“Anong nagawa mo sa bansa mo? Buti pa ang Presidente meron.” Why I’m tired of hearing these arguments

Until now, I still can’t believe how time flies so fast. I mean, (nearly) six years has passed! I can remember it was only yesterday when most people in my circle were aghast to find that the people elected a president whose victory was partly owned to Cory Magic. (Well if he didn’t make the decision to run, it would probably be Erap doing the address right now, provided he hasn’t embroiled himself in a scandal or if COMELEC hasn’t disqualified him upon his victory)

So I was just browsing through the social media on the reaction of the people to PNoy’s last SONA. I remembered thinking that Malacanang should have scheduled on Thursday just in time for the #ThrowbackThursday posts, you know…for sentimental reasons! But what really caught my attention is this tweet that struck like a boot to my (perhaps, butthurt) gut

I'm sorry but what?

I’m sorry but what?

From the beginning, I can say I’m no fan of His Excellency, Mr. President, but most of my sentiments about him are lukewarm. There are times I rub my temple and stare in frustration at his face whenever he’s trying to defend an obviously competent official. There are times I would jokingly say to my mom that “Hey, you voted for him” when he did something my mom herself doesn’t agree with. There are times when I thought that six years is such a pretty long time and I can’t wait for 2016 to come.

But there are times that I acknowledge his milestones and applaud him on his breakthroughs. There are times I understand where he’s getting at. There are times that I’m thankful he still managed to stand by his principles and vision. There are times that I admire his inherent quality as a person, not as the president: Single-minded, well-meaning and fiercely loyal.

I don’t classify myself as pro-PNoy nor an anti-PNoy. The president or his critics doesn’t irk me, but what really irked me to no end is how people can label one another as pro-PNoy or anti-PNoy just because of their political opinion, their criticism, their praises and everything they say in the new media. I especially love how one criticism would instantly mark you as anti-this-president or anti-progress.

We, Filipinos, hated every president who served us yet we’ve done nothing to contribute for the betterment of our country.

Please allow me to deconstruct this tweet from the perspective who is (1) A Filipino (2) Doesn’t ”hate” the president and (3) who is curious about the author’s phrasing ‘Betterment of our country’ because she’s really dying to know what it takes to contribute for ‘nation-building’

  • “We, Filipinos, hated every president” — (My goodness, this sounds like a preamble) Now, hate is such a strong word. How do you define ‘hate’ in this context? Is this the same as “I hate Racism”? Kind of like “Augh, how I hate it when plans get cancelled on the last minute”? Or maybe the way you used ‘Hate’ in scenarios like ‘I hate wearing black on a hot day’ but you don’t really hate wearing black at all. You just don’t like wearing it under certain circumstances. For the most part of PNoy’s, or any other president’s term, “Filipinos” really didn’t ‘hate’ their president  in person. Rather, the things they didn’t like is what that president did or what he did not do (but is expected to do so).
  • “who served us” — He’s a public servant. He’s always on the public eye, and whether he likes or not, it is the consequence he must bear for running. He’s the father of the country. Like it or not, his stand and opinion matters than mine or yours. He has the executive authority and the influence to implement major changes in the country. He can actually address all the problems of the Philippines if he wants to, regardless of political or moral consequences. Whether his image is good or bad, people will say something about him because he is the FREAKIN’ President of the Democratic, sometimes Democrazy, Republic of the Philippines and there’s nothing we can do about it. Never single out Philippines in this one. This is the gift and the curse of all nations with this type of leadership. The only difference we had in other more progressive, democratic countries is that their population is more educated and they can give more constructive assessment about their leaders.
  • “Yet we’ve done nothing to contribute for the betterment of our country” — A country is supposed to be a well-oiled machine, right? Because in my book, regardless whether you’re a small-time employee or a big-shot businessman, government worker or a private one, stay-in-parent or a working one, if you’re working abroad or in here, you are still giving something. If you are working , if you are creating, if you are studying hard, if you are earning your keep, if you are paying your dues, you are contributing. You don’t need to be internationally famous, or you don’t need to set up a foundation, or you don’t need to have newspaper stories and online stories about you, or you don’t need to run for public service (though all those things are well and good if you aspire and work hard to be that kind of citizen) to say you are contributing. Sadly in our culture, having an unpopular opinion is perceived as equivalent to something as contra-productive. “You are not helping”. “You only make things more complicated.” In short, you are not contributing something, which is a distorted view of one’s role for the development of his society. What he/she says doesn’t justify what he/she has done for the society as a whole.

Now let me relate this whole ‘Contributing my part’ with that of the president. The President has good intentions. His Tuwid na Daan platform is promising and offers a good avenue to introduce better reforms for this country. Yet there are situations where he, despite his executive authority and influence, could do nothing to deliver what the people want. Unable to defend the Tausugs in Laha Datu, he could do nothing but to call the Tausug warriors back or else, risk Malaysia’s ill-favor. He wasn’t able to offer his full sympathies and accolades to the brave policemen who died in Mamasapano because his words may have an effect to the delicate birthing of Bangsamoro Basic Law. All of this I was able to understood and accept in a hard way. He is not perfect, but so are we. For a country like the Philippines, six years is a mere fraction of the time it will take to change it for the better.

Just like in PNoy’s case, It’s the current situation, or the current system, that restricts us to offer our best for the country.

Most wanted to serve the country. Most wanted to be doctors and help the poor. Most wanted to teach the underprivileged. Most wanted to serve the country and give back.  But most are deprived of basic rights to education and food security. Most are unemployed despite having degrees and certificates. Most just lose hope and settle for less than they deserve, less than they dreamed to have.

We, Filipinos are contributing for the betterment of this country but we are often disappointed on the lack of progress. No, we do not ‘hate’ anything or anyone. We are just frustrated and tired about everything and if not for the occasional glimmer of hope from our public servants or stories of inspiration from our fellow hardworking Filipinos, we will fall apart. We want to believe anything is still possible. We want to believe it is possible.

We Filipinos ‘hated’ the system because despite everything we’ve done to contribute for the betterment of the country, we’re still here.

And sadly, we will keep on ‘hating’ anyone serving us because of this.

Traveliries: Paradise at the Edge of the World

Em and I stared down at the aquamarine velvet below us, resplendent under the sun that we can’t bear to look at its brilliance. Its clarity and purity hit us like calm waves, like the lulling of the sea foam hitting the body of our boat.

Thirty minutes of plane ride, two hours of bus, another one hour of van, two hours of boat…nearly six hours of travel to see this remaining piece of calm beauty in this edge of the world. We looked at each other and smiled. Worth it. 

Calaguas Island belongs at the farthest border of the archipelago with the Pacific. You can get to the islands on a jump point at Paracale where every summer, the port is thriving with tourists eager to see the islands they heard so much as the Mahabang Buhangin. Calaguas is just part of the island chains of white sand and blue waters, but having to spend an afternoon here is more than enough.

Calaguas from the view on top

Calaguas from the view on top

As i said before in my previous travel posts, I’m a fan of virgin beaches and unadulterated, wild beauty of Nature. That would explain why I usually travel off-season to avoid the large crowd. Calaguas didn’t fail and I’m glad to see that commercialism hasn’t taken over the place just yet. The islanders are especially nice and helpful. I hope by the next time I come back, it would remain the same way as it used to.

Calaguas is perfect for those seeking peace and tranquility at some isolated piece of the world. For those who crave for vulnerability and the solemn epiphany of being just a small speck of dust on Nature’s fingertip. There, on the vestiges of the Pacific, you will find a sense of pleasant submission to plunge down the blues and let the waves roll your body to the warm embrace of the sand.

Opening FMV of FFVIII

Opening FMV of FFVIII

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Tips for Calaguas Island-hopping:

  • Plan your trip to the island carefully. Many people opt to stay on the island overnight and leave the next morning. The waves are usually stronger during late afternoons and evenings (We realized it the hard way) If you’re planning to go there by land, it’ll be helpful to bring a tent and other camping gears.
  • Contact the boat which will take you in advance. Ours is Ate Chona and Kuya Boy. You can contact them through here: 09123602005
  • Avail package if you’re traveling in large group to make the best out of the trip.
  • The boat ride back to Paracale is usually rough because of the strong waves, especially on months like July and August. It would be better if you make banlaw in Paracale instead on the island because like it or not, you’re still going to get wet with ocean spits and foam.
  • Additionally, make sure to bring waterproof bags or plastic containers to keep those things you definitely don’t want to get wet. If you’re staying in an inn, just leave all the important documents and IDs behind. Em bought her waterproof pouch-bag for the gadget and cash.
  • Take note of the following expenses. Boat rent is PHP3,000.00, Entry fee to the island is PHP100.00 per head and a cottage costs PHP350.00 overnight.
  • If you want to see the overview of the island, you can talk with one of the children living in the island to take you. The trek upward takes about 20 minutes.
  • Take note that food and water in the island are more expensive than normal. It would be wise to fill your rations before you set off to Calaguas.
  • And of course, remember the unspoken rule of every traveler:

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.

Together, let’s preserve the natural beauty of Calaguas :)

Finding your Genius

In a TEDtalk shared by Elizabeth Gilbert, she posed an interesting question about the nature of genius and artistry. According to the ever fascinating Greeks, genius stops becoming the little adjective we uttered out of reverence and admiration, but a noun, a subject that refers to that naughty little spirit which whispers words of wisdom and inspiration into your ears. It speaks whenever it wants and it remains silent even if you try so hard to make it talk. It has its own mind, and you have to cajole it to come out.

Sounds ehhh? Well, we’re in this world to listen and digest ideas so the more I listened to it, the more it actually makes sense.

Elizabeth Gilbert will convince you more than my words can ever do so here’s the clip for you to watch:

So according to Gilbert, a genius is a:

– creative spirit

– comes to you in a sudden moment, kind of like a sweet aroma of the blooming flowers or a rush of wind

– someone you have to listen in

– basically your partner in creating art

-the one supposed to take all the credit because it did all the thinking and you kind-of just plagiarized its ideas

As a writer (or someone pretending to be a writer, come on it’s time to give my genius a credit), relating the genius spirit to creating art and words like writing is easy. Writers, like musicians, have an instinctive urge to listen. We try to listen to the harmony of words when we read, we try to listen to other peoples’ conversations to make dialogues in our heads, we like to listen to other people and the way they talk, we like to listen to stories of other people even though we don’t know them and they probably live in another world beside ours and that explains why we love to read.

Great writers love to listen and somewhere out there, a spirit or a sprite or some supernatural force is driving them to create art. Oftentimes, they create art that’s completely opposite of what people perceived them to be. They create art that surprise the world because nobody expected them to take that risk and doing that is so unnaturally like them. It’s almost as if they are an another person.

And great artists acted like they hardly take the credit of what they created. It’s as if like it’s just another pot they molded out from clay and put it beside other ‘more ordinary’ pots they created while all the people around them are amazed with its beauty. It’s as if they are bored with their achievements and all they want is to return to the potter wheel, promptly going back to work.

As long as they work, as long as they create, something great will come out of that work. It’s like a supernatural force is driving them to work and be fair in everything they created.

It doesn’t mean that a genius or a creative spirit gets to pick the privileged, the most intelligent or the most educated…I believe it often picks the one who is most dedicated, the most committed and finally, a person who thinks that his life is not actually his, but it’s made for the purpose of creating things that will outlive him someday.

And even if you are pragmatic or you don’t believe in this genius, it’s funny to think that it somehow parallels the reality of creating art. Creative people are the most dedicated, the most committed and would always think ahead of their lives.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is creativity in a nutshell.

Why we need more engineers, architects, urban planners in the government

Seriously, just look at this picture.

To Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Legazpi, Bacolod, GenSan, Zamboanga, this is not how you Metro. (Photo grabbed from the Facebook of Daphne Osena Paez)

To Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Legazpi, Bacolod, GenSan, Zamboanga, this is NOT how you Metro. (Photo grabbed from the Facebook of Daphne Osena Paez)

For the past decades or so, the Philippines (or dare we say, Metro Manila) has suffered a great deal of mismanagement in urban planning. Ironically, I’m writing this in a small apartment caught in the urban gridlock where people are just free to live whenever they want (it’s a free country)

I guess this has gone far more than decentralization. I’ve repeatedly called on decentralization of Metro Manila in my other blog posts but hey, if other cities in the Philippines would turn out like this someday, might as well leave Metro Manila alone in its decaying urban state and let it die a natural death. Let its bones serve as a warning to other regions, maybe.

Let’s face it. Any city in this country is destined to be a Metro Manila, without proper management and cooperation of the people. For heaven’s sake, I don’t think we need any lawyers, economists or military men in the government anymore. What we need are planners. Visionaries. I’m not saying the next president or your next mayor should be an engineer; what I like to see is that this next leader will listen to sound planning and adhere to the practicalities of urban management. That he/she has a great respect on public space, urban greenery or to Nature’s territory.

Lest of all, I want him/her to stand by these principles no matter how much big-time corporations or conglomerates shine their flashy cheques to get him/her on their side.

It’s so sad that in this country, our planners are confined (made to think) to confine themselves in the field of research and corporate world only. Provided that we need good scientists and game-changers for engineering (still waiting for PHL to make its own big break on technology someday, or a decent internet connection at least), but we also need more brains on public policies. We need more rational, practical voices like yours in policy-making and law-making, and to be frank we are already tired of all the hot air coming from the government.

This would probably take a long while to be solved, since Metro Manila is the busiest and most commercially-industrialized city in the country, and having it to undergo a massive urban and industrial overhaul may be an expensive and lengthy investment. Yet bear in mind, it won’t be the same way forever. The shadow of the West Valley Fault, the threat of stronger typhoons to come, and the tendency of everything in this city to get caught in a fire that can kill dozens of families living on shanties loom just over the horizon (and don’t forget, zombie apocalypse!)

It may be too late for Metro Manila, but it’s never too late for other regions and cities. We don’t have to wait for a picture showing the devastation of the Big One to make this point. This picture is clear enough.

To be fair to New York City, they have the Central Park to make it tolerable. But here....nah

To be fair to New York City, they have the Central Park to make it tolerable. But here….nah

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Image grabbed from Bisayaball

Why a mother’s strength never ceases to amaze me

When the doctor informed us that my mom has cancer, I didn’t cry. Around my younger brothers, I simply couldn’t. I remember it was a bright and sunny day. The TV inside my mom’s room is switched on for the daily noontime show. The train passed through the window like a silver snake whose windows gave off a glint of the sun, like golden scales.

My mom was in the operating room, sleeping and unaware of the serious discussion on the floor above her. The whole breast needs to be removed. It’s a procedural thing. They informed us not because we have to make a choice. It’s a statement; If the cyst is benign, we will only remove the mass. If it’s cancerous, we will remove the whole thing. My mom’s cyst is far from benign.

When the doctors left, I pretended I need to pee. There I sat there, glaring at the roll of tissue paper as hot tears streamed across my face. It’s just a breast, I reminded myself. I don’t know why I’m crying over that damn little thing. None of my brothers nor my father in that room would understand and that only made the tears worse.

I forgot to pretend to flush but they pretended they haven’t noticed.

When my mom woke up around dinnertime, she doesn’t need to touch her chest to feel it’s gone. The bandage and the sore sensation of stitches told her as much. She looked at us with shining little eyes and touched my younger brother’s head: “Wala nang dede si mommy.”

My rational, clueless brother replied she still had one more but I looked away from her, as if distracted by the passage of the train in our window for the thousandth time already.

Our family has no history of cancer. When my mom felt a small bump at her left breast, she dismissed it as a common occurrence when you’re about to have your period. She never really like hospitals and needles and a check-up is the farthest thing in her mind. When the bump didn’t go away as it normally should, she confided it to her bestfriend who, in turn, almost pushed her inside a clinic for a check-up.

After a series of CT-scans and biopsy, the doctors revealed that the mass found in my mother’s breast is no ordinary mass. It’s quite big, and even if it’s benign, which they had no way to prove unless they cut open my mother’s breast and take a sample of it, they have to remove it. Immediately. My mom took this news as calmly as she could but I know she’s rattled inside. Before now, cancer seemed to be a foreign idea for all of us. We all know it’s there, it’s happening (or happened) to other people we knew, and we have watched countless shows and dramas about it. We know it’s out there but we thought it couldn’t touch us. We thought a history with no cancer is our protective shield and we can live in our perfect, little world relaxed and happy, cancer-free. Oh, how we were wrong.

After rounds of chemo, my mom has to undergo 30-day session of radiation. On Christmas morning, she was at the radiation ward, eagerly collecting stickers (passes for hospital guests) and stamping them on the orange file organizer she would carry around as the days go on. Inside the orange organizer are thick files of hospital bills she need to clear up for each day. I have no idea how we got through this, financially-speaking. I’m thankful that God had been with us throughout her treatment. While my mother bore the ordeal, He took care of the rest.

I often accompanied her during her last days of radiation and there I witnessed how my mother handled her illness with exuberant grace. She likes to listen and chat with other people, even strangers she met only a minute before. Everyone in the cancer ward knew her, from the patients to the nurses and med-techs. She even gave presents to them on Christmas and had even shed a tear on the last day of her radiation while bidding goodbye to the friends she made. I have no idea where her energy comes from but it’s certainly not from that shadow of a malignant cyst threatening to take over her body. My mom doesn’t like us to worry and so, she tries to be herself despite all of it. She hates if I stumbled upon her crying one night even though I kept saying tears are natural and it’s okay to cry every now and then. I wanted to comfort her but I more than a few times, I hid myself in my room, buried in books and loud music, to get away from it all.

A source of a mother’s strength, even at the face of cancer, is something you can never grasp until you become a mother yourself. My mom would often say she had to get better for the three of us, but I admit I couldn’t imagine how three “ungrateful” kids helped her got through with this. I guess it’s something my mother cannot explain, but only feel. A feeling I will never know until I had kids and I had to plow against the tides of uncertainty and fear in life and just to understand this special form of love.

Until then, it will remain as that unbelievable and powerful magic I will never understand.

We celebrated her cancer-free MRI result in Boracay.

We celebrated her cancer-free MRI result in Boracay.

Experiencing the Boracay Algae Gloom

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On a homecoming trip to Romblon, I surprised my mother with a stopover to an island known far and wide, inside and beyond the country: one you can categorically love or categorically hate. An island so mainstream in the local Philippine tourism industry that my inner antisocial self hates with passion but one I couldn’t get enough off since my feet got the feel of its world-famous carpet of sand: Boracay

My last Boracay trip was in January 2015 and I initially thought that the beachfront would be littered with dirty beer cans, lost slippers and other traces of debauchery after years of steady growth of commercialism. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find it as pristine and iridescent as ever and so I thought of bringing my mom here so she can relax before we continue our trip to an island nearby.

I kind of expected it would be the same beautiful (crowded) paradise as it was in January . Alas, my hopes are dashed with our personal encounter of the infamous Boracay Algae Bloom (and an even larger crowd – the remnants of LaBoracay Party 2015)

The so-called Boracay lumot

The so-called Boracay lumot

Lumot lumot everywhere as far as the eye can see

Lumot lumot everywhere as far as the eye can see

Growing up, I used to hear praises and accolades about this tiny beautiful island. Boracay is the country’s answer to the beautiful Hawaii – our own own paradise island. Aside from boasting one of the greatest beach sands in the Philippines, it is also home to extreme water sports activities and outdoor thrills. Of course, I don’t need to mention how it turns into a mega-crazy place where you can party all night and not ever recall a single thing the morning after. Along with the fame is also the imminent downfall, as they say. After a while, media has shown countless footage and documentaries of how dirty the place is turning to be, how businessmen and investors keep on building their facilities without slightest regard to the island’s natural beauty and how nature is supposedly fighting back by sending legions of green aliens to its shores.

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According to what I found in the internet, the Boracay Algae Bloom is more of a structural problem than an environmental one. The island’s underdeveloped sewage system simply can’t keep up with the wave of business and commercial investments coming in. Locals have been dumping their waste on the sea before it became a top-ranked Philippine destination. Imagine the situation now with onslaught of tourists coming in every year in the last twenty years (and counting)

Boracay nightlife

Boracay nightlife

Look at those babes - the ones standing on top of mountains. Are those windmills?

Look at those babes – the ones standing on top of mountains. Are those windmills?

Still, you can’t dismiss the environmental factors surrounding the issue. With great people comes great trash. It’s the sad, painful truth. Congestion, over-development and the island’s inner resources and facilities unable to cope up with the demand of the industry may spell its doom eventually.

The carpet of sand has an unwanted green layer

The carpet of sand has an unwanted green layer

I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t visit Boracay from now on. All I’m trying to say is that we should be at least aware of the island’s vulnerability. Most of us come to Boracay to enjoy, to relax, to party, to let loose and return to our normal lives refreshed with the sun’s kiss still warm in our skins. We’re like: “But moooooom, it’s hard to think about the environment when you’re having fun!!” Maybe that’s why the algae bloom is seasonally there to remind us of its vulnerability and violating it further wouldn’t do it (or your future trips) any good. Everything you do in the island is connected to how it will turn out to be. Follow the simple rules of not smoking or bringing any food/beverage to the beachfront. If an establishment is violating the rules in favor of profit than human decency, stop patronizing them. Leave nothing, take nothing. Or as I like to paraphrase it: Make love on the sand but don’t leave your condom behind. (this is an expression. Seriously, get a room). Enjoy the beauty, not abuse it. If you love Boracay and is deeply concerned for its future, join or support an NGO for its protection.

((And to the local government unit and tourism department, maybe we should move now from Promoting to Protecting? The success of tourism lies not on making it a worthy tourist destination now, but making it a worthy tourist destination for generations to come.))

Boracay - the face of tourism in this country

Boracay – the face of profit-driven tourism in this country

Shortcuts

“Turn it right! Turn it right!” Kuya Pat bellowed. I promptly turned the steering wheel to the left, the stick on reverse. It was only when the car turned to the wrong direction did I learn that my “right” is wrong.

“What are you doing? I said ‘right’, not ‘left'” he shrilled as if I’ve just run through his foot.

“Sorry” I smiled sheepishly. “I was so focused on stepping the clutch, I didn’t realize I was steering to my left.”

“Do it again.” He ordered.

Beads of sweat fell like pearls on my eyes before I can wipe them away. I was using the office car and I couldn’t waste anymore of its gas on aircon.

The engine sounded like an irritable bear just woken up as I slowly let go of the clutch and stepped on the accelerator. The car lurched hard. The engine didn’t die and I stared down at the steering wheel, forgetting which is right and which is left.

This is just another day for my pre-driver’s license training. After nearly a month, the greatest achievement I ever had is not killing the engine on first gear.

Getting a driver’s license is one of the goals I have to achieve for this year. For some countries, getting your driver’s license is like a battle you need to prepare yourself for. But here in the Philippines, all you need is a money and some guy your friend’s friend knew of and there you have it.

Kuya Pat taught us how to move the car forward and backward, then we’re done, he declared: “You can get your driver’s license now.”

In some cases, you don’t need to actually drive through a test run. I know this guy who was given a hand-out of the answers for the written exam. It doesn’t make sense that you will take an exam you already know the answers for. You might as well abolish the whole thing and save a lot of trees.

I promised to myself that I should basically know how to handle the steering wheel at least before I took the “test”, despite how easy it is to pass it. I don’t know why everything in this country, including the permission to handle vehicle that can potentially kill/hurt someone, is run by money.

Cars these days are automatic, some would say. You really don’t need everything there is to know about driving to get a license. I beg to differ. You should at least develop quick reflexes, learn to control your emotions on the road and know the traffic rules to spare the rest of the people the inconvenience of ramming your car the next post or the sidewalk or even to their own cars.

I’m not saying that driving should be serious. Unless you’re a car junkie or a professional driver, there are hardly any rewards for driving almost everyday in your life (give us better roads or less traffic and everyone would be happier). Driving should be enjoyable and you can do it by not inconveniencing someone on the road.

The car stopped a few inches from the plantbox. Kuya Pat made a twirl with his finger – clockwise. This time, I didn’t think. I steered the wheel to the right and pushed enough gas for the car to slowly ease into position.

And this time, I was right.

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Because you are part of the village that raises children.

The author is a Thai-Filipina who writes wild stories as porn and sacred ones as the Bible. She's been writing random things about everything since she was 5. She is an advertising and marketing practitioner, an observer, a speaker, an aspiring performing artist and writer.

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