On my second day in gloomy London, I found myself making my version of adobo. I threw the thinly-chopped garlic in the pan of cubed tofu, adding the bay leaves after and letting the ingredients simmer in cider vinegar (it was either that or the balsamic in the pantry—I would’ve preferred cane vinegar, but that meant a trip to the Asian store in Stratford, a few kilometers away.)
If there was any doubt that there was a Filipino inside this house, that doubt would’ve been certainly overpowered by the strong smell that had enveloped the whole kitchen and now started to waft outside.
Once in a while, I would remember this painting I saw at the Rijksmuseum during my trip to Amsterdam in 2019.
There’s nothing remarkable about this painting. By that I mean, it hasn’t achieved the same level of fame as Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” or Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. You could argue that the painter, Jan Adam Krusemann, was somewhat popular for his portraits, but in the pantheon of artists, he doesn’t have that name recall as Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, Frida Kahlo, or Artemisia Gentileschi. And when you Google the subject, Alida Christina Assink, you would barely find any information about her.
That drab October afternoon though, I listened to the audio guide as I stared at the portrait of Alida’s face intently, longer than at any other artwork inside that museum.
There’s nothing that drives you further down into introspection like the waning high of your birthday that’s almost about to end (except probably a close brush with death, a bus speeding at 100 kilometers per hour barely colliding with the car you’re in at a highway—but that’s another story.)
Which is to say, you’re no one, dregs of society, scum of the earth, bottom feeder, immaterial, dispensable. What they want to say is: you deserve nothing, you are both noticed and unnoticed, and you are not really sure which is better between the two, when to be seen is to be hated, for people to wish you to die, and often it’s not even a wish, because they’ve killed your kind countless times, you’ve seen it—beating other rats with a stick until their eyes pop out, skulls cracked open until their brains spill over. Or a bath of boiling water, until their fur peels off their body.
A few days ago, my friend Nancy and I were talking about how we’re all adjusting to this new normal (a term used to exhaustion that it is already grating on my ears), as we carried our groceries back to our condos. Yes, we were lucky–alive and well, not yet driven to the brink of desperation, like those spilling out in the streets and being threatened to be shot down by the police.
But to be alive is not just the goal, I argued. We might as well be living in some weird fictional dystopian place…or North Korea. Being a hermit and being a solitary prisoner may seem similar superficially, but the difference lies in the element of choice.
During my freshman year in high school, my older brother and I had to be sent off to a public high school in Quezon City after my parents incurred a huge debt because of a failed business. The financial loss meant that they could no longer afford to send us to the private school near our home in Las Piñas. My aunt convinced my mom that the high school near her place had better standards than the usual public schools, and so my mom decided that we would live with our aunt and our cousins so we could study there.
As a kid, I felt that it was all a game. I imagined how that year was going to be fun, and how I’d have interesting stories to share to my friends back home once I came back to my old school.
My new classmates saw me and my brother as a curiosity. I remember how they would ask me questions about my old school–why I had to uproot myself from that life in exchange for this strange one. I vaguely remember dodging some of those questions, but what I could recall was how I found it amusing that they would speak to me in English, as if they expected me to be beyond speaking in the vernacular.
A few weeks ago, my startup company Taxumo had a two-day sprint activity to assess how we can create exciting new products for our customers—the thousands of Filipino self-employed-professionals, freelancers, and sole proprietors (and many thousands more, soon to come.)
During the session, our CEO EJ Arboleda introduced to us the Kano Model, the product development and customersatisfaction theory developed by Japanese professor Noriaki Kano. The said theory advocates going beyond the functional benefits of your product and service, and assessing the emotions which you can elicit by introducing certain new features.
The theory posits that products/services are composed of either three attributes: threshold attributes, otherwise known as the “basics”; performance attributes, or the ” satisfiers”; and the excitement attributes, or the “delighters”.
For example, think of an insulated water bottle. It’s basic (threshold attribute) that the said water bottle would not get hot and still be holdable even after you put in hot water. Now, if the said water bottle also keeps your water’s temperature stable for 48 hours (versus its competitor’s 24-hour temperature stability), that could be really satisfying (a performance attribute) for you as a customer, since it boosts your enjoyment of an expected feature. But what if the water bottle also changes color depending on how cold or hot the water is? That’s a totally unexpected feature, and could be a delightful thing for your customer (an excitement attribute.)
In time, however, as people become used to the exciting feature which you’ve once offered, it sort of becomes an expected property for your product. (Think of mobile phones having touchscreens—a feature Apple popularized.)
“Why are you so forceful?”
The words hit me like a brick.
I was talking to a friend earlier, trying to motivate him to start on his fitness routine. He had reached out to me a couple of weeks ago, saying that he had wanted to begin finally.
The thought excited me. I had always been dropping hints to my friend that his lifestyle was really messing him up–physically, mentally, and emotionally. He had been complaining of being stressed all the time. Secretly, I was hoping that he would somewhat take my advice to heart and sort of change his ways.
What a strange feeling, to realize that you can never really touch anything.
I type this inside a speeding car, believing I am sitting comfortably, except my body doesn’t even truly touch the seat—instead, the electrons of this seat repel the electrons of my body, ensuring that I am only ever so near, but never really.