Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Headline news

Bird flu reports spreading in Asia the headline said. That could mean the reports of bird flu are spreading in Asia, as in the news about bird flu from Indonesia for example are being spread thru the media, internet, word-of-mouth, etc., to other parts of Asia. Or it could mean Bird Flu is the name of the CNN correspondent and he or she is reporting that 'spreading' is going on in Asia,a practice familiar to those betting on NBA games and pro boxing matches. What it doesnt mean is that bird flu the disease is spreading in Asia, just the reports of it are, and therefore is not a cause for concern. I am relieved. Jakarta is in my immediate future. But as a precaution, Im staying away from our feathered friends for the duration of my stay there, what would be my first time south of the equator.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Notebook

On the inside of the my notebook is the pretty normal "In case of loss,please return to..." thing. But underneath that it says "As a reward: $____". I thought it's pretty snooty of a notebook to have that reward thing. Make no mistake, it's a handsome notebook: black, hard cover with an elastic band to keep the notebook closed and a pocket to keep tickets and things in the inside back cover, 240 pages of acid-free paper. I bought it from one of the small bookstores that dot Utrecht's city center (Utrecht has more bookstores than McDonald's and KFC branches combined) for 12 euros. That's not cheap. It costs about the same as a paperback novel (I bought Shalimar the Clown for the same price) which might justify the snootiness, but still... The reason for the snootiness is the mythos the marketing people surrounded it with. It was supposed to be the notebook used by Picasso, Van Gogh, Hemingway, and others as their notebook: Europe's artists and thinkers, the blurb said. At 12 euros, it's not a notebook to use for grocery lists surely and I must admit I gave in to the hype, illusions of writing the next great pornographic masterpiece while sitting in a cafe in Amsterdam playing in my head.

I brought it home to use as a plog (paper log as opposed to web log) wherein my most foolish notions would see the light of day. But being back home in the Philippines, the euros automatically converted to the local currency: 780 pesos. Mother of pearl! In Europe, a 12 euro notebook doesnt seem all that scandalous, but a 780 peso notebook in this, our patently third world country? It's obscene! Surely the inanities I were to write in it arent worth being written in a 780-peso notebook used by Van Gogh, Picasso, and Hemingway. Then it dawned on me that this isnt the notebook used by Van Gogh, Picasso, and Hemingway. Those bookbinders in France that made the notebooks closed shop in the mid-80s. This new company, an Italian one supposedly bought the rights to the notebook-- from whom I don't know, from one of the families that made them I suppose--and created the hype around them and sells them at an exorbitant price to, holy crap!, yuppies. Im a yuppie? Ok maybe not. It takes a series of trendy purchases over an extended period of time to earn the appellation, and a minor lapse like this a yuppie does not make. I guess it all started when I bought an iPod 6 months ago and... An iPod!! Woe is me, Im sinking into trend-whoredom. I need rehab!

After the anxiety attack over my utter gullibility passed, I was able to appreciate objectively the marketing genius of the Italian company that makes these notebooks. Like I said theyre handsomely made and obviously of fine quality, but the mythos, the mystique they built around it allows them to charge an even higher price. This got me to thinking: What notebook did Jose Rizal use? I remember one of his notebooks on display at a museum somewhere. If we can find out where he got his notebooks, and if we could strike a deal with the manufacturer's probably impoverished descendants (craftsmen in this country are under-appreciated and dont get paid as much as they ought to be), we could make an exact replica of the Rizal notebooks, whip up the mother of all hypes saying this is the notebook Rizal, Bonifacio, and Mabini used, we could make a killing!

I need to call Ambeth Ocampo.

Monday, January 08, 2007

My corridor in pork

Over at Newstand, John Nery notes that the spam subject headings, "in their randomness, their beautiful absurdity...often sounded like refrigerator poetry." So I thought I'd give it a go using subject headings from spam I got today.

My corridor in pork

Gotta see this
All Judah as pillars: one tabernacle, of Israel whom the Lord thy God
Washed my petition? And captain and Obed. And hearken unto Him
How happy are you, so-called tape recorder
Might do? The fathers raised destroyed, utterly
You ready yet?
I detonate at diagram the standard
Or a midwest with good
Can you help the standard pathetic salad dressing?
Of this the people knowledge right hand against their brethren?
Or compatible he mist it in the seat
They is and purple and there is the people
Behold the altar, hollow fields; and as the midst thereof
Heck of a time, no worries
Gotta see this as no profusion
Because I pray thee, in no children also pray and
Be an investigator
My carcass
Do away with all you owe without paying another dollar

Friday, January 05, 2007

Pulp friction

I don't like wiping... my bum... after going to the toilet. I wasn't brought up to be a wiper. Like most of us, I was trained in the old-fashioned Pinoy way: Get a tabo of water, use your bare hands to wash your arse out with soap, then wash your hands thoroughly. The idea of taking a wad of paper and wiping your bum up after never occurred to me growing up. It was totally beyond my plane of reality.

Until first grade. This was when I encountered the idea of toilet paper. A classmate of mine had to go to the bathroom and asked our teacher if he could go. He whispered something to our teacher. The teacher nodded and asked him if he had some paper. He said he did and he brought some paper with him. Regular pad paper. This puzzled me but I kept quiet. Paper?

Later, I asked my mother about it and she told me. The paper is used to wipe off the poop from your arse afterwards. Ahhh, I said, never even considering the significance of this profound statement.

My mother was telling me about the real world; the world out there. I never gave it another thought. Like I said, this was beyond my plane of reality.

Until a few months later when reality ran right smack into me. This time I had to go to the toilet to do the number one. I felt the need as early as one o'clock but fought it for an hour. I knew our school toilet didn't have tabo. I knew that anybody could walk in the toilet and see (and smell) that there was somebody in there and, sooner or later, word would get out that it was me and I didn’t want to be called Poop Boy for the rest of the school year. I didn’t want to get caught in there with my pants down, pardon the pun.

So I fought my own body for what seemed like forever. I fought and fought until I couldn’t anymore. I had to go. I walked up to the teacher and told her. She nodded her head and asked me if I had paper. Paper! I said I did. Bringing the the pad paper with me, I headed to the toilet. I did my stuff. I was so thankful that nobody walked in. (Of course, some of my classmates knew what I was up to when they saw me take some paper out so I didn’t totally escape being called Poop Boy.)

Then came the moment of truth. The moment I dreaded. I took a sheet of paper and proceeded to wipe, rather timidly at first. I can’t describe how I felt at that precise moment when paper met arse. It was like being transported to another dimension, like losing your grip with the here-and- now, like slipping into another plane of existence. I looked at the used piece of paper and I knew I entered into a different world. I also knew that one sheet of paper ain’t gettin it done, man. So I took out another. Then another. And another. I scrubbed so hard my arse ached.

I used up all my pad paper but I still didn’t feel clean. With a sense of defeat, I put my pants back on, washed my hands, and walked back to the classroom, feeling filthy. And I just knew my classmates thought I was filthy. (Later, in fourth grade, I discovered that the Assistant Principal's toilet had tabo and soap when I got sent to his office after some, shall we say, misunderstanding about the school’s rules and regulations on proper conduct in class. Since then, whenever I felt the need, I went to his office and asked if I could use his bathroom. Bless his soul, he was kind enough to let me.

My misgivings towards toilet paper continued. In Western culture, using paper is an unmistakable mark of a civilized man because it exhibits some kind of tool-use, something that differentiates higher animals from lower ones. The more developed the tool, the higher the animal on the evolutionary ladder. More primitive animals, so this theory goes, don’t clean their bums at all. Somewhat higher animals use leaves, exhibiting a propensity for manipulating the environment for its own use. And man, the pinnacle of evolution, uses bleached, scented, processed wood pulp, neatly arranged in rolls, to clean their bums,showing how far they’ve come from the time their ancestors scraped their arses on smooth stones near the riverbank. In this school of thought, washers like me are certainly on the lower rungs of the evolutionary totem pole because of the absence of tool-use in bum cleaning.

Hungry for acceptance, I adapted for a time the use of the bum roll, especially in the office I used to work in, where they have eschewed the use of the tabo. To give me the sense of cleanliness that I require, I proceeded to roll up a lot of paper, wet the whole thing in the sink, and used this to wipe my arse. Little did I know that the bum roll isn’t made of sturdy fiber. Marketing majors have decided, on their own I might add, that softer paper is more desirable than sturdy paper, and so gave us paper that is totally useless when wet, disintegrating into their component fibers when handled rather roughly. These individual fibers have a tendency to bunch up into wads and stick to the hairs of one's arse where they harden into fiber balls. One then has to check, everyday when taking a bath, if these fiber balls are present up one's arse-hairs. Fortunately, these are easy to remove with soap and water. But as you may imagine, this totally made me lose my faith in the bum roll.

I run into this Paper Culture when assigned overseas. London, England and New York City are generally accepted as the best cities mankind has ever produced. Not to me. They don’t have a concept of the tabo. Fortunately, during my trip to New York, I was picked up by relatives who still adhere to the toilet habits of the beloved Patria Adorada. I stayed in their home for a weekend and they took me to Atlantic City, where I was able to appropriate the plastic tumblers used to hold the slot machine tokens in the Trump Taj Mahal. These made for useful tabo substitutes and I brought them with me to my Midtown Manhattan apartment where I stayed, bum clean and fragrant, for the next three weeks. In Nanjing, China, I bought a tabo from a store near the office. It wasn’t really a tabo. It was a small palanggana. But it served the purpose.

Toilet heaven would have to be Bangkok, Thailand. Next to the toilet bowl in our apartment, and in the bank where I was assigned, is a hose with a nozzle. You take this hose after pooping, press a lever, and out comes a jet of water with which you clean your bum. You can adjust the strength of the water jet by turning the tap. The ubiquitous roll of paper is still present but only used to dry your arse after washing. Any civilization that would place the bum roll in a position subservient to soap and water is okay by me. I am ready to vote for Bangkok as the best city in the world. Our office toilet has a tabo. Good. Being the – quote –biggest trade finance system provider in the world – unquote - I'd expect our toilet to have at least one. After all, we shouldn’t just be IT professionals in every sense of the word. Our bums should also smell nice.

Note: This first appeared in the ersatz company newsletter. A couple of months later, the building administrator had those nozzle thingies connected in all the toilets. I never found out if the article had anything to do with it.