On the verge of real

I’m currently living in the neighborhood of what is called one of life’s milestones. It’s also a place someone has called a pre-departure area. I’m about to graduate from college.

I’m bracing myself for all the changes that society associates with these personal eras of transition. I expect quite a number of my living parameters to swing to new lows and new highs: amount of free time, financial dependence, and the importance of doing homework, among other things. We lose some things and gain others. It’s okay, they say, because change is simply always bittersweet. But what they don’t tell us is that it’s more of bitter at first, and the sweetness is only an aftertaste—because the pain of losing is stronger than the joy of gaining.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what people mean when they say that to enter the working world is to enter the real world, which is a phrase that I’ve always complained about. It’s as if they want to say that school is an illusionary world. Of course I haven’t really worked (the sum total of my full-time working experience is the one month of internship I took last summer), and I don’t have the age and experience to have any certainty about the meanings and contingencies of being a working person. But I realized that I’ve been grasping the wrong sense of ‘reality’.

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The scene

There is music as most people know it: catchy, powerful, or moving, but also canned, repetitive, and disposable. A kind of Pareto principle is at work here: majority of the people appreciate only a fraction of all the aural creations available out there. But an important difference emerges from the fact that unlike the Pareto principle in economics, where the important few deserves a proportionally greater regard, in music anyone has a lot to gain by daring to go beyond the popular few, and attempt to explore the alternative lands. Because there is also music as only a few people would care to experience it.

When music lovers talk of a music “scene”, I’ve realized that they are invoking a sense of community, a tangible one, in fact. I experienced it first-hand when last weekend I finally found a perfect time to enter the hallowed, and admittedly cramped, hall(s) of Saguijo Bar. It’s the place mentioned in passing in the obscure Sandwich track, Her Favorite Band:

Video games killed the video star
YouTube the gig in Saguijo Bar
I was really there
With my girlfriend, yeah

And, as if I were following the lines of this allusion-indulgent song, I actually brought my girlfriend with me there. But unlike the song, Saguijo should not be obscure at all to anyone who has listened with a non-negligible amount of interest to artists such as Sandwich. Saguijo in Makati is, after all, perhaps the most exalted of all the alternative music meccas in the metropolis still opening their bars after dark these days. Its sister acts include Route 196 in Quezon City and 19 East in Parañaque, just to name a few.

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Washing up liquid

On Monday night last week, I found myself and my parents fussing over curious new products at a grocery store.

A sign hanging from the ceiling on the aisle declared, “Introducing Waitrose, multi-awarded British brand.” Strategically located at an aisle’s end near the sign were the products being introduced. And they were funny because we couldn’t quite figure out what they were for. It was easy to assume they were liquid hand soaps: attractively colored liquids stored in clear, elegant plastic bottles, and simply labeled ‘Washing up liquid’. I would have assumed so if I hadn’t inspected the fine print at the back of the product, instructing users to avoid prolonged skin contact with the liquid.

My best guess is that it’s a general bathroom cleaning product, the kind that cleans tiles and toilets. That’s what the faint image of a bathroom brush on the label seems to suggest anyway. I don’t know about you, but ‘washing up liquid’ is a vague name, especially when you’re not going to put any instructions or indicator of intended use on the packaging. Washing up sounds like paghihilamos to me, washing one’s face, and suggests nothing about cleaning bathrooms. I do hope that no one would attempt to wash his or her face with a liquid that’s strong enough to clean toilets. British English is a bit over-idiomatic for a society that’s been exposed to American culture for far too long, and this product’s name is consequently confusing. Too bad for a colourful product formulated to reduce odours.

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Life, random

Graphic for “Life, random”

As someone who has studied several statistics courses for my major, I have grappled many times with the concept of randomness. At first look it seems easy enough to define: an event is said to have a random outcome if each possible outcome is equally likely to take place. Throw a die, and if it’s a fair one, then each of its six faces should have equal chances of showing up. If the die’s outcome is truly random, then over many tries the different possible results should show up with relatively the same frequency; throw a die six thousand times and the face with the four dots should come out around a thousand times. The same goes for all the other faces.

But people have more complicated thinking, and this clarity of definition is difficult to attain for some. If at the very start of your attempt to throw a die six thousand times, you come up with six dots for four times in a row, you would doubt the die’s randomness, wouldn’t you? The basic definition of randomness, however, does not actually imply that the same results cannot be achieved consecutively. Even if all the other faces possess equal likeliness of appearance, it does not guarantee them actual occurrence, especially in a small number of tries.

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Spaces redux

Beyond homes, schools, malls and other concrete spaces, there are more abstract categories of places that are as difficult to ponder about as they are difficult to define.

One of them is the space to which these words currently belong: the virtual realm. Go beyond mainstream thinking and you will discover that the separation between the real and the virtual is far more complicated than it seems. There is a growing discourse, likely fueled in part by the idea of virtual spaces, surrounding technology (particularly the Internet) and its relation to morality, or authenticity, and other such classical topics of philosophy. But this discourse has turned around on itself, and there are some who now argue that the place we have called cyberspace for a long time is not too virtual after all; it is still rooted in, and therefore not independent from, the reality that supports it. One could say that virtuality cannot be anything more than an augmentation of reality.

There are many aspects to this discussion that will surely continue well into the foreseeable future, given how technology has nowhere to go now but deeper into our everyday routines. Personally I would still say though that it is valuable to think of such a thing as a virtual space. I have had experiences that are fundamentally characterized by being online, and which cannot conceivably exist in any space other than in the virtual. I can even think of corners of the Web as if they were actual, physical places: some of them are fun, some of them are serious and buttoned-up, and some are even pretentious, or evil and dangerous. Certainly, these are all experiences judged by simply viewing through a glowing screen, but they are spaces in the way that we visit them, stay in them, frequent them, and even abandon them.

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