We were on the deck of a ferry named MV Beautiful Stars, on a drizzly Saturday morning before the grand Sinulog festival day. It was the traditional fluvial parade, but not much was happening and we were uncertain of what we were waiting for. We’ve been on the ship since before dawn, idling the time away on the cramped passenger bunk beds while Mass was celebrated in the ship’s main hold below. Though people lined up the length of the deck’s railings, I could see through just enough to watch Cebu City in the blue overcast dawn. The city is decidedly distinct from Manila in how it is so close not just to the sea, but to the mountains as well. Cebu’s tallest towers are eclipsed by the mountains beyond when viewed from the sea. In Manila one could spend days without noticing the distant mountains, if one were to be completely lost in the urban jungle as I often am.
Someone in the group eventually found a way for us to get out onto the foredeck. While I was carefully stepping over the pipes and valves on the metal floor, a band started playing the festive notes of that trademark Sinulog melody to the channel’s salty air. That was when I saw the most remarkable of the many dances I was to witness in Cebu that weekend: a young lady, in casual shirt and jeans, swaying and swiveling while firmly holding with both hands a diminutive image of the Santo Niño. It seemed like someone merely handed her, a random passenger, the image and asked her to dance to fill the gap while the professional dancers were still preparing. It was a pure, spontaneous dance; not unique as it was the same dance that any lady holding a Sto. Niño would perform during the festival, but it was personal. Eventually the dancers in María Clara dresses and barong arrived, and performed their choreographed dance to everyone’s satisfaction.
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.
Ask any architect or painter what perspective is, and they might tell you that it is the representation of three-dimensional objects onto flat surfaces in the same way as the eye sees things. There are several ways of projecting, or drawing, objects onto surfaces, but the special thing with perspective is that it mimics the way light rays converge to one point—the eye—to form a clear image. As you read this text and appreciate the distinct curves of the letterforms, or as you look out the window and take in the myriad textures of life, all those visual details in the form of light rays have to travel and assemble through your eyes before you can perceive things.
One key principle of perspective is that as the distance of an object from the observer increases, its size as projected on the paper decreases. It’s not difficult to see that this principle in drawing, worded a little differently, is the same as an essential insight about life: that the further things are from you, the smaller it becomes in your mind. It’s not simply about physical distance, however.