In front of the Royal Palace

King Carl Johan surveys his realm.

Posing before the Royal guardsman

The National Theater

Statues before the National Theater

An interlude: I was taking a break from my long walk, sitting on a bench at Halfdan Kjerulfs Plass, when this group of young people, whom I presume to be from a theatrical group, passed by. They were pulling along a cart on which a piano-playing guy in a white furry costume sat. One of the guys pushing the cart had a polar bear mask on. There was the tinkling of the piano as the group made its way slowly along St. Olav’s Gate, a strange counter point to the almost empty and quiet street.

One of the ubiquituous trams in the old part of the city

Right across the University of Oslo lies a long line of bookshops, some as old as a hundred years, like this one. I wanted to get in and browse, but it was already closed. I realized it was already 9:30 pm, though the sun was still out!

Soaking the sun along Fredericks Gate

The view from the Royal Palace, looking towards Parliament at the bottom of the hill

A sculpture by Gustav Vigeland in the National Gallery

At the Eidsvolls Plass on Carl Johan’s Gate. My friend Tere, who works in the Philippine embassy in Oslo, said the pool is turned into a skating rink when the waters freeze in the winter. Meantime, in the middle of summer, kids are frolicking around it. This photo was taken at 9:30 pm.

The monolithic Historical Museum looks more like a medieval fortress (well, it could’ve been such hundreds of years ago).

 It was the middle of April, the heart of summer, and I was stuck in Bali due to dehydration and hypoglycemia. But it didn’t stop me from going to Sogo Department Store, just walking distance from the hotel I was staying, to catch a whiff of the sea breeze and snap some photos at the same time.

 

 It might just be an imitation of an ancient Hindu ruin, but this structure at Denpasar airport really caught my eye. Love the color, the symmetry, the tiny carved details.

 

 A snapshot of the beach behind Sogo. This was taken around 4 pm, the sun still high but my modest Canon point-and-shoot held up nicely against backlighting; it captured that lovely blue sky smeared with cirrus clouds, the foam of the surf and the deeper blue hue of the sea. The angle of the seawall, accented by the row of palmettos and their shadows gives some depth. For this scene alone, I’d go back to Bali!

 

 The curving patterns of the gray staircase contrasts nicely with the blueness of the horizon.

 

 Same location, but the focus is on those dark clouds. Ominous!

 

…And yes, I’ll be back!

And suddenly, August is on its last week! Owing to a mix of laziness, workload, and technical glitches, I haven’t posted anything since April.

I have to provide a (brief) roundup of sorts before resuming my regular posting:

Went abroad twice, with one trip successful (Norway) towards the end of May, and the other (supposed to be Timor Leste but ended up in Bali, Indonesia), well, let’s just say unsatisfactory (mid-April).

Paid the tuition for the kids’ new school (Yesss!!!) and moved to a new place, a condominium unit overlooking the Chao Phraya River and a view of four bridges (there are around 10 or so) that span it.

Also, Lizl’s celebrating her birthday today. I’ll join her and the kids later for dinner tonight.

 

The NGO I work for, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), held its latest board meeting at the Siam City Hotel last month.  I was not impressed with the name when I first heard of it; it sounded like a backpackers’ inn or something. It just so happened that the hotel was near our office that it was chosen as venue for the meeting (located at the corner of Sri Ayuthya and Phyathai roads).

However, when I got there on the first day of the meeting, I had to change my opinion. The lobby was small but it had an atmosphere of plushness. As I walked around, what really caught my attention were the works of art on display.

Mounted on glass display cases were antique china recovered from shipwrecks, along with Thai and Khmer artworks.

Here is my favorite exhibit, part of the so-called Nanking Cargo, some 160,000+ pieces of chinaware that were recovered from the Dutch ship “Geldermalsen” which sunk off the South China Sea more than 200 years ago.

 

Corals have engulfed these china. The calcified reddish and orange coral provide a stark contrast to the white and bluish hue of the porcelain.

 

One of my favorite pieces in the collection. The design is so intricate, the color so cool to the sight. I wish I were rich enough to bid for something like this at Christie’s!

 

Another set

 

Exquisite

For some backgrounder on the “Gendermalsen’s” treasures, please see:

http://www.oceantreasures.org/rubrique-1070661.html

http://www.antiques.dk.com/cat.php/Oriental/Ceramics/Shipwreck%20Cargoes/Nanking%20Cargo

 

Also displayed is this collection of Vietnamese porcelain from the Vung Tau (1690)  and Bin Thuan (1608) shipwrecks.

 

Some more background info:

http://www.maritime-explorations.com/vung%20tau.htm

http://www.seaantique.com/Binhthuan.htm

 

On the other hand, here is an exhibit of Thai “Hun Krabok” (“pole puppets”) puppets.

 Briefer on Hun Krabok puppets:

http://www.culturenetworks.org/hunkrabork-thaipuppet.html

 

Near the elevator lobby, my attention was caught by this relief of Khmer female dancers:

I knew right away it was not Thai artwork, but I was of two minds whether it is Khmer or Indian. So I checked the Internet and saw this:

http://images.google.co.th/imgres?imgurl=http://www.bergerfoundation.ch/Angkor/Sculptures/images/img0038B.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.bergerfoundation.ch/Angkor/Sculptures_eng/introduction.html&usg=__zfRsCg0z9pQAnjt6NijXcjLxSGk=&h=461&w=307&sz=44&hl=en&start=10&um=1&tbnid=5XBkmRBiryQ_rM:&tbnh=128&tbnw=85&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dkhmer%2Bart%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26um%3D1

It is interesting to note, though, that Khmer art is heavily influenced by Indian mythology and art form. (Of course, the reason why Indochina is called such is because the area had been the battleground for centuries between China and India. I read somewhere that modern-day Vietnam fell under the influence of China while those on the western part of the mountain range separating Vietnam and the rest of Indochina fell under the influence of India).

The dream was not that bad. None of that stuff about being pursued by mysterious persons. Yet I’d still wake up with a start, my heart banging against my chest as I tried to take in gulpfuls of air. I feel the onset of another panic attack setting in. I get up from bed, grab my watch and observe the second hand as I feel for my pulse. My heart rate is normal, around 80 or so. Nevertheless, my heart is palpitating, and I feel the sensation, sometimes even the certainty that any minute now and I’d feel that hammer blow to my chest, constricting the flow of my blood. I can imagine one of my hands reaching for the source of the pain as it spreads from my chest. My thoughts would race: Is this it? Is this the appointed time? Would scenes from my life start rushing before my eyes? Would I finally be sucked into that dark tunnel and emerge in the light? Crazy thoughts like this swirl in my mind as I grope for my medicines. There. I pick a tablet, break it into two and swallow half with the help of a glass of water by the bedside. Then I know it would be alright as I start praying. This will pass. This will pass. Then I would lie back in bed again, beside my wife and youngest child, whose peaceful sleep I don’t dare disturb. I check my watch again. It’s 5 am. It always happens at this time. Then I drift off to peaceful sleep, to be woken up at 7 am with knocks on the door. Paulo and Chubby will be on their way to school and are dropping by to kiss Lizl and me and say goodbye. I’d mutter an “I love you” as I kiss them back and try to resume my sleep, if only for half an hour more.

 

The past three nights have been peaceful. This means no sudden wake-ups at 4 am or 5 am. No shortness of breath or palpitation. No panic attack. I’d just wake up at 7 am, feeling refreshed. Yet it’s deceptive. It means my blood sugar is up. Unlike one time when I was forced to wake Lizl up and ask her to test my blood sugar level and the glukometer would tell us it’s 100 or 105. Diabetes. It’s weird. You feel better when you sugar is a bit high; you feel being in shit state when it dips.

 

I had my routine check-up today. Nothing new. The doctor told me to keep balancing my blood sugar. Take sweets when you feel the symptoms of hypoglycemia, she told me. Right now I’m taking Avandia 4 mg and Metformin 850 mg. She suggested that if my blood sugar continues to fluctuate to try insulin. I said I’d think about it. In truth I’m not inclined to. Due to the cost and also the fact that I don’t relish the idea of puncturing myself with a needle. I sent an SMS to my cardiologist in San Pedro and asked her if it’s advisable for me to take insulin regularly. She replied back that as much as possible, I should stick to diet, exercise and the prescribed medicines as insulin can damage the kidneys. That’s the clincher for me. My heart is already getting affected by my diabetes (I had rheumatic heart disease when I was a teenager. The same cardiologist cured me of it before I turned 21). Undergoing dialysis in a few years’ time is something I don’t want to consider at the moment. In the meantime, I’ll just have to try to survive the nights when my blood sugar plummets again.

 

I have not given much thought on my birthdays ever since I turned 30. But this year, my wife Lizl was more excited than me in planning a celebration, especially since my birthday fell on a Saturday. Infected with her enthusiasm, I also started to plan. How about a weekend getaway? Somewhere outside of the city? We’ve already gone to historic Ayutthya and the flesh market that is Pattaya (uh oh, bad move!). Chiang Mai is too far away. Phuket is pricey, so does Samui. And what would we see in Kanchanaburi, that old bridge built by POWs? Ho-hum. Hhmm…Hua Hin? I was about to say this to my wife when the hammer fell:

 

I have work on my birthday (!).

 

Turns out the NGOs in Bangkok will stage a series of conferences on that same weekend and come up with some statements and resolutions for the ASEAN Summit the following week. SEAPA’s contribution would be a screening of the docu-film “Burma VJ”, a recounting of how DVB, an Oslo-based independent Burmese broadcasting outfit, covertlycovered the Saffron Revolution in 2007. The only available spot was Saturday, 21 February, 6-9 pm. There goes my weekend getaway!

 

Anyway, Lizl and I just came up with a Plan B. We’ll stay in a hotel in Bangkok. Instead of surf and sand, we’ll have a swimming pool. In between, I can go to work. OK then.

 

The eve of my birthday, we went to Central World to catch a film. Would it be “Valkyrie”, “The Reader”? We ended up with “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. And what a film it was to see a day before one turns a year older! We both sat there carried away by the story of a man who ages in reverse. The subtext are the same themes you try to avoid thining about when you turn 37: Age, youth, memories, and yes, as a memorable quote in the film reminds us, opportunities both taken and missed. It was a sobering night, to say the least, with all these thoughts swirling in my head even as we went to sleep that night.

 

The following day, we checked in at the Grand President in Sukhumvit Soi 11. Lizl liked the place. We were there in December when they slashed their rate by half. We ended up in a suite, with a separate bedroom and a kitchen. It was already February but, owing perhaps to the financial crisis, the hotel still maintained its promotion, a suite for just THB3500.

 

But as our scheme unfolded, I started getting stressed. Lizl and I found ourselves transporting the whole gang, including the yaya, to downtown Bangkok, with all the matching luggages and sibling spats. Then when we got to the hotel, we were checked in a suite not to our taste. The place smelled of sweaty feet (must’ve been the moldy carpet) and the bathtub was dirty. So we called up the front desk and asked for a change of room. The exchange between me and the reception guy took 20 minutes; we simply could not understand each other. Why, oh, why do these hotels not hire frontliners who can speak better English? And why, oh, why have I, after three years of living in Bangkok, not yet learned to speak decent Thai?

 

Call time for us in the crew for the film screening was 5 pm. It was already quarter to 5 and no response yet from the front desk regarding our room transfer. My boss already called me up. The trip to Chulalongkorn University, the venue of the screening, from our hotel in Soi 11, on a Saturday afternoon, might take at least 30 minutes. And we still havent’t changed rooms. While we were waiting, the kids have gone to the pool to take a dip. At the stroke of 5, finally, we were informed the new room was ready. Pack up again, cross the courtyard to the other wing. We found out the room was on the second floor, nothing much to see on the window. But at least, it was cleaner and smelled fresher. Good enough. Once everybody’ settled down, Lizl and I hurried to Chula. Do we take a taxi or the BTS? Rama 1 Road might be choked with traffic jam, so we opted for the Skytrain. It meant walking for more than 200 meters to the mouth of the soi and the nearest BTS station (Nana). At Siam station we got off. 5:10 pm. Lizl bought some snacks and munched while we took a taxi that will bring us to Chula. Oh by the way, Chula’s a big university and within its enclosure is the Economics building beside which was the auditorium, the venue. I lost all appetite already. The taxi turned left on Phayathai Road and we counted the gates of Chula (based on Nu’s improvised map). Is this it? Is there another gate over there? Wait, I can already see Rama 4 Road. “Liyaw sai! Liyaw Sai!”  (“Turn left, turn left!”) I screamed at the driver. Once inside, we cruised slowly. Finally, the auditorium!

 

There, the College of Economics building. There was a sign that said “Burma VJ” so we followed it and ended up in the 2nd floor where the faculty room was. Hmm, did someone from the Burmese Embassy sabotage our signs? I ended up calling my boss, who gave us directions. Finally, we spotted my Burmese colleague, Nai Nai, who led us to the right place.

 

When we got there, it seems everything was already prepared. Good. I’d play receptionist then. Lizl was also shanghai’d into doing frontline work. No sweat. It was easy and fun. Just smile at the arriving viewers, greet them, hand them a copy of the annual report which I helped write (“Empty Promises”) and ask them to register. For around 90 minutes we did that, to the sound of camera clicks as Nai toyed around with her new digicam, catching us at inopportune moments.

 

I was able to relax only when the film started. Nai and I stayed 10 minutes more at the front desk for any latecomers. Then I went in and joined Lizl. It was cold inside. The auditorium had a seating capacity of around 700 or so. We filled up a third of that. Not bad. I had seen the film already, but it was good watching it again, this time, with Lizl, sharing with her a slice of my work. We had a working date.

 

Three hours later, after a brief Q & A with a representative from DVB, the viewers slowly made their exits, depressed by the state of affairs in Burma, while me and the rest of the SEAPA crew packed up our stuff. With all things done, we walked from the building to the university gate, under the trees and lighted lampposts. “We’ll find a spot somewhere here,” I jokingly told my boss and his wife. But it felt good, strolling with my wife, along a quiet university road.

 

Hey, we haven’t had dinner yet! Once out of the gates, the blare of Bangkok came back. We were able to get a cab and we went back to Soi 11. Rosa Bieng, a Thai restaurant, was still open. Lizl loved it there. The food was good, the price, better. The owner must be a toy train buff. There are model trains everywhere. There’s even a diorama depicting railways in the Alps. Well, at least the diorama featured mountains, their sides cut by railroad tracks, leading to tunnels. The mood was relaxing as the adrenaline drained out of me. I can feel my birthday at that point. Just sheer understated pleasure…the food, the jazz from the live band outside, the subdued lights, and Lizl’s presence . I wanted to have a drink, whether red wine or just a beer, one for the road, one for my 37th birthday. But it was already 11 pm and the restaurant was closing. We paid the bill. Reluctantly, we stood up and left the place.

 

 

 

As Lizl and I wandered around her hometown’s “poblacion” last month, she kept repeating, like a mantra: “This street used to be so long. Why does it look shorter now? That house used to be so enormous, but not anymore.”

 

I teased her about streets getting shorter as you get older, which earned me a good-natured pinch. But I have to admit, it’s a sensation you get whenever you revisit places you spent your childhood in. I remember the house in Makati where I grew up. It was in a compound with four apartment units with a common parking lot. When I was seven years old or so, my cousins and playmates would run around the parking lot as if it was the car park of Makro.

 

It was big enough for us to play “patintero” too. But as an adult, I would always be surprised whenever I make a visit to the old place and realize how small the car lot really is.

 

I had a somewhat similar sensation while I was walking around Pacita Complex when Lizl and the kids and I went home for a visit last month. It’s not spatial though. The streets were of the same length as I remember them (Ouch! There goes another pinch!). But the sensation was more about the atmosphere of the place.

 

 

My family moved to San Pedro, Laguna in 1984. Compared to my old playground in Makati, San Pedro was a backwater. A hicktown. But that’s San Pedro, the town.

 

 

We settled in a government-built subdivision called Rosario Complex, adjacent to its more popular cousin, Pacita Complex. It had pre-fabricated houses; no doors, windows or ceilings, though; you have to improve them yourself. And yes, there were no fences. No trees either. There was good water supply and electricity was not a problem. Nevertheless, Rosario Complex was suburbia. One lingering image I have of Rosario Complex is of a summer day, the sky so blue, unmarred by tall trees or buildings, with some of houses bereft of greenery but for dottings of green to mark plants and saplings struggling to become trees. The streets are straight and clean of both trash and stand-bys. The entire place smelled of fresh paint. I would forever be indebted to my parents for bringing us there during our adolescence. Somehow, Rosario Complex sheltered us in its suburban cocoon.

 

 

Fast-forward to 2006, shortly before my family left for Thailand. At the time, we had been living in a nearby subdivision called Juana Complex (let me digress, the original developer, so the story goes, had several daughters after whom he named the subdivisions, so there’s Pacita, Rosario, Adelina and Juana). Pacita Complex is now a far cry from its modest beginnings. Aside from the two bus terminals that service both Manila- and provincial-bound passengers, several fastfood chains are now well-established and the main road looks like the main thoroughfare of BF Homes Sucat, that is, lined up with small business establishments.

 

 

December 2008. I spent a lot of time going around the place, visiting places I used to hang out in. Somehow, I felt a tinge of melancholy; the place has changed, I thought to myself, not without a trace of regret. I don’t know if its residents see these new things as progress but somehow, despite the stores and other businesses, Pacita looked…shabbier. There are more stores now, yes, but it seems they were built in a haphazard way, their materials makeshift. Houses with neatly-trimmed lawns have given way to multi-door apartment units crowded with tenants. Tricycles with their oily fumes have taken over. …their drivers complete strangers. Twenty five years ago, we were on first-name basis with the tricycle drivers. It seemed everyone knew everyone else. Sure, Pacita is not as sleepy as Chrysanthemum Village, another government housing nearby which had been built in the early 70s. Chrysanthemum has apparently turned into a retirement community, as if the youth of that place has fled to other places, leaving only their aging parents to sit under the trees and dream of their past glories.

 

 

Pacita is vibrant, but in a different kind of way. It’s in a cusp…It is serene suburbia giving way to inner city chaos. It’s simply not the same Pacita Complex I grew up in. It’s not my place anymore…