A bit MIA for the holidays

I was in Baltimore the last few days helping my boyfriend move into his internet-less apartment, which writing-wise was pure misery and explains the lack of blog posts, but fun-wise definitely enjoyable.

Getting there, though, was such an ordeal. On my way to the bus stop Saturday, I ran right into SantaCon NYC 2009, smack dab in the middle of 33rd, where my bus was supposed to be. It would have made the perfect picture post had it not been for my fear that I’d missed the bus. I paced up and down the block, shoved a few santas aside with my suitcase, and even chased a Bolt bus down the street (and was told, rather rudely by one driver, that I needed to wait “UP THERE!” Insert menacing stare). Turns out the bus was 40 minutes late. I’ll just file it in my “Of course it would happen to me” folder, right along with shoddy Internet on a (non-Bolt) bus that my friends say has never failed them and a schedule change on the subway the ONE day I try a new route.

Tomorrow I’ll also be en route to Virginia for the holidays, so don’t expect a regular posting schedule until January.

On that note, happy holidays!

Embattled Mindanao

Mindanao, Philippines, October 2008.

My dad was a journalist in college (maybe even post-college) in the Philippines, but he gave it up because he said it was too dangerous. He was right.

Of the top 20 most dangerous countries for journalists listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Philippines ranks fifth, with 38 dead since 1992. This number doesn’t include those killed in the recent Maguindanao massacre, in which more than 30 journalists died, bringing the total to 88 and earning the Philippines the unfortunate distinction of second place, right behind Iraq.

The CPJ actually now considers the Philippines the most dangerous country for media. Interestingly enough but unsurprising, most of the 38 listed on their site covered corruption.

Mindanao, the island where the massacre took place, has long been plagued by political conflicts and violent attacks from militant Islamic groups. Just recently, in July of this year, a bomb went off outside a Christian cathedral and killed 5, injuring dozens more.

My dad is from Mindanao. My mom was so terrified of it that, despite spending much of her life in the Philippines, she never set foot in Mindanao until last year, when my family and I visited (the first time my dad, sister and I had been back since we emigrated in 1992).

My friends warned me to steer clear of the island, repeating horror stories we’d heard many times before. Even though we were in the northern part of Mindanao, away from the usually targeted areas, I admit I was a bit apprehensive when we landed.

But in the few days I was there, my fears were unrealized. The people were incredibly nice. A cab driver even returned my dad’s bag carrying his laptop and wallet when he forgot it in the car. Much of it is really beautiful.

It’s a shame that amid such beauty, so much violence pervades.

A security guard keeps watch in the hotel lobby.

A student at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro.

The streets there aren’t as chaotic as Manila’s.

Tricycles and Jeepneys are usually in vibrant colors, often decorated to the drivers’ liking.

A neighborhood stand.

A woman surveys the streets.

Back to the future, Obey Giant styles

Still in the process of setting up my closet, er, bedroom, I recently came across this picture while searching for photos for the frames above my bed (Yes, *I hung them sans pictures because I thought it would motivate me to print photos ASAP. Mind you, I bought those frames two years ago when I moved into my first apartment. This is progress).

I’d decided to use three pictures of three different markets I photographed in my travels — New York, the Philippines and, where the above photo was taken, Barcelona. There’s nothing remarkable about this picture, I actually didn’t even post it on the blog I had back then, except for the sticker behind the blurred figure. I remember being a bit creeped out, taking the picture and moving on. What I didn’t know was it was a stencil of Andre the Giant by graffiti artist Shepard Fairey.

Why I’m bringing this up now, more than two years after this photo was taken, is simply because I love finding little nuggets like this. Without knowing it, I’d come across artwork by an artist who would blow up a little more than a year later.

Regardless of your political leanings, you most likely have seen this image, especially during the 2008 presidential election. Fairey created this stencil, which became the symbol of the Hope campaign. It has since become an icon.

In April, I was able to check out more of Fairey’s work at the ICA in Boston. Lo and behold, Andre the Giant’s face graced the top of the building. I soon noticed his stuff scattered across the city, on walls, on buildings, on lampposts.

What does it all mean, you ask?

Absolutely nothing.

As humans, we often search for meaning in what we don’t understand by finding tenuous links between things that are likely unrelated. Many who see Fairey’s work come up with their own interpretations.

The funny thing is, the sticker itself means nothing. Its whole reason for existing is to be questioned.  There is so much information out there on billboards, advertisements that we passively look at, ingest subconsciously and, without knowing it, accept as truth. Most commercials blatantly tell us what they’re selling rather than letting us discover things for ourselves (Remember when the G campaign first came out? That was an exception). With the Obey Giant campaign, Fairey aims to make us think actively about what we see and question our surroundings.

It’s pretty neat how something that didn’t mean much two years ago suddenly makes a bit more sense. I can’t say I decipher every little thing I encounter these days, but it does make me wonder about what else I’m missing.


*Disclaimer: By “I,” I mean my boyfriend. I don’t know how to draw a straight line, much less hang a series of frames evenly.