31 August 2017

Road to Justice

Woman Worldwide: Summer Sonic Osaka 2017

18. “The way to get things done [is] to go ahead and do them. Don’t talk about going to Borneo. Book a ticket, get a visa, pack a bag, and it just happens,” says Richard in the Alex Garland novel, The Beach. That bit didn’t need underlining; it was stuck in my head since. For the longest time I dreamed of traveling to Japan and of taking a proper vacation: something completely mine, well-planned but also aimless. I never thought that I had the resources nor the guts to fly to a land which language I don’t speak, until Justice announced a world tour, with appearances at Summer Sonic 2017.

19. Last April, Coachella streamed Justice’s full set, giving me a taste of Woman Worldwide. What I digested was theater, where each element — may it be aural, visual, lexical — meant something to another element to another element. Everyone talked and will talk about the lights: because they don’t just dazzle, they communicate.

20. Once you hear the live version of a Justice song, you’ll forget about the original. “Access All Arenas” taught me as much. In this current tour, the duo made Love S.O.S — my favorite from “Woman” — even more special by running its trademark siren from the tail-end of Stress (a nice connection, considering both tracks, despite contrasting moods, seem to pivot on having a heart attack); and then adding a layer of keyboard in the midsection (a tingly surprise). Another masterstroke was ridding Chorus of its chorus for one final bass-heavy, head-banging stretch before the set’s hypnotic Audio, Video, Disco denouement.

21. Summer Sonic is a weekend music festival simultaneously held in Tokyo and Osaka, and between the two cities, the latter feels more like me. Chill. It is also, overall, the cheaper alternative. My initial plan was to backpack to Osaka, watch Justice, have curry and ramen, then go home. But excitement had me packing for a five-night escape.

The Osaka Castle, a tourist spot near my hotel

22. As the plane taxied on Kansai Airport grounds, my mind shot through different directions: How will I find my hotel? How will I find Maishima Arena? What if my credit and debit cards weren’t working? Oh my god I’m really going to see Justice. What if they suddenly got sick and cancelled (like Charli XCX later on)? The first problem I had to solve (at 10pm) was the hotel. Lucky me, the customs officer was chatty and knew some English. He directed me towards the train station. Which was big and intimidating. But not without a friendly face behind the counter. I showed Mr Ticket Seller the address written in my pocket notebook, he flipped through the pages of a railway atlas. Got my route. Arigato. That was pretty much how I survived Japan — short words, miming, the kindness of strangers, Google.

23. Hello, Chuo Ward. Hello, hotel. (Quiet elation.) Unpacked. Checked my phone, naturally. Justice posted an invitation to a meet and greet at a pop-up shop… in Tokyo. FUCK YOU, GASPARD AND XAVIER. AND PARDON MY FRENCH. I did contemplate maxing out my credit card to get from where I was to where they were, but Sensible Me prevailed. This was how I consoled myself: If I met them, I would have no fangirl ambitions left. Plus, if I went there, I’d be broke and starve to death. I chose to live to tell this tale.

24. My fear of being lost and unfound diminished with every train ride. Everything in the subway is laid out systematically — the stations are identified alphanumerically; the rail lines, color-coded; the exits, numbered. Trains arrive on time. Another person might perceive coldness from this impeccable clockwork, but for someone who’s MRT-LRT-phobic, it is the most thoughtful, humane design. This magnificent underground web, however, is not idiot-proof. Forty-eight hours of exploring the city before the festival gave me enough commute rehearsal. I boarded from the wrong platforms, got off the wrong stations, adjusted fares. Sonic day itself offered a fresh challenge: riding a bus. Well more of finding the goddamn bus station. All along I was looking for a huge terminal instead of an inconspicuous bus stop on the roadside.

At the Sonic Stage, minutes before Justice's set

25. Plotted my sched: Honne at 5:15, Phoenix at 6:30, Justice at 8:40. What I regret: Not squeezing in Blood Orange at 5:50. As soon as Phoenix closed their very groovy, very sexy set, I dashed to the Sonic Stage to secure my spot. At that point I had seen every livestream, every recording of the show on YouTube and Instagram. When I entered the arena, they were setting up the stage. Seeing those four deck stands atop a square platform flanked by stacks of Marshall amps made me giddy.

26. I want to pee. I just peed ten minutes ago. If I peed now I would lose my spot. Okay lights out, can’t pee anymore. (Buzz.) This is it. (Buzz.) Man everything in this country’s on time. Aww, their faces! It’s really, really them, waving. Okay that is anticlimactic. Oh shit.

27. DISCO.

Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay live

28. For a while I was reading the performance like a book, fussing about minute details. I was bummed that Japan didn’t get the production with mobile LED panels (due to venue limitations, I suppose, or logistical challenges), but the substance of the light-work remained intact. What captures my imagination in Woman Worldwide’s staging is the way that light meets metal, passing through slits, or bending — the music’s optic equivalent. Songs in “Woman” are strong and limber. They bang, but breathe elegance.

29. More bouts of synesthesia. I listened to colors, I witnessed notes fold and contract. I was standing still but felt as if I were jumping because everybody else was jumping. I felt alcohol on my skin, because someone splashed her beer. I felt skin on my skin. Gorgeous, shirtless men were pushing their way to the front. Dancing so hard.

30. Alakazam and Fire blossomed into a euphoric remix. From there until the dying bars of We Are Your Friends and Phantom Pt. II, I cannot remember most of what happened. Within that space, I may have left a piece of myself for good.

31. Xavier’s antics, Xavier messing up, Gaspard telling him something, gesturing, “No, no” — these must be mentioned. You might think that attending this concert is an item to be crossed off from some stupid list. No, I want more. Justice didn’t play Randy and Stop (my second favorite from the latest album), so here I am fantasizing about their next tour where I will hear those songs remixed.

Somewhere in Uranamba

32. Paradise for me is a city where I can let my guard down. The night I arrived in Osaka, I climbed out of a subway and into a pitch-black district occasionally brightened by convenience stores. That was the only moment I felt scared and alone in that city. The following morning I had the most boring, most un-Japanese breakfast of bacon and eggs. Upon a friend’s advice, I visited tourist spots and street markets. Umeda was chic, Uranamba was shabby. Dotonbori, I chanced upon after taking too many wrong turns. In a Shinsaibashi café I eavesdropped on two women’s velvet conversation. I haven’t had so much fun commuting and walking on concrete, under the sun. On my last night, I met a local who spoke English — the universe giving me someone to say farewell to. Leaving was tough because I didn’t know how to go back to a life without Osaka’s safety.

33. When Madonna brought her Rebel Heart Tour to Manila, people raised ruckus over the P57,750 SVIP tickets, quickly noting what (better things) an avid fan could buy with all that cash — a MacBook, a year’s worth of tuition at a private university, etc. But as far as I’m concerned, your happiness, your money, your business. I might pay more to catch my idols. Oh wait… A one-day pass at Summer Sonic Osaka was P7,109.49. Including air fare, accommodation, visa application, and daily allowance, the cost of my entire trip was a little shy of P60,000. For that amount, I saw Justice live, grooved to Honne and Phoenix, and took temporary lodging in paradise. What a bargain.


Read Part 1 and Part 2.

28 August 2017

Why I still blog

The short, straightforward answer: Because I want to feel good about myself.

For an indulgent, self-patting and -absolving explanation:

You give me the pleasure of having an audience

My favorite anecdote about writing is this: A poet friend attended a national writers workshop and his poetry was lambasted. Imagine how painful it must be for him, hearing the critiques, pretending to be fine afterwards. To recover, he wrote a poem.

That’s how you know you’re meant to do something. It’s a reflex.

Among the activities that captured my imagination as child, writing was the easiest to do. I wanted to be a pianist, a carpenter, a teacher, a cashier, a swimmer. We had a piano at home, but I couldn’t make noises at night. Swimming lessons, plus the gears, were expensive. But writing, it's cheap. I can do it anywhere, whenever I want to. In my head, I can be as loud as I like.

Following the bait of Language has led me here. I studied Literature, I took jobs as a communications assistant, an English tutor, a travel and lifestyle writer. In college I was thinking in poetry. In the mid-2000s I was thinking in blogs. In 2008 I started thinking in aphorisms — in 140 characters, that is.

This blog, which I created in 2003 (that period between graduating and signing an employment contract), has been a steady outlet for my writing. What began as a space for well-meaning bullshit became a confluence of my writerly selves, my many voices.

While my byline has appeared in publications in every available platform, most ideas I hold dear are here. Thank heavens for technology — for blogs, really, because I would explode if these thoughts didn’t find expression. And at least here it’s less of a one-way conversation.

I’ll do what I do anyway — it’s a reflex, but I would be lying if I said that I have no need for kind words. Writing is that job where you know you’re a rockstar but you don't get an applause. It’s a solitary occupation. Often it feels like talking to a ghost. But when you see the shares, the likes, when someone surprises you with a message of admiration or gratitude, the ghost becomes human. The weather turns warm.

Why I love blogging more than ever

In 2012 I wrote:

"9 years ago I dreamed of becoming a writer. 2 years ago I became a professional one: I write; I get paid. Since then I have loved this blog more than I ever did. Because (cheesy as it sounds) this is me.
. . . .
Before, I was aching to get published and I knew that getting published would feel amazing. It does. It did. It does when it matters. Now, having your work and your thoughts printed and disseminated seems to be the easiest occupation. So my dream has changed, or it has at least reverted to my principal dream, and that is to write well."

Making a career out of your passions can bring you to an identity and integrity crisis. When I was hired in the marketing department of a local newspaper five years ago, I thought in advertorials. I understood what “culture shock” meant when I entered the publishing industry. Writers put their names on barely edited press releases and call it a day. You’d be asked to state something you didn’t believe in. Because everyone was doing it, you’d figure it was okay.

There are stuff that are very not okay, however. I still can’t get over seeing my name on heavily revised articles, and articles that are almost entirely written by another. I still sometimes beat myself up for allowing these to happen.

And so this blog has also meant that. I’ve learned a lot, which means a lot must be unlearned. This is my constant attempt to write well and be a person of integrity. This is all me: the good, the bad syntax, the ugly.


Today is the blog's 14th birthday. Consider this entry a form of celebration.

16 August 2017

Notes on Rep’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Rep's "Beauty and the Beast" runs until December 14 at OnStage, Greenbelt.

An audience member asked on opening night why the iconic (her word) Beauty and the Beast theme was left out of the Repertory Philippines production of the musical. She was, of course, referring to the Alan Menken hit from the Walt Disney label. Rep could sigh in dismay, having categorically stated that their show adopts a different version of the fairy tale; but maybe, just maybe, no one would miss the popular movie tracks had the Michael Valenti score been equally enchanting.

The Laughter Song has got quite a hook (that’s still lodged in my head). As for the rest of the songs, they barely excite the ear, however pleasant-sounding. It doesn’t help that the cast — led by Alana Vicente (Beauty) and Jos Jalbuena (Beast) — seem to be in short supply of energy, unconvinced themselves of what they’re crooning about.

What Rep’s Beauty and the Beast has going for it is: everything else. Bonsai Cielo’s costumes are visual puzzles (Do you put on, slip or morph into a table dress? Is that actual fire on the walking candlesticks?); while John Batalla’s light design is a sustained magic trick. As if the artistic and production staff are giving their own “This is How You Do Theater” lesson to children, while wowing adults on the side.

Do you put on, slip or morph into a table dress?

Peter Del Valle and John Ahearn have written an interesting book as well.

Here, Beauty has two egoistic sisters named Mimi and Fifi, who think she’s boring. And they’re right. Beauty lacks dimension. Thank goodness there’s Mimi and Fifi, and their pompous suitors, Jacques and Pierre to bring the much-needed color and humor to the show. Seeing them prance around, hearing their mannered speech, is a delight. Watch out for their riot of a number somewhere in Act One.

The story takes off when Beauty’s father finds a safe refuge in the middle of a storm, then wakes up in a wondrous garden. How lucky of him as he promised his daughters gifts when he returns home: a tiara and a cape for Mimi and Fifi, and a rose for Beauty. So he plucks the prettiest flower in sight, but no sooner than he can admire it, a mad voice booms at him. Beast. In exchange for his prized possession, he demands that Beauty lives with him, else he will claim the old man’s life. Funny how an innocent wish — a single rose — leads to great dangers.

Awesome foursome: Mimi, Fifi, Jacques, and Pierre bring color and humor to the show.

When Beauty and Beast meet for the first time, they discuss the situation rather calmly. The absence of aggression from both sides is refreshing — and the scene isn't any less intense because of it. With our main characters quickly arriving at a compromise, we wonder what new conflicts will unfold.

Trespassing and possessiveness are some of the show’s nicer points for reflection, even if it is, for the most part, a story of Mimi and Fifi unlearning greed; and of Beast relearning to laugh, and that love reads through facades.

Another audience member asked how they could entice their sons to catch the musical. Men are as afraid of being judged by their appearance as women are. If young boys saw Rep's Beauty and the Beast, they might realize that looks alone doesn’t make or break a person. But they would have to ignore the girls in a rapturous fit the moment Beast turns back into his human, handsome face.

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