Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bookstore run in Taiwan

Hello, dear readers! Just came back from our 4-day Taiwan trip, and tired as hell. It was an adventure though, as unlike last year when I went there on a guided tour group, I had the bf with me and we just planned to wing it. And wing it we did—from shuttling between trains, taking confusing buses, being told that we're taking up somebody else's seat on the train, getting lost, and being misunderstood most of the time. I tell you, there's no other way to travel. Guided tours are all convenient and everything, but I don't think they'll give the full experience. Also, going DIY in your travels is hardcore, no? (Also, cheap, which is the best reason.)

Anyway, like in all of our travels, we've decided beforehand to visit at least a couple of bookstores in Taipei. So that's why we usually ended up going back to our hotel room around 9 or 10 pm already, as the bookstore run was usually the last thing in our itinerary. We actually visited 2 bookstores—Eslite Bookstore Dunnan in Da'an and Kinokuniya Books inside the Breeze Center in Songshan. Both proved to be pretty interesting and worth visiting. But when you think about it, bookstores are always worth a visit, no? No matter how many times you tell yourself that you're not getting anything, you do end up with a couple of things, whether books or stationery stuff, to take home with you.

On our second night in Taipei, we went to Eslite Dunnan branch, which is a 24-hour bookstore. We just came from a city day tour and we figured we might as well visit it as it's just a couple of train stops away. I wasn't really expecting many titles in English, as not many Taiwanese speak the language and there aren't as many English-speaking expats and tourists in Taiwan, as compared to, say, Singapore and Bangkok. Still, there were a couple of shelves that had English titles. And when I checked out the American and British literature selection, there were a few English editions located together with their Chinese editions.

I also wasn't expecting that many people to still be in the bookstore at that time of the night, but there was still a significant number of customers So I'm assuming that business is doing good. And I noticed that there are so many titles that had Chinese editions, so I'm thinking that the locals love to read. (I love Taiwan already)

I gasped when I entered Eslite. So beautiful.
And the books in stock are so diverse.
At the ground floor of Eslite is their stationery section.
Had to stop myself from buying those Moleskine notebooks.
The bf couldn't resist making a quick doodle on the sample pages.
Of course, he had to draw a chihuahua.
Another floor in the Eslite building houses their music stuff.
And there was a live performance of a local group when we got there. 
On our final night, we troop to Kinokuniya Books in Songshan. We always make it a point to visit a Kinokuniya branch in the countries that we go to. So far, we've been to Kinokuniya in Singapore, Bangkok, and now Taipei. Hopefully, we'll get to visit the ones in Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur next year. I can't seem to describe it, but every time we find ourselves in Kinokuniya, it feels like coming home. It's like ordering your favorite dish at a restaurant. You're just comforted by its familiarity.

Like Eslite, the Kinokuniya in Taiwan didn't have that many English titles. Actually, I didn't see any book in English except in the long shelf that housed their graphic novels. I was eyeing a manga that has a gay BDSM storyline, but ended up not buying it because, one, I wouldn't be able to appreciate it fully and, two, I can always just check out porn in the internet for free. The bf was interested in a couple of figurines (which I call "dust gatherers) but unfortunately they were out of stock.

We're actually quite wet in this pic.
From sweat because we walked a few blocks, and there was a light drizzle.
Rows and rows of books I can't read.
It's still a heady feeling being around books though.
Also, a couple of other bookish things last week. On our way back from Jiufen and Shifen, we chanced upon a book vending machine at the train station! I (figuratively) climaxed; I would've literally if there were books in English. Still, books are books are books, no matter what language. Also, I don't think book vending machines are for me, as I usually have at least 2 books in my bag. I've been known to lug a hardcover of Infinite Jest in my backpack, born out of the fear of having nothing to read while stuck in traffic, in a boring meeting, in a restaurant that's taking it's time to fulfill my order, or in less-than-pleasant company.

The Manila International Book Fair happened last week as well. We visited on the day it opened, which was a Wednesday, which was also the day before our Taiwan trip. So it's either we visit on that day or end up missing the book fair entirely. The latter is out of the question, as I've been going to the book fair for 31 consecutive years. I still remember the time when exhibitors simply had tables to showcase their titles and everything was still low key. Now, it's become so hectic and stressful to go there especially during the weekends. And what bugs me even more is that there are quite a few stores selling non-bookish items like stationery and toys. Nevertheless, going to the book fair will always be something in my calendar.

The book vending machine at the Songshan Station in Taipei
An initiative of the Taipei Public Library
Book loot!
The 3 books in the top row were from the book fair. The other 2 were from Eslite. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Dark reads (also being artsy fartsy)

Sometimes, all I wanna do is curl up in bed with a novel that has a very dark plot. So dark that it feels like every time you open it, you're dipping your fingers in blood. I guess that's one reason why I'll never have a liking to Austen. But give me a novel where the women kill, where the world has gone into anarchic chaos, and a speculative world where the society is deeply matriarchal and religion is controlled by sorceresses. For some reason, the novels I chose for this post all feature women as major characters. Woot!

Yes, this novel is one of those that seems to ride on the popularity of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. It's not as suspenseful as those two novel though,but still entertaining. I guess I will never get tired of unreliable narrators.

This one I was 10% behind. It's some sort of a post-apocalyptic novel set in a world where people lose their shadows, and along with this loss goes their memories as well. It's a bit of a downer actually, especially when the protagonist couple get separated because the woman, after losing her shadow, decides to flee so that her husband is spared from all the tragedy that's bound to happen to her.

I've a thing for beautifully illustrated graphic novels,  much more if the story is so rich that every pagea is a delight This one is that rare comic. I love the world building and the religion-inspired imagery that the story conjures. Also, plus points for having relevant themes on feminism and race.

There's another thing that's happening this week, and that's our trip to Taiwan. Packing for trips gives me great anxiety. Do I pack an extra pair of shorts? How about underwear? Do I really need all these toiletries? Also, more importantly, should I bring two or three or four books? Or five?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Crazy rich gaysians

I found my calling in three words—to be a crazy rich gaysian. And that's primarily because I saw the movie Crazy Rich Asians last week, and I loved every part of it. I guess you'd say that I was predisposed to liking it, being a crazy Asian myself, but frankly, I wasn't expecting anything much except to watch how two things this movie has in buckets, which are diversity and inclusion, would be translated to the big screen.

Singlish is love.
And I miss hearing the expression, "Can?"
Like, "You free for dinner tonight, yah? Can?"
The mostly Asian cast did it for me. Ah, Henry Golding . . . Just be the next James Bond already. I swear, every time he's on screen, you're struck by how shiny he is. And that voice, so sexy it can make polar ice caps melt. Good fashion sense too, on and off screen. There was this issue about him not being too Asian enough, as his father's British. But let me tell you, dear reader, when I look at him, I see only an Asian face. Constance Wu is so precious that you wanna put her inside your man-purse (murse?) and just take her out to show her to your other gay friends and fag hags. Can't believe she's 36, a few years older than HG, who is 31. Asian age can be deceiving, yes? And when I grow older, all I want is to be Michelle Yeoh. If HG is hot, MY is so icy that the temperature drops whenever she enters a room. And don't we all wish that we can have a bff like Awkwafina?

The book club discussed Crazy Rich Asians in 2015. I remember liking it and defending it when a few people commented that there's an inherent shallowness in its story, that it's all fluff and too materialistic. Well, isn't that the whole point of the novel? I think I mentioned that we shouldn't really think too much about it. And that it doesn't ask you to read it in another profound, deeper level. It's all about Asians who are filthy rich, some of whom are so full of themselves that they're blind to all of their shortcomings. The novel's storyline is classic telenovela fodder: outsider girl marries into an old rich family. It's something we've all read and seen in varying permutations, even when we were young when we listened to fairy tales. But Kevin Kwan't novel is distinctly Asian. For that alone, reading it is an experience.

Anyway, let's get back to the movie, yes? It's just so fabulous. I suddenly miss Singapore, with its shopping malls with their airconditioning on at full. I swear, every time I enter a mall in Singapore, my balls shrink a few centimeters. What is going with the AC? It's like people there want to escape that tropical humidity as much as they can. Also, one is amazed at the genius of the costumes in the movie. Constance Wu's character isn't rich, but she ends up not wearing the same thing twice because of crazy rich Awkwafina, who plays her close friend. Yes, some of the things she wore might appear frumpy and too fussy, but they suit her. Henry Golding looks like a god with or without clothes. Michelle Yeoh's clothes are all clean lines and sharp silhouettes, which fit her stiff character. And Awkwafina is one of the few people on this planet who can rock a pajama-type ensemble. Did I mention that seeing shirtless HG is life changing?

Taken right before the book club's discussion
Gaysians know that one should hold wine glasses only at their stems.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

King of convenience

A couple of days ago, the books I ordered from Book Depository finally arrived. I lurrrrrrve that online bookshop. Two words—free delivery. The timings of order fulfillment could be better though, as my orders usually arrive in 6 weeks at the earliest. Fortunately, that really isn't a big issue for me. I'm in no hurry to read particular books. My TBR is limitless, and literally half of my bed is covered in books, which can be a pain when I make it every morning. Come to think of it, I'm probably just using a third of it as sleeping space; the rest is books and pillows. I need at least 4 large pillows at least to get a good night's sleep. When I'm at the bf's, I have two, which isn't a problem as I have the bf's sexy body and a dog (usually Coco the poodle or, rarely, Boolet the chihuahua) to compensate for the missing pillows.

Anyway, what I love about Book Depository and other online stores is the wide selection of titles. Here, I feel that local bookstores focus more on young adult and bestsellers (thrillers and romance), which is understandable as these are the ones that really sell. And I feel that customer service isn't as efficient as before. It's tedious to call repeatedly or make more follow-ups, no? One time, I reserved a book and never even received a text or email that the book's available. I only knew that they had it in stock when I saw the book in their shelves. So frustrating. So online I go, and online is where I've been getting my book fix. It's kinda weird that I still haven't corresponded directly with an actual human in any of my transactions, but hey, no complaints so far. I'm easy to please, I think. Put a cupcake on my desk and we're, like, bffs already. Give me a teeny tiny bar of chocolate and I'll be your bitch.

And don't get me started on LGBT titles in our local bookstores. They're practically nonexistent. Do people have the notion that gays don't read? Or that we just spend all our money on clothes and killer shoes? Well, okay, maybe 50% true, and probably like 75% for a few of us. Still, why the dearth of gay titles, huh? I guess it has something to do with us not being vocal that bookstores should have a few LGBT fiction in their shelves. With these online bookstores, this has become a non-issue. So, yay. Now the only thing that's holding me back is disposable income, and that mountain of a TBR that will kill me should it topple down.

So do I still check out the bookstores in the metro? Of course. But there's another thing that ruined the buying experience for me, and that has something to do with price. Why the sudden jump in price? Sometimes, a trade paperback almost costs as much as a hardback. Is it the recently enacted TRAIN law, which resulted in inflation? Hmmmm... Unfortunately, I can't find the answers to these from the books I ordered.

Books from the "mail," all gay titles
Although, full disclosure, these didn't arrive at my doorstop.
I just received a notice from the post office that I have a parcel for pick up.
Which is kinda weird, as there's another person here at the office
whose order arrived directly to the office, which is also my delivery address. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

J-horror, it's a thing

My love for Japanese horror, or J-horror, knows no boundaries. We've always known that the Japanese can come up with weird shiz, but the horror stories they're able to conjure is simply inexplicable. But in a good way. In a horrific kind of good way. It's not for everyone though, especially if you're turned off by body horror or perverse sexual elements. But hey, if you're reading horror, then shouldn't you be expecting to be disturbed and made uncomfortable with the story?

I'm not really big on manga, the comics made by Japanese writers and artists, but I will make an exception to Junji Ito, who is now one of my favorite writers and storytellers. I just discovered him this year, when I randomly pulled Shiver, his 2017 collection, from the shelf of a local bookstore. I say randomly because whenever I'm in a reading slump, I usually turn to the graphic novels section of the bookstore and check out titles without any rhyme or reason. I discovered lots of wonderful graphic novels this way—Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, Beauchard's Epileptic, and Brosgol's Anya's Ghost, to name a few. Interestingly, it was the bf who got me into reading graphic novels. Before the bf (B.B.F.), my middle class upbringing taught me to look down at these works, which is totally the fault of my parents.

Perhaps the only reason why I don't have much love for manga is that its stories are terribly slow. I'd probably have more fun watching paint dry or looking for wrinkles slowly develop on my face. But with Junji Ito though, I just never know what to expect. Well, I've read only his short fiction collection so far, but what I've read lets me get my horror fix, which I've been rarely getting from the horror novels I've finished lately. There's just something off right from the first page of the story that you could subtly detect, whether it's the oddly proportioned face of a character, the too-perfect veneer of a house, or the cheery friend who seems to be hiding her broken self. I revel in these stories. It's not at all like "The Twilight Zone," but more like the copulation of Hitchcock (for the suspense), Stirling (for the speculative aspect), King (for the jump scares), and Barker (for the out-of-this-world body horror).

I can't get enough of the body horror that Ito tells in some of his stories. In one story titled "Glyceride," a man pops his many pimples and lets the oil drip onto his sister. In "Dissection Girl," a girl dreams of being dissected alive and goes through great lengths just to make it happen. And those are just the "tame" ones, dear reader. There are far darker and grosser instances of this kind of terror in Ito's work.

Another thing I find unsettling in many of Ito's horror stories is his depiction of women. The way he draws his female monsters amd ghosts gives you that slight icky feeling. The blank eyes and facial expressions, the uncomfortably svelte figure, their hair which seems to have a life of their own—stuff of nightmares, I tell you. And it's because of this that I'm really glad that I'm gay. Anyway, check out these "ladies" in the pictures below. Note how the style of the illustrations also give them both a sexual and a predatory feel. But again, these do nothing for me, sexually I mean.

"Blackbird" from Fragments of Horror (2013-2014)
"Whispering Woman," also from Fragments of Horror
I love J-horror in all its forms. Ju-On and Ringu still remain as two of my favorite horror movies. Coincidentally, both also have elements of body horror and female antagonists. One other thing to note about J-horror is that the horror just happens without having the need for an explanation. So there's usually no tedious back story that we all have to painfully go through. It's the same thing with Junji Ito's stories. Weird stuff just happens, like people being chased by floating heads, a woman being turned on by a house and eventually having sex with it, and a man having all the heads of his ancestors living on top of his head. It's just is, man.

The books in my bag last weekend

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

If I turned into a cockroach

I finished another story by Kafka recently—the one where the main character wakes up one day transformed as a cockroach, "The Metamorphosis." And can I just say that I loved the absurdity of it all. Like when you read The Idiot, you just swallow your disbelief and just run with it. Of all things that one can turn into, Kafka had to choose a cockroach, that vile insect that everyone seems afraid of. And my goodness let's not talk about the flying variety.

Now I'm not a person who's uncomfortable around insects. I love them arthropods—beetles, ants, termites, mantises, etc. Yes, some of these are pests, but as a Bio major, I know how important they are to the ecosystem. But cockroaches are another matter. I have always speculated what their roles are. Ah, one of the great mysteries of life. These critters should be annihilated. When we were in line at a temple in Bangkok, we saw a cockroach idly crawling near us. Of course, none of us dared to step on it because, you know, Buddhist respect for all life. I could imagine all the feelings of disgust and desire to scream and flee from the insect that they bottled inside. Of course, the bf and I were just amused. We come from a third world country; we literally sleep with these critters.

I have a weird affinity for spiders though. I can't bear to hurt these cute animals. When you meet a spider, keep in mind that it's probably more afraid of you than you are of it. And it'll probably sting only when provoked. Interestingly, this morning I saw a huge spider in the shower. Probably with a leg span as long as my hand. (BTW, I have huge hands.) So you can probably understand my dilemma. Should I risk it and take a shower? Or should I just splash water on my face and just put baby powder all over my sexy body? In the end though, I took a very quick shower (i.e., 2 minutes) at the farthest corner of the bathroom.

And crap, I have digressed in the two previous paragraphs. So let's go back to "Metamorphosis" and how I reveled in Gregor Samsa's transformation. Imagine waking up one morning being unable to immediately get out of bed because you've discovered that your body is now flat and you find it difficult to move your legs, all 6 of them. Then your family's, like, no biggie, we'll just lock you in your room and feed you every day. I find it ironic that Gregor would turn into a cockroach, that creature which seem to serve no purpose at all (except to make white people squirm). Prior to this metamorphosis, Gregor was the breadwinner in his family, earning enough not just for his family's day-to-day but also to pay his parents' debts. But you couldn't do that anymore if you're a cockroach, no?

Eventually, his family's tolerance to his new form reaches a tipping point—they can no longer stand having him in their house. At one point, in a hysterical set piece, his father was trying to step on him while Gregor was scurrying around the walls and the floor of the room. "Metamorphosis" is a sad story of a man caught in a surreal circumstance. Kafka doesn't even bother to explain this transformation. And why would he? It's the utter in-your-face absurdity that makes the story. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Dear Diary, #1

Hey, D.! This is P.

So the bf's been seriously bitten by the travel bug. Now he has itchy feet. I've a few realizations regarding traveling, now that we're planning to go to a few countries in the near future. One, of course it's going to be costly. I'm now down to two meals a day just to save up. Hopefully, not just more money but more prominent cheekbones and jawline in the coming weeks. Remind me to take a before and after pic, D.

The donut socks are mine.
We took this picture right before entering the temple, as cameras weren't allowed inside.
D., I just realized that I no longer have plain white or black socks.
We're going to Taiwan next month, which, if I weren't going with the bf, would be unfortuitous for two reasons. One, I've been to Taiwan just last year, albeit for only 3 days. Two, we just traveled last month, and my fat ass needs some bit of a recuperating time. But who am I kidding, D.! It's only my slim wallet that needs time to fatten up. Seriously, you think that you're getting a good deal with a travel promo, and then you realize you need a pocket wifi, museum tickets, a tour guide for a place you're really hoping is worth it, etc. It's a good thing that the spa and massage aren't my thing. I feel iffy when strangers touch me. What's wrong with me, D.?

I love Taiwan. Clean, friendly people, delicious food. I can't recall a bad experience during the 3 days I was there last year. Well, except for one night when I got lost and ended up walking for almost 3 hours because I was too stubborn to ask for directions. Woe is me when I took a bite of that humble pie and hopped into a taxi just to get to my hotel. Can I permanently live in hotels, D.? I kinda feel that it's my natural habitat. Three words: crisp white sheets. I know that there's this awful urban legend on how hotels don't really change their sheets as often as they should. But as long as I don't see those buggers, then they're 100% antiseptic bed covers for me. Also, there's a reason that our senses have a limited range, yes? Also, I think of it as exposing myself to those germs and beefing up my immunity in the process. So, win-win.

I'm molting.
Or, simply gross pic is gross.
And speaking of immunity, dear D., I have a strange case of skin shedding on my hands. I doubt if it's caused by soap, as I've been using the same brand of unscented soap for a few years now. I have a weird dislike for scents, haven't you noticed, D.? I believe that we should only be smelling one's scent if and only if we're hugging him or her. Otherwise, ummmm, I wouldn't be able to have an intelligent conversation with you. My brain can only process so much stimuli. It's either your voice or your scent.

Anyway, don't ever think that this gross skin condition is a result of friction brought about by skin rubbing against skin and aggravated by repetitive hand movements. If that were the case, D., I would've had this since I was 13. I can't even shake other people's hands, as they'll be grossed out by that rough feeling. Or they'll think I'm spreading some sort of skin virus. Whatever.

Taking the commuter boat in Bangkok, with Wat Arun behind us
We weren't really planning to visit this temple, as it's across the river.
But we were told that to get to the boat that will take us back to downtown Bangkok,
we had to cross the river and take the boat from that side. So, "blessing in the sky."
So I'm really excited for next month's trip, D. I've been checking my itinerary for the last time I was there and crossing out sites that were just meh. If it were totally up to me, I'd skip Yehliu Geopark, because they're just rocks in weird shapes, and there's plenty of rocks with weird shapes where I come from. But the bf wants to visit it, so I'll play the role of dutiful husband and just go with it. Maybe, just maybe, the configurations of those rocks just changed a bit. I'd gladly skip that paper balloon flying at Shifen as well. I don't think it's environmentally sound, and such a waste of money. It's literally seeing your money go up in the sky and then exploding in flames. Just think of all the dimsum that you could've bought with that money. Mmmm.... dimsum—the best reason to go back to Taiwan.

Boolet the chihuahua does not approve of our frequent trips.
Just look at that smug face.