, the gay kid doing ROTC, the little girl who acts like a fifty-year-old mom and a sadistic boy who loves to destroy things and put live animals in the microwave. Even the supporting characters were thought-out: an agoraphobic, high-strung but well-meaning neighbor, a charming interracial couple and perpetually horny white girls. The show gives a pretty interesting nuance to the lengths poor people go to get by (hence the title), and it is equal parts eye-opening, disturbing and heartwarming. It touches on sensitive topics like race, inequality and homosexuality, but it’s more of an exposition rather than an attempt to evangelize. Watch it!

PS. The soundtrack is amazing.

27 years

I knew I was going to be a journalist when I was eleven. One clear day in January, sixteen years ago, I was sitting at the back of the classroom, reading three different broadsheets, ignoring whatever the lesson was for the day. I was preparing for a national news writing competition, and it was in between reading reports and staring blankly at the quadrangle outside that I realized what I was going to be after school: a reporter. I like writing in general, so I started writing articles about inter-school competitions, people who held Guinness World Records, made-up stories about young love and horror stories where I killed classmates I didn’t like. My father encouraged me to take engineering in college, or something that would lead me to law or medicine. When I was doing my college application, however, he was abroad, so I made the decision to take journalism instead. My mother did not disagree, but she encouraged me to do well enough so they could all see me on television, maybe delivering a news report in the middle of a storm, trying my best to look professional and magnificent.

Sixteen years have passed since then – I went to university in the big city, moved away from home and started paying my own bills. After graduation, I took a job as a business reporter, trying my hardest to meet daily story quotas while learning about finance and economics as quickly as I could. I worked six days a week, and a huge chunk of my modest salary went to buying medicines for my father, who was slowly dying from cancer. I wasn’t earning enough, and I’ve never felt so defeated. I thought I made a mistake choosing what I wanted to do, and I felt ashamed being a victim of my own choices. I went out partying with friends on some nights to take my mind off things, and I would go to sleep thinking about people, the enormity of their problems, and how they manage to go on with life everyday pretending they’re not dying inside. One of my favorite authors once said that “we are all the walking wounded, your pain is no worse than everyone else’s.” I hated this line because it’s true, but just the same, I lick my own wounds and I feel my own pain.

Whenever I go into deep conversations with my friends about the story of my life, I’d tell them that those were my darkest years, sounding like a twentysomething trapped inside an old, jaded man. I started doing horribly in my work, got shouted at by my bosses and had to quit and change jobs because I couldn’t take it all in. Back at home, my brother got someone accidentally pregnant, my sister was separating from her husband, I got rejected from a scholarship application and I lost my best friend. My annus horribilis was in plural form. I started having the most horrendous pimple breakouts and I hated how I look. I started picking my face until it bled. Friends would ask me what happened to my face, and I was torn between narrating my life story and telling them to mind their own faces. I had cigarettes for meals and started binge-watching tv shows about funny people with fucked-up lives, and I thought about how long it would take for my own personal dramas to end. My horror stories reached their climax in February 2014, when my father died. I lost it.

I still have a lot of stories to write about in the future, but I’m grateful this chapter’s denouement is already unfolding. My brother is now married and a father to a wonderful, lovely boy, my sister is starting anew with her boyfriend and my mother, well, I’d like to think she’s always been strong. I sent her money last month to get a new set of dentures – my Christmas gift. I’m still in touch with old friends I love, and I’m making unforgettable, meaningful memories with new ones. A few weeks ago I read an article about happiness, and it said something about not forcing every day to be a happy day, but by making every waking moment a struggle to weather through every pimple-inducing shitstorm. “There is no love of life without despair of life,” Albert Camus once said. Happiness is in the daily fight to be happy despite everything. Happiness is a battle.

As I type this on the eve of my twenty-seventh birthday, I’m sitting in my room in a brick house in Melbourne, just outside the university where I’m currently taking my master’s degree in social policy. Whenever people ask me what my course is about, I tell them that I’m changing careers because I want to make world a better place for everyone. For all the walking wounded. There are times, though, when I still look back at that idealistic grade school kid at the back of the classroom who wanted to be a professional journalist. Things have gone differently since that clear January day: I did not become the television reporter my parents imagined me to be. But whatever the hell happened, I can still see myself in the middle of the storm, this time dancing.

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First five things about Melbourne

It’s been just a little over two weeks since I’ve arrived in Melbourne, but I’ve already made some conclusions about the city because I am a presumptuous boy with a knack for drawing up sweeping generalizations. Here is a five-point list.

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  • Honesty is a huge part of Melburnian culture. Either the people here are just too lazy to police unscrupulous freeloaders or they are raised properly by their parents that decency isn’t such a shocking concept. In our hip neighborhood laundromat, for example, you’re asked to drop a dollar in the coin box if you want to get a scoop of detergent. No one’s out to check if you’re getting way too much laundry soap or if you’re really paying, except maybe Jesus because Jesus is always watching you. You can hop on or hop off a tram without tapping your ticket (myki card) on a reader, provided that inspectors won’t catch you. Groceries also have self-service payment counters where you can theoretically get tons of stuff and underdeclare them, only paying for items you wish to pay for. This honesty system is a wonderful thing – Melburnians assume the best in everybody and the people are aware of the importance of keeping it that way. Theirs is a culture of social engineering that appeals to the decency of people, instead of intimidating potential crooks. Maybe it’s a luxury only the first world can afford – these people don’t need to cheat and steal anyway. The people of Melbourne have been hypnotized to be fully cooperative and responsible members of society that it’s almost like North Korea but in a good way.
  • A single meal’s portions can feed you for an entire day. In my first week, I’ve made the mortal sin of not finishing my souvlaki and my KFC Twister. It’s not because they tasted bad – food here goes above and beyond expectations – but the portions were just too much for a single person. When they cook their food, they have sumo wrestlers in mind as customers, no wonder most of them look always full. I’ve also observed that the food staff here serve you your money’s worth. You know those guys in food stalls who make sure they account for the tiniest milligram to ensure they don’t give you extra food? Those guys who serve you the inedible parts of the meat leaving you feeling cheated? They don’t exist here.
  • White boys love their short shorts. This is still a mystery to me. It’s currently winter, people are smothered in thick layers of clothes of varying thickness, and suddenly you come across a white guy wearing a jacket and really short shorts. Doesn’t matter if it’s the cold temperature, the wind, the rain or the triple killer combo: you will most probably encounter white guys – not Asian, not African – walking around like they’re the masculine Australian version of Queen Elsa. Is there a mutant masculine Caucasian gene that renders a white guy’s crotch impervious to frostbite? Are they members of a secret society? Why are they like this?
  • Australians are friendly, chirpy people. I’m not a morning person and I usually have this talking and perkiness embargo until I have eaten lunch. But since I go to school in the morning I’m forced to interact with Aussies who love small talk even in the early hours of the day. In Melbourne, it’s not unusual for a complete stranger to strike a conversation or smile at you when you’ve accidentally made eye contact. If this happened to you in the Philippines you would’ve probably squinted and scowled, whipped up your phone and sought the help of social media in cyber-assaulting an otherwise friendly person. Aussies also love greeting each other. Here’s an actual conversation between Aussies in a bank:
Customer: G’day how ya doin?
Teller: Good, thanks, how ya doin?
Customer: Yeah not so bad. I’d like to blah blah blah…
This is me:
Teller: G’day how ya do-
Me: I don’t have my ATM PIN yet.
  • The Australian national treasure Vegemite tastes like goddamn salty ballpoint pen ink. Vegemite is that dark, vitamin-rich paste made from leftover brewer’s yeast. It’s the subject of too many YouTube videos and Buzzfeed articles. It’s also one of those quintessentially Australian things Aussies are very much proud of and I have yet to fully understand why. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Vegemite jars are made in Melbourne, and the Aussies show no signs of ditching the product. There’s a small jar of Vegemite at home and one day I tried it just to see for myself what it actually tastes like. It’s definitely an acquired taste, somewhere between sadness and despair with a hint of violence, but I’m told it sure is healthy!

Happy New Year everybody

There isn’t any yearend list this time. The year 2015 has been a pretty uneventful one, and if I were forced to pick a highlight it would be that week I had to go to the hospital at 7 a.m. for three days straight because the doctors in charge of my Australian visa thought I had tuberculosis. Didn’t get the visa, but also didn’t get tuberculosis. Fair enough. I’ll get it next time. The visa.

I think the fact 2015 has been relatively ok is already a triumph in itself, considering how insane the previous years were. I’ll take what I can.

Anyway, 2016 is upon is, (in less than an hour as of posting) and I wish that the new year treats us all well.

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Photo by Christian Schnettelker

Continue reading “Happy New Year everybody”

The antisocial hermit program has begun

This morning my office mate Chuck gave me a doorstop masquerading as a holiday gift: a physical copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

This 1996 novel taking place in a junior tennis academy and an addict’s halfway house has been called “a gargantuan, mind-altering comedy about the pursuit of happiness in America.” Whether or not finishing this book will get you laid is still a mystery.

I have a copy of the book on my iPad but I actually never got around to going beyond the first few pages. I realized I’m a traditional book reader and I still prefer a physical book I can touch and smell, though admittedly reading in the dark is a lot more convenient with e-books. But you cannot smell e-books. You can’t.

The book is a whopping monstrosity that can double as a lethal weapon.

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The thickest book I’ve read so far was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at 734 pages. This one is 1,079-paged baby. And there are actual books dedicated to encouraging fools to finish it. And then there’s this. I’ve since graduated from my obsession with Harry Potter and I’m hoping I now have the mental stamina to take on more “grownup stuff.” This may require going home straight from work, cutting time off the Internet or severing ties with my friends.

I’m not promising I’ll finish it, but I want to.

Spotify kind of life

With all that’s happened in the twenty-five years of my life and the afterlives before that, I am sometimes inclined to think that I am a protagonist in a severely underrated television show; something consistent with egotism and mild megalomania.

In a television show, the soundtrack is of utmost importance. I like music a lot, and I consider Spotify one of the most important achievements of the human race. I get to listen to the latest songs, download the latest album, check on a music recommendation by some of my hipster friends, then judge them secretly for being unnecessarily obscure.

Over the course of my love affair with Spotify (if you’re reading this Spotify please give me free premium codes) I’ve made some playlists, one for when I’m feeling excited to take over the world and one when I feel like wallowing in the misery of my existence.

Continue reading “Spotify kind of life”