GUARDS ON DUTY

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Target, Santa Clarita

Target is a treasure trove of surprises. I was strolling along the aisles when I chanced upon such as this unlikely alliance between these iconic figurines. I suddenly had a vision of Darth Vader and Leonardo standing guard outside my office at Global Prestasi School. Too bad that they couldn’t fit into my luggage.

YEAR OF THE ROOSTER

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the barongsai at Global Prestasi School

It never grows old no matter what happens or what people say. Every time I hear that the troupe will be coming to Global Prestasi School (GPS) to usher in the Chinese New Year, I am always filled with excitement. The barongsai, as the dragon or lion dance is called in Indonesia, never fails to ignite this child-like enthusiasm in me, banishing morose thoughts temporarily. The moment I hear that they’ve arrived, I’d drop what I’m doing and run to the main grounds of GPS to get a good spot to watch those colourful, swirling dragon-lions.

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one of the dragon-lion prepping for the dance

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This year is my year. According to Chinese astrology, I was born under the year of the rooster and if it’s your animal that is the ruling animal of the year, you are in for one auspicious year. To know that lady luck is your constant companion for a year – she won’t be making her presence greatly known until after 12 years – does one’s spirits more than some good. You feel this overwhelming sense of confidence commingling with positivity which leads to a general sense of well-being. Simply put, a force field of positive energy has been placed around you thus any sad or tragic news thrown your way by fate is met with more gumption than fear.

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lion-dance-at-gps

It was not like I was cowering in fear all throughout the 12 years lady luck was just hovering at the periphery as another animal took centre stage.  Looking back, several years were indeed fraught with tension and grief, but those years galvanised me taking me out of the rut I was in. I was admittedly chary – am still am – but those years prepared me slowly to take on the world again. One can say it prepared me for the year of the rooster, the year I see as the year of splendiferous moments and glorious feelings.

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ON BOARD THE AVENGERS STATION

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Welcome to the world of Tony Stark/Iron Man

Perhaps in a parallel world, I would have made it as an agent of SHIELD and worked closely with the Avengers. Then again, maybe not. The pulchritude of Captain Steve Rogers or tantalizing sassiness of Loki would have had me ogling them and definitely become remiss of my duties, so I just satisfied myself back on Earth with a tour of a facsimile of the Avengers STATION.

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Get to know more about Captain America

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the profile of Steve Rogers is there for all to read

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the iconic uniform of Captain America

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the shield completes the Captain’s uniform

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Tony Stark’s favourite outfit – the Iron Man costume

 

Exhibited at the Annex Hall of the Science Centre in Jurong East, Singapore, it was one fascinating immersive tour even though I didn’t download the Avengers app or “borrowed” the iPod (for S$5). For the tech-oriented exhibit-goers, the app is the ultimate way to fully experience the exhibition as a recruit of SHIELD. Agent Maria Hill was on hand to welcome the new recruits who were visibly excited when I was there during the first weekend of February. Meanwhile, as the new “recruits” fiddled with their phones, logging on to get their credentials, I remained nonchalant and waited for the doors to open. I was antsy to get a bird’s eye-view of the Avengers’ universe through the props, costumes, detailed explanations of the science and personal profiles of the featured Avengers, which included Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Vision, Hawkeye, and Black Widow. Providing balance was the inclusion of the anti-Avengers squad led by God of Mischief Loki and his cohorts Chitauri and the dark elves.  The meticulous details of the costumes, weapons, and profiles were astounding; I felt I was truly transported to another real dimension as I gawped at the “personal” items on display. Each character is three-dimensional with his/her personal history, outfit, choice of weapon, and unparalleled skill.

Zealous Avengers fan or not, Avengers STATION is an experience that would make a visit to Singapore. After all, it isn’t every day that one gets a pass to visit one of the heavily guarded facilities on Earth – Marvel’s Earth, that is. But the exhibition has only a month or so before it folds up. Its last day is on March 05.

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Dare to lift mjolnir?

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the Hulk Buster

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the Tessaract Portal

ARRIVALS

“We just need the blue and white paper. We already cleared customs, so keep your passport,” said this man behind me to a woman he was with.

We were in a queue to exit the Tom Bradley International airport three days before New Year’s Eve. It was moving along well, guided by the constant reminder of a staff to “Move up” and “Keep your passport. You don’t need it. Just prepare your customs card.”

“Don’t look nervous. You should look happy. You’re here,” he continued.

That was when I turned around and saw a Filipino woman – her passport was a dead give away – standing next to an American pushing the luggage trolley while speaking to the woman. Glancing at the woman’s mien, she looked pensive, deep in thought possibly, I surmised, about the reality of her new life in the US confronting her that very minute. She wasn’t a tourist I was very certain about that; I was only holding a passport while she had, aside from her passport, a file with other documents.

His line struck a cord in me. Arrivals can go myriad of ways. She must have been ecstatic at arriving in the US, but that elation must have been wrapped in apprehension at what awaits her new life which, indubitably, would be radically dissimilar from her former life. Everything would be different in all aspects: terrain, language, weather, culture, customs, and routine. She was alone in a way. Living in a new country isn’t always smooth sailing. Aside from battling homesickness, among many things, this feeling of being besieged cocoons an immigrant tightly that if one was to survive in a new world s/he has to steel herself/himself against the odds to succeed. 

My arrival at Los Angeles was nothing to compared to hers. Hers was a permanent relocation while mine was transitory, a promise made to my wonderful man to see him again. Like the Filipino behind me, I was ecstatic, thrilled, elated, but simultaneously anxious to the point of being apprehensive. A lot can happen and change in five months and questions whirled in my head: Does he still feel the same way? Do I still feel the same way? Would this be the beginning of the end? Will we fight? What will we say to each other? Will we get along?

Arrivals aren’t always what people generally perceive them to be. But the outcome can be altered by not overthinking and letting things unfold naturally. Following my own advice, I took a deep breath and a step to embrace my arrival.

Tom Bradley International Airport arrival

SOLITUDE 

The airport is one place that sees the opposite spectra of feelings: sadness in bidding one adieu or happiness in welcoming back a familiar face, a loved face. There is another dimension to the airport. It is a place of solitude particularly when you are a solo traveller. It is an isolation that provides a belated opportunity to simply be and to ruminate. There was, however, a time that being at the airport meant feelings of sadness as I grappled with the closure of one life and the slow process of picking up myself. Those days are gone. These days it gives me the solitude to collect my thoughts, process my feelings, and breathe slowly. It also gives me the much vaunted chanced to read – it is passion that has provided succor and refuge, delight and knowledge.

The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa (NAIA, Terminal 2)

THE HEARTBREAKER 

I started writing this blogpost eons ago, but stopped not because I was choking with memories. Life got in the way, primarily work; there were voluminous essays and other papers to mark. Now, it is a few days before the end of another year, and it is high time to close the narrative that started more than a decade ago. It is the narrative of C. 

C is Charles who used to make my tummy do flip-flops and leave me breathless every time we’d meet. But that is all in the distant past now. I have blocked him from my mind and unfriended him. The late epiphany that our lives shouldn’t have, in the first place, intertwined finally hit me like an anvil dropping to the ground. But he “sauntered” again into my life close at the heels of the memories of my paternal grandparents who left all too soon. His visitation, however, was met with a lot less felicity. He broke my heart. No, let me rephrase that, he blew it to smithereens, and putting it back together took longer than I expected.

How do I describe Charles? As a younger me looking at the world with rose-colored spectacles? Or a maturer me sans the filters? I first met Charles when he was 18. Tall and a bit on the lanky side, he was pulchritudinous with his Chinese-Indian features that had heads turning and hearts throbbing. My head turned and throbbed for more than a decade. He was a young man finding his place under the sun while combatting prejudiced notions about his mixed lineage and life-altering family issues. But he seemed to have handled everything with aplomb or so my younger self thought so.

“Damaged Heart on Old paper” image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

He was certainly above timidity when he sat down at my table in Starbucks and, in a nonchalant manner, asked how I was. I loved the confidence that exuded cockiness, which others completely abhorred earning him the label of blowhard. His face taunted me, silently telling goading me, “So, what are you going to do about it?” Picking up the gauntlet thrown at my table, I offered to buy him a drink, but he declined cocking his head to the left – in the direction of his group of friends – saying that he’s already got a drink. Idle banter ensued. The drink offered did not go unclaimed. It was followed by more coffee dates at Starbucks or Coffeebean, dinners, and movie outings. Younger me loved his company and I thought he did mine too. I was tickled pink when he actually sat through two shows, fighting the urge to walk out and just wait for me at the lobby. The first was a Scooby Doo movie, which seemed tenable for him judging from how he looked – a tiny smirk and mien that said he’d get through the film without keeling over. Naturally, it was payback time when I had to sit through this Hong Kong film starring Stephen Chow that he raved about. He was having a whale of a time and, like him at the Scooby Doo outing, I sat through the flick and survived it. The second show was a ballet, which I am truly into and he wasn’t.

These were some of the happier memories. Some are the heart-breaking ones that make you question yourself, your sanity. Becoming a couple should be a happy memory but it isn’t. Our relationship was short lived and certainly not to be bandied about. I ended it because it was lopsided and my inner voice was telling me he wasn’t into it. We lost touch – why bother to communicate? But the universe has a warped sense of humor making him land in my world again via a text message. He asked me how I was doing. I didn’t give it much thought when I cursorily read it, distracted by the members of Singapore’s water polo team practicing at the pool area, as I waited for my yoga class to begin. Looking at the message again a few minutes later, I felt that tug in my heart. I had deleted his number from my phone but I still knew it by heart. I answered and, as they say, all is history. I found myself on the nerve-wracking roller coaster ride again which I vowed never again to be on. Foolish me, stupid me, vacuous me.

I went through this rigmarole a couple of more times until I entered into a new relationship and had to cut ties with Charles. To his credit, he did pull through a couple of times when I needed a shoulder to cry on and when I needed to rebuild my life after the relationship collapsed. He seemed to have matured or so I thought. I was determined to prove to people – to society even – that people can be friends with their ex, so I rallied on being the best ever best friend. I deluded myself into thinking he saw me as a best friend too.

The warning signs were there but I berated myself for being negative and not giving him a chance despite the fact that it was getting difficult reading the signs. And the statements he would drop during our phone conversations were mind boggling. He actually would call me from overseas – I had relocated to Indonesia from Singapore by then. Statements like “It would be good to feel loved again”, “It would be good to see you” and the like had my mind roiling. I wouldn’t dare drop such statements knowing our past but I brushed them aside, telling myself everything is platonic now. I should have walked away yet I didn’t although I nearly did. It was when he openly blurted out our past to his friend that I had just met when I went to Singapore to visit him then later on blamed me for it. He said I set him up. I was dumbstruck at the accusation, but foolish me, stupid me, vacuous me decided to sweep the incident under the rug. 
Two more incidents had to happen in order for me to decisively put an end to the song and dance. The first one had to do with a request I made to all my friends to send me a birthday card to mark the start of a new decade age wise. He had forgotten: he couldn’t look me in the eye when I jokingly asked him about my birthday card. So much for being my best friend yet I remained hopeful and let it go at that. The second one was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was scheduled to visit me which I was excited about; we talked endlessly about it over the phone. Then he cancelled it saying he had to report to a training seminar as a new recruit of his country’s national air carrier. I was disappointed and proud at the same time. I certainly didn’t want to be a hindrance to his new career, so I said we could always reschedule. He agreed. All was copacetic until the universe revealed the lie via Facebook. Call it providential, I was able to read an exchange of replies on a Facebook upload that detailed the opposite of what he told me. His training seminar wasn’t on the week I expected him in Indonesia- it was after. He was enjoying his video game that time he was to have caught a plane to Indonesia. Right then and there I closed the chapter on the narrative of C. I finally opened my eyes to the truth that he wasn’t to be counted on, lover or bestie. 

Image courtesy of Geerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is truly cathartic – that I am able to write about him after all those years tells me that this is the closure I have been wanting for in a chapter of my life. I drew courage and inspiration from two women who had taken to writing about their tumultuous relationships. They are author Elizabeth Gilbert who outlined her struggles in her best seller book “Eat, Pray and Love”, and Taylor Swift who turns her experiences into hit songs. It is not meant to be recriminatory although others might think so. I see it as getting something off my chest so I can breathe easier and, pardon the triteness, as a way of finally letting him go. It is also for me to turn a new page in my life. After all, to move on is imperative for a happier life.

SPREADING SOME HUMOR 

It was given to my mum as Christmas present together with other homemade local products. She thinks I am a bit obsessed with it because I wouldn’t stop talking or giggling about it. I was giggling because the name was so unexpected and I kept talking about it because of the image the name projected which was both humorous and slightly off-putting. The label read Oya and a search on Google led to a Facebook page Oya bakes filled with photos of the numerous bazaars she has attended to sell her products – selling for PhilP100 a piece – that came from a “tiny kitchen and made with local ingredients and love”. She has a wide array of preservative-free jams such as pineapple vanilla, piña colada, guava vanilla, and a banana-rum jam called Drunk Monkey. Oya also sells jars of savory products such as bagoong (fermented fish or krill), chili garlic oil, and boneless tuyo (dried, salted fish) in oil. 

What had me in a fit of giggles was the new jam – Butt Monkey. I had to re-read the label twice – it truly said Butt Monkey, a spread composed of banana, lemon juice, butter, brown sugar, and love. Interesting spread! The analogy that came to mind is kopi luwak (or Indonesian civet) which is truly fantastic coffee once you have come to grips with its origin. Both the name, image, and true origin of kopi luwak are far more jaw-dropping than Butt Monkey given the circumstances, so I ventured to try the jam. Butt Monkey is as humorous as it is tasty. Spreading it on toasted bread, the butterscotch jam had this sweet – but not cloying – strong banana taste that did a wonderful dance with the citrusy lemon juice. The balance between sweet and citrusy didn’t leave a heavy feel on the palate that other jams are wont to leave after a few bites. In fact, everything was light yet filling. I still giggled after the last bite.