January on two wheels

Holy shit! Where did the weeks go? Seems like only yesterday I was munching cold media noche leftovers for breakfast, and now the Season of Red is upon us and everywhere I look I see roses and heart-shaped balloons and whatnot. Pfft! Not really a big fan of V-Day, not in high school and certainly not now, but hey, to each his own, right? Right. Anyway…

January 2014 was marked with several highlights, many of them involving my two-wheeled friend which, from now on, shall be referred to in these pages as Pasaway. Don’t ask.

See, I figured those fine weekend mornings of icy weather were just too precious to waste on hangovers. So instead of drinking the night before and sleeping the whole morning off, I would hit the sack early and force myself out of bed at 6 a.m., gear up, dress up, and take Pasaway for a ride. I had this regimen on and off on the latter part of last year, but last January it became a full-blown weekend habit.

One freezing Sunday morning, pumped up with good vibes and craving thrills, I decided to take my new-found hobby to the next level. Realizing that Antipolo has become too small for me and Pasaway, I embarked on a long solo tour that covered four cities—Antipolo, Taytay, Cainta, Marikina—and more or less 35 kilometers (based on a free app I downloaded on my smartphone).

I know, 35 kilometers is negligible and even laughable to the hardcore bikers (those who’ve been biking for years and own bikes fetching five-digit prices), but given the factors involved — my cheap department store bike lacking in branded parts, my smoker’s stamina, and the fact that a significant portion of the distance covered is a brutal uphill climb — I believe I did well, and am patting myself on the back.

Also, baby steps. The problem with biking is the challenge is never-ending. You just want to keep pushing to cover more and more distance, and to reach more and more destinations, aching legs and risk of accidents be damned.

And so that was the holidays

Writing this on the first day of 2014 while taking advantage of a little downtime at work.

December 2013 had been a lousy month. It started with a promise, and then somewhere along the way it spiraled down and never recovered. It was the month my daughter Raven got confined two times — at Makati Medical Center from Dec. 10 to 13 for acute tonsillitis with severe allergic reaction, and at Antipolo Doctors Hospital from Dec. 22 to 24 for UTI. She recovered, thank God, but damage had been done on our holiday plans, not to mention wallets, and it was beyond repair. Murphy’s Law, I guess.

Other stuff made my December look like it should be crumpled and chucked into a wastebasket, but I’d rather not elaborate.

Biking provided solace. Never was I happier than when I’m pedaling alone on those fair-weather weekend mornings, randomly picking streets and side streets, testing my endurance on uphill climbs, freewheeling on downhill roads, eating cheap lugaw for breakfast—just me and my raggedy-ass ride and the wind on my face. And my thoughts, too. Been doing a lot of thinking these days, and perhaps that’s where the problem lies. I’d never met an over-thinker who’s happy in life.

Notable events that happened between my Japan trip and now:

All fun and memorable in their own way. And yet, as religious scholars are wont to say: Shit happens, man.

So: 2014. New hope, new page, new leaf. All that crap. Right now, I’m only thankful that my family celebrated Christmas and New Year complete and in relatively good health. A lot of people, especially in those Yolanda-hit areas, can’t say the same thing.

Sakai Diary: Knives, shrines and senior citizens

seven days

DAY ONE: The Arrival

There I was, 37,000 feet above ground on my first international flight, trying to concentrate on Stephen King’s “Full Dark, No Stars” but failing miserably, in fact getting antsier and antsier by the minute, all because I couldn’t get my mind off one thing: chopsticks.

I mean, the dude next to me could be a religious nut with a sinister plot, but all that worried me on that humdrum flight en route to Japan was: How am I going to eat?

So it has come to this, I brooded darkly as we began our nighttime descent to Kansai International Airport. The ghost of countless missed opportunities to learn the damn thing has come to haunt me.

But apprehensions like that tend to vanish in the face of pulchritude. Zooming on a freeway inside a rented bus that was taking us to Sakai City, I marveled at the newness of everything: a highway that was already deserted at 9 p.m., wide sidewalks empty of moving things, a vast carpet of lights that was probably the entire Osaka prefecture flickering under a moonless sky. And as if those were not enough, the crisp autumn air that greeted us when we alighted from the bus drove home the fact that, after 34 years, I am finally a tourist in another country.

At the Hotel Agora Regency, a quick late dinner showed me my in-flight gastronomic concern was unfounded: They have spoon and fork! I hit the sack on that first night thinking, problem solved!

seven days 1

Japan’s centuries-old, classical theater form, Noh.

DAY TWO: Everything Zen

The question: Why am I in Sakai?

It was actually more for work than play. Every year, the local government of Sakai, the second largest city in the Osaka prefecture (next to Osaka City), holds the Sakai-ASEAN Week.

Among the activities is inviting journalists from several ASEAN countries (Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines) for a week-long cultural tour of the sprawling port city. I was one of the four Filipino media representatives for this year’s event.

The first of five days’ worth of morning-to-afternoon activities was a visit to a Buddhist temple to witness a Noh play, Noh being a Japanese performance art that’s been around for over 600 years.

At the Takakuraji Buddhist Temple, Noh master Gozo Nagayama lectured us on the art form, complete with a performance and a presentation of masks that according to him were a hundred years old. There was also a black bamboo flute that was and could not be tuned do-re-mi style. When played, it made a shrill one-note sound that is more akin to a dying cry of something subhuman than anything that comes out of a wind instrument.

Equally fascinating was the chubby male performer – the youngest in the group of four, including Nagayama – who donned layers of garments and a mask to resemble a woman. Think Kabuki, only Noh is much older, we were told. In place of a samurai sword, a Noh performer uses a paper fan called ohi, folding and unfolding it in graceful, dramatic gestures.

It was already pushing late afternoon when we left the Takakuraji Temple. After a short briefing of succeeding activities at the hotel, we were back at our respective rooms, sucking in the opulence and abusing the wifi connection, which was thankfully decent.

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Sakai Diary: Young skinpounders seek global stage

wadaiko

SAKAI CITY, Japan — We heard it the moment we entered the building—a faraway rumbling like distant thunder. The sound—a rhythmic badum badum badum—grew louder as we walked through the snaking corridors of the Mihara Bunka Kaikan, a nondescript theater in the heart of this city in the Osaka prefecture. There was something urgent about the beat, like it was enjoining us to hurry on toward it.

So we did.

By the time we reached the source of the sound, some members of the Japanese drum ensemble Wadaiko Miyako were already deep into practice, furiously pounding away on taikos (drums) of various sizes, creating a seismic sonic assault so powerful and massive it shook us —visiting journalists from ASEAN countries—out of our Saturday morning lethargy.

“We don’t usually practice on Saturdays,” Gaku Yano, the group’s 61-year-old mentor, told the foreign guests through an interpreter. “We practice on Wednesdays and Sundays, but today you are our special audience.”

That group was also rehearsing for Sunday, when they were scheduled to headline the Sakai ASEAN Week Cultural Festival, a morning-to-afternoon show outside the Hotel Agora Regency Sakai that showcased cultural song and dance performances from participating ASEAN countries, including the Philippines.

But the 10 young members of the Wadaiko Miyako—including one who, at the time of the interview, was visibly pregnant—were looking beyond Sakai and Sunday.

“It would be an honor to perform overseas someday,” said the group’s 29-year-old leader Haze Shote, taking a break from the rehearsal to chat with the foreign visitors. Although the group is primarily based in Sakai, they have stirred enough buzz to land them out-of-the-city gigs.

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