Thursday, January 26, 2017

My late 2016 life review

2016 was a terrible, terrible year for mankind. America placed the wrong person in the most powerful seat in the world, and here in the Philippines we failed to elect the most qualified leader our country could have. Current president Duterte might not be performing—or behaving—as most Filipinos would have him perform, but one could argue that Miriam Defensor-Santiago could do so much better at the job. I reckon she might even still be with us today as the presidency would have been her driving force to stay alive.

Santiago wasn't the only famous personality who came to the end of their road in 2016, however. There were Prince, George Michael, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher, among others. Less famous but in no way less significant were the people who lost their lives in the various horrific mass shootings worldwide. And much closer to home, there was Mines. (I've written about the passing away of a former colleague, Cyrill Tan, also last year, here.)

Mines was my best friend in college and I considered her my sister. I knew her family and they lovingly let me into their home, for school projects and for when we simply wanted to hang out after church on Sundays. Mines and I shared a lot of interests and had the same view about many things, one of which was an aversion to constant communication. We love that people keep findings ways to bring everyone closer together through technology (not only can you post a video on Facebook of what you're doing right now, you also have the option to Facebook Live it so your friends can watch you in real time!) but when it came to Mines and me texting, our messages to each other could go unanswered for hours, days even, and it wouldn't be a big deal to us.

I guess that kind of attitude towards technology and constant communication comes with age too. More and more I'm preferring face-to-face conversations over texting and sending cards or gifts over writing greetings or posting photo collages on someone's Facebook timeline for their birthday. More and more, too, I'm realizing that special experiences don't always have to be documented, whether to be later posted online or not, which is why I haven't been recording videos as much for my year-end videos anymore (hence the absence of one for 2016). It's the people with whom I'm having these experiences that matter.

I never thought there would come a day when I'd be comfortable living with someone, but I now am. With my partner and a kitten we had rescued, no less, in a more well-ventilated and spacious apartment which I hope would help make me less sickly this year (I've had several bouts of illness last year, two of them resulting in hospital confinement, one in a minor surgery). I've reconciled with a close work friend I had a major spat with, and my college friends and I have been keeping contact more since Mines' passing. I'm also happy to report that the number of times I visited my family last year is a staggering 4, compared to just 1 or even nil in previous years. Because if there's anything that Mines' death has taught me, it's that life is too short and I wouldn't be living it at all if I weren't cultivating the few true relationships I have.

Back when we were still unemployed, Mines and I would sit under the night sky at Glorietta Park in Makati and talk about this "ugly feeling" weighing on us, this sense that something wasn't right, that we could be doing so much more with ourselves. These days I would still sometimes get that ugly feeling, but it no longer has anything to do with unemployment. My best friend has left me, and there will now and forevermore be that void in my heart that only someone as pure and beautiful a human being as Mines could fill. But at least I had enough of those moments with her when I got to cultivate our relationship. In real life, face to face and disconnected from social media. Now go disconnect and cultivate your relationship with your loved ones too.

A photo posted by J. Faller (@leeflailmarch) on

Monday, March 07, 2016

Taboo with friends

Taboo, the game, has been around since 1989, but it wasn't until 2008 that I got introduced to it. I was in training at Convergys with a dozen or so new-hires and, language training being a prerequisite to becoming a call center agent, we had to endure all sorts of front-of-the-class situations to get us to converse fluently in English. Least humiliating of all these was playing Taboo.

My team always won, but this came at a price. While we relished every point we gained, our trainer Kodi relished every opportunity to document our hilarious statements on her blog. I couldn't recall the address, but I remember being included in one entry:

"paw: the hand of a dog"

Of course, what I meant was "the equivalent of a human hand in a dog," which is a paw (which my team got correctly anyway), but in the interest of time I said it much more succinctly.

I've tried using different Google search terms to locate said blog entry, but the blog itself must have already been taken down by Kodi. To preserve the tradition, though, here are some of my current work friends' most hilarious Taboo moments:

Belle: "Eto, sinasakyan niyo 'to pero pangmaramihan!" ("This is a type of public transport that can carry a lot of people!")
Us: "Bus?"
Belle shakes her head.
Us: "Van?"
Belle (nodding): "Pero Tagalog!" ("But in Tagalog!")
Us: "Ban!"

Belle: "Anong ginagawa niyo kapag tapos na kumanta?" ("What do you do after singing?")
Us: "Bow?"
Belle (nodding): "Pero English!" ("But in English!")
Us: "Vow!"

Kennan: "Kabaligtaran ng 'hindi!'" ("The antonym of 'hindi!'")
Us: "Oo?"
Kennan: "ENGLISH!"
Us: "Yes?"
Kennan: "BISAYA!"
One of us: "Yeast?"

Belle: "C5! C1... C2..." (motions for us to continue)
Us: "C3? C4? C5? C6?"
Belle (pointing to us excitedly): "SINGULAR!"
One of us: "C-sic?"
(Belle squirms with even more excitement and I take a few moments before I realize what the answer is: "seasick.")

My friends might just be too witty for their own good.

Friday, February 26, 2016

PETA's 3 Stars and a Sun, a rap musical

Dystopian. I hate the word, not just because of the imagery it calls to mind, but also because it has been the theme of so many futuristic novels and films lately. And they all have similar plots: a global epidemic, climate change or war (or all of the above) forces the remaining members of society into hiding, inside an idyllic walled city where they are ruled by Elders, a Ministry or a Congress. Memory wiping and/or reconditioning is the ruling body's method of asserting their control over the people, but there's that one person who remembers something from their past through dreams and flashbacks, and that one person, usually aided by friends, ends up being the hero who dethrones those in power and leads everyone to the discovery that—gasp—there's actually still a livable world out there.

We've seen it in Aeon Flux, The Hunger Games (sans the memory wiping and livable outside world), The Giver, The Maze Runner and the Divergent film series. Can we really not imagine a futuristic world another way? Oh, right. The alternative is to be dominated by aliens.

PETA follows up its successful several runs of Rak of Aegis with a rap musical called 3 Stars and a Sun, this time paying tribute to the music of late rap legend Francis Magalona. The play's theme is dystopian, with elements reminiscent of Aeon Flux and The Giver, with some West Side Story-esque teenage gang rivalry thrown in. Bregna/The Communities is Stormdome, the Jets and the Sharks are Lumino and Diliman/Tropang Gising, and Aeon Flux/Jonas is Sol. But unlike these novels/films, 3 Stars and a Sun is set in the Philippines exactly 70 years into the future. Francis M's music ties the play's nationalistic angle to its plot, giving the audience a somewhat unexpected slap in the face—intense, but not too forceful, if that's even possible—not unlike the one everyone got when they saw Heneral Luna in cinemas. It was a slap that rebuked, "Shame on you for forgetting your country's history and debasing what your national heroes have shed their blood for!"

I had braced myself for something over-the-top, influenced by a friend's comment that PETA's plays tend to be so, but whatever initial impressions I may have had of the production (I thought within the first few minutes, "Ah, so it's to be a battle between the conio kids and the kanto kids") were quickly erased as the musical went on. I was relieved that "Kaleidoscope World," arguably one of Francis M's most popular hits, wasn't butchered or overused. It was injected into the musical in small doses, just enough to tug on the audience's heartstrings, not sung in its entirety to the point of becoming a sing-along number. Same with heartfully rendered "Cold Summer Nights"—I had to confirm with my friend Cams if I was hearing the song right because it was...wait, I won't spoil that for you.

To be completely honest, I was never a Francis M fan. I knew only of his songs "Mga Kababayan" and the other two I had just mentioned. But I know he was fiercely nationalistic. While Western hip-hop artists rapped about weed, women, money and bling, Francis M rapped about defending our motherland, the land of the three stars and a sun. He called for the youth to make a stand, hand in hand, declaring, "kabataan para sa kinabukasan." He influenced younger rap and hip-hop artists like Gloc 9 and Abra to write about thought-provoking matters that would hopefully call the masses to action. And that was PETA's aim in creating this rap musical: a call to action that we would remember who we are as Filipinos, and that we would live in a way that would make our national heroes, Francis M included, proud that their deaths contributed greatly, in a positive way, to this country's present generation.

The dazzling set of 3 Stars and a Sun.

3 Stars and a Sun is written by Mixcaela Villalon and Rody Vera, and directed by Nor Domingo. Musical arrangement and direction is by Myke Solomon (who also did the same for Rak of Aegis). Production design is by Gino Gonzales, light design by Shoko Matsumoto and Ian Torqueza, sound design by Teresa Barrozo, and choreography by Delphine Buencamino.

Gio Gahol (Chino) and Nicco Manalo (Sol).

The cast is led by Nicco Manalo alternating with Gold Villar for the role of Sol, and Paolo Valenciano alternating with Gio Gahol for the role of Chino. The rest include Che Ramos-Cosio and Carla Guevarra-Laforteza (portraying Vidame Inky), Giannina Ocampo and Justine Peña (Dianne), Bodjie Pascua and Raffy Tejada (Mang Okik), John Moran and Nar Cabico (Poy), Anna Luna and Jet Barrun (Nazty), Lee Villoria and EJ Pepito (Kat), Anj Heruela and Gab Pangilinan (Chelsea), and Jef Flores and Norbs Portales (Winston), with the ensemble composed of Jason Barcial, Raflesia Bravo, Yesh Burce, Lance Busa, Roi Calilong, Gimbey Dela Cruz, Nica Santiago and Ian Segarra.

Giannina Ocampo (Dianne), Carla Guevarra-Laforteza (Vidame Inky) and Paolo Valenciano (Chino).

While everyone else in Manila was at Madonna's concert last Wednesday, my friends and I watched the musical's 8-o'clock show, whose leads included Nicco Manalo, Paolo Valenciano, Giannina Ocampo, Che Cosio and Raffy Tejada. Che Cosio talk-sang her rap parts in a cute way. Which isn't to say it wasn't good, but I'm curious to know how Carla Laforteza would have executed her rapping. Paolo Valenciano, sounding like his dad at times when singing (that's a compliment), was effective in his role, as were Giannina Ocampo and Nicco Manalo, but it would have also been interesting to see how Gio Gahol, previously just a choreographer and ensemble member in Rak of Aegis, would have portrayed Chino, rapping, singing and all. I'll have to see another show to find out.

The rap musical runs from February 4 to March 6, 2016 at the PETA Theater in New Manila, Quezon City. For tickets and inquires you may visit or

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Wishes and deaths (in memory of Cyrill Tan)

I'm a Christian but somehow, two nights ago, I found myself celebrating the Lunar New Year at a friend's house. Having never done so before, I marveled at all the traditions the Chinese and some Filipinos observe to usher good luck into the new year: Wear red. Put eight 1-peso coins in your right pocket. Make sure the money in your wallet amounts to an even number. Have fish and pancit with long noodles as some of the dishes on the table, along with a cup of uncooked rice topped with coins and at least an egg (a money charm). I didn't care much about whether the dishes we had served were lucky. We didn't have fish or pancit but we had lots of takeaway dimsum from this fantastic Chinese place at Sta. Lucia Mall. I ate much of it with gusto.

When my friend Belle brought out wishing paper that we were supposed to write our wishes on and then burn later, I had to ask some questions. Does the "even numbers only" rule apply, meaning I can't write just one wish? Can it be in bullets or do I have to write it in essay form? I felt like a student again, conscientious and competitive, and as such I was first of the six of us to finish.

* * *

I rarely go home, much less see my grandparents who live about a ten-minute walk away from our house in Cavite, so I was surprised to see the condition they were in when I visited them with my mom and niece two days after last Christmas. My Nanay (82) struggles with stairs now, so she and my Tatay (83) have resorted to sleeping downstairs. For support when they walk, they both rely on canes, rails my dad mounted on their walls, and a caregiver they've hired. When we went to the mall the next day to have an early birthday celebration for my Nanay, she fell to the floor trying to take a seat at the restaurant despite having me beside her as a guide. It was a heartbreaking sight; I had to fight back tears as I helped her up.

It wasn't just my grandma's deteriorating motor skills that got me tearing up during my visit. Entire conversations now have to be repeated at times for both my grandparents' sake, my Nanay for her forgetfulness and my Tatay for his poor hearing. My Lola Charing, despite retaining her chattiness, is no longer as energetic as she used to be (and she used to be really energetic). Thank goodness, my mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law and niece seem to be okay, though I cringe at the thought of my ten-year old niece happily chatting with a boy on Facebook messenger (in secret, or so she thought; she has a smartphone with really small text, I have bionic eyes).

News of several deaths haven't been in short supply lately. There were those of music legend David Bowie, actor Alan Rickman, and much closer to home, my colleague, the novelist Cyrill Tan. Cy passed away due to cardiac arrest after a week of being in intensive care for pneumonia and heart enlargement. I was far more shocked than I had been at the deaths of David Sicam, Gerard Baja, comedian Tado and the others my friend Cams was with two years ago in that bus crash in Bontoc. Cy was only 26, after all, and we had interacted a lot at work. I interviewed him over the phone when he was applying for a phone banking job in our unit four years ago. A couple of times I assisted him when he had questions while speaking with a client. Several months before he transferred to branch services, he asked me to make a website for him so fans of his book "Charlie Sparks: A Sorcerer's Tale" could have somewhere online to get updates from aside from his Facebook page. He wrote at the back of the Charlie Sparks book I bought from him:
"To one of the most talented persons I know, thank you for sharing some love on this endeavor. Continue to be very inspiring with your own craft."

I've never considered myself talented, just somebody sufficiently capable of accomplishing most tasks laid before him (in other words, a jack-of-all-trades), but I'm inclined to accept a compliment like above from someone who, at the age of 24, self-published a book he had started working on when he was barely a teenager. You, Cy, are one of the most talented persons I know, and through your book and the people you shared your brief life with, your memory will live on.

A video posted by J. Faller (@leeflailmarch) on

Last Sunday wasn't just the eve of the Lunar New Year. It also marked the second anniversary of that tragic Florida bus accident in Bontoc, Mountain Province. After a couple of surgeries and several sessions with a physical therapist, Cams is doing so much better, though it would still take her a while before she could walk again without needing a cane. Cams' friend Michal has been taking trips in and out of the country, probably setting off metal detectors as he goes. Not everyone has been as fortunate, however. Ayen had to quit her job months ago because although her condition has improved greatly, she remains unable to stand on her own. She still misses her late husband David, and so do her sons Agung and Amian.

Before Cams and I left her apartment to get the takeaway dimsum we were bringing to our friend's house, she received news of one of her favorite UST professor's passing. She had gasped loudly and somehow, half certain, I joked, "May namatay na naman?" ("Did someone die again?") Turned out I was right. That night, I could have included in my wish list a successful hike to the Seven Summits, a new laptop, a fast metabolism and people around me spending less time on their smartphones. But what with death constantly reminding us that we are finite, I figured I only needed a very short, still-somewhat-selfish but practical list: good health for my loved ones (especially my parents and grandparents), career development, financial stability and a closer relationship with my family. Those should be more than enough to keep me happy this new year and after.

The ashes of my wishing paper.