Sunday, February 26, 2006

My favourite things…

Remembering the lines "I simply remember my favourite things/and then I don’t feel so bad" from the Sound of Music, I list down a partial list of my favourite activities, which do help me lift my spirits when I feel sad and lonely and stressed out. Finding reasons to be happy everyday is a blessing; and I’m amazed and thankful because God never lets the day end without giving me a reason to be happy.

Why did I write them today? To serve as a reminder of what I am thankful for despite the difficult circumstances that I know will come my way.

Spending Sunday evenings with my siblings and my cousins.
I always look forward to the Sunday dinner and coffee. This has become a standard weekend activity for us (which started when I was a college freshman). We miss the old days when Cinnzeo and Powerbooks branches in Alabang Town Centre were open up til 2am; when we exchanges stories while sitting on couches at the Starbucks branch at Madrigal; and when there was a whole bunch of us together with our parents and Lola. When we do get together now, we just have dinner at the Food Court, grab a cup of choco milk at Coffee Bean and/or watch the last full show at the cinema… sans the parents and Biboy (have since migrated to the US) and the married cousins. So, I’d like to show my gratitude to Ate Maddie and Anna (two of the three Sunday night owls) for making Sunday a day to look forward to.    
Driving through the PCARRD road on weekday mornings on my way to work.
Believe it or not, going through the winding roads leading to the Jamboree site in the Makiling Forest Reserve is the most relaxing part of my drive to work. Seeing all the trees and vegetation makes me feel calm and ready to face the stressful day ahead. Even the smoke occasionally coming from the waste segregation area (which I used to call the ‘cloud factory’) enhances the idea that I’m driving in heaven.

Eating ice cream at Robinson’s Sta Rosa. 
When I used to work in Sta Rosa, I tried to always leave before 9pm so that I could reach the Fiorgelato ice cream stand on the second floor before it closed for the night. The chocolate and the cheese flavours never failed to soothe my bruised ego after a tough day on duty. The coffee shop on the third floor of Robinson’s also provided a secluded spot where I could take a breather and relax while waiting for the traffic along Balibago to ease up. Thanks to Kuya Mel M. for going with me to Robinson’s to get that ice cream cone at 8:30pm.

Walking from the UP Gate to the Los Banos junction.
This habit started in high school when my friends and I would walk from the old UP Rural campus to the junction where we would take the jeep to Calamba. The excuse? We were trying to build some stamina in preparation for the gruelling cheering practices in October… which usually left us black and blue (and we could hardly walk). Besides, we were trying to save 50 centavos by walking the almost one-kilometer length Lopez Avenue. Today, I still walk whenever time permits and the weather is good. The fresh night air always makes me feel good, and jostling through human traffic (re: the kids from the Los Banos National High School)keeps my mind alert. Plus, walking usually gets me to my destination faster than driving during the rush hour. Thanks to Mafel, Sandy, and Ross C. for walking with me all the time.

Listening to the Earth, Wind, and Fire Essentials CD. 
I discovered that the musical stylings of this vocal group kept me calm, yet on my toes when I was still learning to drive. A cassette tape copy of this album was given to me as a gift, and I popped it by chance in my dad’s car’s radio one Sunday afternoon while he was teaching me how to go through intersections. Since then, no matter how far I drove with my dad, I just let it play… it was continuously playing as I drove from Calamba, Laguna to Cuenca, Batangas, to Tagaytay City, Cavite. I also listened to it as I drove from Calamba to Sta Cruz to Caliraya Lake, and back again to Calamba. And just tonight, I bought a CD copy of this album, and popped it into the console of my car. The lyrics of each song brought me back to my driving bloopers in 1998. Kuya Junjun gave me that tape on my birthday. 

Buying footwear.
I realised I have a knack for buying shoes (and buying clothes to match the shoes) when I was working in Sta Rosa. Buying shoes became an outlet for some pent up emotions. Back then, I found myself buying shoes once a week. So now, I have quite a collection representing colours of the visible light spectrum: maroon loafers, pink boots, brown safety shoes, red sneakers, black mary janes, baby blue walking shoes, tan bowling shoes, white running shoes. And that does not include the sandals and the slippers (the ones with the characters on them). Note: many of the pairs were bought when I got back to Los Banos… and many came from my mom (who is another shoe shopaholic).

Having a relaxing dinner with friends.
I find the time I spend with my friends very peaceful and fun, especially since I see them very rarely nowadays. Long ago, it was easy: someone would just send an SMS to classmates and we’d meet up at McDo or at Chowking. There was no LB Square back then. But now, with so many things going on in each other’s lives, dinner-outs are really scheduled during FebFairs. Sometimes, there’s not even time for a quick chat. And since many of them are now dating or have significant others, having dinner as a group has become a real challenge! So, when a free time suddenly appears, we grab it and exchange stories while eating. I would like to say thanks to some of them… the schoolmates I most frequently ate with the last few weeks: Lea M., Noan, and Tim.

Co-hosting a radio program. 
Ah, this is my opportunity to wrap up the hectic week. In fact, this is one of the reasons I remain excited on the last day of the work week. Being on board requires concentration and presence of mind. Plus, this is my chance to be as talkative as I can get (whenever I have to be on air alone) and to learn something new (like to control the console). This program is a public service project of the Rotary Club of West Bay, and I’m glad to be a part of it. Thanks to Tito Johnny G. for allowing me to co-host it with him.

Anyway, that’s my list as it stands at the moment. I’m sure it will grow over time. It’s going to be amazing to see this list someday in the future.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A scary night drive… one of the Lord’s subtle reminders

When my dad was teaching me how to drive, he always reminded me to stop, look, and listen at railway crossings because on my way to Los Banos, I have to pass three crossings (and more, depending on the route I would take). I shouldn’t only watch out for the train, but also for ‘ghosts’ - train cars that get detached from the lot - that usually issue no warnings to travelers.

I was reminded of this one strange day this past week. I drove to IRRI and had to go through Pili Drive. But I had to stop right before the IRRI gate because a train was passing by. Strangely, the barriers that were usually down when a train passed weren’t down.

That night, as I was driving through Pansol, Calamba, I heard the first warnings of an oncoming train. The horn (or whistle, or whatever it’s called) was louder as I approached the crossing at Bucal, Calamba, but the traffic enforcer was allowing the traffic to move (therefore the train was either still far off or had already passed). But I couldn’t determine where it’s coming from. So when I was at the railroad crossing just past the Pepsi warehouse in Calamba, I stopped to check if there was a train coming (because I could still hear the horn blowing). Since it was dark (past nine?), there was no light coming from either side of the crossing, and there were no people scurrying off the rail, I assumed that the train had passed already. So I cautiously and hurriedly drove across the rails. That was a good thing, because just five seconds after I did that, the train DID come along, rumbling fast! I had just cleared the rail and had driven a few feet off when I saw it through my rearview mirror. What a scare! That’s one of the most frightening experiences that I’ve had!

I might not have been in imminent danger at that time, but to me, it felt like the Lord just saved my life for the nth time, and that reaffirmed my belief that the Lord is watching over me and covering my back (I always ask for safe trips for me and my sister). It’s one of His subtle reminders, I think.

I’ve been on air for more than a year!

I was dreading the broadcast of Rotary at Your Service during this year’s February Fair. Why? Because I never forgot that last year, I was learning the ropes at the LBFM radio booth, and I was committing major blunders on air… many seconds of dead air, leaving the microphone on while the music was playing (therefore, the supposedly off-air discussions were broadcast live), and appearing obviously rattled about it while continuing the broadcast. I had no excuse, except that I was learning how to operate the consoles on my own, without any formal training at all. To add to the pressure, I was co-hosting with one really good journalist (Tito Johnny, of the Rotary Club of West Bay).

Fast forward to 2006. I have been going on board on my own for many episodes (when Tito Johnny was covering news assignments in Manila), and I was gaining confidence in the format of the program, and in my skills. After all, I was more relaxed and I no longer needed to prep the night before just to check if my script would last for an hour of monologue. But then again, it’s the FebFair broadcast, and anything was possible.

Turned out that there really was a surprise! I was going to do the broadcast on my own (which wasn’t the surprise). But to add to the pressure was the addition of live broadcast feeds from the Freedom Park where the Fair was being held. I was briefed about it two minutes before I started the show, and the jock before me just rattled a list of to-do’s at a certain time (add a music bed for the news feed update). As the obedient host that I was, I played the music bed at exactly the right time. But then, a lady came in informing me that I was supposed to wait for 10 more minutes because the field reporters didn’t know that I was ready for them. Some dead air passed, and I was struck dumb. Good thing the lady (the instructor for the field reporters’ class) had presence of mind to say "play something first!" So I did. Whew! Otherwise, I would have remained dumbfounded.

The rest of the Rotary broadcast, and the live field reports, went smoothly. But that episode reminds me that I always have to be on my toes for anything unexpected… this is why broadcasting is exciting!

Since I’ve started volunteering for the radio show, I have reason to be excited on Fridays. The show has been my relaxation time, my chance to de-stress after a hard week’s work.

Defensive driving

Defensive driving… people had mixed reactions when I told them (animatedly) that I was attending the seminar. My officemates asked why I still needed to attend the class… the same one is offered at work. And a friend had a good laugh. :D

Anyway, there was no big reason why I attended it: I just went there for the fun of learning something new. For instance, there’s no such thing as beating the red light. It turns out that it’s impossible to beat the red light. Drivers beat the yellow light! But I digress from the point. The seminar turned out to be a refresher course to everything that I’ve learned while on the road; only this time, I was sitting in a classroom with other drivers who have driven for a longer time (and yet they were attending the seminar). And I was taking time to listen to a formal lecture about it.

So, what did I actually get during the seminar? The most important point of the lesson, aside from being reminded about proper behaviour on the road, was how to avoid being fooled by the officer who may flag me down in the future. No less than the chief of operations of the Land Transportation Office (region 4) provided us with a list of fines for specific violations. Thus, if a traffic enforcer flags me down and wants exorbitant fees, all I have to do is refer to the list… although I would rather prefer that I don’t get flagged down, ever!

Then, for the defensive driving part, the most important lesson I learned was NEVER INSIST ON THE RIGHT OF WAY. That’s when you know that doing so can put you and your passengers, and the other people on the road, in danger. Might as well yield or fully stop at an intersection than have a collision with another road user. :D

This morning proved to be fruitful. And I was able to remember, and to practice, that I should maintain a car’s length distance for every 15kph reading. So, when I had to drive at 75kph along the South Luzon Expressway en route from Alabang to Calamba this evening, I had to drive five cars’ length away from the vehicle in front.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Driving the Jazz

It has now been three weeks since I’ve started using the Honda Jazz… and what a delight is it to use! There is no point in comparing it with the Honda Civic SiR because the Jazz has a 1.3 engine while the SiR has a 1.6 one with a DOHC. Therefore, performance-wise, the Jazz is obviously beaten by the SiR by a mile. For example, on my way up the mountainous PCARRD road to UPLB, nobody can normally pass me while I’m en route… it takes me seven minutes on average to drive from the turn at the national road to the Main Library parking lot. That’s with the SiR. That car can accelerate from 0 to 60kph in a span of less than 10 seconds. No wonder I’m hard to catch! On the other hand, I find myself driving slowly up the same road with the Jazz because of the weaker engine. Don’t get me wrong… the engine is as strong and as powerful as the Toyota Corolla 1.6 I was using in 2001, but it’s a tad slower than the SiR. I found myself being passed by faster SUVs through the long stretches before the winding treacherous zigzags!

There ends the downside of the Jazz. Now here’s why I’m happy about it… almost ecstatic…

One, the back seats are so versatile. With the limited luggage space inside this subcompact, it’s hard to  imagine that I was able to fit Biboy’s balikbayan boxes inside without any trouble with the hatch. In contrast, the SiR trunk wouldn’t close because the boxes where huge. The secret behind the Jazz’s huge space is the back seats’ ability to be folded and tucked so that there’s additional space and a remaining seat for a third passenger, just in case. In the SiR, there’s no way of putting the boxes on the passenger seats at the back and making room for a third passenger.

Two, it’s a puzzle how a visibly smaller car can carry so much load and still have ample legroom for both passenger and driver. In fact, when Biboy adjusted the driver seat to accommodate him, there’s still enough room for a passenger sitting directly behind him. In the SiR, once Biboy started to drive, nobody sat behind him because there’s simply no space for the legs. The driver seat touched the backseat.

Three, with the truncated butt and head, the Jazz is easy to maneuver through tight fixes and busy roads. It’s reminiscent of Charlize Theron’s and Mark Wahlberg’s mini Coupers in The Italian Job. Parking is a breeze, even in our house’s garage because there’s less space to be occupied. The only problem with the smaller size is my observation that the drivers of buses and trucks tend to cut through more often while I’m driving the Jazz because it’s small. But there’s nothing to fear, because I’ve retained the SiR driving attitude… nobody intimidates me!

Four, the Jazz is so fuel-efficient! According to the published data, the car can burn one liter of fuel per 17km. That’s almost double of my usage with the SiR! Now, I spend  P500 per week instead of last year’s P1000. With the rapid increase in gas prices, buying this car has to be the best investment I’ve gotten myself into. Right now though, I’m only getting 15km/li. That’s because the Jazz is still new and is still starting to stretch its limbs, so to speak.

I’ve read a review about this car that said that the fuel usage rate is really erratic. At one time, it runs at 8km/li and 21km/li the next. I guess that’s dependent on the road conditions. As long as it runs at a constant speed, gas consumption is at a minimum. But when there’s bumper-to-bumper traffic and the weather is bad, it follows that fuel efficiency drops… that’s normal with every other brand, actually.

In summary, I’m starting to get the feel of my brand new car! I love to use it… pretty soon, my moving address will be changed into VDM271 from ANA118.

Bird’s eye view on Earth

Fascination to geography has led me to a very amazing program called Google Earth, which I know everyone has seen. It’s so great because you can point at a city and have a top view of it. Thanks to the numerous satellites circling the Earth (which I thought was science fiction as recent as the premier of the movie Enemy of the State), I can now glimpse at the houses of my relatives who happen to be on the other side of the world.

Though the pictures are pretty new (Google claims that these photos have been taken as early as three years ago), they are not captured in real time, so I don’t expect to see my dad’s SUV parked along Colfax St. But even then, the picture has high resolution.

And there are other places too! The cracks made by the Mount Saint Helens explosion and the crevices of the Grand Canyon can be seen… and toured with the program’s enhanced features.

Other continents are also seen. Many cities in Europe are visible, but most of the world is still blurry. Thus, I’m really excited to see all of the regions of the world in high resolution.

Seeing the Earth rotating on screen brought me back to the scene in Apollo XIII where the two astronauts being commanded by Jim Lovell first saw the Earth. It’s a really good view. I just hope I can go to outer space for real.

As long as that is just a dream, the Google Earth can suffice…