BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, October 31, 2013

From the Mailbox

Received this from DW Akademie via airmail. Thank you Deutsche Welle! It was a fruitful experience. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Germany in My Mind: Our Sunset Cruise on the Rhine

Reposted from a year ago

Germany is a memory of the crimson sun slowly fading beneath the pale blue horizon as the hulking white catamaran gently crawls on the Rhine.

It is a crisp June afternoon in Bonn and Jes and I are standing on the deck of the boat, savoring this part of Europe.

Age-old castles line both sides of the river. And fancy restaurants, too. There are young boys and little girls in pig tails racing by the shore.

There is a broken bridge from a forgotten war; Medieval churches nestled on green-covered hilltops; Birds flocking from one branch to another; there are other boats, too and million-dollar yachts with lovers locked in each other's arms.

We sip on our champagne to fight off the biting breeze but we are already in a stupor from the boat ride alone, enthralled in this bearable lightness of being.

Traveling is about discovering the foreign and the unfamiliar; of getting lost and taking everything in; of freezing the time and passing it; of painting with light and weaving stories; and of dreaming of Einstein's dreams.

Cruising the Rhine is all these and more.

It is a plate of flying hors d'oeuvres; of fresh green lettuce, cherry tomatoes and feta cheese; of bottles of ice cold Becks beer and the froth on our pursed lips. 

It is the warmth of the brown spring coat while holding hands. It is high-heeled shoes and brown boots; of hundreds of sweaty bodies dancing on stage. It is jam-packed, drenched-in-booze all-night partying.

It is about strangers dropping by tables; fake backdrops of photographs; of endless giggling.

It is about sharing Winston lights on the deck while freezing in the cold. It is waiting for the sun to set at 10 in the evening and waiting for the yellow moon from years ago.

Germany is a memory of a cruise one afternoon of June on a river called Rhine, with the love, dreams and the warm embrace backlighted by the setting sun.

Friday, October 25, 2013

My Hell of a Ride

The mayhem begins long before the ride starts. Before you even imagine how it would be -- would you be able to find a seat, would you make it on time, would a pickpocket go home with your phone or would another lost soul jump to his death?

Indeed, the chaos begins not when you cross the faded yellow platform but at a point somewhere beyond six flights of stairs, where a long snaking line of commuters spills over to a portion of Metro Manila's busiest highway, known to some as EDSA, gates of hell to everyone else.

Here, at the foot of MRT's Quezon Avenue station, on pools of mud and water from last night's rain, is where the line to this morning's ride starts.

Commuters -- in high-heeled shoes and chambray jeans; in crisp mini-skirts and torn yellow shorts, long black slacks and cherry red dresses; in worn-out jerseys, too -- keep on coming, braving the madness. Because there is no other way, at least not right now on this God-forsaken hour, when one has to choose between this route and enduring the traffic along EDSA.

Many in the crowd are used to this kind of hell, the rush is part of the daily grind. Others are first timers while some are occasional train riders. Beginners or regulars, the inconvenience is the same -- the crowd is as thick as the Red Sea's waves and a fetid smell of sweat and body scents wafts in the air.

Some I suspect are hungry and sleep deprived while others escape to the comfort of music on their ears.

It is 7:30 in the morning and the heat is scorchingly dry.  You begin to think so much time is wasted in the long queue, minutes away from friends and even loved ones, too. But once inside and the train moves, you'll catch a view of the traffic below and you realize that in the hell that you are, you still got a better deal, at least right this hour, when there's a bigger nightmare way down there.

Today, there's all sorts of people on the train, there's a fake blond in blue and white stripes, an old woman in red praying the rosary, a lanky elderly waiting for a seat, a young lass putting on make-up and a big burly guy chewing a gum. There's a man with a Bugs Bunny shirt dozing off to Neverland, and another one holding her girlfriend in her arms.

Everyone gets off at some point, somewhere. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, who knows where we'll all be. It's how fleeting life is, as fleeting as a moving train, as surreal as men jumping to their deaths.

Everyone's waiting for their stop, to take a breath of fresh air amidst strange voices on the microphone and the maddening crowd. To walk and to continue home, wherever home may be -- in the arms of men they love, in dirty sheets in borrowed rooms or in the wailing of children left in others' care. Somewhere, somewhere, in this cursed shitty world.

We will step off and mind the gap and struggle to walk toward the rest of our lives.

written in a cramped MRT ride, October 21. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

And So It Is

And you try each day, in this God-forsaken world, filled with child molesters, thieves and irresponsible alcoholic dads, to survive and make sense of the chaos. You try to imagine, even in the most unimaginable hours, that there is something real out there, beyond the doublespeak of people around you, those who claim to be your friends, loved ones, too. You try to see through the haze and the noise and the madness, and you think there's something more for you as you wait in the loneliest of hours for something to hold on to, that promise of tomorrow, though the promise never comes.

You try and you try and you try because you know in the deepest recesses of your hearts, in the most miserable moments, you know you deserve something better than be treated by forty plus spinsters with remorse and envy; or older women who resent you for the travels you've made because those are the trips they could never make.

And so you try, over and over, again and again, to find peace in the mayhem amidst all the resentments and the broken dreams but you realize by looking at moving walls that there is nothing to hope for, especially not for a dumb blonde like you. Not in this affirmation-hungry world, filled with egoists and backstabbers and men and women, who in the end, fight over junkets and other freebies, not unlike little children caught in a mad scramble for candies.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Scenes from the 22nd Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines Business Journalism Awards Night

October 18, 2013, Intercontinental Hotel, Makati

With business editors and reporters

with Alena Mae Flores of Manila Standard, my amiga

with past and present banking and finance beat reporters

With the femmes fatales of the energy beat

With my super favorite Tito Mon Lozano of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas


Riza Olchondra of the Inquirer for Trade and Agribusiness, Doris Dumlao of Inquirer for capital markets, Lenie Lectura of Business Mirror for Telecommunications, Angela Celis of Malaya for macroeconomy, Richmond Mercurio of Malaya for Energy, Jimmy Calapati of Malaya for Banking, VG Cabuag of Business Mirror for Best Feature Story and yours truly for public finance. 

 And this one is my Philippine Star family's tweet about my award. Thank you, EJAP, Philippine Star, the board of judges and to all my sources. Congratulations to fellow reporters who won and to the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Malaya Business Insight, both named Best News Source. See this and this for more information on the awards night.

and on the front page, too. Thanks for the support, PhilStar, especially to my editors Roman Floresca and Marianne Go.

Photo credits: Paul Isla, Jun Ebias, Albert Castro and me

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Welcome to the Gates of Hell

(Written while stuck in traffic on October 18, 2013 from 5:30 pm to 8 pm from NAIA to Makati)

The seconds will turn into minutes. Ten. Twenty. Thirty. And the minutes will turn to hours. But nothing will happen. One hour. One and half. Nothing and nothing still. Two hours, then three and then you lose count. But not before you lose your mind.

In another place, one would have reached another country in that amount of time as I did from Paris to Italy on a bus filled with gypsy girls, construction workers and other third world travelers like me, one afternoon of April many years ago when the sun was slowly setting on the horizon, disappearing at the end of a vast stretch of lush green vineyards and rolling hills.

But this is not the French countryside with its blue skies and crisp air and there are no sprawling vineyards glowing under the yellow sun to distract me or anybody else cursed enough to be stuck in traffic. 

This is the Philippines where the traffic situation has become a catastrophe, an invisible war, an apocalypse of sorts. 

"Crisis level," is how the boyfriend describes it every time he opts to take the wheel not upon my prodding but because he does not like the way I drive. 

There are no more rush hours because rush hours are all the time. There are no windows, no exceptions. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, they're all the same. Thursdays, too. Friday is the worst day of all and when it is pay day, the mess is twice as much. 

Imagine Metro Manila's nook and crannies because that's where it happens everyday and every time I pass by without fail. Imagine jeepneys stopping every five minutes to load and unload passengers; imagine the excess of commuter buses because of corruption in the regulatory agency; imagine still, flash floods and a clogged drainage system when there's a downpour; potholes, too and heaps of overflowing thrash. 

Imagine throngs of commuters and pedestrians walking and jaywalking. Imagine license-bearing drivers who can barely drive. Imagine anything in Metro Manila's roads and it will be there. 

When one is stuck in traffic in Manila's streets, there's no escape. Dan Brown wasn't kidding when he said that one has entered the gates of hell. And believe me when I say it is easier to leave one's wife than to get out of a snarl. 

Lady drivers will have to hold out the call of nature as long as they can while the men will have to bring empty mineral bottles and put up their heavily tinted windows. Smokers will have to endure the stench of diesel; that or they forget about their nicotine fix. 

Choices are limited and such limits fan the flames of madness. There is a very thin line between snapping and getting through so tame the road rage because it will be more lethal than a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. 

Life hits a standstill for anyone stuck in traffic. Everyone suffers -- whether you're driving a sleek Rolls Royce or a moving piece of junk; whether it's with a red plate or a diplomatic one; whether the car is registered or not at all. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do but to crawl and wait and wait longer.  When driving alone, one can tune in to the radio. Even the strangest of voices could be a welcome company to anyone going insane. 

Logging in to Twitter or Facebook through one's phones can provide some comfort but this is just fleeting and before you know it, the batteries are out.  Soon, like being jolted out of a reverie, one is back in the monstrous road, dealing with the snail pace traffic, along with hundreds of others who would rather be anywhere but there. 

Yes it is a sin to argue with someone who has been stuck in traffic or to even ask how the ride was. Psychologists, I am sure, will soon see a link between traffic and temper among Filipino motorists.

It is hard for anyone living in countries where systems work to realize how insane Metro Manila traffic can be. Yet none of the authorities seems to give a damn; The traffic situation, although in critical proportions, is not on the list of problems to solve, at least not today or tomorrow and neither was it solved yesterday or the day before. It is the pink elephant in the room, a stark reminder that here in the Philippines, where lawmakers steal taxpayers' money; where bullets rain from nowhere; where children disappear in the dead of night and where a political student steals a photograph for a trip to Chile, the abnormal has become normal.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Profiles in Blogging

I am honored to be part of this report by writer Christopher Connell, featuring eight bloggers from all over the globe, for the United States-based Center for International Media Assistance