I’ve got some weird things running in my gray matter since the start of the year. And last week everything seems to have happened in topsy-turvy manner or as what I sometimes describe things in the production floor as chopsuey—just a mixture of different things. There was anxiety, there was hope, and then there’s despair.

And today the emotional intensity has gone up and one thing that made me think less or control it rather than it controlling me was the anticipation that things are about to happen. It’s not matter of IF but it’s just a matter of WHEN. It’s like running out of brakes and just bracing for impact while each second is a countdown of the imminent worst case scenario.

Last week I was mulling over the topic of death once again while killing time (pardon the pun). I was asking myself when was the first time I realized how death of a loved one must be like. And then I remembered, it was way back in my elementary days.

It was one lazy summer 1984 afternoon. The flickering rays of the sun passed the swaying ipil-ipil leaves in our front yard. I was about to enjoy my mandatory siesta when a familiar voice called. ”Mahampang na kami siguro (it must be playtime already),” I thought. But as I rush out of the door, a rather sullen look greeted me. It was my classmate and friend,  Jonathan. “Cris, patay na si mama (mom is dead),” he said.

I still remember feeling confused, not knowing what to make out of it. I can’t remember the exact discussions that followed but I remember us just sitting in the yard and with me listening while he tells stories about his mom. At a very young age I witnessed funerals of my own relatives but I have never been closed to understanding until that memorable afternoon that with death comes inevitable grief. It’s how one handles it that makes the difference.

Then just two days ago, I received an email with an urgent subject: Emergency Appeal! I read the message and it’s from someone in Africa. I shrugged it off as a scam but verified it anyhow through my college yahoogroups. Just as expected, my inbox was soon flooded with replies confirming what I thought it to be. But one replied out of topic and only addressed to me. It was from Jonathan.

class 84
Our elementary class.

We’ve had some lengthy email exchanges since then and I find it weird that everything has been so mixed up but yet still appears to be in harmony as every dot gets connected in the end. Weirder is the fact that I’ve been holding to a clipping from this Sunday’s newspaper with a story from Francis Kong’s “Tragedy into blessing” article.

Year’s ago in Scotland, the Clark family had a dream. The Clarks had worked and saved, making plans for their nine children and themselves to travel to the United States. It had taken years, but they had finally saved enough money and had gotten passports and reservations for the whole family on a new liner to the United States. The entire family was filled with anticipation and excitement about their new life. However, seven days be- fore their departure, the youngest son was bitten by a dog. The doctor sewed up the boy but hung a yellow sheet on the Clarks’ front door. Because of the possibility of rabies, they were being quarantined for 14 days. The family’s dreams were dashed. They would not be able to make the trip to America as they had planned. The father, filled with disappointment and anger, stomped to the dock to watch the ship leave.

The father shed tears of disappointment and cursed both his son and God for their misfortune.

Five days later, the tragic news spread throughout Scotland – the mighty Titanic had sunk. The Clark family was to have been on that ship. When Mr. Clark heard the news, he hugged his son and thanked him for saving the family. He thanked God for saving their lives and turning what he had felt was a tragedy into a blessing.

The story was made even more meaningful when bad news struck yesterday.  God must indeed have plans for us and now, I’d like to believe it more. Few weeks or months from now, I’ll be missing things in the production floor. No more chopsuey. No more turning back.

***

Mood: 5/10 Honks!

Dead Employees Walking

In the death rows of the prison cells they call the inmates dead man walking. This is because the people inside this part of the penitentiary walls are those whose cases have been heard and judged. Consequently, they are sentenced to death and from then they are basically dead. Thus seeing them around until judgment day is like seeing a dead man walking.

Right now, there’s no better analogy but that of a dead man walking for the situations that some of our colleagues have faced already—after ending employment by the end of 2008 – and those that were able to hold on to their jobs this year. I was one of those who were supposed to wake up jobless on January 1, but for some stroke of luck I got extended.

I reported back to work after being hired for an engineering position from a supervisory position. I’ve never felt so good and excited in my career transition than this. But on top of it, I did not discount the fact that with the recession effects knocking on everyone’s door, the possibility of being sentenced to the jobless row isn’t far behind. The problem, however, is that that possibility seems to come too soon.

Yesterday, my observations of our manager’s manner of reporting to work confirmed my fears. I usually arrive at the parking lot almost during the same time when he does and I have even told some of my peers that our expat manager prefers to alight far from the main building and takes a walk from there. Lately though, I see him getting out of his service van at the nearest spot to the lobby doors. It appears that he’s saving on steps, or if not, saving on some energy. I told my peers, “He must be into something, and it doesn’t look good…let’s worry more if I see him report to work in pajamas.” The email blast yesterday addressed to all employees was the final nail to the coffin.

Just more than four hours from now, everyone at work will gather at the indoor basketball court for a forum. The last time I was at a basketball court for a forum with my previous employer  I got paid and laid off. Ti abi. Let’s wait this time.

***

Mood: 7/10 Honks!

Christmas In All Perspectives

Just as Christmas brings a lot of emotions, activities, gifts, spiritual enlightenment and almost all other sort of things that the past eleven months failed to have, I realized that it would be a pity if one just look at one aspect of this yuletide season. When we consider everything there’s always the chance to see both the good and bad. We’d appreciate the good, learn and move on from the bad.

The lyrics from the song Santa Claus is coming to town “He sees you when you’re sleepin‘, he knows when your awake, he knows if you been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake…” is a good reminder that December is the perfect time to check if we’ve been good or bad all right. Sadly, while some of us are reflecting if we have been good or bad, the latter still continues to be around during this time of the year and sadder than that, it may even occur in the midst of our holiday preparations despite good intentions.

Like some doctors say “I have a bad news and a good news, which one would you like to hear first?” I’d say, give me the bad news first.

Bad news

Road traffic. Everyone has experienced this I’m sure. Whether in a public transport or in the comforts air-conditioned car this scenario is inescapable—unless you’re one of those shameless politicians. It’s during this traffic jams that each driver’s (and some passengers) temperament and courtesy is tested. Often times this is when all yuletide cheers seem to just vanish into thin air. And more alarming lately are drunk driving incidents. These drivers for sure won’t get any more Jack Daniels from Santa.

Long queues. As if after driving from a long tiring trip to the mall isn’t enough, there are more jams waiting inside the shopping areas. Once again, this is when and where courtesies and patience are put to the test. Observing any long queue, one will most likely chance upon someone with Christmas gifts seen smiling at the end of the line but ends up like Grinches when they reach the cashier.

Trashes. I was so glad when I read from the Philippine Star about a reminder coming from Greenpeace (if I’m not mistaken) for everyone to put the environment in mind when planning for their respective Christmas parties. Remember: reuse and recycle. It also won’t hurt to use some common sense when disposing garbage properly. Let’s not piss Santa Claus so much that we’ll soon find our own trashes stuffed inside our yuletide socks instead of gifts.

Recession season. As the rest of the people are anticipating a merry Christmas and a happy new year, others are bracing for the impact of the economic slump which has affected the U. S. Its effect has rippled through the rest of the world already and one of the unavoidable outcomes is the number of layoffs by corporations from all industries. One of the giant employers affected by such is Intel and as a matter of fact several of my colleagues and friends will be jobless by next year (I myself almost lost my own but thankfully I made a U-turn after I applied and got hired for a vacant position). There’s nothing more I can do now but hope their transition and recovery would be quick.

Whew! The list can go on. Does this mean Santa will have lots of checking to do and will have lesser recipients this year? Anyway, I’m not wasting more precious time so this time let me tell the good news.

Good news

Time to give. This is I guess is the key to enjoy the Christmas season. Actually it’s the main reason why there’s Christmas to be celebrated after all. Remember the bible verse “For God so love the world that he gave his only begotten son”? And do you still remember the Three Kings who endured a long and dangerous trip to pay baby Jesus a visit in the manger? These all show that the essence of this season is all about giving.  It’s all about sharing. No more, no less.

On my part, especially for this year’s holiday season, the presence of our baby boy must have an effect on how I give gifts. My long standing plan to go green by reusing what I have at home and to put some creativity to good use finally came true. Last year, I started saving the comic sections of the dailies as I see it as a good alternative for Christmas wrappers. I also pay extra attention to tips on TV, newspapers, or magazines that may put some personal touch to the way we give. And so this year, I have already given a couple that I’m proud of.

The first one was when I was cramming for gift ideas for my father’s 75th birthday. After combing SM Bacolod, back and forth, I bought a small cheap plastic Ace Hardware tool box, a silver ribbon and a birthday card from National Bookstore. At home, I wrote in the card and placed some “Ninoy” bills inside the tool box and sealed it off with a lovely ribbon with the help of my wife—presto, a unique gift indeed. Goodbye boring red envelope.

How to wrap a book, Book in a bottle
Book in bottle.

The second one was a gift for our team’s Christmas party. Wondering how I’d hide any hint that it is a book, I arrived at the idea of putting it inside an empty 6-liter PET bottle. Then I stuffed shredded newspapers and wrapped the clear bottle with another newspaper. In the end it appeared more like a bomb than a harmless gift. Well, at least she got what she put in her wish list.

Tonight, we’ll have our own simple exchange gift giving at home. It will be just my wife, our 8-month old boy and myself. I don’t know if they’d like what I did, but then again as the cliché goes, “it’s the thought that counts.” Hahaha. Looks like a good excuse for having crappy gifts and wraps.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Our first Christmas family pic
Our family is now complete.

***

Mood: 3/10 Honks!

 

Changes and Transitions

The problem with having a rather routine task every week is that time flies so fast that by the end of each week I’d wonder what kept me busy, why I was busy at all, and my frequently asked question during every weekend, “What have I accomplished so far?” Sad to say, my frequent answer is, “I actually don’t know”, and sometimes worse, “None.”

Having these questions and answers may therefore just lead to a conclusion that during most part of the week I had another dose of the SSDD syndrome or simply put, boring days.

Luckily, as I reflect on what has happened so far this week, my days haven’t been SSDD at all. In fact, some of the days have been interesting enough that I regret at the thought of not having the 25th hour for me to write about it.

Last Thursday, I attended what seems to be among the best Front Line Managers sessions—despite being the last one. Initially, I responded to this invitation as tentative because for some reason I got the feeling that this session could be like any commencement exercises that are as predictable as clockwork. With this thought in mind, I dragged myself just thinking to make the most out of it and at least end it with a perfect attendance. Little did I know that a couple of minutes after the session started I’d be as attentive as if I was at home watching the Mythbusters on TV.

Team FLM
Ooops, wrong forum. I thought I was attending a trick or treat event.

The invited speaker was a former employee of our company. Beth Arriola was once our HR Manager. Although her name was one of the most familiar during her tenure, it was my first time to listen to her talk. She discussed the difference between change and transition—topic I’ve written several times, without knowing that although being seen as synonymous, both are in fact far different from each other.

To explain the difference between the two, Beth referred to William Bridge’s definition of changes versus transition. Looking at the meanings of these words—with the global recession going on I’m sure that these two are as popular as Obama and McCain—one will see that each has its own essence, and by understanding both will help guide a person to which one he is currently dealing with. The explanation she had on Powerpoint was the simplest yet the clearest I’ve read so far (or I haven’t read that much lately).

Beth
Beth explaining the role of a manager.

Beth made strong points. She advised everyone to have the mindset that there’s life after work—whether one is leaving it after 4 PM or leaving it for good. She also reminded us to keep our external networks connected. And more importantly, encouraged all of us to never let our self-respect and pride (Filipino) down even during this time of uncertainty. Kayang-kaya nga ba kung sama-sama?

 

On my way home that afternoon, I did realized that I’m quite lucky that I changed my mind and attended this final session. Had I skipped this one, another opportunity to learn (both about the subject matter and the speaker) would have been lost. And did I mention already that I got a free book, The Toyota Way, for having attended all the FLM sessions? I can’t wait to claim and read it – I’ll have 365 days to read it next year.

***

Also related to this topic of change are the news that made it to the headlines this week. I’m sure that everyone by now knew that Barack Obama had a historic win over John McCain as the first black American president.

But I’m also sure that not everyone knew about the recent Formula One’s (F1) event, which despite being the last race for this season was nevertheless among the exciting. This race in Brazil had me and wifey sacrifice precious sleep by waking before 1 AM for the live feed on TV and just in time to see the race start after a brief downpour that added the element of excitement – as if the close match between Ferrari and McClaren isn’t enough.

Eventually, Lewis Hamilton grabbed the 2008 driver’s championship title by one point (thanks to Timo Glock or Toyota) over Felipe Massa. And this one is another historic race in F1 as Hamilton being the first black driver to attain the most coveted title in auto racing.

I now wonder, if Michael Jackson’s changing color? My bad, can’t help it. She said anyway that “It don’t [sic] matter if you’re black or white…” Ti abi.

***

Erratum: My editor-in-chief (that’s my wife) said I can’t have a mood rating of 10/10 Honks and be happy – although I argued that the more I honk at other drivers the more I’m pleased. Anyway, to avoid further discussion, I’m now changing it – 1/10 is the highest. 10/10 is the grouchiest. *LOL*

Mood: 3/10 Honks!

Fair-Weather Values

Today’s welcoming bright morning sun seems to have little or no help at all to keep the bleak news from coming out of The Philippine Star news- paper into our breakfast table. Today’s headline: US Recession Looms. And what follows in the next articles and pages are just as frustrating if not scary.

“Layoffs spreading across corporate America”,”RP flunks US think tank’s corruption indicator, loses new funds”.

Switching to CNN didn’t help fan out the negativity either. It just brought more stories about people expected to be jobless and horrible stories of starvation and hopelessness in Zimbabwe. These somehow gave me some guilt while we eat breakfast in front of the TV and with me silently counting off another Sunday of being employed. How self-centered can I get when other people faces far more serious problem than I currently have.

Several more minutes of scanning the paper and watching the news, I realized how still lucky I am — to have brewed coffee, fresh hot pan de sal and another perfect omelet courtesy of wifey. I can imagine, during that very same moment, someone in the USA is being evicted out of his hard-earned home for not being able to pay it; some people in Zimbabwe are thinking where they’re going to get potable water in the next few hours or worse, others might even just die trying to find one, literally.

Well that’s just how sad the reality is nowadays. Being jobless is the “IN” thing. Starvation is inevitable. Bankruptcy is as frequent as before. In short, let’s face it, the world is in crisis.

And being in such predicament, I can’t help but wonder if my personal values would remain as is. The dilemma roaming inside my head just can’t be ignored.

Would I still have the same morals?

Would I still continue with my advocacies such as anti-piracy and environmentalism?

Would I still strive to do my best to drive with courtesy in mind?

Would I still continue to use the pedestrian lane?

Would I still refuse to bribe cops and government employees?

These are few questions that have lately come into consideration. Someone said before that during the worse situations our true character comes out. And so with this I will commit that I’m standing by with what I value most. The answer therefore to some of the questions I have will be yes.

Yes, I will continue…

…To respect my parents and elders. I will still be around to look after them. I will call them as often as I can even if that means that I have to stop sending nonsense SMS to friends to save on prepaid load.

…To respect and be courteous and rational in treating cashiers, janitors, saleslady, waiters, drivers and other blue-collared employees who offer their services to me. Who knows, I might be working with them soon.

…To say no to piracy no matter how hard the urge to buy these things in the name of saving (at the expense of other people).

…To be courteous on the road. And avoid, or at least try not to, honking my horn unnecessarily. (This is another topic deserving another blog entry. I can see wifey smiling.)

…To cross the road using the pedestrian lane even if I’m in a hurry for a job interview.

…To reject the temptation to deal with any form of fixers even if this means delaying the start-up of my small business.

Right now it may be easier said than done. But also right now, I’m saying it out loud as my commitment. As much as I hate fair-weather friends, I hate having fair-weather values.

How about you?

We’re Moving Out

I’ve got a very big family and I’ve known our home as the most secure among the neighborhood. It was where we were always proud to be Inside. And like the rest of my siblings, I also look up to our parents and I was ever so proud to be one of their children. But then time changed and it’s been a year or two since our parents have given us the hint that they’re up to something. And what that is, we were clueless then. By the middle of this year though they told us the shocking news–the house we’ve known to have endured storms and earthquakes is crumbling. That shocked us. It can’t be true. The news was like coming out of a very bad nightmare that despite the earlier hint, still caught most of us unguarded.

That being the reason, it surprised us no more when the next thing they told us was their idea to move out of our current home, a home where I’ve spent most of my life with the rest of my brothers and sisters, old and young alike. This is where we learned to crawl, walk and eventually stand up on our own. This is where I learned and understood how to deal with the rest of my siblings in harmony. We’ve had our differences for sure, but we managed to hold on together with the values that have bound us as one family.

Now, since they decided that we finally move out in 6-9 months time and have announced the location of our new home, they have now started orienting each member of our family of the phases that we will undergo to make the transfer a smooth and successful one as much as possible. We were all ears and so eager to hear about it.

Of course, not all of my siblings are happy with the news. Some are excited but most I can sense are not yet prepared. The older ones for sure have lots of memories in this present home and younger ones have still lots of things to prove and experience. But then, mom and dad have made up their mind.

And so after asking the rest of the members what they think of the transfer and if they wanted to move on or not, our parents stood steadfast. Despite the obvious pain they have to deal with, mom and dad have to finally kiss goodbyes to those who have chosen to part ways. But just like any responsible parents will do, they did not forget to partake what they have to those who will be left behind hoping that my brothers and sisters make use of it wisely.

On my part, they haven’t talked to me yet but to keep me busy they have assigned me to do my share in packing up things this week. Some of my siblings have done their share since a month ago. Now it’s my turn. Our home is almost half empty but there’s still a lot to be packed.

Rummaging to what is yet to be boxed, the nostalgia of yesteryears seems to rewind just like in the movies. I can vividly recall the days when mom and dad would give us a new toy and each one of us would gather around it wondering what it was for and but making sure it works at the end of the day. Sometimes we’d argue over it and sometimes we’d work together like we have one mind with one goal. And with each success we made in putting it to work, mom and dad would always clap their hands, give us a pat at the back and more often than not, treat us to a well-deserved meal or even give us some tokens or gifts for the job well done. Those days will be missed. Hopefully, in our next home, they’ll do just the same.

It’s been two days after I started observing and taking charge in the packing of several of our toys with the help of the people whom our parents hired to do it for us. Some of these people are familiar to me as I’ve played with them when I was a bit young in this soon-to-be-our-ex home. Now we still know each other and I’m still as eager to play and help them box the toys.

Tomorrow the packing stops. Just for two days at least. I heard that our parents will be handing out some envelopes to all of us. It’s probably for Christmas. I don’t know. Whatever it is, thanks anyway mom and dad.

Disclaimer: The characters and events in this story are fictitious and if there’s any similarity to actual events, person or entity…then, it must be true…well, partly true.

Death Race: A Film By Filipinos

The other night my beloved wifey and I watched the last full show of the film Death Race (Starring Jason Statham as Jensen Ames) because Wall-E isn’t showing anymore. And while on my way to meet up with her at the mall, I was thinking of the title which by itself is a no brainer. As it implies, I presume that it’s just all about death and race. No more. No less. But wait, there’s more.

The moment the film started rolling, it immediately captured my attention with some of its projected text on the silver screen and with some questions running on my mind along with it.

2012 in America. Will we be there by this time?

Unemployment. Will we be included?

Death. Entertainment?

Race. Will we be watching another live F1 soon? And when?

My wife, as I expected, started giving her naughty remarks (I always know that it is meant to annoy me) while I was starting to sink in to the story. But instead of hushing her, I myself made my own mumbled remarks in agreement. And as if those keywords aren’t enough to keep us related to the opening part of the film with its resemblance to our pending future, the opening scene also shows the main character getting laid off from his job in the metal factory. There’s chaos in the line of workers waiting for their turn to get their last pay. At this point, I was beginning to feel uneasy and I was somewhat praying to get over with the factory scene and show the death race itself.

A few frames more, the factory setting ended, thankfully. I did not mind when the succeeding scenes became tragic with Jensen drugged by someone in a ski mask and eventually becoming unconscious just to wake up with police and their hand guns sticking inches away from his face while trying to make sense what he’s doing with a knife in his hand and his dead wife beside him. Needless to say, that landed him in prison.

His role in Terminal Island became apparent when he was offered to participate in the famous Death Race since his record shows that he was a famous car racer years before. His acceptance of the part will be his way out of the prison facility with the condition that he will win the race. (Sadly, I didn’t catch in the film the reason why he needed the said career and instead endured working inside the hot metal factory).

So just like any sane man offered to race for freedom, Jensen accepted. And this is where I started to enjoy the film. The main death race had several inmates as drivers and with their own armored, gun-mounted, and extra modified cars. Among them of course is Jensen who had to wear a mask in order to pretend as Frankenstein who was actually the famous death racer who perished in the opening scene but without the fans’ knowledge. The race is viewed online by fans numbering in millions with each paying at least $99 per view while the death racers outrun and “outgun” each other.

While I consider this as a B-movie, I actually applaud whoever was behind it. I’m now beginning to imagine that the people who conceptualized this movie are a team composed of Dana White’s men, ex-FIA officials, troubled American school kids, Twisted Metal (PS1 game) programmers and last but not the least – Filipino drivers.

Why? Because I find this movie a mixture of UFC fighters who are driving F1 cars with trigger-happy American school kids handling the Gatling gun’s remote button. Furthermore, the Filipinos here are divided into two sub- teams. First are those drivers who love to mount anything on their jeepneys from horse figures, shiny CDs, LEDs, more LEDS, horns, and unlimited antennas just to name a few–they are the designers of the Death Race cars. The other Filipinos are those who designed the weapon activation systems–-which I wish I’m one of them as sometime, just sometimes (wink wink), I wish I had those buttons inside our Mary.

Surprising as it may seem, I recommend this movie to let out some steam without doing any harm to the stubborn driver in front of you while stuck in traffic. Road rage alert. Watch out for bald male driver fumbling with the cigarette lighter