To Life, to Art – Badong Bernal

I never worked with Sir Bernal, but it was hard not to know of him.

He designed the set for “Comfort Women” made out of bamboos. The lead actress would be bruised every time they had to go through her rape scene. Director Missy Maramara asked if there was any way to keep her from bruising. Bernal’s retort, “Let her adjust to the set.”

He never hobbled with a cane. He strutted, with confident strides down Gonzaga Hall. Rumor has it, he was sighted without his cane once. Why? “Style.” He said simply.

It was also for that reason he put huge lights in the wings during a ballet performance. Never mind that dancers exited and entered from there and had to watch their step. It was an inconvenience yes, but there was no better way to put light on the full form of the body. You could see it even if you were seated in the last seat of the last row of CCP Main Theater.

For Bawat-Tao (Everyman), he saw a see-saw to describe the delicate balance of life sought by Everyman. Say what you will about Metropolitan Theater Guild’s Midsummer Night’s Dream but most of its magic, I feel, would not be possible without Badong.

He was old-school: he screamed at people till they got it right. He even threw his cane at students. They say, the more he screamed at someone, the more promise that someone actually had. Sure enough, a blockmate that got the brunt of his temper sought him to be her thesis adviser. She did well.

Some other things told to classmates:

“Never allow yourself to be mediocre!”

“To create, you must learn to destroy.”

Difficult lessons that even I take pains to learn, over and over again.

I cried when I found out he had passed. I couldn’t understand why. “Because he is an institution. He’s one of those that made it possible to actually work in theater.” says a good friend, Mahar.

Sure enough, in his passing, there’s a change in the air. There is loss, yet, but then there’s the sense of so much more to come. After all, it’s a vibrant year for local theater.

Besides, another friend quipped, “The good Lord needed someone to manage all the Souls in Soul Parade day. Who else but.”

I can imagine him dressing up the people we love in those rich, Asian-inspired robes.

Love and light, Badong Bernal. R.I.P.


The king is dead, long live the king

I don’t believe you’re dead, Steve Jobs.

I believe that you’re somewhere out there hanging out with Michael Jackson. I imagine that you’re both stuck in limbo similar to Judgement City but for visionary VIPs. One of you, maybe even both of you will be sighted in the oddest places; in diners, soup, truck stops, or simply backstage.

Go in peace, Steve Jobs.

Flower Memory: R.I.P. Sugawara-san

The first time I ate at Hana was after a very bad fight with my boyfriend at the time. Upon Khursten‘s invite, I commiserated with friends over takoyaki and cold house tea. I came home smelling, as Mom described, “Like a Japanese grill.” I replied, “But that’s how you know it’s real.”

When then-boyfriend and I made up, we continued to frequent Hana. More takoyaki and shaved ice desserts were had. Even after our break-up, Hana and Little Tokyo became a watering hole and comfort zone. Friendships were enforced and forged over umeshuu, sake, yakitori… it was the best of Japanese cuisine without having to leave the country.

The more I visited Hana, the more I got to know the Sugawara’s, especially Yue. Yue and I shared a fondness for cute toys, anime, Japanese movies, and music. Through Yue I also got to know her sister, Mom, and especially her Dad, Mr. Sugawara.

Mr. Sugawara, in particular, we joked to be “Mayor” of Little Tokyo. He got along with the shop owners, and helped keep the peace among them. I know that no trip to Hana was complete without seeing him seated at the bar, smoking and talking loudly with his friends and colleagues.

I remember the first time I met him, when Yue, Angel, and I had dinner to celebrate my purchase of a tokidoki vinyl toy. He gave us a few coupons for ice cream at Chotto Stop. “He won the coupons at a karaoke contest that he also organized,” Yue shared, “His friends thought it was strange that he organized and won it.”

I love good food, but I had a notoriously small appetite. Yue would joke, “You can never be a Sugawara!” Khursten, who spent New Year’s Eve with them, and sought to pick up a few recipes from Mrs. Sugawara in the process, fondly called them her “yakuza”. For a time, I took her literally.

It was with Mr. Sugawara’s blessing that we were able to follow the World Cup in the wee hours of the day at Hana. We joined the Japanese community of Little Tokyo in cheering their team on, and their sadness in defeat. Hana also kept their doors open for the World Cup final, which ended with our entire table singing “Ole Ole” when Spain took home the cup.

Over Holy Week, Yue and I went out on Good Friday for a tour of Intramuros and Binondo. We were stuffed with dimsum and streetfood from the tour, but Mrs. Sugawara wanted us to taste-test some new menu when we got back. It is probably the best Japanese meal I’ve had in Manila, come to think of it.

I didn’t see Mr. Sugawara then. I remember Yue mention in passing that he was sick – he loved his smoke, and he loved his drink, a bit too much.

I met up with an old college friend last Friday at Hana. It was the first time since Holy Week that I’ve visited, Mrs. Sugawara didn’t even recognize me with my short hair. We caught up a little bit in between the bustle of the dinner rush, but she made no mention of Mr. Sugawara.

I just found out a few hours ago that he had passed on.

A number of  anime series emphasize that good food is made by good hearts, or something along those lines. The warmth and generosity of the Sugawara’s have always come out in their cooking, especially in Hana.

If you’re a Japanese foodie, I urge you to drop by Hana at Little Tokyo, Makati. It’s the restaurant with a takoyaki and barbeque grill in front. Great meals are served at reasonable rates starting at around P200 for a dish. More than just treating yourself to comfort food, you’ll also be helping a lovely family at this trying time.

You will be missed Sugawara-san. Thank you for everything.

Of Grief and Other Things

It has been four months and counting since Mom passed on.

The only thing that keeps me alive sometimes is the idea that it could be worse.

People ask me if I miss Mom. I’ll be honest: no. When I wonder if I should begin to miss her, instead I become resentful of the things that she didn’t prepare us for, of the wasted assets that could have gone to so much more.

I become more tetchy towards unsolicited advice; People tell me to miss her (see above), or People say that I shouldn’t regret the things I haven’t told her. What if I feel, honest-to-goodness, that I told her everything I felt? Both good and bad? Would I be accused of being in denial?

People tell me to relax. I don’t know how. Close family friends sympathize with this, and have always told me that what I’m dealing with now is not usual for the someone in her mid-twenties. Well, story of my life, I’ve always had to grow up faster.

But aren’t Mica and I strong? Mixed bag there. We get by on the things we HAVE to do. I guess that’s our strength when all else fails.

I have grieved–or would it be more accurate to admit that I am grieving? Not for the person per se, but for the new normal we have to define. For the extra work involved that we would rather, as “normal kids” do, declare to do on their own.

Depression runs strong in my family, and it comes out in the most mundane things. Mom worked her butt off. Mica stays up for days at a time. Just when I think I’m fine I get hit with hyper acidity and I find difficulty holding my meals in.

This is a profile of Mia in depression. I admit that this entry got triggered by the death of Dobby in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 1. What was first normal cinema tears turned into unstoppable weeping, all over a CG character. Good movie by the way, I’m actually glad I watched it ahead. I don’t think I can bring myself to watch that again for a while though.

I have been functioning, but I have become even more sensitive to things: A little rejection here, a callous remark there. The idea of huge groups make me a panic. I can chatter on and put a smile on my face for hours then suddenly my mood will shift, and I can’t explain why.

I have goldfish moments. I think this is best exemplified by the start of ‘Garden State’, when Zach Braff zones in and out of his work at the Japanese restaurant. It feels like an out of body experience, when everyone slows down and talk, noise, is muffled out. It feels like autopilot, like I could prop my body on a huge-ass stick and be pre-programmed to mingle or something.

Work is good. Work THRIVES when I’m at rock bottom for some reason. What I lack in social skills or in relating, I make up for with productivity.

Why am I writing this? Because while I had same vague idea that all this is totally normal, no one else talks about it. I rarely read of anyone who writes about it being this way, it’s usually a fluffy carrying on of a torch of memories with a flurry of doves or something.

Friends tell me they miss me. I miss ME most of all.

There are the stages of grief. I just never really realized that it is actually a cycle.

I know this too will pass. I wish that time would come in…now.

The Aftermath

I’ve only been 26 for four months, but I feel like I’ve turned 40. That’s what seeing your cancer-ridden Mom does, God rest her soul.

It really was my Mom’s time. It only made sense on the day she passed, when she showed us the last page of the book she read, when her best friend told us the significance of her death date (August 8, a date she obsessed over since my sister was born). It was only then I understood that there are no coincidences. As someone who has wandered in and out of faith, it was only this instance that had me fully realize God’s design.

I understand why Mom had to go, even with her unfinished business. I understand why it happened so fast: a mere six months, starting from non-threatening leukemia that suddenly led to a malignant meioma turned uterine cancer. Even in grief, I could count the steps to her illness in the cups of coffee, the long work hours, and the superhuman adrenaline of single-handedly raising two girls. Mom was stubborn, and she learned all she could in this existence.

People ask me how I am. I never know how to answer that in this stage. I’ve had better years. I know we’ll be ok. But damn, I am scared. I can’t even keep up with my phone bill, what more a household? I don’t even know where to begin.

Stream of Consciousness

J.D. Salinger Dies at 91. R.I.P.

I survived the miseries of high school by being schmartsy. It helped that my dark period in literacy (marked by Sweet Valley Kids, Twins, and Babysitter’s Club) hit me when I was 9. When I entered high school at 14, not wanting to call attention to myself, and finding most of my colleagues petty with their need for boyfriends, attention, what have you’s, I used intellectual snobbery to make up for my insecurities. I started reading “real” books as opposed to the romance novel drivel that my classmates preferred. Jessica Zafra was the main protein of my bitchery, and then there was Holden Caulfield in Catcher of the Rye. I found comfort in his criticism of “phonies”, it served as my prozac because I wasn’t psychologically damaged enough for medication.

Several years and a lit-related degree later, I figured that if ‘Catcher’ were published today, I would have dismissed it as another published blog. Still, it served its purpose, it was the one friend that I felt understood me when nobody else did. I know that other angsty, angry teenagers feel the same way.

Thanks J.D. Salinger, for being one of the few highlights of early high school. While my books and outlook on life have changed, that never will.

What are you thankful for this 2009?

For the most part, I’m thankful for surviving. I made pretty difficult decisions in the past several months, and while I’ve had to suffer socially and financially for these changes, it could have been worse.

I am thankful for very new experiences. This has been a “Yes I can!” year for me – I’ve taken on bigger responsibilities that I would’ve shunned last year.

I am very, very thankful for new friends that made my world a bigger, brighter place.

Now, I hope to get a moleskin planner to say thanks for.