Notes from the Outside World: I have become the “aleng pinagtatanungan sa pila.”

So, yesterday and today I went out (a rather rare thing, on a weekday) to get government stuff: a barangay certificate of residence, an NBI clearance and a police clearance. I’ve been prepping to get a passport, and since my appointment is sometime next next week, I decided to move my lazy ass to finally get things in order.

Here are a few notes:

  • Barangay Old Balara is extremely efficient. Reception offered to give me a barangay ID in addition to the certificate. I got a 2 certs and a barangay ID in less than an hour.
  • It is also a Pokemon Go gym.
  • Barangay captain is a little chatty and asked me if I was going abroad for work. (No.)
  • The NBI Clearance online appointment system is convenient; the payment system, not so much.
  • You skip around 3 steps (filling out forms, paying, etc) but you still have to queue for biometrics.
  • The queue was a giant Trip to Jerusalem game. At least we all got to sit.
  • After 30 minutes, my seatmate (a kid who – gauging by the envelope he was carrying – was getting ready for the great wide world of gainful employment) turns to me and asks me if he could get his NBI clearance the same day. I launch into an explanation of the dreaded HIT.
  • I tell him I always have had a HIT, and to not worry about it.
  • A woman walks by the line holding a plastic cup of kwek kwek. WHERE DID YOU GET THAT.
  • Another thirty minutes in, and NBI personnel helpfully explains to the class: what each line is for, what should have been done before queuing, what are HITs, if you’re here for releasing you don’t need to be in line, etc. “If you have questions raise your hand.”
  • The girl to my right turns to me, in what seemed like a mix of panic and horror, and asks “Pag releasing na lang po ba di na kailangang pumila?” She explains that she had been asked by somebody else to pick up the offending clearance and had been in line for as long as I have.
  • I tell her, gently, that she needs to go to the release window. No more lines. Men sitting behind us laugh.
  • After she leaves, the child dude beside me chats me up again. What do you do for a living, how much do you make?
  • Usually, I don’t like answering these questions, especially when posed by strangers but I tell him anyway. The kid looked genuinely mystified. How does one become “home-based”? I didn’t tell him this, but I wanted to: You will need a unique skill set that people are willing to pay you for.
  • He volunteers that he’s preparing to be a seaman (second mate) and he has a medical exam to get to after the NBI thing. In Kalaw. Yes. Manila.
  • I wished him luck. Travelling from Quezon City to Manila is murder.
  • It was my turn. Man behind Window 6 takes my picture, fingerprints, and signature.
  • The computer takes a few seconds to process, and the screen flashes: WITH HIT in big block, flashing red letters. Yeap.
  • Man behind Window 6 takes out his stamp pad, takes the photocopy of my license, and jots on a date.
  • The Police Clearance place at Quezon City Hall is directly beside the NBI Clearance place.
  • There are 4 windows. 1 for forms, 2 for checking the forms, 3 for payment, 4 for yet-another-payment. Tarpaulins announce how much each type of police clearance costs. For Travel/Passport: 200 + 150.
  • I was filling out my form when the girl beside me asks how much she will need to pay. I ask her what her purpose was, glance at the tarp, and tell her. 250 pesos.
  • She rummages around in her tiny purse. “I don’t have enough,” she mumbles. Her loose change sat on the battered table, and yes I counted, and yes, it wasn’t enough.
  • She asks if there was a Cebuana (Lhuillier) nearby, and I tell her there must be. This is near Kalayaan after all.
  • As I was about to tell her to ask the policemen nearby, I see that she had already left.
  • After the 4 windows, I was ushered into a room with screens facing outwards. Technically not windows, but more like computer stations.
  • Dude behind one of the stations motions at me, takes all the forms/photocopies/receipts, and encodes my information. He misspells Terraces, but not my name, which is nice.
  • Next station, a bespectacled girl takes my pic, my fingerprint, and my signature. She tells me to wait and points at the door past the island of biometrics stations.
  • Old lady opens the door for me, and I emerge directly behind the NBI place. Benches are set under the shade of a giant balete tree. I wait.
  • Two kids beside me get their clearances and sit back down to check it. One tells the other, “Mukha kang kalbo.” I fight the giggles down.
  • My turn, kuya pronounces my name beautifully. I thank him and study my ID. I didn’t look bald, but like most government issued IDs, I looked like I was ready to commit something illegal. Like estafa.
  • To leave, I pass by the NBI Clearance center. There is an empty kwek kwek stall along the wall to the right. Demmit.

As Seen On TV: Feng Shui 2

Caveat: This is a TV viewing of a movie released in 2014. Spoilers ahead!

So last night, CinemaOne ran the TV premiere of Feng Shui 2, the sequel to Chito Roño’s 2004 MMFF entry. This was also an entry to said film festival (2014) and raked in about as much money as the original.

Feng Shui 2 movie poster
Feng Shui 2 movie poster

It’s 10 years later, and we pick up where we left off. The bagua had found a new family to terrorize, and in the first few minutes, we are shown just how well – or badly – said family fared. A few clicks of Lotus Feet’s shoes later, we meet Lester, played by Coco Martin.

We find out soon enough that this one’s designed to be grittier than the original, because Coco’s normal baby face is adorned with slight scruff.

It’s an interesting hook, that intro, a woman plunging to her death with “help” from her recently deceased twin daughters. The hook is punctuated by a throwaway detail – monkey bars – and for viewers of the first film, we know for sure that this film will also take great lengths with which to kill its various characters with something related to their Chinese zodiac signs.

The intro, however, posed some questions. What is Lester even doing there? How did he know the current bagua’s owner has taken 20-story swan dive and that the police has just cleared the crime scene so people can now claim their belongings left in the playground?

Much is left to the imagination – including some much needed character development.

Say for example Lester. He exemplifies an oft-repeated Pinoy movie trope, one I call the “douche grifter with a heart of gold”.[1] His profession (is thief for hire even a profession?) established early on, he seemed entirely unfazed when an old dude introduces himself as “the one you stole the X from”. Perhaps his nonchalance can be explained by the police tape surrounding his house.

Then there’s Cherry Pie’s character. We only get shown that she’s ganid to the very core. There is no motivation, no real sense of realness. Her character simply is – since the first movie, in fact, and up until the point of her death – greed on legs. Cherry Pie, for all her acting range, could only do so much with a cartoon. I suppose her character was meant for comedy, and sure, her death and yaya’s death surely counts as comedy, but it feels a bit flat.

Actually, Cherry Pie’s character, who we saw for about 3 minutes in the first movie, conveyed much more in those 3 minutes than she did with the prolonged screen time.

From my TV viewing, the movie felt like two separate movies mushed together in a fit of creative contortioning. The first act, the Lester-centric arc, was actually pretty interesting.

The bagua presents a pretty complicated moral conundrum. What are you willing to sacrifice for swerte? In both movies, swerte is simply shown as material wealth, and we see fist-fulls of it. We also see remuneration and succeeding horror – bodies in exchange for each and every windfall.

Coco Martin as Lester in Feng Shui 2
Coco Martin as Lester in Feng Shui 2 – image via

Morally ambiguous Lester is the kind of guy who needs all the luck he can get. Somebody accidentally leaves behind her phone and he picks it up. He runs after her, but less than two seconds later steals from the ATM he found with the phone (with a PIN supplied by a lucky guess, perhaps?), and then turns around and gives the phone to his friends. He also informs them that the phone’s owner is offering a hefty reward for the item’s return. Things turn out as disastrously as one would expect.

So what happens when a guy who lives in the slums gets his hands on the (un)luckiest bagua ever? It doesn’t take long for Lester to lose all of his family and friends. We see a glimpse of his moral dilemma near the end of the movie, but it’s unfortunately stunted by the movie’s own plot.

Then there’s the Joy-centric arc. We find her well (and alive), having left behind the horror of her past but not forgetting it. With a new man-candy (Ian Veneracion) and a new career in real estate, things are going pretty well until Lotus Feet finds her again.

Kris Aquino is pretty effective in playing a scared widow, scared of the things that go bump in the night. After all, Joy has seen what those things can do and came out on the other side of the horror alive, but deeply scarred nonetheless.

What we don’t see, however, is the grieving mother and wife. She doesn’t so much as shed a tear when she hears her children’s voices on the other side of her cellphone. She dismisses the idea of owning a firearm and explains why, but doesn’t really show the kind of trauma you get from seeing your philandering husband get shot in the face.

Kris Aquino as Joy in Feng Shui 2
Kris Aquino as Joy in Feng Shui 2 – image via

I suppose the makers felt the second half was necessary to end where it all began, but their attempts to up the ante reduced the horror. The deaths are creative, but since so little is put into character development, we care very little about how things turn out for the characters. Except maybe to see how they die and take guesses at their Chinese zodiacs – but even that is minimized, as the camera lingers on certain objects to tell you just how clever the deaths are. They should have set up a contest where you could text in your guess in Maalaala Mo Kaya fashion.

The movie’s second act tried to convey a fast pace, a delirious race to save themselves from the curse. In Feng Shui 2, this simply meant “double the body bags, double the revenge ghosts, double the fun”.[2]

It was somehow fun to watch on a stormy Sunday evening, this was on TV after all. I read later on Wikipedia that Kris originally had very few scenes, leading me to believe that it may have been a grittier, more interesting film prior to executive meddling. Quoth:

With the first cut of the film, Joy’s character (Kris Aquino) was not present for most of the time in the story. Because of this, the producers asked them to do re-shoots to give her additional screen time.[3]

Personally, I would’ve liked to see that first cut instead.

Beauty Gonzalez in Feng Shui 2
Beauty Gonzalez in Feng Shui 2

A lot of things seems to have been cut from the final product, including the Helen story line. What’s up with that? Who is Patty? Is Helen gay and she opted to date Patty instead of Lester? Judging from movie posters, Beauty Gonzales was slated to have a bigger role. Instead we got a quick voice acting stint and about 2 scenes. The sequel hook in the credits, though interesting, seemed disjointed.

We never get an explanation as to why Robert disappeared for 5 years and came back as a successful something. Why didn’t he at least write? As soon as Ruby drops (into rebar, no less) dead, why was he in such a hurry to wash his hands of Lester, his son?

We’ll never know.

1. The type who has a soft spot for his mom, the type you half expect to come home with a brown paper bag of pancit, whose house gets shot at by goons, and the type who cradles his half-dead mother while screaming, “NAAAAAAAAAY!”
2. At this point, it’s pretty clear that randomness is one of Lotus Feet’s MOs. Carmi Martin’s death-by-Racumin seemed more like a compulsion to die than anything else. Mr. Liao’s death-by-random-stabber-passerby and Douglas’ death-by-psychotic-lynch-mob seemed unneccessary, but provided a convenient excuse to run to the temple. They didn’t even see Lotus Feet (or I didn’t notice) prior to dying – i.e. getting bonked on the head with a fire extinguisher and strangulation via goat’s leash.
3. via Wikipedia.

Reanimating the Dead

Dr. Frankenstein used some highly questionable science and a bolt of lightning to reanimate what ultimately was a creature made out of dead body bits. This month was pretty much the same for me, except with less science and more dead bits.

This site, for one thing. My bolt of lightning wasn’t quite as flashy (heh), it came in the form of an email from my domain registrar reminding me of impending expiration. I thought it out, did I want to renew? I realized that my posts for 2015 tallied to a grand total of zero.

Several questions came to the fore: Why am I still on Blogger again? Why haven’t I ported this to WP?

Website tech stuff is like riding a bike… over molten lava. Pushed domain to my main registrar (which is simple, but still took me a week to find what I’ve been doing wrong), changed nameservers, and added domain on cPanel. I could write a how-to, but then, there already are many good ones out there.

The thing I did discover is that cPanel doesn’t have Fantastico anymore. It has been replaced with an awesomely named Installatron, which does as it says in the tin: it installs stuff.

So here we are, in its new WP CMS, saved from undeath. Or so I think.

Another project that I have been putting off is Car-car, my 1972 Volkswagen Beetle.

1972 Volkswagen Beetle
Yes, this.

Yes, that.

I’ve had it repainted and it is now a little brighter orange (that in itself is another post for another non-highblood day). A new battery, some gas, new valve covers and gaskets, and some brake fluid later, it’s alive. Again.

We convoyed it and I kept staring at it through the side mirrors, thinking, “God, it’s still alive.”

Forty-three years old, victimized by my own bad decisions, and it’s still alive.

That's a good boy.
That’s a good boy.

To make up for a couple of years of neglect, I had a new wiring harness put in, along with a old/new fuse box, an ignition coil, an air filter, relays, switches, and fuses, among other things.

Cue the good doctor:

On Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Lorna

I went to the Lorna screening at Fairview Terraces1, fully intending to write a review about it. About halfway through though, I realized I can’t. It hit too close to home.

Lorna is a sincere story about a 60-year old woman looking for love. Thwarted, it seems, at every turn, she tells her son, “Okay lang. Okay lang.”

Heartbreaks are bullet wounds, because yeah, same thing.

The cat scene made me cry, unabashedly I must admit, because that speech about not looking left and right before crossing the street, “ang tanga tanga mo… parang ako,” is a metaphor of which my mother would have approved.

Even the casual outing, the offhand “Soulitarian” mirrors what I did to my mother one morning over coffee and cigarettes.

We, my Nanay and I, have this half-joke in which she asks me, “So when are you going to write my story?”

My recent answer to this was “It’s ongoing. I already have a working title, Bad Taste.”

The next time, I’m afraid I’ll have to say, “Sorry Nay, nasulat na ni Sigrid Andrea Bernardo.”

Pero, rock and roll lang, Nay.

1. How we got to said mall was another adventure altogether.

First Impressions: Xiaomi Mi3

So, I got the Xiaomi Mi3 yesterday and now that I’ve had some time to play around with it, it’s time for some first impressions.

First off, the packaging. The Mi3 came in a plastic sealed box, which frankly was a surprise – I’m used to getting my electronic devices opened by the store staff. Out of the thin plastic, the box is crisp and has sharp edges. It has a nice feel to it and the fit is so snug I had to admire the workmanship (OF A CARDBOARD BOX).

Admittedly, I was surprised with the Mi3’s size. My previous phone was a relatively small Galaxy Y and well, I wasn’t sure what to expect, really. Anyway, it’s sleek and light (again, a surprise for something big) and its rounded off edges make the Mi3 nice to hold.

What’s in the box? The Mi3, a data cable, the super small charger, and the Quick Start guide… plus a small thingamajig. After consulting the guide, I found that it’s used to push the SIM tray out. So yes, the first order of business was to stab my phone.

I fired it up and was promptly blown away by the screen. Just… wow. The MIUI is so smooth –did I mention the Philippine version shipped with Android 4.4.2 KitKat out of the box?

I played around with the themes a little bit, and I have to say that checking out the available themes can be an exercise in option paralysis. Most of them mix Chinese characters with English letters, so the fickle can get those out of the way at least. I like the one specially made for the Philippines, especially the clock with a jeepney logo.

The camera is awesome, with HDR, macro, ISO, and exposure options. It can burst up to a 100 shots, but we’ll get into that once I write a more in depth review.

Test shot

The only problems I’ve encountered so far is with the Messaging app which has crashed a lot. I can’t fault the phone for that though, as it seems that it was the theme launcher that was causing the problem.

Anyway, so far, the Mi3 is awesome. Color me, a reklamadora, impressed.

How I got the Xiaomi Mi 3

7AM. I woke up, which is impressive because I typically work at night and am therefore not awake before noon.

8AM. I was online, checking the Mi Philippines Facebook page and reading the comments. Sizing up the competition, so to speak.

10AM. I’m excited. I’m checking out the Mi website, Lazada, and Facebook for updates. There were reports of an exploit, allowing people to purchase the Mi 3 before the 12noon go time. I decide to stay put – knowing that they would be within their rights to cancel my order if I didn’t follow the rules.

11AM. I’m starting to get hungry – and worse still, my hands are sweating. I start counting down the minutes before 12noon.

12noon. I refresh the Mi Philippines website as instructed, click through to Lazada, and go on to purchase the phone. From my order sheet, I had a phone secured by 12:01.

1:35PM. I’m still waiting for a confirmation email.

1:45-ish. The Xiaomi Mi 3 is sold out. (I kept checking to see just how long it would take.)

3:00PM. I still haven’t received an email or text confirmation from Lazada so I called up their customer service hotline to ask whether or not my order came through. I was told that yes, it did and that Lazada Express was the courier used. I was also told to expect it around Saturday. They were extremely accommodating.

4:30PM. I received a call from (what I’m assuming as) Lazada’s fulfillment center. I was asked if I could receive the delivery today. I asked, “Today?” “Yes ma’am,” said the lady on the line. “Today.” I wondered whether it was a mistake, but she had said that a. it was for the Xiaomi Mi 3 I purchased this very afternoon.

6:30ish. I received the delivery, paid the courier, and was holding the phone – barely 7 hours after I ordered it online. I knew Lazada was probably eager to impress their new partner, but I didn’t expect it to be THAT fast.

I’ve been playing around with it since, and I am very impressed with the Mi 3. I’ll come up with a full review one of these days – in the meantime though, I’ll be somewhere else, playing with the new phone.

The Mid-Range Phone Dilemma

How is the Asus smartphone faring in the Philippine market? Not so well, primarily because, hey, they haven’t quite started yet.

Personally, I’ve been following news about their Zenfone line since it was announced at the last CES. Then the unthinkable happened. Absolutely nothing. At least not until April, when they officially announced/released the phones in China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia — there was however no sign of it in the Philippine market despite being a Southeast Asian country, apart from a little teaser-ish survey about smartphones that has since been removed from their Facebook page. There is considerable interest, as there was a time when every other post on their wall involved the Zenfone. (They instead kept pushing their newly refreshed phablet, the Asus Fonepad 7.)

In May, PH tech sites reported that though there isn’t a set release date yet, we should expect the Zenfone line to debut in these parts in June. It is June, and no news yet.

I want the Zenfone 5. I’ve wanted it since its debut in China, and I’ve been tempted a couple of times to buy one (two, actually) online and have it shipped or to have an overseas-based friend to buy one for me.

But now I’m torn. I’ve been waiting for the Zenfone 5, but Xiaomi, a Chinese consumer electronics company, has just opened their PH website and their own PH Facebook page. While waiting for the Zenfone, I had stumbled upon the Xiaomi Mi3’s positive reviews. It’s often compared to the Zenfone 5 since they’re in the same size division and the same general price range, give or take a few thousand pesos.

The Xiaomi line (from Xiaomi’s Facebook page)

Compared to the Zenfone, the Mi3 has a higher screen 1080p resolution, a faster 2.3 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, more RAM, and a bigger 3050 mAh li-ion battery. Reviews say that the OS can be updated to Android 4.4 KitKat. The higher specced Zenfone 5 (A500CG), the one with a 2.0 GHz Intel Atom Z2580 CPU and 2 GB of RAM, is more comparable but it probably won’t land here any time soon, considering Asus’ seeming disinterest on this part of the Pacific.

Anyway, I’d forgive the Mi3’s lack of an SD card slot if they price it reasonably (it’s actually a flagship phone, but the lower spectrum model is arguably mid-range). According to Xiaomi, they’re going to release their products here one by one. So again, the question goes back to, “When?” I’ve been holding out getting a new (mid-range) phone since the start of this year.

No one seems to want my money.