Doing a Murakami

International Best-Selling Fictionist Haruki Murakami’s Non-fiction work, WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING, is a treasure chest of insights for those who dare to write and run, and how these two disciplines connect. So far, it has been nothing short of a mother lode of golden truths to write and run by.

Here is one entry that might sound like a Murakami. If anything, this entry proves that there really is an inexhaustible gold mine of lessons to learn from running. Or, perhaps it would at least be some sort of homage to Haruki.

Running an actual race (whether you go 5, 10, 15, 21, or 42), forces you to compete with your best time. Because you have chosen time as your adversary, sometimes you find yourself either like Marty in Back to the Future or Captain Kirk (or even Shaider’s enemies – “Time Space Warp! Ngayon Din!”), wanting to try and cheat against the so-called space time continuum. This is most especially true when your legs and feet begin to rebel against your brain, then you look at your watch, do some mental math, and be horrified with the truth that you have been going way slower than your desired pace.

There never is enough time, especially for us amateur runners.

And if we were to be honest about it, there never seems to be enough time for anyone of us, for the things we really desire beyond desire itself.

We never have enough time with our friends, with our loved ones, with our families, or for our dream projects, for renovating our houses and turning them into one of those pretty abodes we see in magazines, or to finally get back to theater, or to finally learn to cook an honest-to-goodness four-course meal. Yet, perhaps, there lies the lesson.

In running, because there never seems to be enough time, I tend to focus on the essentials. I stop thinking about the requirements I have to submit at work next week. I have to stop thinking about where I’m going to eat after the race. I have to stop thinking even about how bad I’ll feel once I miss my mark again. Or even how good I might feel if I succeed. Or what my Facebook status will be once I finally complete the damn thing. No. I am forced to focus on the essentials: my lungs, my heart rate, to listen to my breathing, my legs, my thighs, my feet. These are the only things I am able to control, and within the limited time I have, these are the things I will focus on.

Life will never give us enough time, probably. Unfair? Maybe. But it will force us to make time for the things that will really matter to us.  For that cup of coffee with a friend we never got to see since college, for that game of hoops with officemates, for doing something that benefits society truly and remarkably, for spending lazy Sunday afternoons with the family, or even for running.

 

 

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Temples

Like a Chief Priest running his temple (complete with the virgins used for sacrifice), Willie Revillame leads the devotees to crazed chanting and singing. He promises Prosperity, Unification of the Lost, and Salvation. The masses thank him profusely for his promises that he has not even fulfilled yet. Then one of his assistants come out with the artifact necessary for the next rite: A humongous set of different colored rods, for what is to be the most epic game of Pick-Up-Sticks to be ever played.

 

 

Five channels down (it actually depends which cable you have), is another temple for dreams on Saturdays. But no Chief Priest is minding this temple. It’s the warrior-king from the South, whose fists have sent other countries’ champions kissing canvasses, or to turn their back away from something they’ve done all their life. Or more to the point, it is the singing, dancing, hosting, warrior-king who is also a Representative of Congress doing the riling and rabble-rousing. Manny Pacquiao’s name is called as he comes out of a makeshift dugout, but he has not come to pummel a foe for his country’s pride. His fists tonight are going to dish out cash in flurries.

 

 

I almost liked the idea of Pacquiao doing a mano-a-mano with Willie Revillame on weekend primetime. At first sight, I felt like a Greek sissy who has finally found the Spartan who will champion our country’s cause and make the big bad bully fall. If anyone could beat this asshole Willie, it would be the Pacman. Watching him sing, dance and joke around also endeared me to him. He is definitely ten times more sincere than Revillame, and despite both of them having difficulties with languages, I can make out what Manny says a u lot more… You know?

Then the humongous pick-up-stick of the universe hit my head. What was I thinking? These two are the same. They perpetrate the same crime, and with their combined weight, they will drag the millstone hung around our country’s neck more quickly to hell. My joy at Manny stopping Willie (or at least slowing him down) was cut off by the reminder that Manny will just replace him. Together, they just spread the virus of hit-me-with-a-thousand-bucks-NOW across our culture, more rapidly than rabies.

Sure, the country likes Game Shows. Hell, we could probably have a game show for every island we have in our archipelago. And there is nothing wrong with that IN ITS PUREST FORM. There is nothing wrong with spreading joy, receiving it, and taking part in it. But there is everything wrong when the make-me-a-millionaire-at-this-moment mentality seizes the very veins in which our country’s lifeblood flows.

There is everything wrong with people trusting game shows more than their government. There is everything wrong with people trusting chance more than their own know-how. There is everything wrong with people not anymore being able to tell if it is the devil himself handing out the cash – and thanking him, kissing him, and adoring him. There is everything wrong with corporations and networks wringing sob stories for all they’re worth, and selling the tears to anyone who would pay with thirty seconds of more trash. There is everything wrong with people not being able to stand working at anything long enough anymore. There is everything wrong when we fling all our prayers onto gigantic pick-up-sticks.

Our game shows reflect the sick state we’re in, this sadistic spiral we’re all trying to swim out of of. It is shown not least in the way we treat others or our society at large. We expect results to come as quickly as they do on TV. If the government does not produce results as quickly as Revillame, then it’s not working – so our game show mentality tells us. If my job does not give me the raise I want in the time I want it, then I might have a better chance of getting it through Eat Bulaga. Or, we’re friends, as long as we don’t have to both fight for the 100,000 pesos in the jackpot round.

We have flung our hopes on people who could care less about hoping, and they run our country – more insidiously than dictators ever will. 

Gladiators

It was no Colosseum.

But gladiators were there, chasing glories through grit.

 

Neither was it Olympus.

But the ancients would have been proud of the dogged determination and dedication that filled the morning air.

 

Neither was it Araneta Coliseum, the supposed mecca of an archipelago’s athletic endeavors.

But it was filled with those who made the early morning pilgrimage toward better selves.

 

It was Greenhills Shopping Center on a Sunday Morning. It was filled with weekend gladiators, health-enthusiasts-turned demi-olympians, and even those who just wanted to make sure that blood still flowed through their veins.

 

 

It was awake as ever this morning, as the city still slept, and was in transition from a hard night of partying to 10AM Mass. No doubt, ounces upon ounces of sweat had already been spilt on the shopping center’s pavement. Hundreds of shoes had already kissed the running path wound its way around the center. Later, this path would be filled with cabs, sedans, vans, traffic enforcers, motorcycles and people trying to cross from one shopping venue to the next. Later in the day, the shopping center would threaten to burst at the seams with the sheer volume of humanity that it tried toe good store. But that would be later. Now, it belonged to those who dared to rise early.

There were the senior citizens, sometimes accompanied by their children or grandchildren. Some would walk gingerly. Some would go through the entire motion of a sprint, but going at the pace of a foxtrot. Then there are the exceptional senior citizens who put my lungs and legs to shame – those warriors from a different time still decked in their full running battlegear, still going at competition-speed and form. Whatever their pace, I am always humbled by their dedication to life. They always make me realize how much I do have, and how much I should utilize them to the fullest.

Then there are the bikers.  A good section of the road has been  cordoned off for them, and they have earned this special section by consistently showing up and varying the cardiovascular landscape this side of town. They’re in full gear from bike to biceps. Man and machine in motion is poetry to watch – if you’re attentive enough not to be rundown by them. When I get my bike in the future, I’d sure join them.

Socialites also come to partake of this community event. They come in the best shoes, the flashiest athletic shirts, and the iPods with the funkiest headphones. Sometimes, they even came with the most colorful head bands. But their objective is not to run. Their objective is to meet their amigas, or their kumpares, and walk around the shopping center, do a good lap or two, then head on to Gloria Maris, Mister Donut or Krispy Kreme for more stories about the good old days, or what the best medicine for their gout is. Their chatter adds character to the soundscape, as the more animated ones flail their arms as they gesture when you pass by their group at Mister Donut.

I would really have liked to write about this Tai Chi group, too, that used to meet consistently on the shopping center grounds, but I haven’t seen them there in a long time.

There are, of course, the real runners, who you could identify a kilometer away. They’re not going to be in really flashy gear or they won’t be wearing the most faddish sports equipment, and they won’t be with someone whom they’ll just talk to the whole time. They’ll be in dress-down, let’s-get-to-work muscle or plain shirts that are already drenched with sweat since the minute you saw them.

 

And there are those who just want to make sure that they’re healthy, or hobbyists, or preparing for the next Fun Run they signed up for. They’ll probably  be wearing the jersey that came with the last fun run, and when they see another runner in Greenhills wearing the same one, they’ll be smiling. These are the ones who don’t just get to have a good workout as the day begins. These are also the ones who, because of their un-hardcore pace, can still take a breath  to observe everyone else running around them, and even blog about them.

 

Runners have been going around Greenhills even way before this running bug caught the country, and I’m willing to bet my running shoes that they will still be running around it long after. Running in Greenhills  is not just an opportunity for health, but an opportunity to socialize for others. It can be a way to better one’s self, to cut one’s 5K time in the next Fun Run, or to get to a better waistline.  It can also just be a way to enjoy beautiful Sunday mornings, and be comforted that there are other crazy people who woke up early like you did, to run while the sun rose, and while the rest of the world slept. And who knows? Maybe the gladiators would be proud of our craziness, too.

Our cups – and shot glasses – overflow

 

 

Soju

Once in a while, a nation’s soul finds its way into the world of the tangible.

Sometimes, especially for those gifted with extreme crafting excellence and even more extreme patience, they turn this collective soul into its people’s alcoholic beverage.

Alcohol has often been seen as an ailment of society more than as a sign of its health. While it is true that there are those who give alcohol a bad rap – those who take it too far and become addicted, obsessed, or even violent because of it. Yet, when taken in blessedly right amounts, these spirits lift ours.

I have always been fascinated with the stories behind the alcohol, and the culture it is expressing. Each alcohol’s taste carries with it the story and journey of a people. Whether it be the Soju, the Sake,  the Merlot or Tempranillo, even the San Miguel and the Tsing Tao, every drop on the tongue carries with it the culture, story and land of from which it was grown. And it’s not just the taste, too. Even the bottling, labeling,  preservation and method with which it is drank (Sake and Soju traditions, for example).

I can not claim to be an expert on beer, wine or these other beautiful elixirs of life, but what I can do is to enjoin us all to sip it in. To drink the world, its myriads of madness, its legion of joys, and then maybe we can begin to appreciate more of the complexity of life from there.  By understanding that although we craft, taste and offer alcohol to one another differently, our souls all yearn to express themselves in what we call, in our sober state, the real world.

Cheers.