Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Why Shooting Your Own Foot is Criminal

Last Friday's explosion at the Glorietta 2 mall, right in the heart of the Makati CBD, should've sowed panic and fear among local residents like any self-respecting act of terrorism would typically do. But it didn't.

I was having lunch in the office pantry with some of my staff around 1:45PM when I got an SMS message asking if me and my crew were okay. The HR representative assigned to my team had begun implementing disaster procedures that would initially account for the whereabouts and safety of all employees. Truth is, we didn't know there was an explosion until I got that message. We heard the sound of sirens from way up the 39th floor where we worked several minutes earlier; but I shrugged it off as another one of those VIP(or not-so-VIP) convoys snaking their way through the snarling Metro Manila traffic.

Minutes, hours, and days later reports have come in with stories about the explosion. A blast crater had been found at ground zero, 9 people dead and over 100 injured. The most recent one I read about was that it was caused by a military-grade bomb. Given the extent of the damage, I thought that made sense. But I also thought all logic ended there.

There were reports of a shadowy group of Christian-Islamic activists taking responsibility for the blast. They were supposedly demanding the release of some obscure personality allegedly detained illegally by the government. Whether or not that's true, any person with ties strong enough to prompt a group of activists to detonate a bomb and cause that amount of damage, actually deserves to be detained. The only sad thought about it is if in reality that person doesn't really have any ties with those activists. He or she would then be a victim of false claims.

Another report quoted a neophyte senator accusing the current administration of staging this attack as some kind of precursor to martial law. Let me say now that one of the first few things anyone has to grapple with while staying in this country is this martial law stigma carried by many of its residents. I don't mean to dismiss the horrors of the past, nor am I downplaying the possible abuses that are still occurring. But each time I hear someone talk about martial law in this country, I can only think of people who insist on being victims of their own fears, or of people insisting on using these fears to victimize others.

That Friday night, I consumed about 5 bottles of San Miguel Light at a birthday party thrown by one of my staff. Maybe it was more than 5, I lost count. Several thousand other people around Metro Manila drank the same beer on that same night. Maybe we were all trying to use alcohol to numb ourselves to what has happened- 9 people died in that mall. Or perhaps, we simply went about our own business with the thought that more than 9 died that day, albeit in less CNN-worthy circumstances. I had been at the office since 5AM that day for one meeting, and I ended my day at 11pm coming from another. Maybe people just drank San Mig Light because it was a Friday night.

A friend of mine who now lives in Victoria, Canada pinged me through Yahoo Messenger just a couple of hours after the explosion. He first asked me about what had happened, and later, he ended by sharing information with me about a college buddy who's just decided to apply for immigration to Canada. Somewhere during the short conversation, I said something about the nasty habit of this nation to shoot itself in the foot. I remember saying the same thing to my boss in an e-mail assuring him everyone on the team is unharmed. Of course, I left out the part where some of them were getting themselves intoxicated as I wrote that message.

The attack, as it really was an attack, was indubitably criminal. And yet, in all its brutality it achieved nothing. If it all, it only served to highlight our penchant to allow our collective self-absorption to bring harm to ourselves. There is nothing to fear in the Philippines that is not feared anywhere else. We just enjoy tooting our own horns on some days, and shooting our own feet on others.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Work in Progress

On my 30th birthday, I promised myself that I was going to live the next 30 years of my life healthier, happier and definitely more laid-back than I have ever been. That was 6 years ago.

Since then, I've become 30 pounds overweight, with a borderline cholesterol problem and very bad skin. I probably need to put some work into getting healthier. Okay, a lot more work. But hey, with a daily dose of multivitamins and twice-a-week badminton lessons, I happen to think I'm well on the way.

As for being happier? I'll let this photo of me with my wife and kids speak for itself, and then I'll tell you that over half of my best buds have left the country for "greener" pastures, with a few more to follow suit. The ones that have stayed behind are either very much in the middle of a rat race, or into some other things I'm finding too stressful be around with. I miss the good old days with my friends, but I love what I have right now with my family.

I happen to think that my biggest struggle to date is with becoming laid-back and staying so. Before I turned 30, I've always been a competitive, plan-for-every-possible-scenario, pain-in-the-ass perfectionist. For over 4 years, I've worked for a global services company operating in a highly stressful and highly-politicized industry. It's very corporate stuff, without the astronomical pay. Had there been no effort to keep things simple, flexible and relatively relaxed, I would not have stayed long in my job, nor would I have been very effective in it. But it has been an effort, and often a clash between how I've been brought up and how I've experienced things firsthand.

I obviously have my work cut out for me when it comes to keeping my 6 year-old promise. But I am quite positive about it, for two major reasons. One reason is that this early, I'm already planning for retirement. I don't have a financial stash yet; and, I still haven't a clue how to build it. But I often ask myself: "How many people at age 36 would actually let something like that stop them?" Some people at my age are busy trying to build business empires and change the world. I'm only planning for retirement.

The more important reason for my optimism is that I'm already where I want to retire. I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about what things one can find here to try and make up for the things that one can't. I'll leave that up to the people who have come here and made a home out of this country for themselves. They are certainly welcome to share their stories and experiences in this website.

Let me just part by stating for the record why I want to retire here - People here love to smile and they find ways to do it all the time, even in the face of life's curve balls. If life were truly a gamble, then in my book this pot's good enough to make a bet on.