Summer Scrooge

Summer Scrooge
By Walter Ang
April 27, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Usually, everyone's ecstatic over the arrival of the summer months. School's out and the beaches are all ripe for the picking. Everything's a rosy picture of fun and games, of swimming pools and ice cold lemonade. We must take it upon ourselves to burst everyone's bubble and expose the vile truth. The idea of having fun during the summer is one enormous delusion. Doesn't everybody realize what a humongous hassle summertime is?

First of all, you have the heat. The scorching, blazing sun beats down on us all day long. Admittedly, the heat wouldn't be so bad if it weren't living in a tropical country. It's just that the heat coupled with the intense humidity is an extremely deadly weapon. The moment you step out of your house, wham! You feel as if you've stepped into a solid wall of tepid water. No, actually, warm molasses is more like it.

Keeping it cool
So there you are, hot and sticky while profusely leaking gallons of sweat from every pore of your body. You run back indoors where there's airconditioning, or at the very least, a stand fan you can stand in front of. The short respite doesn't last as the electricity goes kaput from over heating and all the high tech, man made, computerized climate control systems to keep you cool are no longer functioning. All you've got is an abaca fan that you swiped from the corner barbeque vendor.

You're fanning yourself furiously as you get crabbier and crabbier. The temperature isn't the only thing that goes up in the summer time, your temper's steadily rising too. While you feel uncomfortable and ready to bash everyone you meet with fists of fury, you decide to just leave it all and take a walk to let off some steam.

Only the truly desperate (or demented) would want to take a walk under the sweltering summer sun. With all those detestable ultraviolet rays streaming from the sky above, you risk exposing yourself to a skin cancer causing agent. You smear yourself with the highest SPF sunblock you can find in the market. The stuff makes you feel even stickier and it worst of all, it has that sweet sickly smell that only makes you dizzy.

More problems
As you put on your sunglasses to prevent cataracts from forming in your eyes, you encounter another problem that this season brings. The summer sun dries everything up. As a result, dust, sand, and other tiny pollutants that would normally be matted to the damp ground are now having the time of their life. Watch them fly around in the air like birds! When a slight summer breeze decides to grace us with its presence, all that dirt smashes into your face and sticks to the layer of sunblock that conceals your epidermis. Later on, this is what causes that repulsive zit to breakout on your nose.

You desperately want to escape and you consider rushing to the nearest mall. Free airconditioning and you don't even have to buy anything! You hop onto the first jeepney you see, excited and anxious to get going. For the next two hours, you wonder if entire solar systems have either died or were born while you were waiting in traffic. You feel your brain slowly baking in the torrid heat thanking the heavens that summer's only a couple of months!

Then it'll be the rainy season. Wait a minute. Oh no!

Summer with Charles M. Schulz and the Peanuts Gang

Summer with Charles
By Walter Ang
April 20, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Whenever Holy Week comes along, I always remember the one Holy Week when I got the measles. I was in elementary school when I caught the disease. I had to stay indoors for what seemed like an agonizing eternity. I was ready to climb the walls and bang my head with a shoe.

Thank goodness I had Snoopy and the Peanuts gang to keep me company. Without them, I might have gone absolutely bonkers.

One of my earliest encounters with Snoopy when I received two beautiful hard bound books from my aunt who lived in California. The books were huge and thick and smelled of "America."

One was a compilation of Charlie Brown's (mis)adventures in his favorite sport baseball, aptly entitled "Sandlot." The other was an anniversary book chronicling the history and highlights of Snoopy's long and illustrious career in newspaper comic strips, books, television, movies, and even Broadway.

The gang
I loved those two books to death. I spent those horrible measles- filled days getting to know this quirky, interesting group of friends again and again, never tiring of their antics. Led by Charlie Brown with his passion for baseball and unending attempts to fly his kite without it getting tangled in the trees. Snoopy, probably the world's most versatile dog, with alter egos that ranged from a World War II fighter plane pilot to the esoteric Easter Beagle.

Charlie Brown's sister Sally and her constant pursuit of Linus. Linus and his wisdom (including a belief in The Great Pumpkin) served up all wrapped in a security blanket. Linus' sister, the uber taray Lucy van Pelt and how, instead of selling lemonade, she would dispense psychiatric advice at only 5¢ per session. Of course, how could anyone not feel for Schroeder, the Beethoven playing piano prodigy, as he tried to run away from the incessant clutches of Lucy?

In the book "Sandlot," one particular adventure of the group that made me laugh out loud the most involved Peppermint Patty, Charlie Brown's friend and baseball rival. She'd decided to join an ice skating competition and her travails included hiring Snoopy as her skating coach, getting her best friend Marcie to be her costume designer (the costume turned out to have no holes for her arms to go though), and receiving a gigantic afro wig after many failed and extremely hilarious attempts at a hair make over.

This particular escapade ends with Peppermint Patty donning her ice skates at the contest venue, only to discover that the contest was for roller skating.

Sad news
Earlier this year, I was channel surfing and came across the news that Charles M. Schulz, the creator of world famous Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, had passed away. You should've seen me, I was in such a state.

Through the years, I've always enjoyed the company of the Peanuts gang. I've seen almost all of their movies. I've screamed in delight whenever I found bargain prices to Snoopy books. I was in seventh heaven when I chanced upon what I consider to be one of my most treasured finds: a yellow shirt with black zigzag lines exactly like the one that Charlie Brown wears.

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to make full use of that shirt when I performed a monologue from the Tony Award winning Broadway musical "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown." When I stepped onto the stage with that shirt on, I was able to share with the audience Chuck's eternal pining for the "cute little redheaded girl" and how he finally reacted one day when she was looking at him from across the schoolyard. He promptly put a brown paper bag over his head.

This kind of humor is what best defines the Peanuts world. This motley crew of characters go through many struggles, not always with good results but nevertheless always in the right spirit, always providing a good laugh and an inspiration for the rest of us.

With Charles M. Schulz gone, the world loses a great person who's touched the lives of countless people. He was able to paint us a world with a round headed kid and his pet beagle, but more than that, he created something magical in those little boxes that we see every morning in the newspapers. These little windows that show us the lives of the Peanuts gang also show us reflections of ourselves in them. When we laugh at and with the gang, aren't we ultimately laughing at ourselves also? Charles M. Schulz will be sorely missed. The joy that he dispenses through his creations is definitely worth more than 5¢, it's priceless.


Arts Fest: A night out in Malate, in four acts

Arts Fest: A night out in four acts
By Walter Ang
April 13, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Setting: Batavia Cafe
Synopsis: We arrived a little early for Friday night's events in Malate so we placed ourselves in this Javanese inspired cafe. There was an arts fest sponsored by Absolut Vodka and the eve's affairs included a one-act play, poetry reading sessions, and performance artists milling the streets. The after-sunset hours were full of promise. Best of all, all of it was for free.

Budget-conscious individuals (read: cheapskates) that we were, we ate dinner at home and treated ourselves to dessert and coffee. The cafe was still empty, giving us some quiet time to shake off the day's tension and enoy the pandan sansrival.

The walls were lined with fantastic looking Thai theater masks of all sorts and shapes. They reminded us of that scene in the movie "King and I" where dancers performed a show for the King's guests. With the background music playing gongs and other ethnic instruments, we half expected some dancers to burst up the winding stairs and perform an excerpt for us. (None did; too bad.)

Setting: Verve Room
Synopsis: With caffeine in our veins to keep us awake, we proceeded to where the action was. We arrived to watch the one-act play where two actors played several different characters. It was interesting to witness how this bar could be transformed into a performance area for a theater piece.

For a stage, one end of the room was filled with white drapes and a sofa, but even with that provision, the actors were still popping up all over the place. They started in the middle of the room and, as each scene turned over to the next, went on to appear at the bar, moving on to the stage and so on. With glasses clinking and cell phones going off, the actors would weave across the room and incorporate comments from the audience into their performance.

This episode ended with a narrow escape. We'd taken a few steps away from our table as we got up to leave when the spotlight suddenly shines on the woman who had just sat across us. We'd no idea that she was the actress from the play. Talk about close calls and timed exits!

Setting: Kemistry Bar
Synopsis: Breathing a sigh of relief at barely missing the spotlight, we scrambled over to what used to be The Lobby to catch the poetry reading session. The walls were lined with large paintings--an exhibit that was part of the arts fest. We could hear strains of dance music from Politixx next door, beating through the thin walls. With an atmosphere lighter and airconditioners cooler than where we'd just come from, the poetry reading gave us some time to settle down and pay closer attention to what was being spoken.

Amidst swirls of cigarette smoke and hushed conversation, several poets got up onstage to share their thoughts and bare their souls to the audience. From topics that ranged from love to motherhood to conversation with strangers, one of the poems that we enjoyed was entitled "Spaces".

It had lovely lines such as, "There is a space/Before laughter becomes a sigh/An infinite excitement/Within the space of a soul- kiss." The piece was by Natalia Diaz, editor-in-chief of Milk magazine. She was one of the featured poets, a group that included Triccia David, Chuck Syjuco, and Annabelle Bosch among others.

Setting: In the space going home.
Synopsis: Just like Cinderella's ball, the poetry session ended at the stroke of midnight. We tried to look for a carriage to bring us home but there weren't any in the vicinity. We settled for a more contemporary vehicle instead. The night ended with us missing out on the performance artists, our wallets semi empty (there wasn't a lot in it to begin with) but our brains quite full. We rode on home, passing through the space "between Friday night and Saturday dawn."


Exploring the Innards of Quiapo (and visiting Bahay Nakpil)

Exploring the Innards of Quiapo 
By Walter Ang
April 6, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

A few months ago, I decided on a whim to coerce one of my friends and risk a trip into the esoteric innards of Quiapo. I'd read about a theater group giving a free performance at some old house in Quiapo.

Several factors immediately came into play. First, the operative term being "free", who could turn down the opportunity? Second, I was bored out of my mind and was looking for something to do. Third, I'd never really paid any particular attention to the peculiarities of Quiapo before. I'd venture there occasionally on an errand of some sort, but never really relishing the character of the place. So here was a chance to go and maybe take a closer look.

Since the weather wasn't too bad, we decided to make the afternoon more interesting by walking to our destination. A walking trip in dirty, dusty downtown Manila? We must've been really bored, or really crazy.

We got off our jeepney on Recto and took a turn into Evangelista street, taking our time ogling the wares and merchandise. From second hand typewriters to mystic pendants, my favorite merchandise of the day turned out to be pamparegla. Herbal concoctions sold in old recycled gin bottles labeled with photocopies of an original printout from some arcane WordStar version.

A literal translation of pamparegla is "to induce menstruation." Apparently women are supposed to use this clear colorless liquid to get them back on schedule if they happen to be late. However, popular culture connotes this solution with darker undertones. You know what I mean.

I started to wonder if it was more embarrassing for me or my friend every time the ladies who sold the stuff would ever-so-innocently (actually, suspiciously was more likely) look up at us and ask, "Pamparegla?". We'd pretended not to hear and resolved to move on to our final destination.

Bahay Nakpil
We arrived at the "old house" which was Bahay Nakpil Bautista, a house left over from the Spanish era tucked into one of the cul-de-sacs of Quiapo. Formerly owned by Julio Nakpil, who married Gregoria de Jesus after she was widowed from Andres Bonifacio, it's now owned and run by his heirs.

Bahay Nakpil sticks out as the only Spanish era styled house along this tiny little street. A well kept secret in a loud, crowded, bustling area that really shouldn't be a secret at all.

It feels good to know there are people concerned enough to preserve some of our cultural and architectural heritage in this quickly decaying urban jungle. Even without any subsidies, the house has been reborn as a museum. Bahay Nakpil has artifacts on display, reading materials, and offers walking tours of Quiapo and other special events.

House of spirits
The stately house also has rooms that doubles as performance areas with a more intimate setting. The performance we went to see was held in the old sala of the house, just like in the tradition of olden days where, instead of surfing cable television and mindlessly texting the person sitting next to you, guests and family were entertained with singing, poetry reading and other substantial activities.

Since the actual performance didn't begin until early evening, we were even able to catch a glimpse of Quiapo basking in the orange glow of the setting sun. It was great to see the people settling down while the area took on a new atmosphere under the electric lights of streetlights and billboards.

Aside from the unique view, external factors made the evening's performance even more interesting. With large windows opening to the sidewalk, passers-by could see into the sala and would let out comments like "What's going on up there?" Also, every once in a while, a group of men two houses down the street would let out a collective cheer as there was a off-track betting kiosk doing brisk business.

A live, interactive escapade in an otherworldly setting! With this kind of multimedia, multisensory experience, playing the latest dance revolution game definitely pales in comparison. Bahay Nakpil is a great place to go if you feel like having a piece of history, a little adventure, or both. With summer around the corner and school out of the way, there'll be no reason to get bored because there's no better time and to go and visit!

For details on Bahay Nakpil, call Tessie at 734-9341.


Summer survival kit

Summer survival kit
By Walter Ang
April 6, 2000

Summer's here! The sun is scorching hot and the temperature is rising fast. Living in this cosmopolitan city we call home becomes a challenge this time of the year. The summer sun brings with it a host of thing to look out for. The moment you step out of the house, you feel your skin begin to cook from the intense heat. Sometimes, airconditioners conk out from overheating and you're left with just a folding fan to keep you aerated. Throughout the day, you get more and more irritable from the torrid atmosphere. If you're not careful to keep your temper in line, you're liable to lash out at the wrong person at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons. You wouldn't want that to happen now, would you?

Fortunately, we can try to keep ourselves in check and maintain our cool. All we need to do is keep a few things handy. A sort of survival kit if you will. Before anything else, we'll need a container for all our other gear. Guys can go with a sturdy backpack and the ladies can opt for a sensible handbag.

First order of the day, sunblock. Have you any idea what the noxious ultraviolet rays of the sun can do to your skin? Perish the thought of wrinkles and dry scaly skin. But the worst consequence is when UV rays penetrate your skin causing your insides to go out of whack and wreaking some serious havoc. Eventually, this could lead to skin cancer! Good thing I paid attention to my biochemistry teacher back in school.

Every year, I have my aunt from California send me one of those huge bottles of SPF 45 sunblock bought from a warehouse priceclub. Spread the stuff on every square inch of exposed skin. Don't forget your lips ? you can get lipbalm with sunblock. If I'm not mistaken, there's even hairgel with SPF in it.

Next up, sunglasses. Another baneful outcome of sun exposure is the risk of getting cataracts. So cover the windows to your soul. If you have a pretty well developed sense of fashion, you'll end up good- looking too! Make sure you get lenses that are UV resistant. Otherwise, you'll just be wasting your (or your parents') hard earned money if you get cheap lenses that offer no protection.

Caps, hats or umbrellas. Why worry if you can't find any shade to stay under, when you can always bring your own shade with you? Something to protect your sensitive head from the blistering heat. Bonus if you have an umbrella: you'll be in good hands if there's a sudden rain break. This is a tropical country after all.

Deodorant. The summer heat can make things smell more earthy and pungent, and I'm not just talking about durian here. While sharing is a good virtue, I'm sure everyone will agree there are some parts of ourselves that we really shouldn't share.

Water bottle, filled with water of course! The risk of dehydration is higher during the summer. It's no fun to pass out from the heat in the middle of the street just because you thought carrying around a bottle or jug of water with you would be too much of a hassle. Remember, by the time you feel thirsty, your body is already, horrors, slightly dehydrated. So don't be afraid to take a long cold gulp of good old dihydrogen monoxide. Refreshing, quenching, invigorating. For the weight watchers, news flash ? water has no calories. The best stuff on earth! Best served chilled.

Care owners should take note to have a huge container of water tucked snuggly in the trunk. Humans aren't the only ones who get thirsty when it's hot.

Just for fun, you could buy one bottle of those high brow, high priced brands of mineral water. For example, the one that means "innocent" when you spell the brand name backwards. What you do is use it everyday, impressing your colleagues whenever you take a swig. What they don't know is that it's just the same bottle that you refill in your house. Cheap, yet builds profile.

A summer survival kit can have even more stuff to suit your needs. If you want, you can even have a deflated salbabida with your for those spur of the moment let's-jump-in-the-water moments. Whatever your fancy, at least know you're prepared for anything. Have fun!