Luneta, 2017

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Inside the barber shop

 

While waiting for my turn to be called at the barber shop, I fiddled with Snapseed just to make myself occupied. I have stack of images I took using my smartphone, that at first look are promising, but I still have not gone through over. Since there was a block of time available, I loaded them one by one.

However, I gave it up after a few minutes because I did not like the result of adding filters and tweaking various technical aspects of an image. I realized that tweaking photos this way feels like it is 2007 all over again, when the first age of DSLR-centered photography was gearing up. It was a time when the more Photoshop actions, the more plug-in filters, the more adjustment layers you have on your work machine, the better your chances are of being able to create something out of a photograph.

Looking back, it certainly felt like looking at the parts of a clock without knowing the time is.

I closed the app and waited for my turn to be called when I saw her, the lady wearing her white headphones, framed by three gentlemen. Composition-wise, it really clicked. Yes, it is not perfect, but sometimes getting to a spot that would make the composition just a bit better would irreparably spoil the moment. I launched the camera app and got a few shots.

On second look, the two-background, two-foreground arrangement of elements appealed to the aesthetic that I have in mind. It showed visual depth, in a setting that was over in less than 4 seconds—there already was movement, and if I waited just a little bit longer, the composition would have changed to an altogether different image.

I launched Snapseed (again, habits die hard), but this time, I resolved to take away all the color and converted it to monochrome. The colors would have vied for attention, and all I wanted to communicate was the presence of the one at the center, seated near the door, tuned-out, oblivious to the sound of scissors and barbers.

It turned out I was also oblivious to the surroundings that I was not able to respond quickly when my name was called, so intent was I, looking for another opportunity to take pictures inside the barber shop.

October 7

Time seems to have passed by so fast. Another year, another season, another month, another day—another notch on this belt of my life. Just when you pause to take stock of what has transpired in the last round, the day is simply too short to contain all the things that one may want to do. Of course, it does not have to be just a day of thanksgiving and committing one’s self to a better tomorrow, as introspection is as often as needed, but I would want to do it all within the day.

It was something I have not been consistently successful at, and I have since realized that the best way to maximize each October 7 is to do the opposite: limit to at most three (3) items the agenda for the entire day.

• Spend the entire day with the family
• Thank the Almighty and celebrate in private
• Thank friends, relatives, and family

I am thankful I made it this far, and I am even more thankful to have my family with me all the time.

Ever since I started noticing how fast photos would find their way online, I felt doing the opposite would give me that space to fully process and relive the experience that was captured at the exact moment the shutter was pressed.

Of course, it is perfectly fine to share photos instantly—there are countless valid reasons—and I myself have done it before. It is quite fun to see reactions from your social network.

However, I personally find it more meaningful to let the images remain undisturbed for a period of time, because when I get back to them, recalling the entire experience makes it even more fun.

Diyandi

Yesterday, September 29 was the feast of San Miguel, the archangel, the saint, and the brand name of one of the best beers in the world. In Iligan, Mindanao, a city less than 100 kilometers from where ISIS-inspired terrorists have razed the Islamic City of Marawi to the ground, the protector is the archangel; and a celebratory mood is always the order of the day.

This renewed sense of being protected by San Miguel, as can be gleamed from the prayers of Iliganons’ “panalipdi kami” (protect us), has, from what I’ve seen, the anchor of the Diyandi Festival. The month-long festival culminates every 29th of September.

Essentially, the celebration has followed the same template, one that I think has been used ever since I can remember. Weeks leading to the big day are highlighted with various activities like:

• Civic-Military Parade
• Silent Drill competitions
• Miss and Mister this and that

It is all vintage Iligan. I remember the unmistakable vibe the celebrations bring. It is fun, it is illustrative of the faith Iliganons have in the protection of the archangel. It is a showcase of delicious lechon too.

However, while all of these are activities are part and parcel of Diyandi, there are some that I find amusing, in the sense that everyday life is given a fresh spin that to me appears like a flash in the pan, for example:

• “Pagpamukaw” — literally waking up someone or the neighbors. At 4:00AM. What for? Why wake up people who are fitfully enjoying their sleep? How about those coming from their grave yard shift?

• Coastal clean-up — What happens after the celebrations have died down? Who will clean the coasts? Will it take another year for it to be cleaned? How will informal settlers learn to take care of their trash when they know there’s this yearly activity for cleaning coastal areas?

Can’t we conceptualize, plan, and then execute activities that are meaningful and sustainable, with measurable impact, especially to those affected by combat operations in nearby Marawi?

I believe there are reasons these activities have become mainstays. Perhaps the vibe, and that longed-for sense of festive anticipation and camaraderie help cement further the tradition in a time when traditions are increasingly questioned—not out of disrespect, but in the hope of coming up with a more meaningful activity for the patron saint. There is definitely more that Iliganons can do to meaningfully honor the archangel.

A brief, important visit

I went back to the province last week to attend to my ailing father. It was at once something that necessitated agility and stamina, as the demands of his situation were first priority.

Unlike previous visits, I did not bother to bring a single camera, save for the ones in my smartphone. I knew I had to be light and quick, as I had no firm idea what the next few days might bring. I packed my bag with just the right amount of essentials, plus my MBP, an extra battery pack, some IDs; and then that was it.

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My son and my wife were still sleeping when the car that will take me to the airport arrived. It was a smooth ride, and despite the close call (I arrived just a few minutes before boarding gates were about to close), I made it to the queue. To keep the overpowering sleepiness at bay, I started taking pictures.

Under the pre-dawn darkness, the airport’s artificial lighting system provided just the right amount of light. However, the camera’s output showed astonishingly high noise reduction levels that leaves artificially smooth photos. This has its pros and cons, but I personally find it preferable to leave a balanced mix of texture, detail, and chroma noise reduction.

The flight went without a hitch, and arrived at Laguindingan on time. Previously, a van would take you to a small station at the corner of the access road and the national highway. Yet to my surprise, we went a bit farther inland, where a dedicated bus terminal was already operational, helping travelers and bus companies meet.

The bus assigned to bring passengers to their destinations was still on its way when we arrived. Rather than sleep inside the comfortably large and air-conditioned van, I took out my phone and started taking pictures outside.

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There was a certain atmosphere in the place. At that time, it was quite empty, and a morning fog still hugged portions of the place. It was also evident that there was rain the night before. I could barely hear any AM radio blaring (always a common feature in Philippine provinces), and a cock’s crow rarely punctuated the still silent morning air.

I wish my niche in Metro Manila was this nice and quiet. It would be very nice. A garden here, and veranda there, plus a gazebo and a fountain. My reveries were getting more pleasant when it was interrupted with the barker’s harsh voice proclaiming: “Hoy kadtong para Iligan! Para Iligan!”

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The bus for Iligan arrived, passengers boarded it, and when I finally found a good seat, I started thinking again about the itinerary to maximize the brief amount of time I have to attend to my ailing father.

The important part of the trip has started.

At the Chinese garden

We just had another long weekend here in the Philippines, the kind which employees long for and plan for in advance. This time, it was a 3-day weekend, and with it was available time to go out once again.

We decided to spend an afternoon​ at the Chinese Garden, right in the middle of Luneta Park, Manila. We were surprised when, for the first time, we learned that there was indeed one garden in that park which we have visited a few times already.

After a cursory research, we finally went there. Luckily the traffic Metro Manila is notorious for was nowhere to be found that day. I brought some extra shirts as the weather was hot, and two cameras: the workhorse Nikon SLR, and the super handy smartphone camera.

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I immediately realized that I should not have brought the workhorse with me that day. It was a hot, sunny afternoon, with plenty of good light all around, that the tiny sensor on the smartphone never had a difficulty in getting correct exposures. Details were recorded well, though I suspect the dynamic range was not as quite as wide as the full frame sensor on the other camera.

Nevertheless, the situation then did not call for such capability. Bright conditions normally make shooting easy; smartphone camera sensors—given their small sizes—thrive on good light to be able to keep ISO sensitivities down, thereby reducing image noise.

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Students were flocking inside, doing their thing—dance routine rehearsals, most of them were—and it was a bit of a challenge to find a spot with ample shadows and be calm.

From where I took this photo (see above), we could hear them trying to master their cheer/lines/movements. The interesting detail was that the lines they were chanting were straight from the Desiderata.

Hey guys, how about ‘what peace there may be in silence’ for this guy who just want to enjoy the greens? 

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We moved around, exploring what we quickly observed as a really small, nice area, punctuated with people who were either practicing students, or senior citizens relaxing. I tried to minimize getting photos here and there, and just went with the flow. Although the cheers and the noise from the students were at times too loud, I could still here chirping birds somewhere, perhaps in the trees.

I saw a statue and then tried to get out of that most famous of all photography clutches—rule of thirds. It took me quite a while to take that photo of Confucius unfettered by strangers roaming around.

It was certainly an exercise in patience under the heat of the afternoon sun.

While we were starting to wrap up our visit, I went back to the main area and took this photo of the ceiling.

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The ceiling. Yes. But the Dragon Scroll is—wait, Po took it?—missing.

I started to recall that part of the movie Kung Fu Panda, and the next one after, and then the next, until the students who were staying quiet started practicing their Desiderata lines again and snapped me out of my reveries. It made me recall this:

Going placidly amid the noise.