Interview with Gina Apostol (“Insurrecto”) at the Toronto Public Library

The April 15  interview with Gina Apostol, author of “Insurrecto”, went well. Our venue was the Toronto Public Library and I was kindly invited by the library, flown in and put up for the night at the Manulife center.

Pablo Picasso said “Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth”. “Insurrecto” is a brilliant piece of metaphysical fiction that reminded me of how I felt when I read “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Borges and “Slaughterhouse 5” by Vonnegut. In other words, I felt stimulated, bewildered, disturbed, elated and alive, all at the same time. It is a book about powerful ideas which at first seem new, but upon further introspection, are actually deep in our psyche if we only have the curiosity to allow them to come out.

Gina Apostol was gracious, thoughtful, generous and funny – just like her book. She is a Filipino-American writer now living in New York and has previously won the Philippine National Book award twice. “Insurrecto” is about event that take place in Samar in 1901 during the Philippine-American War as well as Manila in the present. It is a worthy read and I’m so glad I read the book and met its creator.

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My Weekend at BangkokEdge 2018 or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Siam

I have been back a couple of weeks now from my great Asian trip and am still chuckling and shaking my head at the memories. Firstly, over Christmas, my husband Daniel and our four children visited my family in the Philippines, after which we traveled around Japan. Then as Daniel and the kids headed back to Canada, I flew to Bangkok for BangkokEdge, a festival of culture, arts and ideas, which I had been invited to sometime last October, in collaboration with the Canadian Embassy of Thailand. It was a happy coincidence that I was already going to be in Asia around that time, so to avoid jet lag, they flew me in from there.

I confess I didn’t know what to expect when I was first asked. How did the Canadian Embassy even hear about me? Then a few days before my flight to Thailand, I received an email with instructions that I was to be picked up by a driver and taken to the Shangri-La, a 5 star hotel on the Chao Phrya River. I started to worry. What if this was a case of mistaken identity?

I arrived in Thailand, which is like the Philippines’ much richer cousin, as evidenced by the less chaotic airport and trafficked roads. Tourists who say if you can drive in Bangkok you can drive anywhere, ain’t never been to Manila, that’s for sure. Manila is like the Wild West next to Bangkok.

I gave my driver a Menthos candy which he seemed to appreciate. Throughout my trip it helped that I had just come from Japan because I was smiling and bowing all over the place and I think Thai people really appreciate politeness in foreigners.

I arrived at the hotel and was attended to and brought to my room, which was on the 19th floor and had a magnificent view of the river. I read my welcoming instructions from both the Canadian Embassy and BangkokEdge, looked out the window while eating some fruit from the complimentary basket and felt a bit like Mr. Incredible when he first boards the fancy plane to take him to Syndrome’s island.

Then I took the train to meet up with Sue, an incredibly nice, hard-working and conscientious person from the Embassy who had been corresponding with me regarding this trip. We were 5 people staying at the Shangri-La and I found out I was the lone Canadian representative (the others were there courtesy of the Portuguese and Malaysian embassies).

Sue told me the Canadian Ambassador was planning to attend my talk and would be at the reception party for guest speakers (dress code: casual chic) the next evening. The reception would be held at Chakrabongse Villas and hosted by Narisa Chakrabongse, the festival director and a great-granddaughter of King Rama V.

Uh. what?

At this point I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about meeting these VIPs and just relax and enjoy myself. My being there all felt so surreal already that whatever happened, I might as well have fun! And I did.

My talk and workshop went quite well. Although I was the only comic book artist at this event, I felt I belonged because it was a festival that highlighted Asian culture and identity. The best part was meeting not just audience members but all the people from the Embassy, the festival organizers, the other guest speakers, and having some great conversations with everyone.

Surreal moments and highlights:

– Playing “Blasphemous Rumours” (or as my brother likes to say, “Devil music”) at full blast during my talk.

– Signing a book for a nice, unassuming gentleman, chatting about our mutual love of Tintin, him telling me he’d love to try doing what I just did but that all he can draw are cars, me telling him I’m sure his cars are a lot better than mine and to just keep at it, and him turning out to be Jaguar’s Head designer of Advanced Design.

– Answering a Thai monk’s translated questions about how my book can relate to Buddhism, and then later thinking he’d taken my phone, which was sitting on the bench, by accident (he didn’t). Much bowing and apologies followed.

– Attending a Thai rock concert given by the band of a much loved musician (Hugo Chakrabongse) who also happened to be the great-great grandson of King Rama V etcetera and so on but forgetting all that while dancing alongside his proud mum.

– Spending 3 days having breakfast, taking the speedboat and just hanging out with Marina, a political activist and speaker and altogether lovely, interesting woman, chatting about our families and life in general, not realizing till I was back on the plane and reading the book she’d given me that she was Marina Mahathir, daughter of Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister, and recalling that I’d actually said to her, ‘so I guess your family is quite political?” This would be the equivalent of someone spending 3 days hanging out with Chelsea Clinton and then saying to her “Duh…so I guess your family is quite political?” Super cringeworthy, but at the same time, kind of funny.

– Chatting about my admiration for Harry Kane and going on about my dislike albeit grudging respect for Cristiano Ronaldo to a man I later find out was the Portuguese Ambassador. Oops.

– Going on a rant about billionaires to a guy named Roque, saying how the world is basically screwed due to human nature, how the growing sense of nationalism and tribalism is down to leaders blaming immigrants for everything when the trouble is mostly the extreme inequality in standards of living, how Ignorance allows Greed to flourish, how even if western billionaires develop consciences and realize they have to share the wealth, there will always be the Saudis, Russians and Chinese who just don’t care and will never care, and so to stay competitive and keep the balance of power, the Western billionaires have to keep getting richer off the backs of the poor, which is why we are all screwed but even if I know it will never stop snowing, all we can do is keep shovelling, and having Roque tell me I am very bleak and me saying I’m just being a realist, and having Marina tell me later that Roque runs a foundation for the billionaire George Soros. Double oops! I really had no idea. Good thing I knew the festival director was descended from Thai royalty or with my luck I might have gone on a rant to her about the Monarchy.

– Eating breakfast at the hotel and most likely never encountering a breakfast buffet like that again!

Things I read in the London Guardian

A few weeks ago I turned my iPhone off for 24 hours. I enjoyed the feeling of clarity so much that I left it off for another 10 days (although I had email on my Mac for anything work-related). Basically I just went dark, and outside of my husband and kids, the only way to contact me was old school – the house phone or email. Instead of Google Maps I printed driving instructions out at home. I listened to the car radio (or drove in silence). I checked my calendar on my desktop instead of relying on push notifications. While working, I listened to podcasts already downloaded and only checked my email 3x a day.

At first I was anxious and twitchy, but as the days passed, I started to enjoy the complete lack of distraction. Just like going on a food fast, I felt lean and clean. And by the way, before this, I was not someone who was in the least bit addicted to my phone. I would check it maybe every couple of hours, I’d already disabled all my notifications apart from text messages, and I turned it off every night at 9 pm. So this wasn’t done out of desperation or panic. I guess it was the equivalent of someone who already meditates every day for 20 minutes but actually goes on a 10 day retreat and the experiences that brings.

It was great. I felt like my old self, I remember how it felt 20 years ago when I would be unreachable while traveling. I stopped thinking of who might be contacting me, or what would be happening on Twitter. I basically purged myself of any craving tendencies, much like someone who goes on a complete sugar fast.

I’m aware I was only able to do that because all my work correspondence is through email or apps like Trello which I can access on my desktop. But even with those, I only made it a point to check and respond once in the morning, once after lunch, and once after supper. I missed a couple of invitations from friends for an evening out but nothing I can’t live with. When I went out for errands, my husband or children couldn’t reach me, and it turns out that was no big deal. It was just like the old days. And I really really enjoyed that feeling of absolute clarity.

So here are some things I read in the London Guardian that make me think I should be doing this more often:…

“The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions,” Eyal writes. “It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later.” None of this is an accident, he writes. It is all “just as their designers intended”.

It is revealing that many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned.

Most of the tech insiders questioning today’s attention economy are in their 30s, members of the last generation that can remember a world in which telephones were plugged into walls.

Justin Rosenstein banned himself from Snapchat, which he compares to heroin, and was particularly aware of the allure of Facebook “likes”, which he describes as “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure” that can be as hollow as they are seductive. And Rosenstein should know: he was the Facebook engineer who created the “like” button in the first place.

Eyal confided the lengths he goes to protect his own family. He has installed in his house an outlet timer connected to a router that cuts off access to the internet at a set time every day. “The idea is to remember that we are not powerless,” he said. “We are in control.”

Technologies can affect the same neurological pathways as gambling and drug use.