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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.

More photos »

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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.

Scandals and Snobbery at Downton Abbey

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Photo: Carnival

Why this period drama is worth binging on— in style, of course

I knew I was watching too much Downton Abbey when my thoughts started to acquire a British accent. I’m sure other pretentious non-Brit Downton fans experienced the same.

Downton Abbey is a multi-awarded British TV series that ran from 2010 to 2015. Written by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), it follows the life of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, who all live at a majestic Jacobethan castle, Downton Abbey, with a story spanning 1912-1926.

Only a few days ago, it was announced that filming of a Downton Abbey movie will begin next month. For sure, interest in the series will leap again. I’m going to get my accent back.

Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) are one of the central couples in the series. Photo: Nick Briggs

So what’s the big deal about Downton?

Dame Maggie Smith — Professor McGonagall — stars as the indefatigably wry, prim, and sagacious Dowager Countess of Grantham, Lady Violet. I haven’t seen much of Smith’s other work except in the Harry Potter films, but it is in Downton Abbey where she, in true Violet fashion, barges into your consciousness and dominates it. All her lines are delivered with perfect comedic timing. Sometimes I imagine myself having tea with Lady Violet: I’d sizzle in her gaze like sauteed onion.

Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) is the prudishly wry matriarch of the Crawley family. Photo: Carnival

As a period drama, it’s a fascinating glimpse into an era we secretly miss. A time when people worshiped etiquette and chivalry. A time when people strove to show their dignity and their respect for others through what they wear. One striking feature of that period is how servants — particularly butlers, valets, and footmen — dressed up almost as well as their masters. As Downton’s butler, Carson, would say, that is how families distinguish themselves as noble, that even their servants reflect their glory.

Everything is in apparent order downstairs, thanks to the strictness of butler Charles Carson (Jim Carter). Photo: Gary Moyes

The characters (dozens of them!) are memorably endearing. Aside from Lady Violet, there’s her son, Robert (Hugh Bonneville), the Earl of Gratham, and his American wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). They have three daughters, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay). Season 1 begins with the family discovering the fate of the Titatic — Robert’s heir presumptive (and Mary’s second-cousin and fiance) had been in it. And so enter the Crawley’s middle-class distant relatives Matthew (Dan Stevens) and his mother, Isobel (Penelope Wilton), who definitely provide more texture to the drama.

And then there are the “downstairs” people, the servants, who lead lives as interesting as those upstairs. Carson (Jim Carter), the strict family butler, is the literal big boss, assisted by the stoic head housekeeper, Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan). They keep the household in order. But sometimes they have to keep their own employees in order, too, including rebellious head footman Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) and his partner-in-crime Miss O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran). And, of course, the Abbey has love teams: Mary and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), Sybil and chivalry-incarnate Tom Branson (Allen Leech), and Mary’s personal maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Robert’s valet John Bates (Brendan Coyle).

John Bates (Brendan Coyle) is the valet who ends up marrying head maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt). Photo: Nick Briggs

The series offers an intriguing contrast between the aristocrats and their servants and a perspective on how they ultimately are similar. Whether upstairs or downstairs, life is always rife with scandal and friendship and conspiracy and love. Perhaps the entire range of storylines in an effective dramatic series are explored here: deceptions, betrayals, trysts, verbal wars, actual wars, deaths. It’s feels galore.

The Crawley family and some of their servants. Photo: Carnival

Finally, Downton Abbey gives insights into how the social conditions of the time affected the characters’ lives. You’ll empathize with Mary, who has to figure out if she could marry Matthew, who is from a class lower than hers and is supposed to inherit what could have been hers by the fact that she’s the eldest child of the dower! (In the UK, only male heirs could inherit titles and properties of aristocrats.) You’ll find the dawning of feminism and moderate liberalism among the Crawley ladies encouraging, especially when Sybil motivates a maid to pursue her dreams of becoming an office clerk. You’ll also find how compassion and delicadeza are used when dealing with a homosexual scandal at Downton. Overall, the series provides a look into the transition from the stringent, prudish attitude of the 19th century to the modern, more libertarian mentality of the 20th.

Official teaser image for the Downton Abbey movie

Unfortunately, Downton Abbey isn’t available on Netflix. But it is on PBS Passport and Amazon Prime (and other sources *wink wink*). And while you probably don’t have to watch all 6 seasons to appreciate the movie, you’ll still miss one-fourth of your life if you don’t.

Try it. If it’s not your cup of tea or you don’t have time, don’t blame yourself. After all, as Lady Violet would say:

“Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s so middle-class.”

Obliger, Upholder, Questioner, Rebel — what are you?

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

How to deal with people using Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework

People are different. Let’s say you’re a boss. Some can obey your orders like little angels, especially if you give them deadlines. Others struggle, unless you can justify your demands with graphs and tables and perhaps pages-long appendices. And then there are those who simply disobey, or loaf, no matter what you do.

It can be frustrating.

Bestselling author and lawyer Gretchen Rubin has an explanation. In her book, The Four Tendencies, Rubin proposes there are four basic Tendencies by which people can be described. And these are based on how people respond to inner expectations (like New Year’s resolutions) and outer expectations (say, rules and doctor’s orders).

Adorably obnoxious Upholder Dr Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) is a riot in The Big Bang Theory.

Upholders are the demigods, who can meet both inner and outer expectations. Hermione Granger is obviously an Upholder. So is Sheldon Cooper. They’re those whom all the other Tendencies often want to become: after all, Upholders are usually the overachievers, who can automate their actions and, presumably, their success. But they can be insensitive pricks.

Bureaucrat Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is a disgruntled Questioner in Parks and Recreation. (UPDATE: Or maybe he’s a Rebel — because Tammy.)

Questioners are the Grand Inquisitors. They need information, justifications, before they can act on any external demand. They question traditions, customs, imposed company “cultures”. While they often can stick to their gym schedule (that is, meet inner expectations), they often can’t abide by gym rules (outer expectations). They ask, “But why, smartass?”

Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) is a classic Obliger, with a great responsibility and a weak will (although you can argue that the One Ring is simply too seductive…and precioussssss).

Then there are Obligers, who comprise the majority of people. They are the angels I was talking about, the loyal servants, who can turn in work on or before the deadline. They’re often the ones who had invited you to be their gym buddies, the ones who struggle unless they have someone to be accountable to. They are those who can work best when they have to give their work to someone who can appreciate it. And they suck at resolutions no matter what day of the year it is. They meet outer expectations, but resist inner ones. They can also be the parent-figure kind of leader. The curious thing about Obligers, however, is that they can rebel when pushed to the brink — they can shut down or quit unexpectedly.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Norse god of mischief, is clearly a Rebel.

And then, finally, there are the Rebels, who struggle with both inner and outer expectations. You can’t bother them. They obsess over freedom. They act only when they know it’s what they want: anything another person tells them to do, they do the opposite. If this describes you, though, don’t panic. On the plus side, Rebels are often those who initiate refreshingly unorthodox solutions…like creating some new procedure, a new design, a new system; or quitting altogether.

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Rubin says no one Tendency is superior to another; it’s just that each is different, and each has pros and cons. So don’t tell me you’re an Obliger who wants to be an Upholder. I’ve been there. Accept, don’t resist. Instead, work on your strengths to get around your weaknesses.

And yes, boss, there are ways to get a Questioner, or even a Rebel, to obey your orders. You just have to know their Tendency quite well. So if your employees are all Questioners (heavens forbid), it is likely that they’d want you to provide the reason for reducing costs for office stationery. Or if they’re a Rebel, communicate in such a way that their freedom to do things is highlighted. First, inform them about your demand, justify yourself, provide possible scenarios if they won’t do what you’re asking them, and then stop: let them decide what to do (hopefully it’s similar to your would-be command!).

When I read The Four Tendencies, it almost felt like a sequel to the Book of Revelations. I connected the dots. Patterns emerged. People, as well as myself, became a little bit simpler — all while retaining their uniqueness, nuances, beautiful differences, and individuality as persons.

Take this quiz to know your Tendency.

There’s a lot in Latin

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Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Why a “dead language” is worth studying or getting familiar with

Many people call Latin a dead language — as dead as its foremost perpetuator, the Catholic Church, which is 1 billion strong and 2,000 years old.

What these fools don’t get is the fact that many English words actually are Latin or have Latin roots. And often, when coining new words, people still use Latin morphemes (word components) without being aware of it: Brexit, social media, bullet journal, vape, app.

Like it or not, Latin is here to stay. And learning it — even just a bit — is going to make you perceive literature and life as more interesting.

Five of the many benefits of learning Latin are the following:

  • You’ll find stories behind the words you use. Take the word “baccalaureate”. It’s from the Latin term for laurel berry. In the 17th century (when “baccalaureate” was first used), laurel leaves used to be awarded to scholars — like ancient Olympic champions. Romantic nerds.
  • You’ll find it easier to guess the meaning of unfamiliar, Latin-derived words. Like, did you know the meaning of “antebellum” the first time you encountered it? Maybe not. But if you had elementary Latin, you’ll know that ante means “before” and bellum means “war”. So antebellum means before the war (particularly the American Civil War — Murica is such a fan of Latin — check their motto).
The Latin inscription above the Pantheon entrance in Rome is a display of hubris. It says, “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built this.” Photo by Jessi Pena on Unsplash
  • You’ll be able to create new words with panache — just string relevant Latins words together and voila, verbum novum.
  • You’ll be able to connect to a time long gone, when Latin was the official language of the pious and the powerful. It still amazes me to know how, in praying the Angelus in Latin, one actually echoes the exact words of various Medieval and Renaissance popes and paupers.
  • Last but not least: you’ll feel intelligent. Newton-smart. BDE-level confident. But of course you won’t be flaunting your knowledge all the time. You’ll have to wait for opportunities, like being assigned to give the Word of the Day in a Toastmasters meeting; or look for subtle ways, like writing about your supposed Latin-savvy in one of your blog posts. Ouch.

So those are my top 5 reasons Latin is an interesting subject.

Yeah. It’s nerdy as heck. You can actually just forget I said those. Because, really, Latin can absolutely be useful in only one catastrophic situation: when the cab driver refuses you a ride, and all you can do is scare the hell out of him by rapidly reciting some Latin words and make him think it’s witchcraft.

Pre-Watergate heroism in The Post (2017)

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Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham. Photo by Niko Tavernise

One of the best films on journalism and empowered women

It’s wonderful how, especially in recent years, Hollywood has come to appreciate journalism as an industry, even to Oscar-award levels.

In 2016, Spotlight won Best Picture. In 2018, The Post almost did.

I love The Post.

It’s based on the 1971 story of Katharine Graham, first female publisher of a major newspaper (The Washington Post), and how she grappled with conflicting interests — a choice between keeping her friends, reputation, and (possibly) profits; or upholding freedom of the press and defying douchey US president Nixon.

Meryl Streep, as Graham, is divine as ever. You’ll see her character’s subtle transformation from a nervous, reluctant heiress of a newspaper (from her charismatic husband who had committed suicide), to a woman who — after a lifetime of being ignored or dismissed — has realized she has a voice: that of being the boss. There’s a scene where she, teary-eyed and torn to two sides, makes a decision that changes her life forever. You can’t help but feel victorious with her.

The Post is one of those movies that make you think, “The question is only whether to print or not to print — yet it’s nail-biting as shit!” But then, it’s a Steven Spielberg film. Artful montages of newspaper production — infused with music by John Williams — create an accelerating tension that will leave you breathless. Tom Hanks (as editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee) is also effective as the fire-spitting, feet-on-the-desk editor who locks horns with (albeit in a gentlemanly way) his publisher friend.

I have my reservations about how the Vietnam war scene was made, though. Spielberg chose the dramatic irony route, and I wonder how it would have been if it were in a different way.

But — yeah — The Post is awesome! I watched it twice and still found it riveting the second time. Five dazzling stars!

Angels and Demons and Popes

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Sculptures at the Trevi Fountain. Photo by Ivan Bertona on Unsplash

Why Rome should be on your bucket list

Recently I watched Angels and Demons (2009), Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel. It’s tolerable. Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is bland — but then we don’t really care, because Langdon isn’t the reason Angels and Demons is remarkable: it’s the fact that the story is set in the culturally rich city of Rome.

I’ve been to Rome once, in 2007, and I still get violently nostalgic and paralyzing daydreams of my visit there. It was there that I realized what a paradoxical city Rome is, and how it should be part of anybody’s bucket list.

St Peter’s Basilica. Photo by Yeo Khee on Unsplash

It is a melting pot of cultures. For conservatives, it is of course the epicenter of faith (and power): it’s where the Pope lives (well, technically, no; but Vatican City and Rome are geographically too close and confusing that you can say the Vatican is Rome). It’s also a place where there’s a church in every corner, with artworks by Renaissance masters as well as relics of saints. And for liberals, it is a hub of freedom and license — even the birthplace and home of bacchanalia.

So it is perfectly normal to smell incense inside Santa Maria del Popolo one moment, and then fumigation-level cigarette smoke in the next, as you exit. Don’t be surprised to see couples smooching down Circo Massimo’ sloping fields…after your short walk to the Basilica of St John Lateran. And don’t forget: that Roman air you’re breathing? — it’s infused with essences from laws enforcing divorce, abortion, and euthanasia. All this contrast and heterogeneity is, for me, strangely…beautiful. It echoes words from St Paul’s letter to (precisely) the Romans:

Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.

Also, Rome is a city-size “museum”. Once you’re there, you won’t really absolutely need to enter any museum, because there are museum-level sights even if you are outdoors: Castel Sant Angelo, the Colosseum, Piazza Spagna, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, even the Tiber River. Just get a good Internet connection and consult Google Maps and Wikipedia entries about the places you’re visiting (but don’t believe Wikipedia too much — it’s like your regular tour guide who mixes facts and rumors).

Castel Sant Angelo along the Tiber River. Photo by Mauricio Artieda on Unsplash

But by saying “Rome is in itself a museum”, I’m not saying “don’t go to museums”! The most cherished treasures still are in well guarded enclosed rooms, most famously the Vatican Museums (again, I’m considering the name “Rome” quite loosely here).

A visit to the Vatican Museums is worth the queues and the euros. Inside you’ll find roomfuls of masterpieces, including those by three of the four Ninja Turtles: Raphael, Leonardo, and Michaelangelo (Donatello has a ciborium at St Peter’s Basilica, though). The most overwhelming part of the Vatican Museums tour is certainly the climax — the Sistine Chapel. Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment and the Biblical scenes on the chapel’s ceilings are simply dazzling. From afar, the characters seem alive and three-dimensional. This part of the tour is best when there are few visitors — when you can dare lie on the floor and marvel at the famed ceiling…and the fact that this very room has produced popes in the last 500 years.

Sistine Chapel ceiling. Photo by Aaron Logan on Wikimedia

For me, however, the foremost reason Rome is just absolutely #1 on my bucket list is this: it’s the center of Catholicism, the Pope’s home (don’t get me started on the jurisdiction stickler-talk). If you can, visit Rome during Holy Week. Nothing beats an Easter Vigil Mass with no less than the Pope at St Peter’s Basilica. In the darkness of that Holy Saturday at St Peter’s 11 years ago, I shuddered thinking about the tumultuous history of the Church, filled with sinners and saints; the unbroken succession of 266 Bishops of Rome, from Peter to Francis; the many artists and intellectuals who have drawn inspiration from this timeless city aptly called Eternal; and, of course, how Robert Langdon, the boring symbologist, saved the day, again.