The Real Temple Run

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What makes a 21k run around Cambodia’s Angkor Wat exhilarating

Back when Temple Run was a hit, I decided to someday go running around the jungle temples of Cambodia. Dodge some crazed gorillas maybe. Jump over ravines probably. Definitely with the dashing air of Indy Jones.

In July 2014, it came true.

The plan was to go around the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, from my hotel in Siem Reap and back to it in maybe three or four hours. My first half-marathon.

It was grand.

The sweat and blisters and vehicle smoke notwithstanding, the run was exhilarating, for three key reasons:

The change of landscapes — from Siem Riep’s bustling streets to the asphalted road with impenetrable jungles on either side to the majestic moat surrounding Angkor Wat — made for a real beholding of raw and rugged beauty. Add to the experience the monsoon rain that goes berserk one moment and gives way to the sizzling sun in another.

With a bit of imagination, I “saw” how ancient Khmers transported the 10 million sandstone blocks from faraway mountains. It is said that King Suryavarman II had the Angkor Wat built in the early 1100s, dedicating it to the Hindu god Vishnu. His ambition for the project was such that the temple — currently the world’s largest religious monument at 1.6 million square meters — would be a gilt heaven on earth — Mount Meru, home of the gods. It boggles the mind how such a colossal complex would be located in the middle of nowhere: now the complex is practically in a the middle of a vast forest, but in its heyday it was a city larger and busier than London at the time.

The air was fresh, crisp, and moist — far from what I was used to in urban Manila. Drizzles punctuated the run, but that only made it more exciting, and refreshing when needed. It’s good to plan your route well, though. There were stretches in the route that were hardly inhabited (but the roads were well paved); I didn’t have a bottle of water with me, so I had to run a couple of miles before I reached the nearest store. Don’t be like me.

Angkor Wat from its east entrance, at the moat’s edge.

So if you happen to visit Siem Reap, why not go temple running? It’ll be a unique experience. But don’t commit the mortal sin of not taking a closer look at the temples a day or two before your run (there are more than a dozen in Angkor alone). They are ruins, yes. But what treasures they hold. On that trip to Angkor Wat, I realized the impermanence of earthly life and glory, and how nature and time can overcome man in the end. If you want adventure and some introspecting, go to Siem Reap.

And don’t just go: run.

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Live, Learn, and Prosper — with LinkedIn Learning

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Dr Spock would agree: Signing up for LinkedIn Learning is rational. Art: Daryl Zamora

5 reasons LinkedIn Learning can help you become a valuable professional

Imagine a one-stop-shop of bite-size multimedia courses — from personal branding to project management to Adobe Illustrator to resume building. It has a name: LinkedIn Learning.

I stumbled upon LinkedIn Learning by accident. I was updating my LinkedIn profile to boost my job search, clicking here and there, until I found myself signing up for LinkedIn Learning’s one-month free trial — one of the few times I didn’t regret aimless web surfing.

Formerly Lynda.com, LinkedIn Learning is LinkedIn’s response to the growing demand for soft skills enhancement among professionals. In their 2018 Workplace Learning Report, LinkedIn noted how “communication”, “leadership”, and “collaboration” skills rank as the top three skills wanted by talent developers and executives the world over. These and many “role-specific skills” can be learned on LinkedIn Learning.

LinkedIn Learning teems with hundreds of carefully selected courses in various fields.

When my free trial expired, the only logical decision was to pay for the service, which is included in LinkedIn Premium’s Learning package. One of my best buys online. There are other features in the package, but to me its crowning jewel is LinkedIn Learning.

Below are the top reasons LinkedIn Learning can be an investment in your professional growth:

  1. LinkedIn Learning has 12,000 tutorials from various fields — technology, business, creative, you name it. And these courses are taught by select instructors, experts in their respective fields, including Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg.
  2. The lessons are easy to understand and displayed in an intuitive format. Depending on the course, exercise files are also included to complement the videos (which can be saved for offline viewing). Transcripts are also available in case you simply want to review the lesson and don’t want to bother rewatching the video.
  3. The courses are self-paced: it’s up to you when you’d want to watch them. No need to wait for a particular date for a particular class to be held, as is the case with other e-learning platforms. Lessons are also cut to just 15 minutes or less — even as little as a minute — making sure that each segment won’t be too heavy for the busy professional.
  4. The tutorials are produced professionally and, as I’ve said, with legit experts as instructors. Such is the platform’s credibility that some multinational companies are now beginning to subsidize employee subscription to LinkedIn Learning for their learning and development (L&D) programs. Take cosmetics company Estee Lauder, for example.
  5. Last but not least, LinkedIn Learning is connected to your LinkedIn account, your professional profile on the Internet. If you want, you can automatically list on your LinkedIn profile the courses you completed or the relevant skills you gained from the courses.
LinkedIn Learning has a clean, intuitive interface. You can save the courses for offline use, too.

The only drawback of LinkedIn Learning is, of course, the price. On a closer look, though, it doesn’t seem to be a drawback at all, especially if you’re serious about learning new skills or enhancing current ones. The Learning Premium package costs $29.99/month, or about about PhP53/day — about half the cost of a Happy Meal or a third of a Starbucks coffee.

Talk about investment.

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Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by LinkedIn.

Anatomy of a Toxic Relationship

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Phantom Thread (2017) weaves a story of love, revenge, insanity

Phantom Thread is a study on toxic relationships with a proposal on how to live with it — if you’re insane enough.

Three-time Oscar Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis plays the perfectionist fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. Set in 1950s London, heiresses and royalty come to him for their dresses. To these women, Woodcock is a god who turns them into silken queens in ermine coats.

Woodcock carries an air of silent dukedom and magnetism, a calm flirtatiousness that streams out in choice words. We see this perfectly when he retreats to the countryside and meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), the young, coy, and audacious waitress who serves him breakfast. The first time they talk, you’d think they’d known each other for years. Not that they talk profusely; they don’t, they’re British. In fact, a formal customer-waitress transaction ensues, but you know a life-long deal is already being negotiated. You just know one is tailor made for the other. They know it, too.

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) believes he’ll never get married because of his profession. Photo: Focus Features

So soon Alma finds herself in London, working for Woodcock as assistant and model. But more than that, she is the old man’s muse and sweetheart.

Trouble begins to brew during breakfast when Woodcock demands fuss-free silence over the table. Alma was buttering her toast and tinkling some china and disturbing Woodcock from his dress-sketching reverie. The man stormed out of the room, enraged.

Woodcock then maintains a manipulative and demanding behavior that smothers Alma’s naivety. There’s already a preview to this attitude in the couple’s first after-date date, at Woodcock’s country cottage, when he took Alma’s measurements, with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) noting the numbers. “You have no breasts,” he said, casually. The startled girl apologized, and Woodcock just said, “no, no, you’re perfect” — to the girl’s baffled relief — “My job to give you some. If I choose to.” When Woodcock went out of the room to get a sample dress, Cyril noted that Alma actually has the ideal shape. The scene was weird, but you’re endeared, like Alma, to the thought that for once, what you thought was a weakness is actually a strength.

Breakfast is time dedicated to silence, at least according to Reynolds Woodcock. Photo: Focus Features

Too bad, Alma is too insecure to leave Woodcock inspite of his genteel douchery; she craves his attention, his esteem. At one crucial point, he tells her he doesn’t need her.

Then the world goes upside down.

Alma takes her revenge. The story goes to a sickening swerve, making you question your previous feelings towards the couple. Is it right to hurt the person you love, who happens to be a prick in tuxedo? Will you tolerate an endless cycle of abuse, knowing that…you can do something similar and reignite that early-stage romance?

According to one writer, the film seems to be the best “food movie” in recent memory. Photo: Focus Features

Phantom Thread — one of the Best Picture nominees at the 2018 Oscars — is a beautiful zooming in to contrasts: Woodcock’s posh lifestyle versus Alma’s rustic upbringing; his exact measurements and demands versus her haphazard outlook in life; his condescension versus her tacit rebellion; his superstitions versus her culinary science; his loving and wounding, and hers.

In the end, one may feel sympathy for the two loonies — for the old man who has not grown up and for the young woman who’s ready to mother him…their niche of Freudian f*ckery. But I bet no one wants that kind of relationship — a prequel to hell.

Help Wanted

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Kathryn Stockett’s The Help boasts humor and heartbreak

Everyone has a story. Many tend to have a ready audience; others struggle to make a few listen. But some of them just don’t get to tell it at all — because society forbids it.

Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, revolves around the lives of three women in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s who are bound by a uniting misery — alienation, a need to be heard.

But how can they overcome it? Aibileen and Minny are oppressed, black maids with their grim stories: Aibileen — still recovering from her son’s sudden death four years ago — has raised and loved 17 white children, some of whom have now unloved her because of her skin color; meanwhile Minny has more children (and a bigger mouth) than she can handle, and is reputed to cook Jackson’s best chocolate cream pie (chief villain Hilly Holbrook can attest to that). Skeeter, on the other hand, is fresh out of college and single — the worst combination for a decent white woman, according to her mother — and rather the ostrich among her flamingo friends: Skeeter is just too different. The three end up writing a book that would rock Jackson to the core.

Viola Davis as Aibileen. She was nominated in the Oscars for Best Actress. Photo: Dreamworks

Throughout the book, Stockett displays her genius in humor, drama, and nuanced characterizations. The story alternates through the perspectives (and dialects) of its three protagonists — equally insightful, of course, but Minny’s point of view is the juiciest and spiciest. She reminds you of the officemate who whispers between snortles on how tacky the manager’s dress was at last night’s gala.

The novel also has no shortage of heart-wrenching subplots: Aibileen’s relationship with her ward kid, Mae Mobley, who doesn’t get any love from her witless mother; Skeeter’s love-hate relationship with her own manipulative mother; and the overall plight of the black community described in the book.

What’s great about Stockett is that she made sure all the characters were flesh-and-bones human. There is a strong advocacy for equality, sure, but the sort that says whether black or white, people do good and bad. The characters’ complexities bring diverse flavors to the book’s 453 pages, which do not feel long at all.

Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly), Sissy Spacek (Hilly’s mom), and Octavia Spencer (Minny) have the most hilariously gross scene in the film. Photo: Dreamworks

Two years after Stockett published The Help — her debut novel — writer-director Tate Taylor adapted the book to a film starring Viola Davis (Aibileen), Emma Stone (Skeeter), and Octavia Spencer (Minny) who won Best Supporting Actress in the Oscars. The film was also nominated for Best Picture.

Totally not bad for a debut novel.

And I confirm the rumor is true: The Help is outstanding, both book and film. It’s one of those pieces of art that make you think — no matter your skin color or other data you put in your curriculum vitae— “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Stoicism in This Crazy World

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Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Photo: FEE

Why this ancient philosophy is great — and what it lacks

Stoicism seems to be quite the rage recently. New books on this ancient philosophy have seen a rise in the past few years: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci, Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson, even The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. And there have been Stoicons since 2012.

This newfound interest seems to be a reaction to the info overload and emotional flurry brought about by new media. People were already harassed by traffic and bosses and brats and the Joneses before Mark Zuckerberg was born…but now here come Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which constantly flood people with emotions, from disgust to delight to disdain to disappointment— sometimes all within one minute. People are drowning; they need safety vests. Stoicism comes as a lifeboat from heaven.

What is Stoicism?

Stoicism is not a boat: it is a Greek philosophy founded in 300 BC by Zeno of Citium. Other key philosophers of this Hellenistic-turned-Roman thought — spanning up to 300 AD — were Seneca, who has written the most; Epictetus who, wiser, delegated the task of writing to a student; and Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor and perhaps the poster boy of Stoicism (“Ruler of the Known World — But Not Worldly”).

Stoics believe that no “disaster”, ultimately, is end-of-the-world kind of disastrous: that bad things can happen and do happen, and that we have the power to survive, move on, and not give a damn; that happiness equals virtue and self-mastery, not fortune nor fame nor health nor pleasure, which are all temporary and rot in the end; that our emotions and unbridled perception of the world can cloud our minds, making us fail to understand the truth of things.

Some people mistake Stoicism as absolute repudiation of emotions. In fact, it just abhors excesses. Joy, for example, is something that Stoics cherish. And while anger may be in their gamut of emotions, they try not to give it free rein.

What’s great about Stoicism

Stoicism can give you a more objective, more godlike, perspective. According to Alain de Botton on The School of Life, Seneca demonstrated this to a woman who was grieving his son’s death for years. Asking her to imagine going back to a distant past, flying over beautiful mountain scenes and then to the horrors of another place at that same time, Seneca pointed out that things can’t really be all that bad…and that her sufferings weren’t original or singular. Hence we actually can and would do well to expect the worst whenever something bad happens, knowing that “the worst” isn’t really so bad.

Harsh, right? But such is reality, and Stoicism wants to desensitize us to that. Often we are just too wrapped up in ourselves that we forget the bigger picture and our small role in it. (This is not to say, of course, that we are insignificant, but that there are things larger than ourselves. We can’t be divas.)

Stoicism also helps us to focus on the things we can control, thus promoting inner peace. A key tenet of Stoicism says,

There are things we can control, and things we can’t.

Hence there’s no use cursing the weather or other people, because in the end we really can’t coerce them to do something they can’t or don’t want. Instead Stoicism advises us to concentrate on practicing patience, temperance, courage — that is, virtues we can nurture and control in ourselves. It teaches that virtue is every person’s ultimate goal.

Lastly, in this age of too much emotional spontaneity (thanks to social media and the sentimentalism prevalent in mainstream media), Stoicism may seem like a raft in the turbulent waters of our soul. It helps us to detach ourselves from excessive emotions, treating those feelings as mere clouds in the sky of our minds. We can say, “No matter how cloudy or stormy the sky can get, the sun of reason and will shines brilliantly as ever.” So f*ck feelings — and time is our friend.

What Stoicism lacks

Despite its glories, however, Stoicism seems to lack something crucial to live a good life: juicy, smile-inducing hope.

Yes, expecting the worst may have its immediate and sobering benefits, but knowing that good things will happen in the end (even despite all evidence to the contrary) will catapult us to a much higher level of happiness now — one that is not merely having contentment (eudaimonia), but indeed having joy (gaudium).

Because if we remain at the level of fundamental Stoicism, life and the universe will seem like a mistake. Pointless. Meaningless. After death, nothing. All those knowledge and pains and loves and wisdom we have gained throughout our life will end up being eaten by worms.

But with hope, we can align our philosophy with that principle buried deep in our hearts: that life and the universe are for something better. That the perfection we had been pining for during our lifetime can have its fulfillment — finally — beyond the grave.

In conclusion, Stoicism is great…but add hope. Appreciate the present moment — with all the fireworks of emotions — but let reason reign. And when you see that your route is nowhere but to the worst, expect that if you pursue virtue nonetheless, you’ll ultimately get what is best.