How I got tested at LoveYourself PH

I wrote this about two years ago—below, I cite a disheartening statistic that 500 new HIV cases are reported in a month. As of December 2016, that figure is now up to 750 or 24 new cases a day. Get yourself tested and always practice safe sex.

PS: Of course, ang tagal ng na-break ang promise ko, haha.

* * * *

I was at low risk and still, I broke out in cold sweat. I was in a small receiving room along with another guy on one couch and a counselor on the other. The air-conditioning felt like it was at full blast—minutes later, I was shivering due to the low temperature, but also most likely due to my anxiety.

loveyourself-phI was at LoveYourself in Shaw Boulevard for an HIV testing.  I like the positivity that the name suggests though I wish it had been better: On my visit, I had an awkward exchange with the building’s security guard when he asked me for my business and I said, “Love yourself.”

I was there because of an encounter I had with a guy more than six months ago. There was no intercourse, but there was ‘frotting’ and then some. My research, aka Google, suggested the possibility of infection was next to none, but what drove me crazy was the fact there was a tiny percentage I may have gotten infected.

The very next week, I was down with fever, which was unusual for me since I started getting yearly flu shots. When I itch, I’d look closer at my skin and compare it to Google images of rashes on people with HIV. The symptoms listed for HIV infection did not help: fever, migraine, cold, rashes—I experience any of these on any given day, even all at the same time. However, since HIV tests are only reliable three to six months after infection, I could not do anything but wait even as I grew more and more paranoid.

So six months later, I arrived for my test at an otherwise nondescript building, save for its yellow color. On the third level, where the clinic is, the windows were all shut and there was not a single soul on the floor. It was a depressing sight—at least until I knocked on the door and led myself in.

Music was blaring in the reception room: when I entered, it was Beyoncé, later to be succeeded by Rihanna, Sia, and Nicki Minaj. The lobby was fully packed. The attendant, who will later turn out to be my counselor, immediately handed me a form—no inquisitions, except to ask if I had been tested before.

Filling out the form became my first emotional moment at the clinic: as I wrote my father’s and mother’s names, it pained me to imagine their reaction in case I had to tell them a bad news. (Though confidential, details are required to activate one’s Philhealth in case the result is positive, I was told.) Writing down my birthday made me think of my childhood years, when one of the most pressing problems I had was how to tell my mother I accidentally released the birthday balloons she gave me up in the air.

It was also then that I was assigned my ‘number’—a lengthy alphanumeric series which I figured would conceal my identity in case I am HIV positive. “This is it,” I thought. “I’m being reduced to anonymity.”  Even before my visit, I’ve been aware of the strong HIV/AIDS stigma not only in the country but internationally.

There was a pre-counseling session where I found myself in the freezing room with another guy. The counselor had a pragmatic approach to the entire experience, which actually made me feel better: HIV is not a death sentence. You can die anytime, no matter how healthy or sickly you are. Being HIV positive (or reactive is how they put it) would require certain lifestyle changes, but in no way should it prevent you from enjoying a quality life.

The counselor left to arrange our blood test and one-on-one counseling. There was an awkward silence between me and the other guy so I asked him how worried he was. It turned out I opened a floodgate: he told me his story and his symptoms all under three minutes. I began to worry for him, too. It sounded like he’d be lucky if he didn’t turn out reactive.

The one-on-one session allows you to tell all. It’s like a confessional, albeit you reveal every juicy detail about your sex life. In my case, he confirmed that I truly was a low risk, but that unfortunately, I was still at risk. The counselor also helps plan for either reactive/non-reactive scenario by asking for my thoughts on both. If I were negative, I told him, I’m avoiding any sexual contact nevertheless. The counselor appealed in behalf of my libido: “You don’t have to swear it off completely,” he said. But the months-long stress I had been through wasn’t worth it. (It’s not just the HIV—one can get sexually transmitted diseases even through oral sex, no matter if you’re the giver or recipient.)

The result is known in two hours, which I imagined would be a hellish eternity. There’s a living room setup for those who prefer to wait in the clinic rather than leave and return for the result. I plopped myself on the sofa. On TV was The Time Traveler’s Wife, where Eric Bana kept leaping onscreen shirtless, his rippled body mocking the celibacy promise I made to myself minutes earlier.

People came in steadily, a mix of men and women. Some were hot. Others were extremely hot. A couple of days before, I read a report which said that new cases were up 500 that month.

My two hours, as it turned out, went by quickly—I’ve never been as comfortable in a clinic as in LoveYourself, and I’ve been to a few good hospitals. And it’s all free. It was literally a haven, especially for such an anxiety-ridden person like I was at the time.

When I was handed my envelope in a private room and saw my result, I said a prayer of thanks and ate my first proper meal in days. I cannot thank the founder/s and staff of LoveYourself enough.

LoveYourself has three testing locations. The one in Shaw Blvd is located at Anglo Building, near the Shaw flyover. 

For more details, visit www.loveyourself.ph

What I’m watching: Terrace House

terrace-house

I got a little bored with Netflix after having seen The Crown (a show which I loved, by the way) and nothing else interested me (as in pinatulan ko na yung Trollhunters lol, though maganda naman and nadala ng pangalan ni Guillermo del Toro) so I was contemplating on ending my subscription when the latest season of Terrace House, the one set in Hawaii, showed up under new arrivals. Terrace House is sort of an international sleeper hit and I only learned about it from the cool kids I follow on Twitter, and later, in articles on The Verge and Wired. Anyway, Terrace House is a Japanese reality TV show, which is sort of like Big Brother in that the cast lives in one house and is followed by cameras everywhere, but the huge difference is that everyone is free to live their lives in the outside world (i.e., they still go to school, hold down jobs, go on mini breaks). They are also free to leave the show for good any time they want, in which case, someone replaces them in the house immediately.

In each episode, in between the “story” arcs (in quotes because the show stresses that it is unscripted), a group of titos and titas provide comic relief with their commentaries as titos and titas do in real life, but their collective wisdom is also highlighted as they provide insight down to the nonverbal cues of the housemates.

terrace-house-2

The titos and titas, plus a token teenager. That guy in the glasses is soo funny.

The show almost serves as a dating show in that the cast members are all straight, mostly single, no more than a decade in age apart, and are almost always equally divided between girls and boys. There’s a missed opportunity to tackle more controversial subjects outside your usual boy-girl problems, but I suppose that’s where the appeal is: it’s almost like a palate cleanser to all the reality shows we’ve been consuming in the last decade when there is hardly any drama or shockers or sexual content in it. Even the latter is treated in a matter-of-fact way, such that it’s no big deal when someone outside the show asks her younger sister, who is part of the cast, if she’s done it with her new boyfriend. (And the answer is yes, and older sister barely batted an eyelash.) But things did get exciting in the Terrace Houses’ first Netflix season (Girls and Boy in the City) and some topics remain up to debate for me. (Like, I still have a problem with the Meat Crime incident—I’m absolutely with Uchi on that one.) So far, there are no such crises in Aloha State (I’m done watching all eight episodes and now just waiting for the second batch), but the people are beautiful to watch, especially Lauren, and the vibe is just as laid back as the Hawaiian coastline.

January stats

For January, I had a total of two Starbucks drinks. I took seven Uber rides, all of which were necessary (I could have resorted to a regular taxi but why). I read zero books—I bought a collection of short stories in late December and I’ve only managed to read one story so far.

Fucks I gave the Miss Universe competition: 26 tweets. Number of times I lamented the speaking skills of our candidate to friends: too many to count.

I went to the gym 13 times equivalent to 13 hours of intensive exercise. I drank 20lbs of mass gainer, but only gained 1 or 2lbs. I don’t know where it went. I’ve budgeted and tracked my money down to the last peso. I spent P8,514 on food alone and the priciest restaurants I went to were Pancake House and Songkran. I was able to save P1,600 from my allowance, the money I budget for my personal expenses, which include entertainment. I only went to the mall twice: the first to see Sunday Beauty Queen with my mother and the second to buy a light bulb. I didn’t buy any material stuff for myself.

I attended a floral watercolor workshop, but produced no floral painting so far. I was able to complete a portrait of Emma Stone, but one of Amy Adams is still in progress. I didn’t see any friends outside of work. I went out of town a total of three times, but only saw my parents at their home once.

Journal entries written: zero. Instagram selfies: zero. Camera phone selfies: 64 (lol). Boyfriend: one. 🙂

Film review: Die Beautiful

Die Beautiful is one of the most original films to have come out recently, which seems ironic at first considering the following storyline: Patrick (Paolo Ballesteros) grows up as a young boy who is a fan of beauty pageants. He clashes with his father (Joel Torre), who does not agree with his identity and who later evicts him out of the house. Patrick then becomes Trisha Echevarria, and along with BFF Barbs (Christian Bables), she makes a living as a beauty pageant contestant. Hardly anything new as far as LGBTs’ lives are concerned.

die-beautifulBut the film goes way beyond those bullet points: there may be a common story among LGBTs, a template of pain and suffering, if you will, but it’s the details that need to be told. Director Jun Lana and screenwriter Rody Vera flesh them out tenderly, not only in flashbacks, but also in a non-linear way; after all, layers aren’t always peeled in the correct order. As the film remained deftly edited—not once did I get lost in the plot despite the alternating timelines—I thought it was a well-maneuvered approach to the typical coming-of-age story.

It is after all, Trisha’s coming-of-age story. I normally dislike the phrase, thinking it’s a cop out for teenage movies which gratuitously feature sex and drugs, but in Die Beautiful, Paolo’s Trisha is treated with such respect that despite the ugliest scenario, she remains… well, beautiful. If there were anything gratuitous in the film, they were the “beaucon” jokes and I hope they’re not what the viewer came to see the movie for. That’s why it’s interesting how Lana takes the unsuspecting viewer for a ride: the beaucons and Paolo’s makeup transformations are nothing compared to what awaits the audience, a semi-Stockholm syndrome which Lana never quite resolves (intendedly), leaving us to wonder whether she should have indeed walked out of or stayed for true love. And isn’t that a beautiful metaphor for LGBT rights in the country?

Film rating: 4.5/5

Film review: Vince and Kath and James

I’m more than a decade past the market of Vince and Kath and James; watching this almost seemed like a social science experiment, when you had to do something out of your comfort zone. And so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. There are ridiculously syrupy lines—there were times I pulled my hair and screamed internally—and I barely survived the ending, but in total, it’s a story which serves some pretty good lessons for tweens, especially for girls.

vince-and-kath-and-james

I absolutely loved the feminist angle given to Kath (Julia Barretto): her feminism isn’t angry or loud or in your face, but rather, she just is. Kath unapologetically joins a beauty pageant for money and at home, tinkers around the house as the handyman. An engineering student, she, along with the other female students, are relegated to admin work at their internship, but she later volunteers to do heavy labor because the desk job bored her out of her wits. She calls out Vince for body shaming her when he remarked about her weight. And although her fat cheeks remained the butt of Vince’s (Joshua Garcia) joke throughout the movie, by then you know it comes from a place of love, not bullying, unlike earlier in the story.

But I thought it was Joshua who truly shined in the role—he reminds me of a young Aga Muhlach (Mitzi offered John Lloyd Cruz instead)—and there’s a confidence in him, whether he’s in full-on pranskter-heartthrob role or being dramatic; he did have the meatiest role, thanks to a backstory involving her mother, played earnestly by Ina Raymundo. I think he’s someone to watch out for.

I have a couple of minor problems with the plot, but since they are spoilers, I would be happy to discuss them in the comments instead, if you like. But overall, the storytelling remained tight and very engaging; the character and story arcs give depth without losing focus of the heart of this film. Congratulations to the writers Daisy Cayanan, Kim Noromor and Anjanette Haw.

Film rating: 4.5/5

My notes on Saving Sally

saving-sally

  • I’m hard-pressed to name a local mainstream actor who could pull off a role in English. It’s not the English per se (accent or pronunciation), but the dialogue delivery of a native speaker. (Think Lea Salonga: perfect English, but the delivery seems too polished.) Contrary to what I’ve read somewhere, I think Rhian Ramos is actually a brilliant actress in a Tagalog-speaking role; in English, though, I felt that she suffered the Lea Salonga problem. Hirap ako i-pinpoint yung issue ko sa kanya, actually. But I thought she was charming and definitely someone guys would fall head over heels in love for.
  • Enzo Marcos (Marty), in all aspects, is perfect.
  • TJ Trinidad (Nick) was also perfect for the role.
  • By the way, why is this an English movie? ‘La naman kaso, curious lang ako.
  • Production value is outstanding—the film can stand alongside international films. I hope this opens the door to more Filipino animated films; it’s about time we provide Filipino graphic artists their own platform here in the country. It’s beautiful to see Pinoy pop culture and our urban landscape depicted like so on the big screen.
  • I wished they pushed the writing further. As I told my friend PJ, steady lang sya. Yung emotional range didn’t change much—it didn’t bring me to the highs or lows. But there were so, so many opportunities when they could have gone darker and therefore, more interesting, e .g. yung semi-animated scene between Sally and Nick; yung clinic scene—I thought something sinister was going to happen; a grittier backstory behind Sally and her family—BUT I think I can understand their case against doing so. GV lang talaga yung movie, kung baga.
  • Again, re: pushing the writing further, napa-facepalm ako sa ending. Ayun na eh.

too-close

  • Brilliant heartbreak scene (this is not a spoiler, right?)—ganda nung transition nung wall art into a shroud of Sally posters, tapos yung drowning sequence—galing ng concept, art, and execution! Ramdam ko eh.
  • Kuya Bodjie is ❤

My rating: 4/5 for the playfulness, aesthetics, and technical merits

Film review: Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: #ForeverisNotEnough

My review for the first Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (first published in my blog, and later, in PDI) couldn’t be more glowing—I found it way too short. For this sequel, I found myself looking at my watch and preparing to sleep, except the old dude behind me had beaten me to it and started snoring.

ang-babae-sa-septic-tank-2

Photo: Quantum Films

Eugene, who plays herself with what we assume are artistic exaggerations, had barely enough screen time to satiate our appetite for her perfect comic timing and wit.

This time, it was all Eugene. Unfortunately, the screenplay left her with nothing to do except rattle off formulaic suggestions to what was supposed to be a “serious” romantic film penned and to be directed by Ranier (Kean Cipriano). Thus, one-third of the film is devoted to torturing the audience with local romantic comedy banalities that the filmmakers are supposedly railing against.

And this was so boring. Whereas the first movie commented on the state of indie filmmaking and the inclination to exploit the poor (poverty porn), romcoms are hardly anything to be angry about especially compared to the larger issues in the country today.

This self-mockery is what makes “Ang Babae” both comical and enlightening: where does one draw the line between exposing and exploiting the truth? How do you present this truth in an honest way? And why not a musical?

And maybe, because there’s ultimately nothing to rage about romcoms (walang panghuhugutan), there wasn’t enough motivation to seek this truth. (Translation: 1.5 hours would be too long to make a competent commentary on local romcoms and writer Chris Martinez knew that.) It was only during the last 20 minutes of the film when Eugene, in a stunning turn of serious acting (because prior to this scene, all she had been doing were sketches), and Kean began to engage in a debate about this “truth” that my brain kicked into first gear and started thinking, but their conversation lasted only for 5 minutes and that was that.

Without leaving a spoiler, I loved the cameos toward the end; I thought how self-assured of them to take on their roles.

My rating: skip this in the MMFF lineup. After this and the Kimmy Dora sequels, Chris has Here Comes the Bride left to botch. I hope he leaves it as it is.

My 2017 resolutions

First, a look back on last year’s.

Keep calm and watercolor: Failed. I actually started getting more commissions this year, but the more I got one, the more I became saddled with insecurity and anxiety. So at some point, I stopped painting completely. Then, I started to get into CrossFit, which solidified my excuse because now, I simply don’t have enough time.

There’s clearly something wrong with me.

Meditate: So-so. I’m not able to do it daily, but I would say, at least once or twice a week. It helps me fall asleep.

Stay fit: Passed, albeit with new a development in my health. More below.

Take more selfies: So-so. My Instagram feed is a healthy mix of food, selfies, watercolor, and places. There are times when I still get so self-conscious about posting my selfie, so I think there’s a lot more I can improve on with this one.

Entirely liquid emergency fund: Failed. I didn’t see a lot of improvement from 2015 and with the low-record stock market that we have, even my investments have taken a hit. So I’m hoping to bounce back in 2017.

 

Now, for my resolutions next year:img_5563A month ago, I’ve taken to documenting all my cash inflow and outflow to the point that I count the coins in my wallet. I was aghast to learn how much of my budget goes to a) food, and b) Uber and Starbucks. They were such a waste when I could have commuted or brewed my own coffee. I’m willing to make an exception especially for Uber, for safety and utmost convenience’s stake, but otherwise, I’ll use public transportation. (I only drive on weekends.) I am definitely avoiding Starbucks or any other coffee chain, unless it’s for socializing, i.e., meeting up friends.img_5564In August, I was diagnosed with hypertension, which was such a huge personal blow that I got a little depressed for over a month. While all medical tests cleared me of heart problems—it’s likely due to genes and diet—I now have maintenance drugs. I know I’m getting old each year, but there’s nothing like having maintenance meds to drill the point. (Also, my cardiologist addresses me with “po.”)

Since the diagnosis, I’ve drank a serving a Coke less than 10 times; I’ve eaten popcorn once; and I’ve never eaten chips. For the first month, I limited my rice intake and ate mostly fish and veggies, but then I lost more than 10lbs (even without exercise), which alarmed me, so I have been a lot more indulgent since. I’ve enrolled in CrossFit for the last three months—never missed my 3x a week classes, even when I was in Boracay (there’s a box there by the beach)—and I have gained back those 10lbs (I’m about 15lbs underweight.) So aside from eating healthy, I hope to become fitter so that I may at least finish in the middle of my CrossFit class after every workout. (I’m almost always last/second to the last.)img_5565I’m not proud of how I wasn’t able to read books this year. I now struggle with reading: I find myself repeating sentences over and over again, and my attention span is worse than before.

This will be a difficult resolution to keep—with CrossFit, I simply don’t have enough time to read. Even without my other extra-curricular activity, such as watercolor, I’m struggling to have 8 hours of sleep during the weekday. So, to gain that time, I must…img_5566I’ve remained off Facebook since my post about it. My account is still active because I sometimes need it for work and, as I immediately discovered, for Tinder, but otherwise, I haven’t read my timeline or posted on it.

The disadvantage though is I’ve been remiss in my fraternal duties. For example, I belatedly learned that an acquaintance’s dad had passed away and that a dear friend’s dad had to be confined in the hospital. (On a more superficial level, I’ve missed out on shopping deals, too.) I’ve simply been out of the loop, which goes to show how we’ve all been so dependent on Facebook.img_5567Once in a while, I look back at my old blog entries and realize I enjoy the process a lot. (Note that I enjoy the process, not necessarily the writings because those could be painful to read.) If I continue this path of neglecting my blog, then there will be years when I’d be left with nothing to look back on, i.e., 2015-2016.

I started bringing my digital camera along with me again. The photo quality is way better than my iPhone, especially for group and wide shots. So maybe, this resolution is not necessarily restricted to blogging but to documenting my life in general.

(Not so blind) Date: ‘He wanted to check if I was sweaty’

What were you hoping for?
That we’d click as we did online; that we’ll be more engaged in conversation than we do online

First impressions?
He’s got charming dance moves.

What did you talk about?
A lot—it was about five hours of talking about politics, national heroes, theater, our respective careers, and family life

Any awkward moments?
Between us, no, but we had a good laugh about the scary-funny Uber driver who was supposed to drive me home but was not only literally all over the map but seemed spaced out (so I cancelled).

Good table manners?
Impeccable and refined

Best thing about him?
He offered to walk with me for 3kms and tour me around places I’ve never been to before

Would you introduce him to your friends?
Yes, I think they’ll like him very much.

Describe him in three words.
Smart, cute and likes long walks

What do you think he made of you?
A recluse who likes short walks

Did you go on somewhere?
Yes, we made three stops in total—four, if I include our meeting place

And… did you kiss?
The best I got was a pat on the back and only because he wanted to check if I was sweaty

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I wouldn’t have worn leather shoes.

Marks out of 10?
9

Would you meet again?
Yes