Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Pinoy Film Name Generator

I'm looking at the top movie rentals page on the Web site Filipino Movie Rentals. It's a Netflix-style service specializing in Pinoy films, but since Netflix already has a pretty sparkling collection of Aga Mulach and Vilma Santos, I suspect poor little Filipino Movie Rentals won't survive much longer. That doesn't matter for us. Here is a sampling of the films that made the site's top rental list:

Loving You, One True Love, A Love Story, When Love Begins, My Big Love, One More Chance, I've Fallen For You, I Will Always Love You, Close to You, You are the One.

Here are a few others, off the top of my head: For the First Time, Till I Met You, Don't Give up on Us, Till there was You, A Very Special Love.

Notice anything? What in tarnation is going on here? Are Pinoy film producers required by law to choose from a list of 18 words for the titles of their romance films? These names remind me of that long-obsolete Internet innovation, the Wu-Tang name generator. Remember? You type your first and last name into the form boxes, click a button that says "Wu are you?" and get something along the lines of "Machete-swallowing hoodlum" or "La the Darkman" back. Oh wait, La the Darkman is a real Wu-Tang name. Anyway, I'd be willing to bet there's a Pinoy movie name generator out there, to come up with unique, heartwarming titles like "Loving you again" and "In your Arms for the Sixth Time."

Here's the problem. Since the names of these movies are all milquetoast bland and nearly identical, it's nearly impossible to discuss them without a cheat sheet. Here is an imaginary conversation. Imaginary because I'm makit it up and because hardly anyone I know is willing to discuss these cheese festivals with me.

LBoogs: Did you see One More Chance? 

Rafe: Oh, is that the one with Sam Milby and Toni Gonzaga? 

LBoogs: No, fool, that's You are the One. One More Chance is the one with John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo. 

Rafe: Oh, I thought that was Close to You.

LBoogs: Close to You is with John Lloyd and Bea, but One More Chance is newer.

Guys, this doesn't work! Maybe it's the filmmakers' way of admitting that they are failures, that these movies are all the same anyway (same plots, same artistas, same songs, same insane 7-minute musical montages with ballads performed by the stars, even perhaps the same B-roll), so why not give them all the same names. 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Secretary Janosz

Doesn't this guy ...

I watched the Newshour with Jim Lehrer earlier tonight, the first half hour of which was devoted to a lengthy interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. It followed the same frustrating progression as most of the program's newsmaker interviews with Obama administration officials, which consists of Jim Lehrer asking relevant, thoughtful questions and the interview subjects evading them. This isn't much different from TV news interviews on other channels, except that the Newshour lets these segments run for almost 30 minutes. By the time it's over, I usually feel like I know less about the subject than I did before watching the interview, because the esteemed interviewee spoke at such length and I couldn't figure out a word of it.

Tonight was more of the same. While the treasury secretary never wavered from the administration's pre-ordained script, my mind wandered off in search of more nourishing thoughts. I'm pretty sure that what I came up with doesn't qualify, but it was more captivating than Geithner's talking points. 

... look like this guy?

So here's my eureka moment: doesn't Geithner look an awful lot like Peter MacNicol, the character actor who played a member of President Wayne Palmer's cabinet in season six of 24? I'm not sure this bodes well for Obama, since MacNicol's presidential advsier betrayed the POTUS. To make things even worse, earlier in his career, MacNicol played Janosz, the effeminate museum employee in Ghostbusters II who becomes Vigo the Carpathian's henchman. Anyone who reads the news probably suspects that Geithner is already beholden to his Wall Street peeps, but he looks so much like Janosz, I can't help thinking he answers to another, even more sinister, dark master. And if Secretary Janosz is half as bad as his fictional lookalikes, then we better hope Obama can rely on a CIA operative who resembles Kiefer Sutherland and a kick-ass Bobby Brown song about Ghostbusting to bail him out of whatever trouble Janosz and Vigo are plotting. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Index of the Week

Since January, I've had the privilege of being an intern at Harper's Magazine. For the past two issues, I've been researching the magazine's signature front-of-the-book piece, Harper's Index. The the uninitiated, the Index is a page in the front of the magazine that tells a story about what's going on in the world with 40 statistics, some of which are hilarious. 

The Harper's Web site just unveiled a new feature -- a searchable Index database -- that will hopefully introduce the magazine to a younger, less print-centric audience. That's a tall order, but the online Index might be cool enough to do it. I'm going to try to include an interesting search term once a week on this blog, and you know what my inaugural search has to be: Philippines.

Here are the Index stats that come up when you search "Philippines." By the way, Index stats are often so bizarre or counterintuitive that readers might think there's no way they could be true. On the Web site, sources for the stats appear when you mouse over the lines. But beyond that, after researching two Indexes myself and seeing the magazine's process for reporting and fact-checking the stats, I can personally vouch for the truth of Harper's Index stats. The magazine's four interns spend two straight weeks reporting, checking and re-checking that one page, and two editors work with the interns throughout the cycle. 

4/85Percentage decrease in the gross national product of the Philippines in 1984: 5.5

11/86Amount The Triumph of Beauty, a portrait of Imelda Marcos, brought at auction in August: $27,500

2/86Percentage of the Philippines’ 300 government-owned corporations that are headed by Imelda Marcos: 10

9/87Proposed fine for selling or eating dog meat in Manila: $100

3/88Percentage of 1988 U.S. foreign economic aid that will go to IsraelEgypt, and the Philippines: 68

3/88Number of candidates in the Philippines’ January regional elections who were murdered during the campaign: 39

6/88Number of the 26 journalists murdered last year who were killed in the Philippines: 11

11/89Number of pages of his newspaper a Filipino editor says military personnel forced him to eat at gunpoint in May: 2

11/89Number of people arrested for smoking in public places in Quezon City, the Philippines, since March: 1,514

2/92Estimated change in average U.S. temperatures this winter due to a volcanic eruption in the Philippines last year: -0.9° F

    Estimated number of days the Washington, D.C., cherry-blossom season will be delayed this year due to the eruption: 7

3/96Number of corruption charges still pending against Imelda Marcos in the Philippines: 306

5/01Number of pairs of Imelda Marcos’s shoes on display in the Philippines ‘ new shoe museum: 200

5/05Percentage of Filipino couples who “do not know how pregnancy happens,” according to the country’s health minister: 30

Here are my observations: The Philippines seems underrepresented. Harper's has been publishing the Index for 25 years. 12 x 40 x 25 = 12,000 Index stats, approximately. And just 15 have been related to the Philippines? Sayang. None of these stats will probably blow the mind of anyone who's lived in the Philippines for any length of time and knows an outline of martial law history. The most perplexing one to me has got to be the line about smoking arrests in Quezon City. Can someone fill me in on why people weren't allowed to smoke in public in 1989? The most vivid line has got to be the one about the Masbateño journalist being forced to eat pages of his newspaper. But anyone will tell you that Masbate politics are no joke. Print the wrong thing or challenge the wrong boss in Masbate and being forced to "eat your words" at gunpoint should probably be considered getting off easy. 

Enjoy the Index, everyone. It's awesome.