Friday, October 18, 2013

Earthquake memories

October 8, 2004

I slept early that night in preparation for the CPA board exam the following day. The folding bed I was sleeping in was just right next to the plywood wall which separated my small room to our sari-sari store.  Picture frames of our graduation pictures were hung on that wall. I didn't know exactly what the time was, but I was awakened by one of the picture frame falling on my foot. I didn't bother  and went back to sleep. The following morning, my mom told me that there was an earthquake the night before. I thanked God that nothing bad happened and at the same time, I prayed for guidance and wisdom for the most important exam in my life that I was about to take that day.

Sometime in year 2000

We were having our Ecoscience class at the 5th floor of the oldest building in our university when we  felt that the building was shaking. I guess we felt it the most since we were in the topmost floor. The earthquake only lasted for five seconds but the fear of being in an old building that we thought might collapse anytime took over me, my classmates and our professor, Mrs. Plaza. I remember after that event, Mrs. Plaza, who was a known terror professor, suddenly became nice to our class until the end of the semester.

July 16, 1990

I was in Grade 1 and we just had our recess and were about to start our English class. Our teacher, Mrs. Dorado who was standing at the front of the class suddenly made the sign of the cross as if she was about to lead a prayer. That's when I realized that there was an earthquake. I remember how Mrs. Dorado calmly lead our class outside the room into the open field. We then went back to our classroom when the tremors stopped. Some of my classmates were crying out of terror. I was just silent , in complete shock of what just had happened. Although we were too young to understand me and my classmates knew that something was not right. Not too long after, I saw my mom and sister outside our classroom to collect me and that was when I felt that I was finally safe.

The recent events in Bohol made me remember those experiences. Coincidentally, last night while I was watching TV Patrol in the internet, the cupboard in my kitchen just suddenly fell with all the sauces and spices spilling on the floor. While I was cleaning all the mess, it occured to me that it was just a minor inconvenience compared to what the people in Bohol is experiencing. I feel a deep sense of regret that I haven't been to Bohol and will never see the famous churches in their original glory. However, I look forward to the day when I can finally travel to that beautiful province and marvel not  only on its rebuilt churches and sights but most importantly, on the rebuilt hopes and dreams of its people.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Family Reunions

I just learned that my relatives from my dad's side are organizing a family reunion on May 1. I'm a bit sad that I'll miss the event but somehow I feel more thankful that I'm thousand miles away and won't be able to attend. I guess I just have a lot of issues with my dad's sisters and it was even made worse with what happened at the last family reunion I've attended last Christmas when I was on a holiday in the Philippines.

I'm not out to any members of my family and my sexuality has somehow became a taboo topic ever since my mom and dad confronted me about it almost 6 years ago. They never asked me about any girlfriends or about my plans of getting married and setting up a family of my own. I guess they just don't want to know what the real score is. That silent arrangement actually works for me. However, I know that I cannot expect the same sensitivity from other people which include my relatives.

Last Christmas, while we're all having lunch, one of my aunts who I haven't seen in years, instead of asking me how I was, suddenly blurted out the question any closeted PLU will dread to be asked with.

"Alex, when are you getting married?"

I was caught off-guard but I tried to sound indifferent with my reply.

"Ah, matagal pa po siguro, I'm still enjoying being single..."

I thought that she just wanted a small talk and that will be an enough answer but I was wrong. I felt like being probed with her follow-up question.

"Do you even have a girlfriend?"

I was very brief with my answer.

"Wala po eh..."

One of my cousins even made a joke.

"Alex magmomonghe ka ba?"

I chose not to respond to my cousin and just gave her a smile. Another aunt joined the conversation.

"Mabuti yan. At least spoiled ang mom at dad mo sayo!"

However, she made another comment which I don't think was well thought of on her part.

"Si Luke (referring to one of my cousins), mukhang walang kahilig hilig din sa babae. Iniisip namin na bakla siguro yun!"

Using simple logic, it became clear what my aunts think of me.

Later that day, it was my grandma's turn to ask the same questions. However, unlike my aunts, I felt that her questions are out of a genuine concern for me.

"You'll need a wife someday who will take care of you Alex..."

My grandma also gave a vital insight as to what my mom's take on me getting married.

"I tried to open this topic to your mom but she said to not just talk about it"

That was one uncomfortable Christmas and family reunion for me. As much as I love my dad, I swore to myself I would never go to a family reunion with his side of the family again.

I've realized that when I was younger, my reply to those questions were easy. I had a girlfriend before and even though we've already broken up ages ago, I always claimed that we're still together just to shut the questioning at once. If I didn't feel like lying I would sometimes play the "too young and still struggling with my career card". But I think I'm currently in a point of my life where I already accepted who I am so instead of telling them a  made up a story that would please them I just tried to give the most honest response. The rest of the details, I would rather keep to myself, to some selected friends and hopefully in the future when the right time comes, to my family. They are the only persons who have the right to know.

I'm on a marrying age with a stable career and I know that people will keep asking me the same questions over and over again. Right now, I'm playing the "mysterious eligible bachelor card" which I hope will still be effective for 5 to 7 years more. After that, I really need a sound plan and I am thinking of relocating to far away place where no one knows me. But for the meantime, I guess my plan is to just try to avoid family reunions as much I could.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Travel Notes: Germany (Fussen)

From Berlin's city center, we then have to go to Tegel airport to catch our flight to Munich. Going to Tegel airport was such a mission. Luckily, a Filipina overheard us conversing in Tagalog and gave us directions otherwise we were bound to miss our flight. We then rented a car from the Munich airport for a road trip to Fussen.

2nd Stop: Fussen

From memory, the drive to Fussen took us more or less 3 hours. Dominic took charge in driving as I don't have any driving license. I merely served as an entertainer keeping everyone awake as it was already past midnight during that time. Good thing that we brought a navigator as it would be hard to locate our hotel by just relying on the road signs.

We checked in at Hotel Seespitz which is situated near a lake. This was the view that greeted us in the morning:

The view was breathtaking. I felt like I was in a movie or a dream. I can stay all day admiring this view with a good book and a cup of coffee by my side. But we had to go to the main reason why we were in Fussen, the Neuschwanstein Castle.

The construction of Neuschwanstein castle began in 1869 as commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was said that Ludwig II wanted this castle to be perfect that it was still unfinished until his death in 1886. Nevertheless, the Neuschwanstein castle is considered as one of the most beautiful castles in Europe. In fact, it served as an inspiration for some of the Disney fairy tale castles. I remember receiving an email thread about the places considered as "heavens on earth" and Neushwanstein castle is one of those places. I guess I was lucky, I have been to heaven.

Neuschwanstein Castle
The castle is even more picturesque during winter. Here's a picture I got from the internet:

We then had lunch at a restaurant with the castle as the background. I had pork knuckles for main course and strawberry crepe for dessert.

Pork knuckles. The closest thing to crispy pata in Europe.

Strawberry crepe and icecream

On the following day, we drove further to a place where they say you can get a good view of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It's like being in three countries at once. I felt for Dominic as the drive was a bit long. We actually had crossed the border of Austria getting to that place. Unfortunately, it was too foggy that afternoon.

The only consolation for the long drive is the magnificent view of the countryside
It was too foggy. Even a ferry ride wouldn't guarantee that we will get the view that we want. 
We just had a picnic and left the place quite earlier than what we have originally intended. We stopped by a nearby town.

I forgot the name of the small town
Food trip once again. This time trying out the breads.
This is where my blogger profile pic was taken

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ikaw Lamang

I was trying to kill my boredom by doing a movie marathon, alternating between foreign and local films when I heard this familiar song from the movie Dubai:

I didn't realize that this song is a soundtrack of this movie. This is the song you used to sing to me. When we were walking in the mall, you'll put your hand on my shoulder and sing this song in my ear making sure that I'm the only person who hears you. I would always show my disapproval as I hate any form of public display of affection. I really never appreciated this song. I really never appreciated you.

You came into my life through a message popping out on my screen. You said you've mistaken me from another person with a similar name. You asked for my Friendster account and then for my number. I was going through a difficult phase in my life back then. I just found out that Mark was cheating on me. I thought I can use you to get even with him. In fact apart from you, I was also seeing another guy to show Mark that I can do better.

I genuinely feel that I loved you on that short period of time that we're together. But everything worked against us. I still loved Mark even though I hated him. I was so confused with who I am as well and was contemplating to live a "straight" life instead. I was also about to leave the country. It was too much for me and one day I just decided not to respond to your text and answer your calls.

I hated how I acted such an a**hole but I'm not the type of guy who's good in sitting down and talking through things. After a week, I just sent you a text explaining everything. Your reply was short but full of sting. For you I was already dead.

Ikaw lamang ang tangi kong minamahal
Ang tangi kong dinarasal
Sana'y habangbuhay tayong magkasama
Ang puso ko'y ibibigay lamang sayo 
Ito ang aking pangako
Mula ngayon hanggang magpakailan pa man
Ikaw lamang

I never paid attention to the meaning of the song. Now I realized how much you loved me more than I did. I couldn't help but feel sad but I don't have any regrets. I'm glad you've accepted my friend request on Facebook and I completely understand why you didn't respond when I sent you a message asking you how you are. To you I was already dead.

Through this post I want to thank you. You made me feel special and loved when my confidence was at its lowest. I hope you are happy now with that person who makes you feel special too and who sings you a song of love that you really deserve.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Travel Notes: Germany (Berlin)

Late September of last year, me and my best friend Dominic together with his wife, Cielo, decided to go on a 7-day holiday in Germany. I must admit, that I wasn't excited to go given that I'm still recovering from a break up and to be honest, I was on a tight budget brought about by my last minute decision to go back home to the Philippines. However, since I've made a promise to Dominic and Cielo, I had no choice but to oblige and join them on their trip.

1st Stop: Berlin

We've boarded an EasyJet flight from UK to Germany's capital, Berlin. First impressions of Germany? I love their "honesty policy" in their subway train station. Unlike in the Philippines and other countries, there are no ticket barriers going to the train platform. Of course you have to keep your ticket with you for any surprise inspection. They say that the fine if you get caught travelling without a valid ticket/pass is 40 Euros equivalent to 2,000 Pesos.

We joined a free tour around Berlin city on the first day of our trip. The meeting place was at Starbucks just 15 steps away from one of Berlin's well-known landmark, the Brandenburg Gate.

The Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate is a former city gate originally built in 1791 to symbolize peace. Ironically, the gate was incorporated into the Berlin wall during the years of the communist government dividing East and West Germany. This gate was damaged during the World War II and has only been fully refurbished in 2002.

Our tour group
Our tour group was comprised of different nationalities. There were a handful of Americans, a Briton, a Canadian, a couple from Australia, a couple from Brazil and of course us, Filipinos. I took a stolen shot of the loner Canadian boy.

He's the guy in the middle. I wanted to make friends with him but I was a bit torpe.
Our tourist guide is the guy with the red ID lace. Although the tour is free, he asked for a tip from everyone of us at the end of the tour which for me is just about right given the amount of knowledge he shared to us.

We went from one tourist spot to another all by foot.

The Holocaust Memorial
The Holocaust Memorial looks like a cemetery but actually, there are no remains inside or underneath the nicho-like structures. Our tour guide was quick to warn us not to step on these. He said that the last thing in the world you would want is to be shouted at by a German police speaking in German.

Berliner Dom
Checkpoint Charlie
And of course, what is a visit in Berlin without seeing the Berlin Wall.

The remains of the Berlin Wall
The structure itself is not spectacular. It's not comparable to the Great Wall of China as one may expect. But it is the history behind this wall that makes it interesting.

This how the Berlin Wall used to look like
Families were separated by this wall for years. Can you imagine yourself not being able to see your loved ones who are just on the other side of the wall? The area between the two walls was called no-man's land as there were an order to the East German guards to shoot anyone who attempts to climb over the wall.

We also went to Reichstag building which serves a parliament building of Berlin to get a good view of Berlin at night.

I still like Makati skyline better kahit polluted
The following day, we went to Potsdam, which is considered as one of the most beautiful cities in Germany because of its palaces and gardens.

Before anything else, we had German sausage for breakfast. There's a whole lot of variety to choose from. 

Note: Most of the pictures were taken by Cielo. Unfortunately, I'm a rubbish photographer.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Makiki-Hunger Games

September of last year nang magkayayaan kami ng mga kaibigan ko sa opisina na manood ng Abduction kung saan bida si Taylor Lautner. Siguro nagtakaka kayo kung ano ang connect ng Abduction sa Hunger Games? Ganito kasi yun, pagbili namin ng ticket nagulat kami lahat nang binigyan kami ng tig-iisang kopya ng libro ng Hunger Games. Bilang hindi naman kami mga palabasa ng kaibigan ko, walang nakakaalam sa amin kung tungkol saan ba tong libro na natanggap namin. Naisip namin na siguro wala tong kuwenta kasi bakit ipapamigay ng libre. Ang iba sa amin, tinapon lang ang kopya na natanggap nila. Medyo hassle daw dalhin kasi may iba pa kaming lakad nung gabing un. Ako naman, pinili kong itago ang libro na natanggap ko. Sabi ko sa sarili ko, ilalagay ko 'to sa CR para may babasahin ako habang sumasagot ako sa tawag ng kalikasan. 

Ang kopya ko ng Hunger Games kasama ng ibang magazines sa CR
Madami naman akong nabasa. Siguro mga 3 pages. Mas madalas kasi ako mag Facebook pag nasa trono ako. Nalaman ko lang sa blog ni Chico Garcia na sikat pala ung libro na natanggap namin at katunayan nagawan na ito ng pelikula. Agad ko namang ibinalita eto sa mga kaibigan ko para ipamukha sa kanila kung gaano sa ka-tanga manghinayang sila. 

Nauna ata ang premiere ng Hunger Games sa Pinas at ang dami nagpopost sa Facebook na maganda nga daw ang pelikula. Dahil dito, pinanood namin eto last Friday. Ang masasabi ko, maganda nga! Hindi din naman ako mahirap i-please. Gusto ko kapag ang pelikula ay dinadala ako sa ibang mundo at matagumpay itong nagawa ng Hunger  Games. Hindi ko namalayan na mahigit 2 oras pala ang tinakbo ng pelikula dahil talagang kaabang-abang ang bawat eksena. Hindi tulad ng John Carter na dinala nga ako sa ibang mundo pero nainip naman ako at gustong gusto ko na tapusin nila ang pelikula. Medyo twisted lang ng unti ang plot ng Hunger Games. Bakit kailangan mga bata pa ang kailangang magpatayan sa istorya? 

Dahil dito sinimulan ko na uli basahin ang libro. From CR dinala ko na sya sa aking kuwarto. Sa unang kabanata pa lang ng libro naintindihan ko na kung bakit ganun ka-twisted ang plot ng pelikula. Inexplain naman kasi dun. Medyo premature 'tong post ko kasi di ko pa maiikumpara ang libro at pelikula pero baka abutin naman kasi ako ng ilang buwan bago ko matapos ang libro. 

Narealize ko din na ang sosyal ng promo ng pelikulang eto. Mamigay ba naman sila ng libreng kopya ng libro. Sana gawin din nila eto para sa Catching Fire at Mocking Jay. Asa naman ako. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Aftermath

October 27, 2011

I thought I was already okay 2 months after the break-up. In fact, I got back with Mark and we were on holiday in London, eating lunch at Wagamama when I received a text message from Paul.

“Alex, I need to talk to you asap”

Thinking Paul had a problem I gave him a ring then and then. I found out he didn't have anything urgent on his side, he just wanted to speak with me. However, when he learned that I was on vacation during that time, he changed his tone and told me not to worry. I told him to just leave a message on Facebook.
I went home the day after. I have this weird habit of checking my phone, my email and my Facebook account in the wee hours of the morning. Paul actually left me a message and what I've found out is so shocking that I wasn't able to sleep again. Paul’s message occupied the whole screen of my phone but these are the words that popped out:
Jordan tested positive for HIV.
Jordan had a business trip in US and visited Trevor’s bf who is working in New York. Apparently, the free HIV testing centers are everywhere in New York and it wasn’t hard for Trevor’s bf to convince Jordan to take the test when they ran out of things to do. Jordan was so devastated with the result and he sought comfort by telling it to Trevor’s bf. Of course, Trevor's bf broke the news to Trevor.  Being Jordan’s most recent ex, I was the first person in Trevor's thoughts that’s why he had to tell Paul. That’s how Paul gathered the unfortunate story.
I called Paul and he made me talk to his bf who happens to be a doctor who quickly assured me that there is little risk for me being the "top". However, that didn't stop me from doing my own research using the internet. I've realized how naive I was to believe that a "top" wouldn't get the virus. I had some unprotected encounters with Jordan despite Paul's advice to me to always use rubber. 
I had to wait for 3 long months before I can get the test for a more accurate result. I decided to have myself tested when I'm back in the Philippines in December for my Christmas holidays. 
I had so many questions in my head. What if I have the virus? How will I tell Mark? When will I die? Before, HIV for me is something that I watch on television or read in Manila Gay Guy's blog. I never thought that I would come face to face with the virus. I also hated Jordan for putting me in this situation. 
I prayed that night to God and somehow found comfort and relief. I asked Him to save both me and Jordan. 
December 27, 2011
Paul decided to take the test with me on this day. We thought of doing it after Christmas to give ourselves time to enjoy the season. Of course, there were moments when we hesitated to push through the test but we convinced ourselves that "knowledge is power". There was nothing to lose as the virus could already be in our blood streams due to our past lapses in judgment but knowing whether we actually have it or not would help us re-assess our plans for the future. 
With the help of the internet, I found Manila Social Hygiene Clinic which offers free HIV test with rapid results. Myself and Paul met at the Tayuman station of LRT and walked to Quiricada street where the clinic is situated just right in front of San Lazaro Hospital. 
The clinic looks like a public elementary school inside. The signs brought me and Paul to the HIV testing site where we were asked to register first. The registration site is the same site where the results are released and there was actually only one other guy in the area waiting for his results. We noticed that he was called in to the health worker's room to receive the good or bad news. We saw him crumpled the paper containing his results when he came out of the room. Myself and Paul pretended that we didn't see anything and avoided to show any reactions. 
We filled up a one-page form which asks about personal information and sexual activities. 
"What is MSM?" Paul asked.
"Men who have sex with men! I thought expert ka na dyan!" I even joked to Paul. 
Myself and Paul decided not put our real name in the form. We tried to make the situation lighter by joking about the code names that we will use. 
Paul was called to the health worker's room first when he was done with his form. I went in after Paul's turn. It was a sort of a counselling session where the senior health worker will ask you about your sexual activities again just like in the form and the reason why you want to have the test. She freaked out when I honestly responded to her that my reason was because I had sex with a person confirmed to be carrying HIV. She told me that I need to come back after three months if ever I tested positive for the virus for a confirmatory test. I felt scared because of her reaction. 
We were then assisted to the laboratory for the actual test where two nurses waiting for me and Paul. I thought they will just prick our thumbs but it turned out they needed syringe to obtain our blood samples. We were then asked to go back to the registration site where the results will be released. 
Myself and Paul attempted to draw our mind away from the result by chatting about different things. After 10 minutes, we then saw an old man who signaled us that he already had our results from the laboratory. Paul was called in again to the health worker's room. While waiting for my turn, the old man already revealed to me our results. 
"Matutuwa kayo pareho! Pareho kayo negative!" he exclaimed. 
"Seryoso po kayo?" I asked with an excited tone.
"Oo naman. Sasabihin din sayo ni doktora. " the old man replied.
As expected, Paul came out of the room smiling and I was immediately called to go in. I was already smiling when the health worker handed me the piece of paper.
"Thank you po doktora!" I said with a big smile on my face.
"Iho next time gagamit ka ng condom ah" the health worker reminded me.
"Opo. Actually ayoko na po!" I replied to her.
"Ano ka ba? Di mo naman maiiwasan yan. Basta gumamit ka lang ng condom!" she reminded me again.
The whole process took only half an hour. Myself and Paul were so happy and thankful and we headed out to Trinoma to celebrate. We invited some our PLU friends to share with them the good news.
The result. I decided to use my bitch name "Vince Reyes". hehehe
This is me in a coffee shop in Trinoma. Di muna namin tinanggal ni  Paul ung bulak natatakot kasi kami  baka dumugo. 
I realized that indeed things happen for a reason. In my case, that God didn't really plan for my relationship with Jordan to work out as He didn't want me to get the virus. Who knows what could have happened if I stayed longer with Jordan. I have also learned to forgive him. I asked Paul and our other PLU friends to support Jordan as what he is going through is not easy and also to encourage him to start the treatment. I've began to reach out to Jordan as well and we are in the first steps of developing a friendship.  
I consider this as my second chance and I promised to myself that I wouldn't compromise my safety again. This is a closed chapter of my life. The nightmare is over and I can honestly tell that I have finally moved on completely.