I've named my blog the "White Mage Chronicles." Am I a huge Final Fantasy fan (nerd?) You bet I am.
This open letter of support for performers of Stanford Kayumanggi's PCN was originally published May 6, 2017. I ended up liking what I wrote and thought I'd archive it here.
Finished a short film! I made it a quest to produce more personal projects this year and this one has been particularly satisfying. :)
For me, storytelling is a way to explore and lay bare our humanity. I'm driven to understand people deeply; to grasp their narratives, their passions, their hopes, their dreams, their fears - and relate these to others in an engaging way. Plus, there aren't enough filmmakers of color, much less FIlipinos, making cinema that represents our community out there.
The rocky arch I stood on trembled as water tackled earth. That'd be a hell of a fall, I thought. The waves thundered below me while a cacophony of nesting birds that made the cliffs their home sprinkled the air with conversation. I peered outwards, the Atlantic. Turning around, the fishing village of Anarstapi nestled at the base of Mount Stapafell - the last stop on the route the protagonists of Jules Verne pass before they climbed Snæfellsjökull to the center of the Earth.
We were now in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, west of Reykjavik. The vistas we've experienced were so unfamiliar, yet strangely enough, familiar. Tolkien, Verne, and Martin - I saw them in the land. The Snæfellsjökull Glacier, the entrance into the Center of the Earth. The striking snow-capped peaks all along the coast, the Misty Mountains or the lands beyond the Wall. In these first few days, Iceland has already captured my imagination. I suppose I'm not alone. Handful of filmmakers have used the terrain as intergalactic planets, Batman's training dojo, the old world of Noah's Ark, or grounds for Mitty-like escapades. I wouldn't have been surprised if hobbits appeared - I almost expected them to.
Iceland feels very primordial. It's as if the term 'primary ecological succession' was lifted out of my textbooks and placed into reality. There are no trees. Well, there are, but there are less than 1% on the island. Much of the terrain feels like it's just been spit out of the belly of the earth. Blankets of moss with patches of shrubbery and grass are the only pioneers of the land, barely masking the craggy scars of volcanic explosions and tumultuous tectonic movement. I was transported into a time before Time - a world raw, wild, and untouched by humans.
Speaking of humans. I've started to associate Iceland as the country with 'only one of things.' Examples of things I've heard:
Here's the only hotel in the city // Here's the only police station in the city (there's only one police car!) // Here's the only school in the town. // Here's the only car we've passed in the past two hours. // Here's the only farm in hundreds of kilometers.
Like I've mentioned before, Iceland is not a populous country - its total inhabitants less than 1 million. Iceland total population (2013): 323,002; San Francisco total population (2013): 837,442. We passed by a a few 'large' towns of 1000 residents. The average was around 200 or 300.
I like it. If there's anything I've noticed, it's that the Icelanders live within their means. They seem in harmony with nature, respectful and in awe of its power. Perhaps their limited resources and environment force them to do so, but nevertheless their mentality and general affect exude modesty. When we arrived in Stykkishólmur around 5 or 6, the town was essentially empty. I saw one pair of children - at this point, I could've ben convinced they were the only ones in town - and not a single car nor human in the streets. The guide explained that everything closes early in general because Icelanders value their family time; chasing profit isn't really in their values. This played out later after our hotel dinner. Gugga (our guide) informed us that if we needed anything in the middle of the night, we needed to knock on her room directly; the hotel staff would be leaving to go home and would only be back in the morning. They gave her the keys to the hotel.
One of the new pastimes I've embraced from our guide is troll hunting. They're massive creatures but, when hit by the light of day, will turn to stone. The joy comes from finding their frozen forms throughout the land - sometimes a formation is just a head, but sometimes a whole mountain could be a troll reclined on its back. Troll-hunting; it's a thing.
Alright, here we go. This one's going to be brief because jetlag is crushing my eyelids. Apologies if I speak like a rambling robot.
We arrived at the airport a little before 6AM after a series of flights from LAX, Minnesota and JFK. My first thought upon emerging from the plane: "This is Ikea...embodied in an airport." The design of the building was incredibly functional, clean cut, and simple. The bathroom had T-shaped sinks with auto-dryers built into the faucets. This blew my mind. I left not only relieved, but also wanting these glorious contraptions installed in every bathroom in the US.
We collected our luggage and passed through customs. Waiting for us at arrivals was our tour manager, Gugga ("goog-ka"). She shepherded us into a bus and we headed to our hotel.
After some 40 minutes, we arrived in Reykjavik city proper and checked in. We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I drank 3 cups of coffee hoping it would jump start and reset my circadian rhythms.
It did not.
We set out for the city tour, which I'll admit I experienced with varying spurts of alertness. We passed by the Höfdi House, site of the 1986 Iceland Summit where Reagan and Gorbachev met. One of the first remarkable things I saw was the Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland. Its design was inspired by the basalt lava flows that cover Iceland. I couldn't shake the the thought that it looked like a Windows Media Player visualizer with a church slapped in the middle. Nevertheless, its simplicity was a refreshing change from the opulence that characterizes most cathedrals in Europe (or the world). The only grand part of the church was the gorgeous organ lining the back wall.
For a capital city, Reykjavik felt incredibly small-town. But when you consider that its population is only around 120K, it makes sense. As comparison, my suburban hometown of Chino Hills has a population around 70K, already 60% of that figure.
We also got a beautiful view of the city from Perlan, situated on the hill Öskjuhlíð. Icelanders are some of the happiest in the world, probably because they're surrounded by such natural beauty. Gugga, our guide, said, "Iceland has no amusement parks, all of the nature is our playground."
To finish off the day we headed off to the famous Blue Lagoon, a giant pool of mineral rich geothermal water. Industrial accidental byproduct, turned into honeypot for tourists all over the world. Twas a quite bizarre feeling swimming in 90-100 degree water, while the freezing cold surrounded us.
We had a welcome orientation drink thing later that night. I am once again the only person not retired or close to it. Thoughts on that later. Farewell friends. Also the sun sets so late here. In the summer, it never sets, hence the "Land of the Midnight Sun."
About to KNOCK OUT.
Hello from the United Lounge in LAX International airport! I'm about to embark on a transatlantic journey (with a layover in New York) to the frozen paradise of Iceland. Whether or not it is actually frozen -- or a paradise -- remains to be seen; I'll let you know.
Our flight is slightly after midnight, so I'm sitting here writing the first of what will be a travel blog. Granted, I'm not even sure if I'll have internet access during our trip, but I'll try!
This trip began with a highlight; I ran into an old friend from middle school. Since our promotion, I hadn't seen her in over 10 years. We were in the same core (is that what it was called?) and the few salient memories I have were her bright smile and passing Asian snacks back in forth during classes.
The encounter began when we settled into the back of the shuttle bus. A trio of young Asians boarded the vehicle. My mom looked at them and said, "I really like when girls look so beautiful even when they have no make up." I glanced at the girl her eyes were focused upon. I nodded in agreement. "You know," I said, "she looks like my old classmate."
Naturally, I dove into Facebook, where I attempted cross referencing any statuses about traveling. Damn - we weren't Facebook friends. From the profile picture, she looked similar, but I couldn't be sure...it had been too long. After about an hour of checking in and going through security, I was 90% convinced that it really was her.
Finally, as our groups passed in the main terminal, my mom called out, "Hi, are you Tiffany?" She looked puzzled, but confirmed that she was. "I'm Phil, from Chaparral!" I said, mentioning our middle school. "Oh my goshhhh," she exclaimed and gave me a huge hug. She introduced me to her boyfriend and her other friend. My glasses had changed, she noted, but otherwise I looked the same. She also looked just as she did in middle school -- just with more wrinkles, in her words. I laughed. She still hangs out with some of our friends from middle school and said she'd text them that we ran into each other. Our catchup was brief, but nevertheless I felt happy.
10 years is a long time; it amazes me how much we change and mature. But equally amazing is though that we've practically become strangers, somehow, rediscovering a friend produces a joy and nostalgia of times gone by. I can't pinpoint why I feel particularly warm. I guess when you leave school, you don't know if you'll ever see your friends in person again (cue Graduation Song by Vitamin C). On one hand you're sad, on the other, you don't notice their absence after a while. Despite Facebook's goal of connecting us, it feels we're only superficially connected with most of our past acquaintances. But that's life, I suppose.
But there's something to be said about seeing your old friends happy, healthy, and doing their own things in the world, especially when we weren't sure we'd surmount our most pressing issues in middle school: navigating puberty, gunning to be in our friends' top 10 MySpace friends, and wondering whether our crushes read our AIM statuses. Our struggles have evolved, but it's satisfying to know we're still dancing through life.
And now, onwards to Iceland.
Update: We're Facebook friends now.