Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In Dire Need of Water

I was looking at a small bottled water I bought from the canteen, about 200 mL, just enough to quench my momentary thirst. In one swig, a third of it remained and I watched it sitting in silence and thought of what would happen to the remainder of it. Probably it would be forgotten, thrown out, or drunk the next day. Without me knowing, an atomic portion of it might have evaporated. It was one of the things I used to neglect.

A small label was plastered on the chest of the bottled water. It says Tinlo - a Hiligaynon word for "clean." Needless to say, water is an essential thing to sustain life; more aptly, "clean water." Nowadays we are privileged because in just one turn of the faucet, we can tap an abundant supply of clean water. Of course, we pay a price for it; nevertheless, we don't have to dig the ground to search for fresh water, which is supposed to be free.

Five years back, I didn't have that privilege. We were one of those informal settlers who were offered a relocation site in the outskirt of the city. We once lived in a place where, they say, a big Ayala shopping mall will soon rise. Life back then was not easy. We had to fetch water everyday from the nearest well, which was about ten meters away. We would bring many pails and make sure to fill them up to the brim; for sure, a lot of water from those pails would be spilled on the rocky pavement to the house as our arms shook and got numb. Before that, we had already exhausted our energy pumping water that flowed out in piddling amounts. That might be the reason why I developed big muscles.

According to a documentary Oras Na shown last November on GMA7, it is predicted that in the year 2025, our major sources of clean water would be contaminated due to pollution, overpopulation and human neglect. Imagine how morbid it would be to bathe in murky, putrid water. Perhaps by that time, the primary cause of human demise would root from water-born diseases. Just recently, we were horrified by the aftermath of the typhoon Sendong that sent flash floods to Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Negros Oriental, and claimed the lives of many people, caused damage to properties and left thousands of other people lurking in the shadows of gloom, despair and misery. Water was the element that destroyed them; the same element is going to save them. Without sufficient, clean water to drink, most of them would not survive.

Looking back to my past experiences, I have learned how important water is in our lives. Conserving water right now - by simple means of using a glass when brushing your teeth, minimizing the use of the shower, practicing proper waste management, among so many others - would be crucial to human survival in the future.

Lucky am I to have a bottled water to drink. Somewhere on earth, a child might be sticking her tongue out pleading for a drop of water from the sky. Somewhere in southern Philippines right now, people need our help. They are in dire need of clean water.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cheerful Death

     All Souls' Day is a solemn time of the year. It is when we often gather round a table and share horror stories related to our personal encounters of paranormal happenings involving mysterious creatures such as ghosts and spirits, which could not be logically explained and might just be figments of our imagination. There is no concrete proof of their existence but we recognize their presence. We celebrate the realism and wonder of death and especially of life after death; that there could be another realm in this world--a place where we go to when we become intangible.

      Death is amazing and intriguing at the same time but it is something most of us fear. All of those that depict death scare us. When we talk about death, we most probably picture out a dark and cold place devoid of feelings and energy. This might be the reason why we light up candles for our departed loved ones. As Christians, we believe that when we die we either go to heaven or hell depending on how well we have lived God's commandments. There is no certainty with what would come next after death and we don't usually think about it but all this time we have tried to live a life for things and people worth dying for.

     Death is a delicate subject and just thinking about people dear to us who are on the verge of death gives pangs in our heart. We always wish we could stay healthy and live forever. I have realized it is not really death that saddens us but the sufferings that go along with it. Like a thief in the night, we'll never know when death is going to knock at our door; that is why, every single day we should try to prepare ourselves for its coming--by showing love and appreciation to people who care for us, by following our heart, by being sorry to those whom we have hurt, by being a blessing to other people, by obeying God's will for us. In that way, we can be ready any time. After all, nothing could be more gratifying than a cheerful death.

     Those who are hurting much more than the person on the verge of death are the people close to him such as family and friends. Was there ever a time you have wished a loved one struggling with illness would better be dead rather than continue living with suffering and pain? When I was 17, I had prayed my mother be dead. I'd rather God would take her away and remove all her pains than see her in misery. Looking at people hanging on the edge of life and death is a traumatic experience. If possible, I'd choose not to see a death happens. On the day my mother died, I went to school on an ordinary day albeit a gut feeling that she was about to die. When I was informed that she died, I didn't go to the hospital as well. When I was 11, I saw my grandpa gasping his last breath as he was lying in bed. That was the first time I witnessed someone died. Last year when our dog named Lucy was slayed, I saw deep sadness in her eyes. I just turned away, cried and went off to work. Even though she was just a dog, I felt anger for the perpetrator who took her life.

     There is so much loneliness in a thing called death. But if there is no such thing as death, would life be exciting? If we could be a vampire like Edward Cullen who's still 17 until now, would we be happy? I guess not. Death is designed for us by God to remind us to live a life beautifully.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Midcon 2011: A Success!

     The Midyear Conference, or commonly called by its shortened name "Midcon," is an annual event in Toastmasters District 75 in the Philippines aimed at assessing the progress of clubs in each division, and at the same time providing an avenue for learning and most especially having fun and basking in the sun! This year 2011, the Midcon, themed Festive Island, was held last October 22-23 at the paradise island of Boracay!

     I'm a novice in the Toastmasters world but in a span of two years, I've gained so much from my Toastmasters learning experience. Not only have I improved my communication skills and gained self-confidence but I have also learned how to deal and connect with different personalities of people--which is one of the essentials in order to succeed in every endeavor. International Director Christine Temblique asked the audience about the most important thing they have learned in Toastmasters during her speech and she said, for her, it is valuing people. The end of effective communication apparently is knowing how to lead and establish ties and relationships with people; thereby, urging them to work for a common goal. This I have realized when being part of the Midcon working committee; you have to keep an open communication. With Midcon Chair Mhel Sillador at the helm, the Midcon 2011 has definitely been a successful one! Click here to know more what happened.

     Perhaps, one of the salient highlights of my very first Midcon experience was the Speech to Evaluate contest where I served as a test speaker. I was evaluated by ten contestants and their positive reviews and suggestions for improvement were very enlightening and encouraging. Those were the best evaluations I got so far from fellow Toastmasters. Their words have fired up my passion to step up my public speaking skills  and reach excellence. Below is the manuscript of my speech entitled "Esprit de l'escalier."

     In the beginning of our Toastmasters journey, when we are put on the spot in a defining moment, we tend to give the best of what we got to nail a performance. But in a spur of that moment, we may get excited and anxious at the same time; we could be overwhelmed by either apprehension or enthusiasm. We often ask: can I do it and deliver, if not excellently but at least properly? Or will I bask myself in a lifetime of humiliation, public speaking turned public shaming? The phrases “What if I did this” and “Had I been” are haunting—and subjectively disheartenment fills the unanswered questions. Another doubt arises: will I do it again?
     Public speaking, for some of us, is arguably a monolithic task; notwithstanding, quite an enjoyable activity if one occasionally immerses himself into it. Once, I thought public speaking is the same as merely colorful talking—saying what’s on your mind and that’s just it. Others regard it as a traumatic experience because they fear being criticized. But all of those presumptions are blatantly untrue. When I joined Toastmasters two years ago, I have learned there are more to public speaking than just talking. It’s more of how you say rather than what you say, and not just how you say but how much you need to say. One of the biggest challenges in public speaking every Toastmasters member must take on, apart from overcoming fear, is applying the significance of simplicity and self-control.
     Albert Einstein once said, “Things need to be simple, but not simpler.” And making things simple entails the elimination of the unnecessary so that the necessary must stand out. Public speaking needs to be simple. It doesn’t require the usage of highfalutin words to impress the audience nor does it have to be anchored on an arcane subject. All you may need is a topic as plain as a dot and inject an ebullient personality into it and soon you’ll see the dot drawing and painting lines and curves. You don’t even have to tackle a table topics in a matter-of-fact manner; sometimes, you just need a single point and a slice of your personal experience to make a mini-speech interesting and sparkling with inspiration. The necessary is something you have already undergone, which can never be refuted. Your ideas must be driven by succint language and hemmed together based on ubiquitous speech organization patterns and principles we have learned only in Toastmasters.
     One of the best learnings I got from Toastmasters is the value of self-control. Standing on a rostrum, we can zealously blurt out anything we want and we are unstoppable until we see the red light. When our time ends and before we realize it, we haven’t said what we’re supposed to say because we lingered on the unnecessary. We should’ve said something that would make a difference in the moment but because time has run out, that’s just esprit de l’escalier. Similarly, this translates to saying the right words at the right time. It takes a lot of discipline to say enough in a limited amount of time, and this is the kind of discipline that distinguishes us as Toastmasters and makes us stand out.
     Evaluation is ostensibly a test of simplicity and self-control. We all know the purpose of evaluation is to help a fellow Toastmaster realize his goals as a speaker. It is the very heart of a Toastmasters program. Thus, evaluation doesn’t only have to be direct-to-the-point, but it must also be non-judgmental and non-prejudicial, for public speaking isn’t something we should be ashamed of or be traumatized with. In Toastmasters, we build an amicable environment conducive for learning and growth where nobody is a stranger. Together, we form a family and we build a community. Toastmasters is where we have fun and where we learn.
     Being proficient in public speaking is a work in progress—and is achieved, not on the spot, but through tenacity by doing it again and again. As much as how you thrive depends on your own commitment, your success as a speaker relies largely as well on the kind of people that surround you and help you shine and become better. You’re sure you will not be humiliated and you can build self-confidence gradually as there’s always a room for improvement. If we keep an open heart and mind, we’ll find the beauty in Toastmasters is being able to grab the urgency of now—learning how to speak out the right words today would spell out a huge change.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Farewell Steve Jobs

     This morning, I woke up with a shocking news I heard from a TV program; Steve Jobs, the great man behind popular gadgets such as iPhones, iPods and iPads, has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. Stunned and incredulous, I opened Twitter on my phone to verify the information--not that I'm cynical with the news report but at times I often find social networks a lot louder and more convincing. Except an iPod Shuffle, I do not own any other Apple products--I use and prefer a BlackBerry over an iPhone because I'm not used to a touch screen--but the demise of a visionary leader and business man like Steve Jobs is a terrible loss to the world. Surely, he contributed incredibly in how the lives and cultures of people have changed because of the innovations he introduced and strongly believed in--technologies that could lead to social transformation. And he was quite right. We can now see how drastically a computer, from its mere purpose of number crunching, has served an essential role in every day business, communication, entertainment and multimedia. The ubiquitous letter "i" imprinted on these gadgets' name would long be remembered and probably would transcend far beyond generations, much longer than the lifetime of this man whose name I've first known from the pages of a History of Computers book, one of my first courses as a Computer Science major. Since then, he has already stepped onto the pedestal of greatness. There's more to learn from this incredible yet enigmatic man, who kept most of his life private. One of the words he had spoken that I really like is this: "The only way to do great is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking." This brilliant man is definitely an inspiring model of tenacity and determination, and makes us believe we can always achieve our dreams.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Tribute to Teachers

     When I was in elementary, the first thing I would look at on my report card every grading period was not the grades but the remarks the adviser had written. Fragments of those I could remember very well were the words "silent worker" and "conscientious"--attributes my teacher never failed to see in me. Fired up to excel in studies and zealous to achieve greatly, a sixth grader like me grew a fascination with my mentors whose every word I believed and put to heart. Not only me but everyone in my class felt deep affection and fondness for people we considered as second parents. When a teacher had been admitted to a hospital due to heart ailment, a group of us visited and brought her fruits and flowers. Another teacher was rumored to be on the verge of death and was said to have undergone a major operation for a malignant tumor in her uterus--most girls teared up with the idea she had already died--but after several weeks she showed up in class and we were overwhelmed with gratitude. I couldn't believe it all happened during my last year in elementary. Even after graduation until now, I could still remember the names and faces of great people who did not only enrich my world by imparting their knowledge but also made an impact to my life through their kind words and generous deeds that inspired me to reach my potentials. Years have passed and I've never heard from my previous mentors again. They might be enjoying their retirement somewhere else, or might be in a better place right now, but one thing's for sure they were immortalized in the heart of every student they have touched.

     Not at all times though, we see a "teacher" in a teacher. As I grew older, I came to know the difference between those who just sit and probably wait for the next pay day to come and those who go the extra mile. One of the courses in college I had not really given much attention to was Physical Education, but when we were assigned under this particular teacher--we called her Miss D--my attitude towards the subject matter had changed. The course was mainly about Individual and Team Sports and that included playing bowling, basketball and volleyball. She piqued our interest in those games by being funny, engaging and energetic. Coming to the school amphitheater before 7:30 in the morning twice a week was never a problem because just the thought of meeting a wonderful teacher motivated me not to be tardy--or else I would miss the flexibility exercises and the jog around the basketball court. On the other hand, I had a teacher on Web Technology who would rarely give any lectures and would just let us browse the Internet for the whole three-hour period, and when examination was about to arrive he would give us tons of notes to study which had not been discussed in class. He made his life easy by supposing college was all about self-learning--and he was quite right. Nothing he did, as far I can recall, furthered my education and perhaps I could have decidedly learned all those concepts just by reading W3Schools.com. By being what he was, he exemplified a mere instructor and not a teacher anyone can look up to and emulate, and was remembered because of what he didn't do.
     Being a teacher, for me, is the hardest and most challenging profession of all. Teachers give birth to all other professions and religions--the greatest teacher of all is Jesus--and are the ones who have a big influence in our lives. You might have decided to be a doctor because you admired your Science teacher or be an engineer because of a dexterous Math teacher. Our liking to a certain discipline or how our interests and preferences were molded might have been the result of a teacher's commitment and sincerity to his mission of honing the minds of the posterity. As we celebrate the World Teacher's Day on this very day, I wholeheartedly express my appreciation and gratitude to all teachers all over the world who remain steadfast and dedicated to their noble work, and especially to those who helped me find real meaning in life.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On Commitment

One of the things I am excited to find when checking my e-mail inbox every now and then is an inspiring article I subscribe from Bo Sanchez's Practical Soulfood for Successful People. This week, I received one entitled The Magic Sauce of All Success that talked about the importance of having commitment as the secret ingredient of success. One line I liked from the article goes this way: "God’s power works through our commitment."

I can fairly relate to this line from my real-world experiences. Every time I am faced with tasks in my job I am unfamiliar with or have not done before, I would not openly respond with "I couldn't do it"--probably what you'd expect as a pavlovian reaction from some people. Instead, I would say "I will try to do it to the best of my abilities." Others may regard saying "I will try" as a sign of weakness or lack of confidence. But for me, it means commitment. It takes a lot of courage to say "I will try" rather than "I couldn't do it." Of course, I will make sure that I deliver what has been promised no matter how big the besetting difficulties. Sure, it entails hard work and tenacity.

One situation in which I tested my commitment and another's commitment was when my boss asked me to train a co-employee on a particular software. It was during one of those hectic times when I couldn't manage my time well and I felt like I was already depressed in the job--I even had this crazy idea of saving up a two-month salary in order to buy a plane ticket back to the Philippines--that I accepted this job on-the-side. I sincerely gave my best, despite busy schedules, to train him in the same standard our boss trained us. I was committed to make him an expert on that software but it seemed to me that that person was not showing the same enthusiasm and commitment as I had. He would send me the same answers that I already marked wrong and he apparently would forget some items. Being objective and straightforward, I tried to get from him accurate and precise answers as much as possible. I felt he misunderstood my good intentions because I remembered the first words he said the first time we met, "Ikaw pala 'yung nagpapahirap sa 'kin." (You were the one who made my life difficult.) I took it as a humor. But as days passed by, I've been more convinced that he is one of those who worships the god of convenience. He also said that I looked intimidating. Well, I haven't learned to like his unclever cajolings. I'd like to prevent myself from believing he was saying all of that out of spite. I just can't handle his kind of attitude. We didn't finish the training since, for some reasons I don't know, my boss told me that it be temporarily stopped. 

If I don't have commitment, I feel that I don't have a driving force to accomplish something. For me, commitment is like a road map--it gives you directions and helps you calculate the distance of your destination. I've said to myself that I want to be a writer--that is why I would pursue a degree in Journalism, and it is one commitment I've set to myself. Getting the commitment of every member in a team or organization is also important in reaching a common goal. In Toastmasters, a public speaking club in which I'm a member, commitment is what makes every meeting possible. Without at least 6-8 attendees, the meeting would most likely be postponed. Commitment is also essential in realizing one's educational and leadership goals through delivering basic speech projects and performing meeting roles. Since Toastmasters is a voluntary organization, you cannot expect every member to attend a meeting regularly or finish an educational norm. I really like the way Toastmasters puts it, "Your potential is limited only by how many excuses you have." If you have commitment to your club as well as your personal development, you won't probably end up faking illnesses or devising abrupt appointments.

Similarly, God is committed to each one of us. If we experience great challenges right now, it is His way of saying never give up; it is His way of seeing if we, too, are committed to His will. I will never ever say to God that He is making my life difficult because I'm up for the challenge and I know that He will help and guide me all throughout.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Entering my Jerusalem

     When it was the right time for Jesus to accomplish His ultimate mission, He finally set off to Jerusalem, capital of Israel and the seat of government, during Passover--an occasion whereby many people flocked the city to join the festivities. By doing so, Jesus moved out of His private life, in which He had silently worked to teach the Gospel amongst the poor and the sinners, to a public life marked by many dramatic events leading to His destiny--His passion, death and resurrection.

     This particular stage in the life of Jesus inspired me to follow suit (in a figurative sense). In one way or another, I have pondered for so long about my ultimate destiny in life and these bugging thoughts have almost left me wide awake at night--but not entirely since I have lately been experiencing sleeping disorder. In the wee hours of early morning, I have gone through rediscovering what I really want to achieve in my life and how I envision myself. I have thought about my future plans based on self-fulfilment and appraised my capabilities in achieving my goals.

     I have always wanted to be independent and take a hundred percent responsibililty of my life. I want to understand basic truths and reasons that I experienced myself and not because other people, or stories I have read from books and seen from movies, told me so. I want to know how every victory or misery tastes in every sense of the word. By that, I would have no regrets and what-ifs later on.

     Entering my Jerusalem means facing reality, accepting challenges and realizing my passions. For me, life would be futile without any purpose. You can stay in your comfort zone, you can watch a breathtaking scenery outside the window sitting in a couch, but you can never run wild and say "I was there."

     Despite the unfortunate incident that happened to me a couple of days ago, I am glad because I had a confrontation with my boss and finally expressed my desire to seek a different opportunity. I am happier because I did it in a way that would not break my good relationship with my employer. Somehow, he understood my aspiration to pursue another education and even gave me a compliment for being courageous.

     I am excited about starting a life anew. I know it would be difficult at first but I have faith in God and confidence in myself. I totally agree with Paulo Coelho when he twitted, "Life is the train, not the station." We will actually never know where we are going but we can always enjoy the ride wherever life would take us. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Children's Tales

Who would forget the familiar lines “Once upon a time” and “They live happily ever after”? These were the immortalized words that lulled me to sleep when I was a child and made me dream of an enchanted, mysterious and strangely wonderful place, in which I can never grow old, be the handsomest prince of all, ride on a flying carpet, or embark on an important mission to tussle with giants, pirates and dragons.

We had once journeyed to a magical kingdom through a wardrobe as its portal, with borders as wide as our limitless imagination, created in our young and innocent minds from bedtime stories told by elders or from booklets and audio cassette tapes that came with milk cartons. It was a world where we can define who we want to become and where there is always a happy ending.

A long time ago, we had lived as a child, who had simple yet resolute desires, whose views about the world were not as complicated as it is today, whose ultimate goal in life was to wait in a well and be kissed by a beautiful princess in order to transform back into a human. It feels good to reminisce the moment when we did not only choose to place ourselves in the shoes of a royalty but also empathized with humble, lowly characters who found real treasure and genuine happiness by being true to their type. It is noteworthy to recall the valuable lessons we have learned from these universal tales of love, life, family and friendship--tales that go on and on through the end of time.

What made these stories truly amazing are the morals they have taught us. We have heard these stories several times already and they have made a lasting impression in our minds. Pondering on some of these stories and their morals, I wonder what would have happened if there was a twist in the plot, say, Cinderella was not able to leave behind her glass slipper by accident, the prince did not arrive to kiss the sleeping beauty (would she rot?), or the hare did not sleep halfway through the race. Would there be lessons learned from altering the story? Probably not and this goes to show that the general truths in this world remain constant.

It is nice to bring back to life these stories and reflect upon their teachings. The almost tragic end of Little Red Riding Hood taught us to be wary of strangers; The Three Little Pigs showed us that you can build security by being diligent, smart, and persistent; We have learned from Pinocchio that it is bad to tell lies, fabricate and exaggerate stories; Cinderella was an exemplar of kindness to her family even though they did not treat her well; Snow White radiated pure kindness and inner beauty; The Hare and The Tortoise spoke about humility, consistency and determination in order to win in life; The Ant and the Grasshopper was about saving and preparing for the future; The Ugly Duckling stressed the importance of loving yourself and the appreciation of the inner self more than the physical appearance; Hansel and Gretel reminded us to always listen to our parents’ warnings, lest we fall into danger.

You may probably find a resemblance of these stories in your real life. Can you relate to any one of these characters or stories? As you already knew, the simple truths about life can be found in children’s tales if you just take the chance to reawaken the sleeping child within you—a child a long time ago who had an open heart and mind and believed in the positivity of a happy-ever-after.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Countdown to Christmas

   September is the ninth month of the year, the prelude of the "Ber" months, the time when most of us in the Philippines set our clocks ticking for a 100-day countdown. At this too early stage, we start putting up vibrant decors with hues of red and green in our homes--not to forget, among others, the traditional Christmas trees of varying sizes, twinkling lights, mistletoes and Santa's socks. A Christmas tree, for some of us, doesn't have to be grandeur as it will cost thousands of pesos believing we can always come up with an innovative idea. When I was young, my mother created a Christmas tree from drinking straws and taught us how to fold one to create a flower and join several cut-outs to form a branch. She combined the pieces altogether and embellished the resulting tree with blinking lights. It was incredible! As a child, I imagined the bells and chimes in my head as I frantically waited for exact midnight to scamper towards the Christmas tree to open my presents. I eventually found out that the boxes were just made of air, nothing but a symbolism.

   The notion that September is the beginning of the Christmas season is blatantly untrue. As a matter of fact, the official celebration based on the Catholic calendar starts on the 25th of December and ends on a Sunday between January 2 and January 8 during the Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings (Wise Men, more aptly). But why does the Filipino celebration of Christmas commence three months away? I don't have an exact answer for it; nonetheless, I don't have a problem accepting this, do you?

   For me, Christmas is timeless. December 25 is but a date set by the Catholic church to formally kick off the celebration and it could be any time of the year. Perhaps, the Filipinos' perky and festive attitude is the reason why we are quite eager in anticipating the Christmas season. We always want to celebrate and be happy all the time. We are family-oriented and Christmas is the only time of the year when we can mostly reunite with our family and loved ones. One should never forget that the message of Christmas is all about sharing our blessings, not only with special people but most especially with those who are poor and despairing--even with those who are unlovable. It is also about forgiving those who have done you wrong and showing sincerity and appreciation to those who have done you a favor but whom you have not reciprocated. Most of all, may we always remember the main reason why we have this celebration and it is the birth of Jesus Christ, the best gift we have ever received long before we were born. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Web Revolutionary

     One of the reasons why web development is enjoyable nowadays is that there are tools -- costing nothing but a deal of patience and self-learning -- that let you create interesting, catchy and interactive websites. Three months ago, I started to learn this useful and powerful tool you can use to attract and impress visitors to your website/blog and add life to the dullest webpages. 

     This tool is called jQuery -- a JavaScript library that basically makes coding in JavaScript a lot simpler and easier. If you're already familiar with JavaScript, then you won't have a hard time learning jQuery. I like this tool for three reasons:
  • It's free. Who doesn't love free stuffs? It's like choosing between a slightly-used and a brand-new book. Same content but the former is given away.
  • It doesn't require plug-ins/high-end software and hardware. You don't need to download and install megabytes of software to get started. You don't have to opt for an 8-Gig RAM or a 64-bit CPU either. All you need is a text editor and a browser.
  • It's easy to learn. Geeks are not only obsessed with free stuffs, but they're also itching to show off. Lots of tutorials and demos are available if you just know what to google and even if you've lost all ten fingers, you could still use a mic. To kick off, you can visit http://docs.jquery.com/Main_Page.   
     Of course, I won't be bias to the point of evangelizing this product. There are caveats also and my personal observations are as follows:
  • It's not the better choice for animations/presentations. If you're into snazziness, Adobe Flash would be better. The modern web is all about simplicity and interactivity though.
  • It has cross-browser issues. I've noticed that running on Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome works fine. Running on Internet Explorer may result to a total disaster! 
  • It's damn hardcoding. If you're into rapid application development, then this tool may not be a wise option. There are other free stuffs out there that could help you do things faster.
     It is said that this decade starting 2011 is "The Rise of Social Media." Everything on the web has transformed from a mere display of static information to a hob-knob of people from all walks of life. We've seen how the web united and divided the world and influenced our views and opinions on critical matters. Let's keep vigilant because we have the power to change the world at our fingertips--we are the web revolutionary.

Note: I created the slideshow on the Advertisements section at the right using jQuery. *grinning*

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Burning the Boat

         When I’m watching Pilipinas Got Talent, I am awed by the myriad of talents Filipinos have. There are folks doing breakdance, playing a Canon piece on blindfolded eyes, belting out and chewing nuts at the same time, rapping unrhymed verses on discordant notes. The only difference why they are there and I am watching them in front of my television is that they are fearless; they are determined to reach their dreams and they have come to get only one answer, either a YES or a NO. They do not fear failure and they are only focused on getting their desired result. What’s amusing though is that some of them are comebacks who are unceasingly trying their luck in the hope of getting another chance. I am always amazed by other people’s virtue of “never say never.

          According to a certain website, there are seven ways to overcome the fear of failure:

1.              Consider the cost of missed opportunities. One line from a movie Proof says “The biggest risk in life is not taking one.” We are often avoiding challenging tasks because we doubt our own capabilities to accomplish them. We don’t realize that avoiding high risk/high reward opportunities would cost us an avenue to further our skills and improve ourselves. We may choose to remain where we currently are and live a contented, happy life; however, we may not learn something new, may get stuck in the same routine and may eventually be stopped from making our own mark.

2.          Research the alternatives. The greatest fear is the fear of the unknown. We all know that the fear of the unknown is why Tom Riddle created horcruxes. But what he failed to do was to fully research other means of defying death such as hallows which he never discovered. If we are daunted to deliver a speech in front of many people, we may consider why we are having such negative notion. We may begin with knowing our audience to feel comfortable, followed by selecting a topic and then writing the outline of our speech to be reassured that we can get our message across. Preparation is the first step to conquer the fear of public speaking. We may research the potential outcomes of our every action so we may clearly understand the benefits and risks in order to make right and logical decisions.

3.             Put the worst-case scenario in perspective. In Computer Science specifically in Analysis of Algorithms, we have what is called a Big O Notation to express the worst-case scenario for a given algorithm which is generally the longest time an algorithm performs. Similarly, if we fall short of our goals, we may consider how long it will take us to realistically recover. How hard is it to find another job? How much will it cost to increase the company’s production? We must consider the things that may go wrong and make the necessary preparations.

4.          Understand the benefits of failure. It is believed that Thomas Edison failed more than a thousand times before he was able to make a functional incandescent bulb. It is in line with what Emerson said, “Life is a series of experiments; the more you make, the better.” At times we cannot accomplish something on the first shot but that shouldn’t give us a reason to stop trying. For instance, I failed the first time I took the TIBCO Certification Exam but I wasn’t discouraged. I was able to succeed the second time.

5.          Make a contingency plan. We can make a checklist of various options to consider when taking a risky action. This will ensure that we will have a solid backup plan if our first option fails. If you are traveling on an airplane, you will notice that there are safety instructions given before take-off. Riding a plane is itself a risk and the crew provides parachutes and gives emergency landing measures in case of untoward incidents. Similarly, we need to determine what these parachutes are in making critical decisions.

6.        Take action. The best way to build confidence and reduce fear is by taking action. Sometimes writers experience a phenomenon called writer’s block. A writer often waits for inspiration in order to kick off. Unfortunately the kick doesn’t come all the time and at the right time. To better combat this predicament, one should practise jotting down ideas on a notepad no matter how incoherent they may be. Doing so helps a writer have his ideas flowing gradually which is better than having a blank sheet for a long time.

7.            Burn the boats. The first thing Greek armies would do when they travelled across the sea for battle is to burn their boats. This action only leaves them two choices: to succeed or to fail. Burning the boat is standing on a stage to audition for a play, a trust fall, a make-it-or-break-it performance. If you are undecided about going back to school or having your dream vacation, why don’t you schedule an entrance exam ahead or book a plane ticket in advance? In that way, you will be able to eliminate your doubts, come up with a firm decision and commit on achieving your goals.

I have learned from a certain priest that the phrase Fear Not is used in the Bible 365 times. Why should you be fearful? Jesus spoke to the disciples “Take courage and do not be afraid.” I believe fear is only an absence of faith and if you have faith in God and in yourself, the boat to be burned will get you safely to the real battle amidst the raging storm.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thinking Outside the Box

     The 21st century world is filled with subliminal images and iterative information we get everyday from various forms of media which could change our mindset and moral standards. Not recently, many were affronted by the controversial huge billboards of rugby players along EDSA in Metro Manila flaunting their fit bodies in semi-nudity to advertise a certain underwear brand. It would've been fine if there was only one billboard instead of several ones placed side-by-side like a row of gigantic picture frames which might have been flagrantly offensive and ego-degrading to those who suffer from the insecurities of their own physical appearances. I wouldn't care as much if the material perceived as a sexual innuendo wasn't in a public highway where all sorts of people from school children to working adults pass everyday. What would then be the point of advertisements if no one can see them? However, not everyone had shown displeasure with such overtly marketed men's briefs and according to some known people, the players' toned bodies were paragons of physical wellness and athleticism. Was it an over-criticized art deemed to evangelize perfection or just another muck?

     Come to think of it... If you were to buy an underwear, some things you'd consider may be the waist size, color, design, durability, brand, among others. You wouldn't care about who-the-hell is wearing these private garments when you go and check them on a catalog. But imagine a billboard plainly showing a cascade of these garments. Before you know it, you may yawn at the banality and not even bother to glance at it. Some things aren't exactly the way they should be when it comes to artistic expression and get-attention-quick marketing. There are lot more to consider and the process is meticulous. I have not worked in the field of arts before, other than school projects, but I understand this discipline requires a bold, defiant and risky attitude and an outside-the-box thinking. We got a chance to create a short film project during college and I can say it was never an easy task from conceptualization of the storyline to video editing.

     When I came across this film entitled "Ang Babae sa Septik Tank" (The Woman in Septic Tank), I had a different expectation for this movie. One, it's not mainstream; two, it is indie; three, it is not mainstream and it's indie. Yes these three things all mean the same. Obviously, I'm jaded by all the crassitude in typical commercial Pinoy movies. I reckon we deserve a realistic, interesting and insightful one; we've had enough of love teams, lousy horrors, and surreal fantasies. But I wasn't much enthralled by the beginning part. If I was watching it on DVD, I would've shut it off in the first five minutes. I was apparently dissatisfied by the tediousness and blandness of the first few scenes: shaky wide shots of a disgusting slum, a little girl squatting and pooping, drunken men doing nothing all day, a family of seven children and a mother who was preparing instant noodles for lunch. The fact that the scenes didn't contain any dialogue made me both smile and sneer in my seat. It wasn't the typical "radio drama" script in which every movement has a corresponding narration. Even in silence, the scenes speak on its own the conveyed message and build up the necessary drama. I think providing dialogues doesn't give the audience a different opportunity to practise cognitive and critical thinking skills. We often prefer a movie with lots of speaking lines but sometimes actions do not need words to deliver the meaning. For example, a distraught mother cooking one pack of instant noodles to feed her seven children would not really have to utter a word to make us create a clear picture of a distressed, impoverished family. As the movie progressed, I have learned that the beginning part has a relevance to the rest of the story. The story is basically about two very ambitious filmmakers who faced predicaments in their quest to create a masterpiece that will send them to international film festivals. The drama-musical-comedy-in-one starred Eugene Domingo who played a convincing role of herself and won Best Actress in Cinemalaya. The best part for me is when Eugene Domingo explained the three types of acting in a very hilarious way: the Elevator acting, TV Patrol acting, and the "As is Where is" acting. She was able to portray a demanding, self-centered actor who only thinks about herself and not what the director envisions the film to be. At times, we only look at the efforts from the actors but we don't understand that the people behind the scenes such as the screenwriters and even production assistants also play a vital role on the success of a movie.

      Things around us may not mean the way we think they should be. It actually depends on one's disposition and belief systems and how wide-open one's mind is. A good example I can think of is Lady Gaga who seems to be really fond of using metaphorical lyrics in her songs. The lines "I'm still in love with Judas" and "Jesus is the new black..." may offend Catholic Christians but another way of interpreting these could be "I still love a traitor" and "I have faith in the black fashion." She must be an unconventional thinker but still I don't get the point why she uses religious symbols. Nevertheless, we should be very wise and careful in our perceptions and choices of these materials as we are vulnerably exposed to the dangerous and tricky consequences of modern forms of media. As for me, I don't believe we are only living in a black-and-white world.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Memorable Weekend

My weekends always end up without anything significant but this particular weekend is filled with great events to remember, so I want to write about them.

Saturday, 30th of July -> Couch Potato

My "sungka friends", also with a newly baptized name "movie friends", and I had a great - well, obviously - 'movie time' together at Jamie's, one of our friends' house, at about past three o'clock in the afternoon and we watched two movies in DVD and one was partly from a laptop.

The first movie we watched was "Insidious," - I'm often confused with the spelling - a paranormal, horror movie. I'm not actually fond of horror movies because they either make me laugh at absurd scenes or leave me utterly terrified. For this one, I had a gut feeling that I would get the latter; first, it isn't a Pinoy horror movie and second, it has an intriguing title. I didn't know the meaning of the word insidious until I knew about this movie. Consulting Mr. Google, I found out that the word means treacherous, beguiling or harmful in a subtle, stealthy manner. The movie depicts a boy who is a very accomplished astral projector and whose spirit has the ability to consciously leave the body and travel to a place called "the further." The boy fell into a coma for quite a long time and the medical doctor was not able to give a clear explanation of such. While munching on assorted corns, nuts and peas, we watched strange, disturbing, diabolical happenings unfold in the lives of the family. Believing the house was haunted, they decided to change residence but the same terrible things happened. As they were trying to understand the logic behind those events, the family consulted paranormal experts who helped them unveil the mystery. Now on our Moby snacks, we learned that the boy inherited the trait of being an astral projector from his father who was incredulous at first but, later on, accepted the truth upon seeing the boy's drawings that accurately described the places where the boy's spirit traveled. Interesting movie! I don't want to tell the reason bad spirits are chasing them. I hope I've just said enough for a non-spoiler. There were a couple of shrieks from one of us and a lot of dog barks - hopefully the dogs were not seeing spirits - and the ending part was not a happy or resolved closure; nonetheless, it was a fine movie and I would rate it 3 out of 5 stars for not making me feel terrified.

The second movie we watched was "3 Idiots," an inspiring, hilarious, melodramatic Indian film about three friends, who faced challenges and pressures in their college life as engineering students leading to both positive and negative ramifications. The movie made me recall my whole working experience as a TIBCO Consultant in India and I can say pressure isn't uncommon in the workplace. I remembered working for more than twelve hours a day, straight seven days a week. I'm not entirely against overtime if the project is critical and needs to meet a deadline but maybe not to the point of overstretching the working hours of the team. I'm not a kind of person who is not good at handling pressure and doesn't like pressure at all. But like they say, "Aal iiz well..." and you'll get a strong kick from within to be able to start again. I guess it's sort of a Buddhist principle. We enjoyed every song and dance segment in the film typical of Bollywood, the beautiful, picturesque views of different places, the colorful costumes that include sarees, kurtas and turbans, and lots of infrastructures having a wonderful and intricate architecture. The whole movie presents an overview of the Indian culture and there are many more to uncover; truly, India is incredible! Aside from the three main characters, one person made an imprint on my mind and that is Professor Viru a.k.a "The Virus", the Einstein-ish director of the school, who made the lives of the three idiots a living hell. I remembered in him our Science teacher, Professor Vi for Villarico, way back in high school, who used to turn a lecture into a semi-horror-thriller because everybody was silent and rigid on her seat and couldn't speak a word when asked during recitation. He even commanded the entire General Science class to have their seats face backward until one would be able to answer his question. I was one of those who were able to give a decent answer but I wasn't so proud of it because no one was looking at you while you were having your spotlight. Facing in front while the rest are doing the opposite made me feel silly. It didn't made me feel superior at all. His teaching method wasn't fair although I didn't completely disagree with such. Our teacher also had a point why he was like that and I know he only wanted to make the learning more challenging which I prefer over a mediocre, "spoon feeding" method. But I guess that teacher was only having a weird behavior at that time because he failed the Chemistry licensure exam. I couldn't count the number of swearing he had committed but for me, he was one of the memorable teachers I had. During college, I actually didn't get into trouble in Physics and even got the highest possible grade in two courses. But the only difference between Professor Viru and Professor Vi is that the latter wasn't a bookish type. Professor Vi even challenged the definitions from our uber thick Physics book and made his own interpretation. I liked that all our essay questions should begin with "Because..." Of course, he didn't want us to make a story, did he? "This is not an English class," he once said smugly. While we were at the height of excitement, the disc went awry and pictures came in slow-moving slide shows, which turned out to be entertaining and funny - like a "Face Dance" showing varied expressions of actors - especially that part in which the laboring woman was struggling and wrenching atop a tennis table. In the end, we decided to switch it off and continue using a laptop connected to the TV. Hurray to technology! We were able to see the ending! I would rate the movie 5 out of 5 stars for inspiring us.

Sunday, 31st of July -> Family Day-out and Fun Run Turned Walk

Sunday was supposed to be a laid-back day but in the morning we went to our late uncle's burial. I'm not sure if it should be called a burial because burying the dead is commonly done in a funeral park and the casket is placed down a tomb. This time it's not a funeral park, a casket and a tomb, but a crypt, an urn, and an ossuarium. My uncle was cremated when he died at age 55 of certain complications related to his stroke that happened more than ten years ago and maybe those complications were side effects of medications. The crypt can be found in San Sebastian Cathedral here in Bacolod. I was surprised to know that they have opened this to public because when I was a child, I used to serve as a sakristan or altar boy and I didn't attempt to go inside this creepy place. I initially thought the place was exclusive only for burying priests and bishops. The place seems to be well-lighted during daytime and it doesn't scare me much knowing it's inside a church, it's Sunday, and there are many people around.

While waiting for the burial to be done, instead of weeping - it has been a long time since uncle died though - we busied ourselves with our cousins whom we hadn't spoken to for quite sometime: picture taking, teasing, laughing, having a great time. It was just so easy for us to bond again together as a family. How we miss those moments when we were just kids and now we are as tall as or taller than our parents. We already have nephews and nieces! We just reminisce those moments when we were very little and were just running here and there. I saw my nephew running all over the place and I remembered my own childhood. He was running alone yet careless and free. After the burial, we went to Tita Ping's for lunch and continued the bonding moments. Next occasion? Most definitely, my cousin's wedding in November.

After the burial, my sister and I went to SM to kill time for we still have to go churching after a couple of hours. We talked about her eye problem and how she was uncomfortable when doing her auditing work. So we decided to go to Sarabia to have her eyes checked. When she was done, I was shocked to hear that she has over 3.00 optical power in both eyes and it would be her first time to wear glasses. She told me she was scolded by the optometrist for not having her eyes checked earlier. Hers is close to my optical power which is 4.00 and I'd been wearing glasses for ten years already! She told me she didn't let herself be bothered by this problem before until lately she has felt the discomfort. She is an awesome example of resilience for me. The good thing is that she was able to disclose to me the problem before her condition even got worse. I'm glad I was able to do something about it.

In the afternoon, I joined a Fun Run at Night event for the benefit of Bantay Bata 163 Foundation, an organization that takes care of abused, underprivileged children. Starting in front of Provincial Capitol, I did the 5-kilometer run which turned to walk in the second half after the pivot. Well I'm not really an athletic type but I can run very far given certain conditions. No excuse but I was kinda tired that day. But still I'm happy because I was able to finish the track slowly but surely. Running has a huge benefit to our physical body and it always teaches me the principle of "Never give up." When I feel like giving up, I recall the story of the hare and the tortoise. I don't live to compete with others but I live to be above myself. Every time.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Caffeine High

Whether you are spending worthwhile time with your best friends, sitting alone in a cozy couch during a cold stormy afternoon, or scrambling a last-minute project, there’s one thing that always keeps you going, and that is a hearty cup of coffee.

There’s something about this dark, bitter and brewed beverage, optionally added with milk and sugar to enhance taste, that warms your heart, recharges your energy, and stimulates your senses. Conversations, either meaningful or frivolous, flow freely over a cup of coffee. A good day doesn’t begin without taking a sip from your favorite coffee mug. A tall tumbler won’t usually suffice in long hours of working on a deadline. A brilliant idea or an important self-realization may come up unexpectedly while stirring the whipped cream on top of your cookies and crème frappucino. Coffee helps you break free from the stress and tediousness of your daily routine; definitely it is one of the best ways to unwind.

While enjoying a venti of your favorite café mocha from Starbucks, have you ever wondered how this black-colored drink came to be discovered? More than five centuries ago, Ethiopian shepherds first observed the effects of coffee on their goats that seemed to turn lively and dance after eating coffee beans. So maybe after finishing your coffee, you might ask why you are in the mood for dancing.

There are many things we don’t know yet about coffee. Did you know that coffee, next to oil, is the second most traded commodity on earth? All coffee grows in the “bean belt” or the area between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn including the Philippines; Hawaii is the only state in the US that grows coffee. Coffee grows on trees that can reach up to 30 feet tall but are cultivated to be about 10 feet tall for easy-picking. The inventor of instant coffee was George Washington - not the first president of America but a Belgian man from Guatemala - in 1906.

The term Espresso is not a particular type of bean but a means of coffee preparation described by shooting pressurized, hot water through finely ground coffee. There are a lot of coffee varieties and some of them are as follows:

 Americano. Simply Espresso mixed with hot water to dilute the strong flavor. The word comes from America GIs during the Second World War when soldiers were seen as heavy coffee drinkers.

Café Latte. A single shot of Espresso added with three times more steamed milk and foam.

Café Mocha. A concoction of Espresso, chocolate syrup, milk and whipped cream.

Café Macchiato. Espresso mixed with four times more steamed milk.

Cappuccino. A blend of Espresso and steamed or frothed milk in equal parts, often with cinnamon, flaked chocolate, or tons of foam on top.

Which one do you prefer? Whichever type you choose, as long as you’re a coffee lover, you would always appreciate the ecstatic and intoxicating effect of a coffee drinking spree. There is also a bunch of health benefits we can get from drinking coffee and it includes reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, gallstone disease and Parkinson’s disease, increased cognitive performance, anticancer and antioxidant.

Needless to say, coffee is one of the things that should not be missing from your kitchen and from every single gathering. It is something we offer to our visitors to make them feel comfortable and is a way of showing hospitality. Coffee has already been around for centuries and as long as there is a cup of coffee, forming of new conversations and friendships will never end. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011


          The amusing TV commercial of Bayantel featuring an age-old woman dubbed as “Lola Techie”, who has been muttering the word “like” for what seemed like a gazillionth time whenever she finds pleasure in baking cookies, trimming her plants and, of course, literally liking her friends’ posts on Facebook (even when she’s asleep, she still dreams of the letters L-I-K-E), filled me with awe and got me pondering about the massive effects of the Internet and social networks in our daily lives. If you’d ask me if I could live without Facebook, I would unhesitatingly give an affirmative answer but that question is way too hypothetical. Besides, Google+ has been lurking around the corner for some time and Friendster has been wriggling back from extinction. I’d eventually concede; otherwise, I'd be left out of the trend.

          I started using Facebook in 2009 to help market the company and a particular software. My sister and my cousin had already been using Facebook before I did and not many of my friends had an online presence; thus, I wasn’t very much fascinated when I knew Facebook exists. Although I had a Friendster account before, I wasn’t fond of virtual socialization and I only got interested with Friendster because I wanted to learn HTML and CSS by customizing my profile page.

          When I began using Facebook, there are many things I saw that changed my views about social networks. Aside from posting your own updates, Facebook lets you “like” a friend’s post or comment on it and notifications happen in real time, in contrast to Friendster’s static testimonials that require page refresh. The “like” button is, I believe, the most remarkable feature of Facebook, not to mention the quite forgotten “poke” button which I’m still inclined to use. The “like” button has become so ubiquitous that some other websites have included a “like” link on their pages and so popular that many have included the word in their expression just as Lola goes on saying “Like Like Like”.

          Other features that made Facebook different from other social networks are its wide range of games and applications, instant messaging or chat, fan pages, notes, photo albums, neat-looking interface, among others. Later on, with the burgeoning number of Facebook users, I got to connect with more people I know - classmates, teachers, acquaintances, both old and recent - and receive updates and news from organizations, celebrities, technology and stuffs that interest me most. I realized the purpose of a social network is all about sharing a piece of yourself and other certain things that aren’t exactly significant. These things could be personal opinions, ramblings, newsbits, gossips, swearings, cliches or anything under the sun. The downside is that some people have a tendency to reveal private information to strangers, which could endanger their lives. Some people, in fact, have been murdered or molested by Facebook chatmates. Some have put the blame on the technology but, hey, who have thought about getting killed when writing the spaghetti codes of the chatbox? (Snort) Our fate still lies in our choices.

          So, how well do you like the “like” button? I hope you do because at the end of this post is a “like” button. I won’t ask you to click on it but I’m willing to teach you a simple trick if you wanted to add this pretty little embellishment. A snippet of code, which you can insert in the HTML body of your post, can be found below; just replace the href attribute or the string in boldface with the link to your blog post. Enjoy liking!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Holding the Gavel

Toastmasters International Division D, the first division to be hailed as "President's Distinguished", held its Installation of Officers and Induction of New Members last July 17 at Business Inn, formally opening another Toastmasters term headed by the new Division Governor Melinda Sisles.

Toastmasters men in their long sleeves and suits, including myself, and women in their flowing gowns, who graced the formal occasion with their elegant red-and-black fashion, came in to show their utmost willingness and blazing excitement to “hold the gavel” and to fully accept their responsibilities as new officers of their respective clubs.

Wearing a dark red long sleeves and necktie, I was inducted as the VP Education of First Farmers Toastmasters Club (a surprising promotion from VP Public Relations) and vowed to work towards the realization of my fellow members’ educational goals.

The program mainly consisted of the introduction of the past division governors, the installation of the Division and Club officers, the induction of new members, the valedictory speech given by the outgoing Division Governor Mhel Sillador, the inauguration of the new Division Governor Melinda Sisles, the inspirational speech given by the District President Vic Navales, and lastly the Giving of Toast for a successful year 2011-2012, which I did. (white teeth flashing)

Past Division Governor Mhel Sillador thanked his mentors for supporting him during his term as well as his fellow officers and co-club-members. District President Vic Navales, with his amusing speech, inspired everyone to keep the spirit of Toastmasters alive and to encourage other Filipinos to be part of the Toastmasters circle, primarily pointing out the huge difference between Malaysia and the Philippines in terms of membership number.

Toastmasters Leandro Severino and Rose Jessica Octaviano, the most funny tandem ever, were the main hosts of the program. The night was spiced up by veteran humorists who gave everyone laughter aplenty and a couple of entertaining intermission numbers from members.

Preceding the induction ceremony, the Communication and Leadership Seminar and the First Round of Officers’ Training were held last July 16 and 17 respectively at the New Government Center.

Friday, July 15, 2011

This Story Lives Forever

          That gripping scene, in which the green and the red flashes of curses emanating respectively from Voldemort’s and Harry’s wand collided, took my breath away for several seconds. Neville, drawing the Gryffindor sword up and slashing the basilisk, the last container of Voldemort’s ripped soul, became an unsung hero and helped defeat the most powerful dark wizard of all; in that glorious instance, the green flash weakened and the red one struck Tom Riddle who dissipated into a million pieces of black soot. And I was able to breathe.

          That was the end of it all. I thought I was going to cry but, hey, who doesn’t want to eradicate Lord Voldy? Some folks, with conviction, say their childhood ended with the last installation of the Harry Potter movies. But for me I can say my childhood lives forever with such epic literature. I admit I happened to be a late admirer when I’d started reading the books in the dark of the night – no, not the paperbacks nor the hardbounds but the electronic versions on my BlackBerry phone through a PDF reader application – just in November of 2010 and I’d read all seven books in about three months. And hell yeah, I couldn’t stop myself from devouring each page until four o’clock in the morning. I’ve come to realize that perhaps the reading experience would be much enjoyable when you are older and more capable of understanding the lengthy prose endowed with difficult words, some of which are actually of British origin. If you are thoroughly reading each book like me, you will find yourself grabbing a dictionary from time to time. And blimey, you won’t find a single tosh in every assiduously written chapter. Thus until now I don’t believe that the novels should be classified as children’s, not when there is an insistence of death as part of the theme and Ginny kissing boyfriends at dim corridors of Hogwarts, but they are certainly a coming-of-age story. Nonetheless, any twelve-year-old would want to grab and read a book front-covered with a vibrant, watercolored picture of a boy wearing glasses, holding a wand, and riding on a huge bird. Who wouldn’t be curious? Definitely I was when, for the first time, I saw the second, third, and fourth book in our high school library during my first year but I was more disappointed when later on I found out that the first book, The Sorcerer’s Stone, was not there. So I didn’t let myself be fooled, did I? Well I still enjoyed the read eventhough I was already in my early twenties. I can still tell my children someday that this historic novel was written during my childhood and who knows, there might be film remakes nineteen years from now.

           My most favorite part of the recent movie, which didn’t come to me as a surprise, was the revelation about one of the hated characters in the novel Severus Snape, who, despite of his affiliation with the Dark Lord, turned out to be loyal to Albus Dumbledore and carried on with the plan to protect Harry sacrificing his own life in the end all for the love of Harry’s mother Lily. The expression of his fondness for the woman was admirable. After all, can we judge him based on his means alone rather than the noble ends of his actions? Does the moral conundrum “The ends do not justify the means” apply? Well I don’t see anything else he can do with his situation considering that he was once a Death Eater and eventually regretted it out of fear for the life of Lily when he knew that Voldemort, after learning about the ambiguous prophecy, was targeting to kill Harry Potter whom he had chosen instead of Neville Longbottom. Of course James and Lily were ready to die to protect Harry and their death was never put in vain for Lily’s love produced a protective charm that enveloped Harry. Voldemort had never understood such enchantment of love that transcends any form of magic and accidentally created a horcrux in Harry which explains the connection between them. In short, Voldemort had lost his brain at the same exact moment he ripped his soul seven times. For similar reasons, Snape, the halfblood prince, as Harry told his son Albus Severus, was discerned as the bravest wizard ever known and rested with his unrequited love.

              The conclusion of the story happened when Harry decided to break the Elder Wand into two. That was the most valiant thing for me that he, as a member of the Gryffindor house, did. He knew he deserved to be the most powerful wizard by winning the Elder Wand, one of the three Deathly Hallows, and by becoming invincible but he refused to gain that prerogative and chose to live a normal life. The three Deathly Hallows – the Elder Wand for absolute strength and pomposity; the Resurrection Stone for revitalization and regeneration; and the Invisibility Cloak for evasion and elusion – are all means of defying death and are no better than Horcruxes or dark objects used for preserving a part of one's soul. The whole story teaches us about the beautiful mystery of death and why we shouldn’t fear the unknown. I learned that death is nobler when you have somebody or something to die for. We might have come to the demise of this story but this story will definitely live forever in the hearts of those who had been with “the boy who lived” from the very beginning.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sheer Luck

I was sitting in a green-painted metal armchair corroded and too big for my small body struggling to finish a composition my teacher would evaluate in preparation for an upcoming press conference, a journalism competition among students of various schools, in which I would be joining. My teacher, sitting quietly a few feet in front of me at her wooden desk, was my coach for the national contest. I was eleven years old then, short and shabby, and was not yet wearing spectacles. I was on my sixth and last year of elementary in a public school where girls come in scarlet, almost blood-like jumper uniforms and boys wear khaki trousers and everyone is allowed to wear sandals or sneakers, that is to say any kind of footwear, and those who wear proper school shoes bring extra slippers to preserve their classroom’s well-maintained, shiny, red-waxed floor. Despite of its being a public school, it is regarded by many as one of the competitive schools in the city. My most accurate memories of elementary school include PS-PS – a game in which an “it” is chasing everybody else and in order to be saved one should bellow “PS” and place his arms in a crossing position above his chest at exactly the same time the “it” touches him – regular classroom cleaning sessions, menacing-looking teachers carrying sticks used to silence rowdy pupils during classes, late afternoon strolling in downtown malls with classmates, heavy backpacks filled with pad papers, Mongol pencils, Crayolas in 8s or 16s, decade-old withering textbooks and sundries, waking up before dawn to attend the class at 6:20 a.m., extensive reviews for the inter-school Math quiz bee with my teacher and my classmate who can do mental arithmetic with the use of her hands, lurking in the city library almost everyday to peruse astronomy books, joining journalism competitions that flared my interest in writing, among others. If memories could be kept in a vial and revisited, I would definitely come back to this point in my life. Time had passed too swiftly and I could never be a kid again.

The composition I was writing was a sports story in Filipino. Filipino Sportswriting was the category my teacher decided for me. Being an active pupil in school activities, I took every challenge and opportunity to excel in school. I did not let a single chance slip away to prove myself by engaging in endeavors that interest me most and one of these is writing. Although I had not been confident in my writing skills, I managed to place in competitions out of sheer luck and that encouraged me to discover and uncover the great wonders of writing. However, the real obstacle I had when I was younger is that I was afraid of the English language. I did not attempt to join competitions in English category not until I was in high school. Everytime I tried to start a paragraph in English, nothing would come out of my mind and later on I found out that that dilemma is called writer’s block. I had never had eloquence in English before and I had never trusted myself to have such. Thus I only limited myself to writing in Filipino which is a more intuitive language having its own intricacies and grammar different from the English language. I once thought it was an easier language until I realized it can never be underestimated for it can also make your nose bleed. After finishing the composition, I gave the manuscript, more than fifty percent of which were probably scribbles and cross-outs, to my teacher for corrections and tips to improve my writing style. After a while, my teacher told me something like “this should be ang aso ay tumatahol and not tumataghol.” Being a non-native speaker of the Filipino language as I was born an Ilonggo, I committed one of the many blatant errors in writing which made me a little bit discouraged but with herculean tenacity, I somehow managed to improve my writing style over the years. Even though the language used as a medium of communication is Filipino, writing appears to be a complex task and involves a lot of hard work to organize ideas in an altogether coherent, interesting, and elegant style. Language is just a form and once you mastered a particular language a fact remains that substance is another important aspect you should carefully study and apply in writing. While watching a certain Tagalized cartoon Jody, I remembered the scruffy-haired English professor telling Jody Abbott that grammar is not the topmost priority of a novelist and if one is to succeed in this field one should work more on the substance of a story and what would make it memorable.

Undeniably, mastering the English language is indispensable to becoming a memorable, effective writer. Recently, I dusted myself off in my mastery of the English language and suprisingly, I learned some forgotten rules that even professional writers tend to violate. Well I’m not going to list down such rules here but if you have the patience to search for and download this particular e-book from the Internet which I did, you will find yourself gaping after knowing some of the tricky, often neglected grammatical rules. This e-book is entitled Collins Good Grammar by Graham King and is published in 2004. I personally consider this book a gem and it really helped me recall the basics of English.

My writing journey did not end in my elementary years. I continued getting involved in writing even during high school and college. In high school, I joined our publication Starlight and became one of the contributors and later on a Sports editor. I attended writing workshops, school press conferences and competitions to hone my skills, expose myself to the real world, and see how much I’m going to improve in the process. I learned a lot of things in journalism specifically in sportswriting such as the inverted pyramid in which the story is presented in a way that the most significant points are written in the first paragraph or the “lead” and the rest comes in an order of gradually decreasing significance. I also learned that the lead must consist of all the fundamental questions regarding the  issue that it introduces, the five Ws and 1H, and must be the attention getting part of the story. I came to know the difference between a news and a sports story. Even though both are structurally the same, the latter employs usage of vivid, lively action words necessary to drive the readers to feel the same vigor and energy as if watching a live sports match. Unlike news stories, sports stories often use a novelty lead which is more astonishing to the readers and motivates them to read further. I recalled I had only used this kind of lead once and astonishingly I placed sixth in a regional competition. Before proceeding to college, I had considered a career as a journalist apart from engineering and education but due to circumtances, I pursued a degree in Computer Science which is not one of my choices but eventually became something I learned to love. I had to deal with the only scholarship I had before to make it to college. During college, I had momentarily forgotten about writing for I was into a totally different concentration which was more on computers and programming and I had decided not to join the university publication even though I initially considered doing so. I discarded the idea that I could be a writer. It was only in my second year in college that I felt the passion going alive again. I was asked by my English teacher if I could submit a Starfish story, a make-a-difference-story, as an entry to a competition sponsored by the Ayala Foundation. I wrote the story in two days without editing or rewriting. I showed it to my English teacher for critic and she only said it was a good story and did not really give me concrete advices to improve it. Anyway I submitted the manuscript to the head of the student affairs and it was mailed to the sponsoring organization. After a couple of months, I was informed that I was one of the twenty finalists. I thought it was another sheer luck but somehow the feat awakened the sleeping monster within me. I once again started to believe that I can be a better writer and if this is not really my destined profession, why would I stop and give up writing? I realized that I can’t get over writing that is why I’m blogging to practise and fuel the fire. 

I don’t know if this is a silly thing to do but I’m contemplating to pursue a second degree in Journalism. Some people may say that Journalism is a useless degree because no one gets rich in this noble profession but all I can say is that it is never too late to do what I want in life. I know I have to work at the same time in an I.T. field to finance my studies and the whole experience may be tough but I just reassure myself that if you love doing something you won’t have second thoughts about it. I’m already in my early twenties and I feel that I’m already too old for undergraduate school. But I learned in the “Magic of Thinking Big” that age is never an excuse. So I will try next year. I hope that aside from sheer luck, things would happen to me deliberately.