27 Club

In my pre-MBA days, I acquainted myself with misfits, bohemians and activists who did not subscribe to the consumer capitalist culture. I was surrounded by an amazing band of weirdos, artists, sculptors, poets and film directors; generally the non-conformists who are always grumbling about the status quo.

And then, life happened.

I don’t see my old friends as often anymore but I still try to pop up by unannounced to remind them of my existence.

“We thought you sold your soul already to Wall Street,” they chide. I feel like the occasional ghost who creep into their lives, just to let them know that I haven’t pulled a Faust just yet.

I was reunited with old company in a humble bar in the heart of Old Manila. I don’t know if it’s possible to feel nostalgic for a time that you never lived through, but that’s exactly what I felt upon entering. The bar walls are furnished with photographs pre-WWII. The old pictures were romantic black-and-white reminders when the city was once the Pearl of the Orient; a forgotten era when Manila was a magnificent city likened to London, Madrid, and Paris. Gustave Eiffel himself designed Quiapo’s San Sebastian Basilica as the first all-steel church in Asia.

Just as the old walls offered nostalgic comfort, it was just as endearing for me to see the old ghosts of my past right in front of me; doing the same thing we do best: talking–and then arguing–and then heated matches–on art history, philosophy & political ideologies.

There are some things that never change: e.g., we had to transfer bars because of the big abomination: their menu did not have Red Horse Beer!

Then there are some things that do change: I noticed their energies have mellowed down by age; and the radical minds are now tempered with some conservatism. Albeit still provocative in quoting Nietzsche or Chomsky or some dead philosopher; the radicals are already–for lack of a better phrase–‘picking their battles judiciously’.

Maybe it does come with age. The group was composed largely of individuals north of 30 to mid-40s. I reminded them that I am the youngest, still in my ‘experimental’ decade and nearing the end of it: I am still to turn 28 next month.

Victor, one of my artist friends who came back from the Netherlands, warned me to keep safe for the next month, ‘or I will be part of the 27 Club’.

“What is the 27 Club?” I asked curiously.

“You never heard of it?” Victor explained that the 27 Club is an urban legend, composed of popular celebrities, artists and musicians who died at the age of 27; exacerbated by the fact that they died of violent means such as drug overdose, alcohol abuse, suicide, homicide, etc. Some of the stars who died at age 27 included Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morison, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and yes, Rico Yan.

The conversation led me to some introspection: 27 has been my toughest year in my life, bar none. It was 11 months of challenges, and then some.

Funny how one event can change you forever: I am not strong nor invincible after all!

Trauma, in a snap of a finger, erases your identity and triggers you to a deep pit of depression. I was battling depression silently and alone, 13,000 km away from home; dutifully covering it up with smiles on my photos and social media. Solitude triggers self-destructive thoughts and I did everything to deafen the devil on my shoulder: every sport, every hobby, every gig, every party, every activity I poured myself into. Any white space of my time I tried to fill with activities because I couldn’t bear coming to an empty apartment.

Selective amnesia can do so much in protecting yourself. Personally it worked like some magical teleportation device from Philly to Fili. I am suddenly whisked away from the snowy backdrop of Philadelphia back to warm and sunny Philippines (spoiler alert: it is NOT always sunny in Philadelphia. They lied.)


So I came back with friends whispering, why’s she back? I seemed, after all, the type ‘to never back down from any challenge’; and directly quoting our yearbook, the type to ‘trail-blaze and take on gender-bending roles in the business world’.

Big words; but I am not invincible.

Maybe I’ll come back on the fighting ring at the right time. For now I had some fixing to do, re-establishing relationships and taking care of myself. Funny how life can teach you the lessons just when you needed it; to bring you down to humility and remind you of your mortality.

“You have to be careful, or you’ll be part of the 27 Club.” Victor repeated again.

“But, I’m not really famous anyway,” I responded.

“…Oh, true. You have a point. Okay then, you may continue your high-risk lifestyle.”

I’m not invincible, I repeated to myself. While I may be no famous rock star, I should stay away from doing pole tricks for the next month–just to be safe.

And maybe–just maybe–28 will be different.


The problem with writers

Writers are selfish creatures and master manipulators of the mind.

When you first meet them, they will hook you with their intense curiosity. Do not mistake interest for friendship. Or romantic interest.

They’ve been known to keep people and relationships in their lives longer than they should — just because they make interesting character understudies for their next book.

They will shower you with attention, and soak information like a sponge — what you do, what you wear, what you say, and the inner workings of your mind — your drive, motivations, your dreams, your soul. Why do you do what you do? What ticks you off? What makes you feel alive?

Oysters open completely during a full moon, and when a crab sees one it throws a stone or seaweed so it cannot close again and becomes the crab’s ready meal. Just like the oyster, be careful with the words you express when in company of a writer — they will hold on to every word you said and quote you on that, at that.

They will then decide to be brutally honest, or to be deceiving — or both. They will read between the lines, and if nonexistent and purely innocent, invent the words between the lines.

They will look at you with inquisitive eyes, boring into your soul, trying to figure out your place in the plot. Heck, they may even try to predict your future actions, or create and recreate plots and denouements.

They’ve got you all figured out in their heads. And if they’re wrong — isn’t that what the fiction genre is for?

You might find, in the middle of the date, the author paramour lost and elsewhere — sometimes lost in reverie; and sometimes, lost in the next table’s conversations. They are notorious eavesdroppers who take mental notes of interesting lines and plot lines.

They will study the neighbors in question: they will take note of the man’s sweaty palms, and the texture of the woman’s hair and when it’s been last washed, the gaze, the body language — and conclude whether it is the first, or the fifty-first date.

They will usually end up having their meals cold.

They will exaggerate for dramatic flair; and exclude unimportant details because they are boring. They will paint the day with descriptions — and can skillfully describe a cheeseburger like they would describe sex, and in turn describe sex like it is the last meal of their life.

And yet, oddly and selfishly, writers do not reciprocate.

They refuse to give back as much as they take in—fiercely private in protecting themselves, to keep control of their identities, to protect their stories. It is as if they cannot stomach being at the mercy of another storyteller’s liberties.

No other finds comfort in ambiguity than a writer–we live for the what-could-be’s and could-have-been’s…

The notion that there is no conclusion is very beautiful; it gives us hope that we can always rewrite a better ending in the future.

That’s how we feel a sense of control in our lives, how we make sense of the world, by tricking ourselves that we are in charge of the stories.

When life throws you egg yolks, make leche flan

Anyone who knows me know how much I love leche flan. Who doesn’t love leche flan? I am an avid fan and still think that the creme brulee still pales in comparison, especially our Nanay Juaning’s leche flan.


Origins of many of our favorite desserts in the Philippines started with the basic concept of supply and demand. Egg whites were used to make mortar back then for constructing Spanish baroque churches and forts. When mixed with quicklime, it is a very strong adhesive for construction.

What would you do with the surplus of egg yolks? Make desserts of course! You know that famous saying, ‘when life throws you egg yolks, make flans’? That’s exactly what they did. Thanks to them well-loved desserts such as the leche flan, brazo de mercedes, etc. were born. Seriously I’m just using ‘etc.’ cause it makes me sound smarter but I can’t think of any other dessert on top of my mind.

There are so many things I blame the Spanish for: such as the evil Spanish Inquisition, our mañana habit and our financial ruin. But there are some things to be thankful for, such as the flan.

(This is a reblog from my old blog in Tumblr blog back in 2012)