October 05, 2009

If I Were A Rich Man

Becca's challege for today is to name five things you would do, if money was not an object.

1. Charity, charity, charity - The Philippines has been hit hard by calamity recently. Two very strong typhoons had passed through the country, one almost right on top of the other. The first one, storm system Ketsana, dumped almost 400mm of rain in Metro Manila in 6 hours. This is almost one month of rainfall in half a day, and caused massive flooding in areas in Metro Manila which normally never gets flooded. Damage has been estimated to run into hundereds of millions, nearly 300 people are dead, and thousands are forced to abandon their homes and are now living in relocation centers. The second storm system, Parma, hit northern and north-eastern Philippines, also causing massive floods in my father's province, Ilocos Norte. Because of another storm system lingering in the Asian area, Parma is continuing to linger in the Philippines, still dumping rain and preventing waters from subsiding in alreay flooded areas. These storms have put a massive strain on the government and private organizations' ability to deliver relief goods to affected people. The resources and infrastructure are not there. If I had the money, I would provide funding to the various charity organizations to make sure that people are fed; that relief centers are maintained (in some relief centers, it was reported that there were only one portable toilet to serve 3000 people!); and that those severely affected are given resources to start their lives anew.

2. My own jet - With a pilot at my beck and call, of course, since I do not know how to fly. My wife and I love going on trips, and having one will allow us to go whereever we want, whenever we want. No more searching in Momondo.com for the cheapest fares. Best of all, we can take our friends Ryan; and Alma and Bob and their family, on holidays.

3. A holiday home in Ascona - We've only been to Ascona once, but we immediately fell in love with the place. It has mild weather year-round, it has a lake, and it's close to Lugano, which has it's own airport, so that means jetting in and out should be no problem. There are a lot of really nice areas in Ticino, like Lugano, Locarno, and Bellinzona, but Ascona strikes me as something like a Swiss version of the French Riviera.

4. A lifetime lease with Ferrari - Why drive anything less than the best?

5. Anything my family wants - especially my Mom. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to buy whaterver your family wants, and not worry about the credit card bill later?

September 29, 2009

Politics in the Time of Disaster

First off, I would have to apologize to my English speaking readership. A lot of this post is written in Filipino, because this is a commentary on a friend's Multiply post. Just so to give you an idea what this is all about, this is a first-hand account of my friend who is a volunteer for the Philippine National Red Cross. He was in the middle of rescue and relief operations in one of the hardest hit areas affected by flooding from Typhoon Ondoy. Below is his narrative on what happened...

SHOW TIME

Ang lahat ay naghahanda na para tulungan ang lahat ng biktima na lalabas ng Vista Verde, mga alas dos ng madaling araw ng Lunes.
Kaming mga red cross volunteers, alam na namin ang gagawin namen.
Isulat ang pangalan, bigyan ng pagkain at stub at bigyan ng relief goods na may kasamang bigas, delata at tubig.
Ang daming ambulansya, militar, at media na nag-aabang sa labas, kasi halos bewang pa daw ang baha sa loob.

Mula sa loob ng subdivision, may papalabas na dalawang military trucks na puno daw ng tao.
Isa sa mga unang bumaba si Senador... video rolling... flash... flash... flash...
Buong akala namen na sobrang dami ng tao sa loob ng truck kasi malaking truck eto.
Pero mangilan-ngilan lang ang bumaba nito na biktima ng bagyong Ondoy.
Ang aking nakita lang ay ang isang lola at ina na may kargang baby na mga nasa isa or dalawang buwan pa lamang, na pinasok sa ambulansya para sa unang panlunas.
Pero pagkatapos ng mga ilang sandali bumaba din sila.
"Mag-ingat po kayo." ani ni Senador sabay tapik sa likod ng ina na may baby. flash... flash... flash...

ayun sa mga naririnig namen, tinipon daw muna lahat ng tao muna bago ilabas para kasabay si Senador paglabas! Ayun bidang-bida sya!

Sinabihan ako ng kasamahan ko na magbitbit daw ng relief goods at tinapay at isakay sa truck para ipasok sa loob.
Bitbit agad ako ng dalawang kahon ng tinapay.
Tinanong ako ni Senador, "Para san yan?"
"Ikarga po sa truck para sa loob." ang sagot ko sabay tungo si Senador.
Pagdating ko sa truck para iabot ang aking bitbit, tinanong ako ng militar kung para san eto.
Ang sabi ko para sa loob pero ang sabi sa akin, "Hindi na eto papasok sa loob".
Pano na ang ibang tao sa loob? May ibang tao pa na di pa makalabas ng bahay nila!
Binalik nalang namen ang dala namen sa sasakyan namen.
Utos pala eto ni Senador na ikarga ang relief goods sa truck pero hindi ipapasok sa loob. SUS!

Ilang sandali, umalis na rin si Senador kasabay ang lahat ng militar at ambulansya.
Naging tahimik ang labas ng Vista Verde, kaming mga Red Cross volunteers nalang ang naiwan kasama ang ibang tao na nakalabas sa subdivision.
Habang sumisikat na si haring araw, may mga ilang tao na ang lumalabas ng subdivision.
Ang ilan sa mga eto nangangailangan ng gamot at pang-unang lunas, lalo na ung amang may bitbit na anak na namumutla na.
Humihingi sa amen ng tulong, ngunit wala kaming maibigay dahil walang ambulansya na naka-antabay.
May isang lolo na gustong magpaBP, buti nalang isa sa kasamahan namen ay nurse at may dalang gamit, kaya nakuhanan eto ng BP.

Nasan na ang mga ambulansya na nag-aabang sa labas?

Ayun kasama ni Senador! Baket walang man lang naiwan para sa ibang tao?
Alam naman nilang madami pang stranded sa loob ng subdivision.
Hindi ba naisip ni Senador yun?


The senator was eventually identified as Richard Gordon, the Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross himself. Of course I couldn't confirm this myself, but if it came from someone who was personally there, and who had no reason to make a baseless accusation on the good Senator, then something smells. And it isn't the estero water that's still engulfing half of Metro Manila at the moment.

I just had to share this because a batchmate from Philippine Science High School posted an online call for volunteers on behalf of the Philippine Red Cross to help in the relief operations. Wag na lang, 'toy. I don't feel like making myself party to the hypocrisy of Philippine politics. In the face of disaster, some people are still putting their political ambitions ahead of providing help to those severely affected.

September 28, 2009

The Big Flood - Storm System Ondoy, Metro Manila


Ondoy Aftermath
Originally uploaded by John Javellana
Last Saturday, September 26, 2009, storm system Ondoy hit Metro Manila in the morning. Raining continuously for six hours, the storm dumped 455mm of rain. Typhoon Katrina, which hit the United States in 2005, was a baby compared to Ondoy. By the time the storm was over, eighty percent of Metro Manila was submerged in water, with some areas reporting flooding that was higher than man-height. As of today, between 100-120 people are believed dead, and hundreds more missing. Needless to say, more casualties are to be reported as the water recedes. Damage to agriculture alone was pegged at PHP500 million. Damage to other properties are believed to more than double this number.

How and why this happend, we will never really know. There are a lot of factors. The continuous torrent of rain; the insufficient drainage of water from the Metro's streets and highways; the clogged esteros. In the end, this will be another disaster in the long list of disasters, man-made or otherwise, to hit the Philippines. And sad to say, there's not a single note-worthy solution in sight.

Interestingly, here's an exerpt from Gloria Macagal-Arroyo's State of the Nation Address last July:

“As a country in the path of typhoons and in the Pacific Rim of Fire, we must be prepared as the latest technology permits to anticipate natural calamities when that is possible; to extend immediate and effective relief when it is not; the mapping of flood-and-landslide-prone areas is almost complete. Early warning, forecasting and monitoring systems have been improved, with weather-tracking facilities in Subic, Tagaytay, Mactan, Mindanao, Pampanga.

“We have worked on flood control infrastructure like those for Pinatubo, Agno, Laoag, and Abucay, which will pump the run off waters from Quezon City and Tondo flooding Sampaloc. This will help relieve hundreds of hectares in this old city of its age-old woe.

“Patuloy naman yung sa CAMANAVA, dagdag sa Pinatubo, Iloilo, Pasig- Marikina, Bicol River Basin, at saka river basin ng Mindanao.”

Big words. And yet they remain just that. Words.

It is also maddening to know that since 2001, the Philippine Government has collected P56.5 billion from Road Taxes; but instead of channeling this money to improvement of road infrastructure, it has instead been allocated to other things, like funding for ASEAN summit in 2007. Once again, corrupt hands have been dipping at the cookie jar, funnelling away money for their own ends instead of pouring it into much needed better roads and highways.

Election time is around the corner, and for sure, this latest tragedy will be in everybody's minds as each candidate lays out his platform of government. I only hope that this time, the Filipino people will be wiser in choosing the right person to lead the country.

September 21, 2009

Five Favorite Drinks

After a weekend of brazen drunkenness, I think I see it fit that I start Monday with a meme from Becca about five of my favorite drinks.

1. Espresso - I've always loved coffee, but I've been experiencing somewhat of an espresso renaissance for the past year or so. Personally, I think of espresso as the purest form of coffee. It's intense, the flavors are complex, and it always comes out differently, regardless if you use the same machine and same grounds. I usually use my Jura machine for my morning fix, but whenever I have the time, I would use my Mokka maker which I bought from a small shop in Venice.

2. 7&7 - There are several recipe's for this quintessentially male drink, but I like mine with one part Seagram's whisky, two parts 7-Up, and plenty of ice. This drink was introduced to me by a friend from Arizona and I liked it ever since. Seagram's is difficult to get in normal liquor stores here in Switzerland so I try to get a bottle whenever I fly out of Zurich Airport. Also costs cheaper if you buy it from a Duty Free Store.

3. Homemade Orange and Carrot Juice - Oranges and carrots are quite expensive in Manila, but since these two are so good for the body, we bought our own juicer so we can make our own, preservative-free. We kept this habit even after we've moved to Switzerland. And it's so much better because oranges and carrots are so cheap here! A three kilo bag of oranges are about CHF4, and a two kilo bag of carrots are CHF3 in our local Migros store. These will yield about two liters of juice.

4. Caipirinha - Plenty of lime crushed with some sugar, a healthy splash of cachasa (native Brazilian liquor), and some soda water is all you need for this refreshing drink. Very nice to sip during hot summer nights when you go out clubbing with friends. There's a nice story how I learned about this drink: I met this girl a few years ago in a popular bar in Eastwood. I was hanging out by the bar and she came up and ordered Caipirinha. The bartender didn't know what it was, and asked me. I didn't know it either. So she had to explain how to make one. Of course most bars in the Philippines don't stock up on cachasa, so we had to make do with gin and vodka. Technically, when you use vodka on Caipirinha, you don't call it Caipirinha anymore, but Caipirovska..

5. Water - everybody should drink at least 8 glasses everyday.

September 16, 2009

Ticket

Are you the kind of person who gives names to inanimate things you own? Because we do. We give names to almost everything we have. By names, I mean REAL names. And the names would always be something that would best describe the moment when we bought or first saw the item. Take for example our SUV back in Manila. It was a black Kia Sportage that we bought back in 2007. The Sportage was just being reintroduced into the Philippine market at that time, so there weren't too much of it on the road back then. We named her "Inday". Why Inday, you ask? Because it was a colored black. And we had intended it to be a workhorse due to the fact that I'll be using it everyday to work from Quezon City to Paranaque. Pretty much like Inday the household help. At one time we had a standing coat hanger. This one, we called him Harry. For Harry Potter. This was because during the night, it's silhouette pretty much resembled a wizard wearing a flowing cape.

The practice continued even after we had moved to Switzerland. Our SUV was named Spidey, because when we first saw it in the showroom, we were accompanied by our friend Bob and his son Jordan. Jordan was wearing a Spiderman cap at that time. And when we bought our Lazyboy at a local secondhand shop, we named it 50/50 because when she asked me how much I liked the sofa, that's what I said.

Earlier this week, we had to pick up another single seater sofa that was being given away for free. The owner is also from our company, but he's giving away most of his furniture now because he's being relocated to our head office in Paris. So we signed up to get his Poang sofa, a really popular item in Ikea. I've been eyeing one for a long time already and getting this for free was really sweet. Anyway, we agreed to pick up the item in Ennetbaden, a small town about 20 minutes away from our place. I've only driven around Ennetbaden three or four times, and I've been warned about the narrow one-way streets and some "No Entry" areas. We were driving across a small bridge when suddenly we noticed something flash. We've been flashed! That means we entered a "No Entry" zone, and now we have to wait a week or so to find out how much we have to pay for the fine. We went on to get the sofa, which isn't going to be free anymore since I have to pay for the traffic violation. And what did we name the sofa? We named her "Ticket".

September 11, 2009

Food for Thought Friday

Can't think of anything to write about so I'll just take a random meme from the web.

Breakfast
What do you like most about this time of the year?

Call me weird but during this time of the year, I like the way the temperature varies during the day. Here in Switzerland, or at least in suburban Zurich, it gets really cold in the late evenings and early mornings. Really cold, but not freezing cold. Cold enough that you have to swear a fairly thick jacket during the morning commute. Before lunchtime, you start to peel down to your shirt and pullovers. But in the afternoons, it gets hot that you break into a good sweat in the offices. Well, at least in our offices, because we tout ourselves to be a "green" company, and green companies do not have airconditiong installed. By the time you go home in the afternoon, you're down to your shirt. The only hassle is you have to carry all of your outerwear and office gear.

Lunch
What has been your favorite age so far?

Tough question, because I can't remember any point in time which I can say I really didn't like. But if I were to pick any single age, that would be 21. I was young, fresh out of college. I had just landed a good job in a company that within weeks of getting hired was sending me to the US for a long term assignment.

Dinner
What was the funnest thing or best memory you made this summer?

This summer was really good because my mom visited us here in Switzerland, and so did my sister and brother-in-law who are based in Beijing. We travelled to Germany and France together. It was too bad that my brother was not able to join us. I've always loved having roadtrips with family.

Midnight Snack
What is your favorite thing to make for dinner?

Anything that requires firing up the barbeque to do some grilling.

September 09, 2009

New Haircut

After seven months, I finally got my self a haircut yesterday. I think that was the longest period I ever went without having a haircut. If you would notice from my fairly recent photos in Flickr, I had my hair down to my nape at the back, and close to covering all of my face when i put it out in front. Quite nice, I should say, because my hair, unlike most other guys, is actually like that of a girl's. Really soft, really straight, and really shiny. Siguro kung kukuha ang Pantene ng lalaking hair model, pwede akong magprisinta eh. But all that is gone now. In place, I have my normal hairstyle. Razor cut at the sides and back, and short in front and on top. I now have to make sure I prep my hair with gel or wax in the morning before I leave home kasi pag natuyo nang walang gel, magmumukha akong bondying.

Ba't nga ba inabot nang pagkatagal bago ko naisipang magpagupit? Two reasons I guess. First is the language issue. How can I properly expain how I want it cut? All of my haircut experiences here have been okay naman. I can tell them how I want it done: machinenschnitt (then point to the sides and back) und schnitt kurz (pointing to the top). So far, that hasn't gotten me in trouble. But sometimes, when I notice something is off, like some strands and tufts sticking out in odd places, I don't know how to handle this anymore. I end up just letting it go and fixing whatever it is that needs to be fixed when I get home.

The second issue is cost. Do you have any idea how expensive it is to have a haircut here? The cheapest, and best!, haircut I had so far cost me CHF25. And the most expensive? Tumataginting na CHF60! That's PHP2800. Okay, so maybe that's less than some of you may spend in those posh Makati salons, but for me, that is a lot of money spent on a haircut. Good for me, the wife was able to scout a coiffure that charges CHF29 for my haircut. Actually, it turned out a little more than that: CHF2 for the gel (hehe, maarte ako eh) and CHF2 for the tip. I would definitely go back to that place. Ganda naman yung tabas nila eh, tsaka di na masama yung price.

September 01, 2009

Think About It

1. More often than not, when someone is telling me a story all I can think about is that I can't wait for them to finish so that I can tell my own story that's not only better, but also more directly involves me.

2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realise you're wrong.

3. Have you ever been walking down the street and realised that you're going in the complete opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going? But instead of just turning a 180 and walking back in the direction from which you came, you have to first do something like check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to yourself to ensure that no one in the surrounding area thinks you're crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk.

4. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

5. The letters T and G are very close to each other on a keyboard This recently became all too apparent to me and consequently I will never be ending a work email with the phrase "Regards" again.

6. Is it just me, or are 80% of the people in the "people you may know" feature on facebook people that I do know, but I deliberately choose not to be friends with?

7. Do you remember when you were a kid; playing Nintendo and it wouldn't work? You take the cartridge out, blow in it and that would magically fix the problem. Every kid in the world did that, but how did we all know how to fix the problem? There was no internet or message boards or faq's. We just figured it out. Today's kids are soft.

8. There is a great need for a sarcasm font.

9. Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realise I had no idea what was going on when I first saw it.

10. I think everyone has a movie that they love so much, it actually becomes stressful to watch it with other people. I'll end up wasting 90 minutes shiftily glancing around to confirm that everyone's laughing at the right parts, then making sure I laugh just a little bit harder (and a millisecond earlier) to prove that I'm still the only one who really, really gets it.

11. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

12. I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

13. The only time I look forward to a red light is when I'm trying to finish a text

14. Lol has gone from meaning, "laugh out loud" to "I have nothing else to say"

15. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

16. Whenever someone says "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart", all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart".

17. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear what they said?

18. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up to prevent a d1ck from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers!

19. Everytime I have to spell a word over the phone using 'as in' examples, I will undoubtedly draw a blank and sound like a complete idiot. Today I had to spell my boss's last name to an attorney and said "Yes that's G as in...(10 second lapse)..ummm...Goonies"

20. What would happen if I hired two private investigators to follow each other?

21. While driving yesterday I saw a banana peel in the road and instinctively swerved to avoid it...thanks Mario Kart.

22. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

23. I find it hard to believe there are actually people who get in the shower first and THEN turn on the water.

24. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.

25. Bad decisions make good stories.

26. Whenever I'm Facebook stalking someone and I find out that their profile is public I feel like a kid on Christmas morning who just got the Red Ryder BB-gun that I always wanted.
546 pictures? Don't mind if I do!

27. Is it just me or do high school girls get s1uttier & s1uttier every year?

28. Why is it that during an ice-breaker, when the whole room has to go around and say their name and where they are from, I get so incredibly nervous? Like I know my name, I know where I'm from, this shouldn't be a problem....

29. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you've made up your mind that you just aren't doing anything productive for the rest of the day.

30. There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

31. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to.

32. "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this ever.

33. I hate being the one with the remote in a room full of people watching TV. There's so much pressure. 'I love this show, but will they judge me if I keep it on? I bet everyone is wishing we weren't watching this.It's only a matter of time before they all get up and leave the room. Will we still be friends after this?'

34. I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello? Dammit!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voicemail. What'd you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away?

35. I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

36. I like all of the music in my iTunes, except when it's on shuffle, then I like about one in every fifteen songs in my itunes.

37. Why is a school zone 40kph? That seems like the optimal cruising speed for pedophiles...

38. As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists.

39. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

40. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

41. The other night I ordered takeout, and when I looked in the bag, saw they had included four sets of plastic silverware. In other words, someone at the restaurant packed my order, took a second to think about it, and then estimated that there must be at least four people eating to require such a large amount of food. Too bad I was eating by myself.
There's nothing like being made to feel like a fat b@stard before dinner.

42. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, hitting the G-spot, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet my ass everyone can find and push the Snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time every time...

43. I wonder if cops ever get pissed off at the fact that everyone they drive behind obeys the speed limit.

44. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

August 07, 2009

'Nuf Said

The picture says it all...


May 28, 2009

Go Barca!

I rarely watched any football matches this season simply because I didn't have any chance to do so. When you have a wife who insists to watch cooking shows or movies, there's really no way to follow professional football. So coming into the Champions League finals last night, the only game I watched was the semifinal match between Chelsea and United. I was rooting for Chelsea in that match only because I don't like Ronaldo. He's like someone who God showered with everything. Good looks, awesome football talent, all the money he can ever be able to spend at such a young age. I'm not too sure if he's got anything between the ears, but if you can crash your Ferrari, walk away from it, and buy a new one a couple of days later, who needs brains, right?

So last night, I was rooting for United's opponent again. I have not seen any of Barcelona's games this season, but I was aware of the fact that they are being coached by Pep Guardiola, who happens to be a professional football rookie coach. I would say that was just outstanding. To be able to guide your team through the Champions League, and as well as La Liga and Copa Del Rey on your first year as coach is amazing!

Both teams played well last night, but it was apparent that Barcelona wanted it more than United. Barca was moving the ball well in the midfield, and came up with a lot of brilliant attacks. To me, it seemed that United was struggling throughout the 90 minutes to get their pace going. I would have loved to see more passing from United, but you can see that everybody wanted to take a stab at Barcelona's defense. To me they were just not playing as a team.

So congratulations to Barca. And to Pep Guardiola, PEP PEP HOORAY!!

May 14, 2009

Sweating Like a Pig

I like spring. Spring is that time of the year when you get really fresh fruits and vegetables, and everywhere you go you see flowers all abloom. The mornings and evenings are comfortably cool, and during daytime, it doesn't really get that hot. But one thing I hate about spring is how it seems to be more humid than winter, and how it affects my sweat glands. While I rarely sweat during winter, during spring I feel like I'm always just walking out of a Szechuan restaurant. I sweat all over. My undershirt stickily clinging onto my skin. My skin feeling moist and sticky. And I get an impression like I'm beginning to smell like someone who hasn't taken a bath in days.

I checked Swiss Meteo and found that the current relative humidity in Birr is a mere 63%. That's not even anywhere near the high 90's typical of a Philippine summer! Whew... I can just imagine how gross I would look like when I come back to Manila in the middle of May.

May 04, 2009

Kinidnap ni Arroyo ang Libro ko

aka The Great Book Blockade of 2009

The great book blockade of 2009

By Manuel L. Quezon IIIPhilippine Daily InquirerFirst Posted 04:15:00 05/04/2009

According to Malaysian blogger-turned-parliamentarian Jeff Ooi, if you buy books or computers, the government will allow you to deduct your purchase costs from your income tax. The Malaysian government seems to be of the opinion that buying books and computers are good things; that these good things should be encouraged; and that the benefits of personal purchases that improve knowledge and increase modern skills outweigh any potential loss of revenue to the government.

The policy of our government seems to be the exact opposite: to put the squeeze on citizens in order to add to government coffers depleted by electioneering expenses. Over at McSweeney’s is an entry by Robin Hemley, the director of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program who’s in the Philippines on a Guggenheim Fellowship. In “The Great Book Blockade of 2009,” he details the creativity of Filipino bureaucrats like Customs Undersecretary Espele Sales.

According to Hemley, the situation developed this way. Stephenie Meyer’s novel “Twilight” apparently did so well in the bookstores that the number of copies being imported attracted the attention of a Customs official. Examiner Rene Agulan decreed that duties be paid. It seems that the importer of the book reacted in a manner familiar to most book lovers in the country: to eliminate the hassle, the importer complied with the Customs levy on the title.

Hemley says surrendering to the authorities was a mistake because the Philippines, back in 1952, became a signatory to the Florence Agreement, a United Nations treaty that mandates the tax-free importation of books in order to facilitate the free flow of “educational, scientific, and cultural materials.” The importer’s submission to the whims of Customs whetted the Bureau’s appetite; they put a squeeze on all book importations by air. The result? For two months virtually no imported books entered the country.

Not least because it seems book sellers had the gumption to challenge the government. Enter Undersecretary Espele Sales whose PowerPoint presentation to booksellers Hemley describes as “Orwellian,” because of an essay in which Orwell examined how officials twist words to suit their purposes.

Take the official’s interpretation of the following sentence in RA 8047 (the Book Publishing Industry Development Act): “the tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing.” According to Sales, this lacked a comma after the word “books,” which meant that what was tax and duty-free was only books used for book publishing.

People in the book industry were left scratching their heads, wondering what a “book used in book publishing” is. Customs went further and said it interpreted the Florence Agreement to mean only educational books are tax-free, with Customs deciding whether a title qualifies as being educational or not. Booksellers responded that this went against half a century’s common understanding of the treaty; did this mean everyone had been wrong and Customs suddenly right? Sales replied, “Yes.”

Their books sequestered in warehouses, booksellers trying to comply with red tape found the rules being changed every time they seemed on the verge of getting their documents in order: “Now they were told that all books would be taxed: 1 percent for educational books and 5 percent for non-educational books.” With Customs officials doing the sorting, manually, on a per-volume basis, it seems, tying up inventory as storage fees escalated.

This finally led many booksellers to comply (under protest) with the government’s levying of tariffs. Who says kidnap-for-ransom doesn’t pay?

For years now, Filipinos bringing in books have had to wrestle with Post Office and Customs officials trying to impose tariffs, hoping that citizens would meekly submit to paying duties and fees on books. But back in September 2008, there was an opinion of the Bureau of Internal Revenue that the importation of books for personal use is exempt from value-added tax as well as from the payment of import duties. A small handling fee, is, however, legitimate on the part of the Post Office.

While Republic Acts 8047 and 9337 put in place Value-Added Tax exemptions for imported books, the government seems intent on nullifying those privileges; and citizens and booksellers alike seem headed to being at the mercy of Customs officials pressured to remit to the national government even to the extent of defying international treaties. This is a government policy that has basically declared obtaining knowledge, in any form, as subordinate to fattening the national purse.

But of course this is simply yet another manifestation of a larger trend, which is to deemphasize government’s being in place to serve the citizenry, and instead fortify it’s existing in order to mulct the population: the rule of law being nothing more than systematized extortion, whether one talks of traffic enforcement or books.

As a writer and a partner in a modest book publishing concern, I have a bias for books. But then again, this is, to my mind, a healthy bias and one shared, for example, by countries like Malaysia. You’d think any reasonable government would encourage all forms of reading, as healthy and beneficial to the population. The teenager who reads “Twilight” might just go on to reading the classics or about science; however, at the rate officialdom’s going, it seems content to keep us starved for affordable reading materials. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king?

* * *
YOU can read Robin Hemley’s entry in full at http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/manila/1dispatch6.html

January 29, 2009

Mabuhay Ang Short Time

At a time when people are losing their jobs, factories are closing, and everybody is struggling to put food on the table, it's good to know where the Philippines' Supreme Court priorities are. Click on the post title to find out what it's all about.

January 19, 2009

Emergency Numbers in Switzerland

My wife and I were eating some grapes last night and I contemplated on what will happen to me should I accidentally choke on one of them. I asked her if she knew how to perform the Heimlich maneuver, even though I already know the answer, which was no. She told me she will instead call 911. Of course, 911 is something which is used in the USA, but Switzerland also has equivalent emergency services. Unfortnately, more for me than for her, she also didn't know the emergency numbers in Switzerland. So I'm posting here some information on what to call in case something untoward happens. Note that this is the current known numbers, and that you should get in touch with your local Gemeinde if there are any specific contacts for your area. The Gemeinde also issues information mailed to your address either at the end or early of the year.

117 - Police
118 - Fire Department
144 - Ambulance
1414/1415 - Helicopter rescue (Rega)
145 - Poisoning emergencies
140 - Emergency roadside assistance
143 - The helping hand (I have absolutely no idea what this is about)
147 - Support for children and kids

There are also some miscellaneous services available. What I do not know is if dialing these numbers will incur you some additional cost on your landline bill.

161 - Talking clock
162 - Weather forecast
163 - Road conditions and traffic news
164 - Sports and lottery results
175 - Telephone fault assistance
187 - Avalanche reports
1600 - Regional/local information
0900 77 hh mm - Automated wake up call (Replace hh with hour and mm with minutes on what time you wish to be called)

Now that you have these numbers, there shouldn't be any reason why anyone has to die of choking by grape.

January 14, 2009

Untitled



I was terribly disappointed at my office colleague yesterday. We were having a staff meeting and he was his usual self: laying blame on everyone but himself, making it appear to the boss that he's the only one working in our group, and basically, just showing how big an asshole he really is. I was really pissed at the fact that he makes it appear to everybody that he's the only one in the group who can accomplish anything. I wouldn't really make a big deal out of it, except that even outside of our group, he would usually push himself as "the man" who knows everything about our processes, and that he's the only one who can make things happen.

I have to admit, he gets things done. Unfortunately, his working style is only effective with one group of people. He tried, unsuccessfully if I may add, to use this kind of working attitude to two other groups and failed miserably. This was the reason why our manager decided to give the more challenging task to me. Unfortunately for me, success has been slow but I think we all believe the reason for this is that those two groups are really hard to push.

So after our staff meeting yesterday, I have decided to get out of my colleague's way. If he's really aiming for the top position in our group, he's welcome to have it. I have decided to get out of his way. I would rather move to another group, hopefully to one with no competitive jerks.

January 09, 2009

What would you do for fun if you had to give up tv, movies, electronic games and the internet?

For the past couple of years, I feel like my life has revolved around exactly just that: internet, movies, and TV. I had taken up photography for the past three years, and I feel it has helped me get out of the house and do something not related to anything electronic, although I do have a digital camera, and that means sooner or later, I would have to use my laptop to download the pictures and upload them to my Flickr site. And that's the problem. No sooner than I had downloaded my pictures then I start browsing the internet for good ways to tweak my pictures and one thing leads to another then I find myself surfing for something totally unrelated to photography. Lack of discipline on my part, I guess.

So to answer the question, here are some things I would do this year that is not related to TV, movies, and the internet:

1. Pursue photography even more. But this time, I would remind myself not to get drawn to the internet whenever I start photoshopping my pictures and uploading them into Flickr.
2. Learn how to play a musical instrument. I still want to learn how to play the guitar; and there's this shop I found in Brugg which sells that drum-like thing which you sit on. Yes, the one you usually see when bands have their acoustic sessions.
3. Learn how to ski or snowboard. Fat chance this is going to happen soon, but my office colleagues are bent on teaching me.
4. Write more. This blog needs the much needed attention from me.
5. Read more. I know English books are expensive in Switzerland, but spring will come soon, and with it, flea markets. Or tap my friends in Couchsurfing to see who's trying to get rid of old books.
6. Spend more time with friends. Most of my friends are not into anything electronic. They just want to hang out, have a couple of drinks. Not really good for the beer belly, but at least I'll get a chance to travel more outside Brugg.

Activity Equals Accomplishment? NOT

You see it time and again in the work place. People make side remarks on how you come late into the office, even though the company has a policy of self-time management. They comment on how you come in at nine o'clock and leave the office at five-thirty. On the other hand, you see other people who come in at six in the morning and leave at seven in the evening. Does that mean that people who spend ten, twelve hours in the office are more productive than people who don't?

Then there are those guys who send countless emails everyday. Most likely, they're the same guys who store tons of supposed work in the network drive. They're the guys who writes reports of whatever they do. Report this, report that, presentation this, presentation that.

In all of these cases, I talk about people who mistake action or activity as a form of accomplishment. While I don't really care much about how someone decides how to perform his or her work, I definitely take issue on people who say that they have accomplished something just because they sent an email, or created a file in the network drive, or, of all things, they spend twelve hours in the office. Accomplishment, for me, is a result that meets the group's end goal. Anything short of it is not. And what pisses me off more is when people tout they have "accomplished" something just because they spend more hours in the office than I do. And what pisses me off most is when these people get rewarded for it.

January 08, 2009

London

Wifey and I spent our Christmas and New Year holiday in London. I guess you could now call me one of those guys who fell in love with that place. Understandably, being there during Chrismas holidays, the streets were just so packed with people. We only had the chance to ride empty trains in the mornings, when we would wake early enough to beat the crowds in the tourist places, and in the late evenings, coming back to the hotel late at night after watching a West End musical. Nevertheless, we felt so much in our environment: crowded places where you could shop the whole range from name brands all the way down to Baclaran-type nicknacks, and food from all over the world.

Unlike here in Switzerland, where everything seems to run perfectly, one of the reasons why I like London is because of its imperfections. It felt normal. Trains break down, you see people arguing heatedly, there are real traffic jams, those things. And coming into London, I heard about how some places are dangerous because of knife crimes. That made me a bit wary, especially when we were walking from the train station to our hotel, but at least it made me feel normal.

I can't even describe what we did, where we went to. All I know is that we had a good time watching the musicals, doing the tourist things, and even shopping. If it's any indication how good London shopping is, I managed to buy three pairs of shoes... and I don't even like buying shoes!

We missed our flight going out of London, so we had to buy a new set of return flights. So that means we will be going back. Sooner, hopefully rather than later.