Friday, April 18, 2014

Two Cents on Taxi Drivers

Good Friday, late afternoon.

While watching Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver," a friend of mine commented about how life of a cab driver must have been a very arduous one.  

She is right.

I could say it based on the statements from the taxi drivers that I have talked to. Notwithstanding Travis Bickle's (Robert De Niro's character) mental condition to which, I'd assume, was caused by war exhaustion, the 

life of a taxi driver can be tiresome and lonely. Driving around the metropolitan jungle for hours while looking for passengers is not something a college graduate with a patience level of an irate customer would like to have as a job. Long hours would have to be rendered, and daily quotas would have to bet met. Failing to do so would make them have to pay the remaining balance themselves (I forgot how the exact process goes, but you get the idea). 

This is even more grueling in holidays or Saturday evenings, where most people have their days off. Not to mention that they also have to worry about experiencing misfortune at the hands of customers and unwanted elements of society.

One of those things I enjoy doing is taking the cab on late nights where trains and jeepneys would stop operating for the day. Riding a taxi made me realize that commuting in the big city can be a less strenous, if not an enjoyable activity (of course, this also considers the hefty fares). Compared to taking the MRT or the jeepney, I've always felt safe when riding a taxi. If I had lots of dough, I sure as hell would prefer to ride a cab for my "journeys."

Looking back, there were moments where I travel with my father (the most memorable one, was during the stressful enrollment process in my first year in college), and most of them involved taking a taxi. One thing I have always noticed is that he has this habit of talking to cab drivers. In almost all cases, he manages to strike a good conversation with the driver - with topics ranging from mundane affairs (the traffic, weather, those times where Manny Pacquiao is beating the crap out of his opponents, etc) to things of significant importance (politics, economics, education, etc.). 

My father once told me that besides the inherent pleasure obtained from socializing, talking to cab drivers also helps you feel safe and secure. 

For one thing, he said, talking to them instills that sort of trust between you and the driver. He explained that in this way, you condition yourself into thinking that nothing will go wrong. This is considering all the stories we hear from the news about customers getting robbed by cabbies, or raped if their unfortunate victimes happen to be women.

With that said, cab drivers are a very interesting lot. You will be surprised to learn about the things you learn from talking to them, just as you would to a barber.

During one of my "cab episodes," the cab driver shared his experience where he was duped by a customer by paying him counterfeit paper bills. He recounted that the bills looked genuine. It was only found out that they were fake after he handed the earnings to the station. 

Another cabbie shared on how he was tricked by a customer in taking him to places and, at one opportunity, never came back to pay him the fare. To add insult to injury, his cellphone was stolen. He said (with a laugh) that he never told the people at the station about the encounter as it was "too embarrasing" to even be brought up.

Other than sharing their unfortunate experiences, they also have their two cents about the economy and politics. Sometimes, sentiments are aired regarding the government's competence (or lack thereof) in managing the country, with the common denominator being the congestions of roads and the overcrowdiness in trains. 

Another topic of interest would be of home. There are a few instances where I get to talk to a cab driver of Visayan descent ("Bisaya diay ka?"). The conversation would then go on to whether I (or the cab driver) have relatives back at home and if we go home to our respective homes now and then. 

In a serious note, there are also drivers who would tell me how fortunate I am that I was able to finish my education and find work. The stories would vary, but they would revolve around the same theme - their frustrations on not being able to finish college, or them not being able to afford sending their children to school. I would try to be as humble as I can be, and all I could come up with is to either tell them that I was just lucky, or try to change the topic. These are the kinds of conversations in which there never really is a "right" answer. 

There really is something about enjoying a good conversation with cabbies. Sometimes, you just forget about being stuck in traffic, or being stressed out of work, or being stressed about life in general. This made me realize that even for someone who prefers people to mind their own business, there still is value to be obtained in a social exchange. To reiterate, there is a lot you can learn just by talking to them.

What was the price I paid from getting to my desired destination? - A fraction of my salary.

The value I got in return from those conversations? - Priceless.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Philippines as the Next Asian Tiger: My Economic Musings

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine invited me to an economic briefing on the Philippines with economist Bernardo Villegas as speaker. Having attended the same seminar a year earlier, it was not much of a surprise hearing of what Mr. Villegas had to say about the country's economic climate. In the years ahead, the Philippines, he said, is going to be Asia's next tiger economy.

For people who are so accustomed to hearing about the country's mishaps, the idea that the Philippines is somehow going to be the next big thing may sound absurd. The poverty incidence has not dipped with the recent episodes of robust growth ("jobless growth"). Add to that the political issues and the Filipinos' "historical amnesia" (as one of my professors would put it), the idea seems far-fetched.

Unlike most economists, Mr. Villegas subscribes to the "population optimism" camp. To him, the Philippines is at its "sweet spot" right now. The favorable macroeconomic conditions, paired with a young population, should enable the country to emerge as one of the strongest economies in the years ahead.

"You are fortunate. You are born at the right time," Mr. Villegas said.

The economist also pointed out that unlike the miracle stories of the tiger economies, the Philippines have enough population to ensure a strong consumer base. What this means, is that the country would not have to depend too much on export-oriented strategies that countries like South Korea, Japan, and Singapore had employed in the post-war years.

I can't help but think if I am, indeed born at the right time. The thing with economics is that, like statistics, everybody can use a metric and come up with different interpretations. Having an average of around 6-8% economic growth may be commendable, but with rising unemployment, underemployment, and the poverty incidence remaining unchanged, I am not so sure of the rosy picture that is being painted.

Another thing to ponder is the unequal development among regions. When I was in high school, I've always heard of the phrase "Imperial Manila." It refers to the development bias towards Metro Manila and its adjacent regions. As of yet, the national capital region (NCR) along with the surrounding regions comprise of around two-thirds of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). It is not much of a surprise considering much of the investments come in this region through rising condominiums, highways, and malls, among others.

And then, you have the environment.

In an article that I wrote in BusinessWorld, the Philippines ranked at the bottom half of the rankings when it comes to environmental performance. Granted that it scored high on mitigating child mortality (as also indicated in the tracking of its Millennium Development Goals or MDGs), much is left to be desired when it comes to other indicators such as preserving forest covers, preserving fishing sites, and limiting air pollution.

There are, however, bright spots as far as economics is concerned.

The country is said to be making progress with providing access to drinking water and sanitation, as indicated in both the international index and the MDGs. The country's financial institutions also seems to be stable, with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) being recognized as one of the world's better performing central banks.

Also, the manufacturing sector also looks to be rebounding after years of neglect. Last year, the sector has grown considerably that there might be a "renaissance" to the lagging sector. An increase in manufacturing is said to have a huge multiplier effect, especially when considering that it can employ more workers as compared to the services sector where job requirements are more restricted to those who have a decent educational background (and a good english accent).

I can see why Mr. Villegas is optimistic to the path that the country is in. The economic fundamentals of today are way better than compared to the last few decades of economic and political turmoil. I was having a conversation with one of the audiences in the seminar and told me that indeed, the current generation are lucky. If it would only takes us months, at worst, to go find work - for them, it would take years. Not to mention the technological advances that make finding jobs easier.

So, am I really born at the right time? Time can only tell.

Journal entry #2: Change of routine

Developing a routine, they say, is necessary for success.

And yet, I remember one of my readings in my art studies class way back. I don't recall the essay word for word, but it revolved the subject of being "disinterested" due to being accustomed to a routine. It concluded that a bit of tweaking should be done in order to keep one's sanity.

And so, changing the routine I did.

I decided to contact a distant friend of mine who cross-enrolled to UP Diliman for the summer. I thought anything outside of checking my email, browsing through my news feed, and doing a bit of cleaning would break my mundane weekend routine.

Unlike most meet ups, there was no planning involved. It was an impromptu, out of the blue, proposal to meet up with someone. As I've said, just walking around the campus beats the hell out of staying in my bunk all day.

My friend requested that she tag along her "freshie" (neophytes) friends with us since they also wanted to take a look around Diliman. I don't mind, I said. The more, the merrier.

I arrived at around 11 in the morning and met them along the waiting shed near one of the university's dormitories. The first order of business was to fill our starving bellies (I haven't had breakfast). We decided to go to Area 2, a place known for its various food stalls.

I remember during my sophomore year that Area 2 was a ghost town at night. The area only has two restaurants and a siomai stand. Now, just about every house has a food stall outside. I'm glad that the food choice is a bit varied now. By the time I was about to graduate, almost every stall sold siomai and dumplings, indistinct from one another. There was a time I'd almost vomit seeing a siomai. In econspeak, the "marginal utility" to be gained at consuming one is at the negative.

But as with a thriving "business zone," mendicants also flock around to complete the economic package.

First, it was a boy who requested to hand over our empty bottles. Second, came a woman who approached us for a "donation." She made some hand signals, indicating that she was mute (with added high-pitched gibberish).

A friend of mine offered to give her food but she refused, insisting that we give money. She handed us a paper with the usual solicitation request on it. The one written at the end of the note caught our attention:

".......minimum of P20..."

One of my friends was generous enough to grant her request. As for me, I only had 19 pesos in my pocket. I did not know that they have a threshold for "giving donations" now.

After having a laugh at that episode, we decided to go to the "sunken garden." Needless to say, the freshies ended up disappointed after seeing that it was neither a garden nor it was sunken (it was, in a way... but you get the point).

By that time, it was already 3 pm. We were bored and the two of us decided to go have a drink. Yes... a drink... in the afternoon. Unsurprisingly, the freshies told us that they don't drink alcohol. I'm willing to bet that in time, they will have to indulge in a vice. I just hope it isn't cigarettes and meth.

After a few more hours of playing cards and "sharing cultures," we decided to call it a day. The neophytes bid us farewell and returned to their respective dormitories. As for the two of us, we decided to have another round of alcohol and exchanged a bit of our life stories (only that I did more of the "listening" part). We bought a pair of beer at a convenience store, but was later informed that we can't drink within the premises. I didn't know that there was a city ordinance prohibiting people to drink in public.

Before parting ways, she gave me one of her books, knowing that I am a sucker for history. I promised her that I will give her one of my books in return. I have brought with me a pile after spending around P2,000 for around 10-15 books in a book sale.

They were right, a change of routine can do wonders.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Journal entry #1: Being Financially Independent

It has been around eight months since I stepped off the university, and a lot of things have changed. First off, I am finally in that phase of an almost fully financial independence. I no longer depend on the allowance that my family gives me monthly. Instead, I am now paying my own bills, my own groceries, and my own leisurely pursuits. The payslips that I received every 15th, however, still feels like my monthly allowance – by the time my basic expenses are taken into account, I barely have anything left to save.

Savings are at a minimum. I recently attempted to estimate my budget, and it turns out that I have a few hundred enough to spend on little leisure such as beverages, that food (henceforth, known as manufactured matter) I could take pictures on and upload it on social media sites, or a few hours at the brothel (to those who don’t know me that much, I wrote in jest). Point is, even if I am not a par with the saving levels of the Ayalas or the Sys (yet) – I am slightly better off compared to when I am consuming manufacturing matter a few months back in college.

I spend a lot on manufactured matter mainly as a way to keep my utility levels up. I am indulging myself into the manufactured matter these establishments are selling to people who have enough willingness to pay and consume.  I get so stressed at work that not only is it undertaken to appease my bodily needs, the act of eating itself has become a utility-increasing activity. Thank goodness I am not a woman, these kinds of things might be considered a guilty pleasure – you know, with their faulty perceptions of “fat” and all.  

Another part of my budget goes to my internet fees. Even years of being miles away from home, I still prefer to hole myself up in my bunk – reading articles, listening to music, and playing low-spec video games. Or, if I am really into it, watch the hundreds of movies stored in my external HD or read those books that I bought on the previous two book sales. Besides, there are hardly any people I could drag along with me in my adventures. They are always “busy” – I have to study for my exam, I’m hanging out with my friends this evening. What about Sunday? “Dude, it’s Sunday. It’s family time.”

Even with the so-called “income effect” coming in after getting that pay check, I feel slightly better off as compared to being paid to ace those exams and getting a figurative high-five (in my alma mater’s grading system, a high-“one”) from those term papers. And, as they say concerning the job market nowadays, I am fortunate to have a job. I would have been a burden to my parents if I pursued my studies even further. For now, learning in the field and contributing (however measly) to the economy will have to do. That MS degree will have to wait.

After all, nothing beats the idea of financial independence itself. You are no longer living under the rules of the former regime. And certainly, how you spend your time (and money) is certainly up to you. The money you earn for your trade, however perceived as little, is still better compared to when you are depending on your parents to keep you from starving to death. It has been eight months, and it’s almost time for the next batch to be integrated to the globalized economy. As my thesis adviser kept reminding us while writing our theses, tempus fugit. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Devil within Ourselves: A Lord of the Flies Novel Analysis

This post is from one of my papers during my heydays in college (from my Comm 1 class). Might as well post this since it'd be a waste not to be "publicly read" (the hard copy is already there somewhere acting as organic fertilizer - doing its service to nature, nevertheless). 


Leo Jaymar G. Uy

Comm 1
October 7, 2009

“Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.” (Golding 69)

“The Devil within Ourselves: A Lord of the Flies Analysis”

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is not your average adventure novel. It speaks of a bunch of school boys stranded on a deserted island, living free from the bonds of adult supervision. Digging through the novel’s interior, it delivers a horrifying truth about man’s (or humankind for the gender-sensitive sorts) capacity for savagery. The above quote is one of the most significant lines in the novel. It sends a statement to the readers about the boys showing signs of sending themselves into a state of savagery on the isolated milieu. This pretty much shows the declining state of civilization among the boys and the disregard of the rules set by the society they had once dwelt. The quoted line is more than a chant by Jack and the hunters. It magnifies the dark side of human personality.

The plot begins with a plane get shot down and crashing on an island. All of the adults in the plane were killed, leaving only a bunch of young boys as survivors. The story then shifts to the Ralph and Piggy who, after finding a conch, decided to “call an assembly”. The scattered boys eventually met to the rally point and decided to talk things through. The boys eventually found a common ground and agreed to establish their own “democratic” government – an obvious influence and product of the grown-ups back in the “civilized” society, and elected Ralph as chief. Things went well for the boys in the beginning, but as the story progresses, even the English, who are “best at everything” shows vulnerability especially when faced with great odds. 

Cracks in the foundations of civility begin to appear through the emergence of the “beast,” Jack’s rebellious stand against the organized government, and the absence of grown-ups in the island. The echoing cry of the hunters and Jack’s manner of killing the pig added mortar to the brick wall on what Golding is trying to convey to the readers of man’s (again, humankind) capacity to commit such atrocious behavior. Jack is the epitome of an individual succumbing back to primitivism. Having grasped his lust for blood and power, he then brags to Ralph about his feat:

Jack, his face smeared with clays, reached the top first and hailed Ralph excitedly, with lifted spear.
“Look! We’ve killed a pig—we stole up on them—we got in a circle—”
Voices broke in from the hunters.
“We got in a circle—”
“We crept up—”
“The pig squealed—” (Golding, 69)

Furthermore, Jack even takes pride on killing the sow during their hunt. He went on bragging to Ralph:

“I cut the pig’s throat,” said Jack, proudly, and yet twitched as he said it….
The boys chattered and danced. The twins continued to grin.
“There was lashings of blood,” said Jack, laughing and shuddering,
“You should have seen it!” (Golding 69)

Jack’s obsessions in hunting mark the start of the rifts between him and Ralph. From this set-up emerge schisms between the two head figures of the tribe and clashes between opposing concepts and ideals – signal fire against hunting, good against bad, and civilization against savagery.

The most obvious sign of the schism between Ralph and Jack can be found in Chapter Five. Ralph called an emergency assembly to address their shortcomings as a tribe. Ralph addressed the growing fear of a beast:

“Then the last thing. This is what people can talk about.”
He waited till the platform was very still.
“Things are breaking up. I don’t understand why. We began well; we were happy. And then—”
He moved the conch gently, looking beyond them at nothing, remembering the beastie, the snake, the fire, the talk of fear.
“Then people started getting frightened.” (Golding 82)

The young boys’ innocence causes this unknown element to become a threat and therefore, causes havoc among the ranks. Ralph tries to explain that all of the thoughts of fear aren’t real and only “littluns’ talk.” Even with the rational justifications, the fear wasn’t at any rate eradicated especially among the littluns. The bigguns (older boys), on the other hand, see this as a hoax. Jack would then go in outburst and disparages the littluns in starting the fear talk among the group. Piggy would also reject the fear talk for “Life…is scientific” and thus, debunks the possibility that such monster exists. Simon however has a different opinion, expressing that “maybe… it’s only us” - meaning, that the beast is not in any form an external element but rather, an internal one - that the ones they feared are themselves. This of course was met with laughter and ridicule among the others. In fact, this is one of the novel’s themes - the existence of innate evil within ourselves. Simon was open-minded and did not limit himself to his senses and the rationality of the sciences. He was however, unable to find any logical explanation of his opinion and instead of clarifying things, spun greater confusion that maybe “it is some sort of ghosts” (page 89). Jack on the other hand, rejected the beast’s existence. Sensing this as an opportunity to show off to the boys his leadership capability is greater than Ralph’s, Jack declared:

“Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong—we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll
hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat—!”
He gave a wild whoop and leapt down to the pale sand. At once
the platform was full of noise and excitement, scramblings, screams and
laughter. The assembly shredded away and became a discursive and random
scatter from the palms to the water and away along the beach, beyond
night-sight. (Golding 91)

It is important to take note that without the grown-ups to guide them and society to reinforce moral ethics and public order, it would seem inevitable for the order established by the stranded boys to eventually collapse no matter how Ralph and Piggy, the supposedly defenders of human civility, would try to contain the inner demons within the rest of the boys, and within themselves. Due to these contributing factors, savagery is starting to gain an upper hand over civility and reason. Chapter Five of the novel shows the “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone” scenario wherein Ralph, Piggy, and Simon realized the roles of the grown-ups in keeping peace within the society:

“Grown-ups know things,” said Piggy. “They ain’t afraid of the dark.
They’d meet and have tea and discuss. Then things ’ud be all right—”
“They wouldn’t set fire to the island. Or lose—”
“They’d build a ship—”
The three boys stood in the darkness, striving unsuccessfully to convey
the majesty of adult life.
“They wouldn’t quarrel—”
“Or break my specs—”
“Or talk about a beast—”

With every rise of the boys’ primitive acts, the power of the conch, the symbol of Democracy slowly declines. The remark made by Jack would somehow stir the minds of the boys into believing that Jack is the savior of them all – the protector of the tribe and an enemy of the beast, the one that could lead them to solve their problems and break their fears. The bolstering numbers of Jack’s supporters was an “in your face” statement to Ralph. It can be said that Jack was able to manipulate the children’s minds, just like how religion and mindless propaganda can brainwash people and uses the “fear of the unknown” in order to control and gain power. Their fear was only in their own heads, fear that is universally believed because they can’t find any “logical” explanation, thus they were forced to believe that their fears are real. In other words, they were the creators of their own fear, no one else.

Freudian psychology tells us that the human mind is divided into three entities – the id, the ego, and the superego. According to Freud, “the id works in keeping with the pleasure principle, which can be understood as a demand to take care of needs immediately (qtd. in Boeree).” Applying it on the novel, this would mean that the prevalence of savagery is also the prevalence of the id over the ego and the superego in the human psyche. With the id containing the human’s basic drives, this could be interpreted that Jack represented the id on the novel, just as he represented the idea of just having fun on the island while disregarding the priority of making a signal fire. For a normal person, the ego must balance the needs of the id (the need for pleasure) and the superego (the need to seek perfection and moral ethics). However, this was not the case in the novel. Ralph (ego) was unable to balance the desires of Jack (id) and the Piggy (superego). Rather, it is shown on how Jack was able to dominate the minds of the boys and at the same time, overthrow Ralph’s authority. The id has taken control of the mind and thus, created treacherous consequences.

Since the novel was published in 1954, it would be no surprise if the novel is somewhat associated with the Second World War, the most devastating war in history to date. The novel was written only nine years after the war had ended, so Golding most likely still has his memories of the war intact. It would also be no surprise if Golding, having served in the military, wrote of his experiences about the war. This literary piece of work is a reflection of everything that he witnessed during the war – a war that is waged among “civilized” nations and cost millions of property destroyed and lives lost. The war would impact Golding’s perspective on man’s nature. In this war would he “lose his innocence.” The ending of the novel tells us of the boys’ pursuit of the routing Ralph, who is fleeing for his life after witnessing the death of his “wise friend” Piggy. This signifies the death of reason within the boys. In what would most likely to be Ralph’s end with his head put on a stick that is “sharpened on both ends” (Golding 190), a naval officer appears from out of nowhere in the novel (deus ex machina). In the closing pages, the novel shows a naval officer who scolds the kids for their display of primitive behavior:

“I should have thought,” said the officer as he visualized the search
before him, “I should have thought that a pack of British boys—you’re all
British, aren’t you?—would have been able to put up a better show than
that—I mean—”

It seems quite ironic that even the grown ups in the civilized world are at war amongst themselves. The war in the island is a microcosm of the war that is happening in the outside world. If the conflict in the island concerns the beast and the struggle for leadership, the war of the adults concerns the difference of idealisms, presumably the Capitalism-Communism rupture. The war outside is fought with guns, tanks, and bombs - even worse than slitting a pig’s throat, or clawing Simon to death by a bunch of savages, or even throwing a red boulder at Piggy. Are the grown-ups any better than the boys? Does killing each other with nuclear bombs any better than killing each other with sticks and stones? Does making rules for war justify the killing of another individual? Even how much man claims himself to be civilized, he can never escape the harsh reality that everyone of us has this “Lord of the Flies” – an inner demon, within ourselves, waiting for the opportunity to unleash its fury to others, and mostly, to ourselves.


Boeree, C. George. Personality Theories. 23 Sept. 2006. 03 Oct. 2009. Web.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Perigree, 1954.