Sunday, May 24, 2020

Fragments - A Free Ebook Of My 90's Recollections Plus A Bonus Short Story

Taking a short break from blogging this week to give you this compilation. Any new entries will be appended here as well.

Read the ebook for free here.


Here are some new fanart pieces I've finished recently btw.


Sailor Moon Redraw... but it's not Usagi

Saturday, May 16, 2020

To All The Boys I’ve Fought Before…


Human memory is often quite unreliable. As such, our fondest memories are often idealized to portray ourselves as the main protagonists of this unpredictable, ever-shifting, mixed genre adventure called “life.”

With this in mind, rather than fighting against my personal biases, I am a person who will gladly embrace them as indelible parts of my own individuality. After all, there is no one in existence who can actually claim to be completely neutral.  Furthermore, as aptly stated by Eli Weisel:

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

Fortunately, I am rather confident that no feelings (or at least no one worthy of note other than those willing to find offense at every little thing) will be trampled and no persons shall be victimized by the admittedly biased, oft-unreliable, but hopefully entertaining recollections of a middle class almost-rich kid from the 90’s.


You may or may not be surprised by this, owing to my apparent loquaciousness, unnecessary verbosity, and love for the comma-splice in written narrative, but in all honesty, I am actually a very reserved person in real life. This is not to say that I am shy however. I have never once considered myself to be fearful of other people. Rather, I am and have always been an introvert.

Of course, given the clingy and extremely sociable nature of the regular Filipino, you can probably imagine how even just trying to mind your own business would eventually lead to other people attempting to mind your business for you – and of course, this is where the conflict begins. 

You see, I am reserved but I have a horrible temper. If perceive that someone has wronged me, I will return the favor exactly five times more in my mind. Now for a lot of you, being a “rich-kid” probably translates to living a pampered life among other rich-kids talking about yachts, fancy cars, and palatial estates – and yes, of course that was part of the package as well… but in all honesty, it was a very small part of the package. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that I was an “almost-rich kid” and not a “son of a multi-millionaire” rich kid – but I would say this is also due to the fact that was enrolled at the IAMS (Iloilo American Memorial School) where social standing and family pedigree didn’t really matter that much. In a way, life at IAMS was actually a bit of a meritocracy wherein each pupil was judged based on performance rather than connections. It was nice that way.

Therefore, due to the combination of having a short fuse combined with being generally reserved, I actually found myself in a staggering number of fistfights during my four blissful years at IAMS. In no particular order, these are some of my most memorable encounters.

Vs. Damian 

You remember the big bully that I talked about in my other entries? Well, this is the guy I was talking about. I don’t have a lot to say about this encounter because I’ve already covered it before. Damian was 2-3 times bigger than me in terms of body mass. We were about the same height. I managed to keep him on the defensive because I stole the momentum at the start of the fight. I’m fairly certain that he could have ended the fight in his favor rather quickly if he ever managed to grab a hold of me. Fortunately, the school security guard intervened before this could happen. All-in-all, I’d say the fight ended in a draw.

Vs. Robert 

I am not even sure why I fought this guy. He was about the same size as me with the same build. He used some really strong front kicks and corkscrew punches owing to his karate background. I have to say, he hits with such precision that his punches really drilled themselves into my body. They hurt much more than Damian’s heavy blows. Of course, having been trained in karate myself, I manage to land on him as much as he did on me and given that we both chose to engage and disengage at almost the same times, we each took a blow for a blow most of the time. The main difference between us is that I was willing to go for the face while he specifically went straight for my body – probably used to sparring and point fighting? Anyway, this fight was pretty much a draw. It ended when our classmates separated us after about three engagements.

Vs. Unknown Grade 5

This happened while we were playing a game of dampa^ on the IAMS outside stage wherein the Grade 5 also liked to play. One of them just suddenly came up to us and told us to leave. He was probably a foot taller than me, but rather scrawny. We refused and he singled me out and asked me if I wanted a fight. One thing that I learned from my father is to always and without fail to throw the first blow – so I did. I punched him straight in the gut and he buckled for a bit and the fight was on. He threw wild haymakers in a horizontal arc at me and I just threw straight corkscrew punches in response. Given that he kept getting hit in the chest and stomach area while only grazing my face with very weak, slap-like punches, I definitely got the better of that exchange. The fight ended when his buddies pulled him back and another bigger guy came up to challenge me. Fortunately, a teacher saw us and put a stop to it before we could begin again. I’m pretty sure I would have lost to the much bigger guy. Still, I won this fight pretty handily.

Vs. Lynnrd

This fight happened during my very first day at IAMS in Grade 3. Lynnrd was one of the biggest boys in the class second only to Joeceph. He challenged me to a fight for some reason and we met at the boys washroom (C.R./ Comfort Room) during lunchtime. The grade 6 boys were there for some reason and one of them told me that this is how they did things here. Whenever people wanted to fight, the Grade 6 would be around to officiate the bout and make sure nobody gets hurt too badly.

With that said, once we took our fighting stances, I stuck to my father’s advice and immediately rushed forward to throw a straight punch straight at Lynnrd’s face. He reeled back from the impact because well, being a lefty, I have a pretty mean straight even though I was basically a skeleton next to him in body mass.

He recovered quickly and put up his fists in front of his face and pointed in my direction. Sort of like a muay thai stance but lower at about chin level. He then just threw a barrage of punches machine-gun style at me. They didn’t really hurt as much as they were just plain heavy accounting for his much larger size. I was involuntarily pushed back but I kept trying to regain my footing while throwing the same corkscrew karate punches that I knew back at him. 

The “referee” grabbed us both by the throat and told us that it was enough when he saw that I was getting pushed back too much. In all honesty, this was a fight that I should have lost badly. However, because I landed the first and more significant strike and he didn’t really hurt me at all, I’ll call this one a draw.

Vs. Apol Ace

You know what? I can’t believe that I can even remember some of these names myself, but I do. Anyway, this wasn’t much of a fight. Apol came up to me after the fight with Lynnrd and taunted me about how I’d lost the fight even though he wasn’t even there when it happened. I asked him if he wanted to try and he immediately threw a kick to my midsection. Naturally, I responded with a kick right back at him. We kept exchanging side kicks and roundhouses like this for about 20 seconds before my mother came up and told us to stop playing around. 

Also, we became friends after this.

Vs. Julito 

I’m not sure if Julito remembers this one, but we actually fought once. What is amusing is that we didn’t even hate each other, we just wanted to have a little boxing match since my father taught me how to box and apparently, he had actually entered some amateur boxing matches in his area.

Well, this was pretty one-sided. He kept throwing jabs straight at my face – which I was totally unprepared for. I kept waiting for a straight or a hook so I could counter him but he never threw any of these and contentedly just jabbed through my guard. I tried to jab back, but since I wasn’t really trained to do this, I just kept eating counters whenever I did.

Over-all, this was the one fight that I lost pretty badly. There were no hard feelings afterwards though.

Vs. Abraham

And here is another fight that I’ve forgotten the reason for. All I know is that Abraham charged straight at me for some reason and held his hands way up high, like as high as his arms could reach and then started windmilling punches in my direction with rage. I was slightly unprepared so I ate about two-three of these before I could respond and started charging in to negate the arc of his attacks. I managed to land about two shots to his face before we were stopped. Over-all, this was a draw.
I miss these times…

Maybe I just have a penchant for violence, but I really enjoyed these times. There never really any bad blood between my opponents and I after any of these fights – and of course, there were no serious injuries either. It was some kind of unwritten rule between the boys, but even though we had access to box cutters, compasses, and scissors, no one ever actually thought of using these nor even resorting to low blows to the crotch area while fighting. 

I would say that a huge part of it is fear and respect. We feared not the opponent, but the consequences of elevating the fight to a different level. You see, as soon as you start bringing weapons into the mix, then you are basically giving your opponent free reign to do the same – and when weapons are involved, then fatalities and serious injuries will definitely follow. We were young and naïve back then, but we knew how to respect this simple cardinal rule. 

I can only speak for myself but, I would even go as far as to say that we had some semblance of what we would romantically call a “sense of honor” – something that I believe the world needs really badly, in this time of crisis when the human race may only be a few missteps from the brink of apocalypse.


Sunday, May 10, 2020

That Time I Ran From My Bully And Made A True Friend


One thing that I’ve noticed from Philippine movies and TV series is that there is always this idealized version of the so-called pffft… “class struggle” between the rich and the poor. This is something that has existed since the heydays of stars like Nora Aunor. Always, with a probability of 90% (I’m making up the percentage), the rich are portrayed in a negative light as the oppressors of the poor who are discriminated and bullied.

Now I’m not sure how much my anecdotal experiences echo that of others, but for me at least, the reverse has always been true. I’ve been through at least six different schools in my lifetime – three during my grade school years and I’ve had the privilege of interacting with kids of my age from different walks of life including super rich kids whose families could afford three mansions with three cars each and less privileged kids who basically lived in a one-room, two-square meter house made of bamboo and dried coconut leaves.

With that said, one thing that I’ve consistently noticed is that discriminatory behavior actually depends on which demographic has more members. Therefore, if the less-privileged kids have more members, then it’s the rich or in my case, almost-rich kid that gets singled out. You might be thinking, “But how can they even discriminate against you if they’re less privileged?” Well, it’s really quite simple:

“Don’t touch anything from our group’s vegetable planting project. You don’t know how to do this because you’re rich.”

“You’re drawing a witch with a broomstick? That’s not what it looks like. Have you even handled a broom a day in your life? Your parents didn’t teach you anything because you’re rich.”

“You can’t play with us. You get to play all the time at home because you’re rich.”

“I’m giving everyone a share of this chocolate bar – except you – because you’re rich.”

Well, you get the idea. Throughout this series, I’ve often referred to myself as an “almost-rich kid” and while I did talk a little bit about this when we first started, allow me now to elaborate a little bit on the subject.

My father was a successful lawyer in what was then considered to be the premiere law firm in Iloilo City. In fact, he mentored the current dean of the University of San Agustin’s Law School as one of the senior partners of said law firm.
As such, my “Papa,” (a name that he really wanted me to use, but that I barely ever called him because it just didn’t sound right to my ears) always told my sister and I that we weren’t rich but that we had just enough money compared to everyone else – of course, we didn’t really believe him.

The reality is that we had a huge mansion-level house, we could afford to buy a new car every year, we took a Rolex watch’s worth of money just to go on vacation to Manila in the nineties, and that we certainly had enough money to buy out the local toy and book store if my father so desired. Of course, just because we had enough money to buy just about anything I wanted, doesn’t mean I could have anything I want. My father was a very strict, almost militaristic man when it came to discipline. As such, we were always told to never ask for anything and to simply wait for him to offer to buy us something because that’s what good children did. Otherwise, we would be lectured on how spoiled and privileged we were and how other kids in other parts of the world were struggling and counting every single grain of rice that they could eat.

Speaking of eating, I was a very finicky eater back then and it showed in how scrawny I was. I have a strong aversion for seafood because all kinds of seafood just make me throw up upon touching my palate. The mere smell of seafood is enough to make me vomit. Yet, back then, I had to gulp down everything from fish to shrimp, squid and all manner of seafood that I detested or risk getting slapped, punched or otherwise being subjected to violence from my father.

With that aside, this was the norm for me and I assume this was the norm for many other children similarly situated during the nineties. Yes, the terms “child abuse” and “traumatizing” did exist during these times, but not quite to the level that the modern snowflake generation have popularized these concepts. To set thing straight: I do not blame my father for his ways nor have I ever fault traumatized by these experiences.
Growing up with this kind of passive upbringing of never asking and just waiting for things to be given to me taught me how to survive and make the best of any situation… and it helped out a lot in this one instance.

Long expositions aside, this is the story of how I eventually befriended a bully.

Let us travel back (again) to 1993 and the time when I was a transferee to the Iloilo American Memorial School. By the middle of the school year, I had gradually been accepted as a part of the group after a rather rough start that began with a fistfight during my very first day. It was then that I had a rather iconic fight with a much bigger bully that somewhat ended in a draw thanks to timely intervention by the school’s security guard. This is the second part of that story.

You see, unlike in anime wherein “defeat means friendship,” my bully and I did not really start to get along with each other after that fight. It must have been a week later, but the bully (and I say that he’s a bully just because he’s larger than me, by the way), challenged me to another fight after school. Of course, me being the sucker for honor and pride that I am, I did not back down from this challenge.

Therefore, after school at about 4:30 PM, my bully started seeking me out all over the school. Now there is one more thing that I learned about survival during my younger years and this lesson came from my older sister.

Just like Maria from Hayate the Combat Butler, my older sister was always invincible at games, real-life games. This is because she had this winning philosophy: “If you can’t win, then make up a new rule that allows you to win.” Therefore, in all kinds of children’s games from tag to hide and seek, my sister would always be number one because if she lost, she made up a new rule that somehow made her the winner, and if you refused to acknowledge this rule, then she’d no longer play with you.

With this in mind, instead of confronting my bully head on, I hid. Of course, I didn’t plan to hide from him forever or else he’d think that I was a coward. At about 4:45 PM based on my wristwatch, I came out, near the entrance of the school and yelled at him to come and get me.

Naturally, since he was gung-ho for a rematch, he charged straight at me… which was my signal to run for the exit. He started shouting at me asking me why I was running. I replied that I was just relocating our fight to a bigger location.

This was actually the first time that I’d ever been out of the school on my own. My parents always came to fetch me to and from school in our car – and they would do the same today at about 5:00 PM. I would be safe by then, but I’d need to keep my bully occupied for about fifteen minutes.

I followed the street and turned the corner just before the main highway where cars were moving at high speed. I followed the footwalk and eventually reached a small toy store. I ran inside quickly to hide.
The truth is that I had no plans at all of engaging in another fistfight with this bully. The last time, I got lucky. I managed to distract him with a pik-nik can lid and then I surprised him again by charging in all the time and not allowing him to initiate any kind of offense against me.

Well, as I’d learned from being in class with him over several months, this particular bully was extremely intelligent and by this time, I’m pretty sure he’d figured out that in a fair fight with no other external factors, he would overwhelm me pretty quickly. We both knew how this would turn out – and of course, I was determined not to let that happen.

Anyway, after about five minutes, I peeked out – and saw that he was quickly approaching the toy store. He hadn’t seen me yet so I snuck out and quickly ran even further. In fact, If I’d gone even just a little bit further, I’d probably have reached my mother’s university – which was just about five blocks away from IAMS. When I looked back, I saw that my bully had probably gotten tired of following me around and saw him walking back to our school. I waited till he’d turned the corner and then cautiously made my way back to the school myself when suddenly:

“SURPRISE!”

He peeked out from behind the corner and then beckoned me to come and fight him. It was 4:55 at this point. This time, I had no more excuses – and not a lot of room to retreat. I clenched my fists and prepared to charge him. This was a fight that I was certain to lose. By the way, my father had actually taught me Karate and some boxing, but against an opponent who was probably three weight classes above me, nothing I knew was going to work. Still I prepared to charge forward and he did the same. As expected, he understood what happened the last time and wasn’t going to allow it to happen again.

“Cymark! Ga ano ka di sa sagwa!?” (Cymark, what are you doing here outside?)

I heard my mother shouting out from the side window of our car. Naturally, there was no way we were going to fight now – not in front my parents. Not even my bully would be that brazen.

So… what could we do at that point. Well, I calmly approached him and he slung his hand around my shoulder and I did the same. We walked together back to the school like we were the best of friends.

My mother got off from our car to talk to us. She asked my “friend” a few things like his name and where he lived. Then she told him not to allow me to walk around outside of the school because I wasn’t used to being outside.

From that point on, my bully never challenged me to another fight, but we started acting more familiar with each other like we'd always been friends. Over my four long years at IAMS, we did become really good friends. Of course, because cellphones and communication gadgets still weren’t popular at that time, we were never really able to keep in touch as we went our separate ways after graduation.

Still, even through the distance that time has created between us, you know who you are, my friend. I hope I am still yours.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Sikyu: The Great Equalizer

She doesn't die in the remake... yet

A few days ago, I was reading the most recent chapters of Tonikaku Kawaii when I came upon this panel of the manga – which, if you are a gamer, you would immediately recognize as being an obvious reference to Final Fantasy VII.

Here’s a confession: the online nickname I use, “lordcloudx” is actually a reference to FFVII’s main character, Cloud Strife. Back when I was playing the game in early 1998, the internet was experienced via unreliable dial-up modems and you paid by the hour to view pages that sometimes took anywhere between 5-10 minutes to load a few text and images. Therefore, looking up spoilers on Gamefaqs (yes, it existed) was actually the least of my concerns.

Anyway, me and a few High School buddies were actually taking turns playing the game (on my save) at home when we reached the Forgotten City where Aerith (then known as Aeris by default) was praying, and we were just rushing to get to the end of the first disc already. Imagine everyone’s reactions when the dreaded thing happened: to everyone’s shock, one of the game’s sweetest characters suddenly met a violent end – run through from behind with a sword by the game’s main villain, Sephiroth. It was a heartbreaking moment for everyone – and yet, because we were all guys, we started jostling around and teasing each other with stuff like “Hey, hey don’t you cry now,” and “What? Who’s crying? Hey, is that a single tear in your eye there?” The truth is that at some level, we were all probably grieving for Aerith on the inside.

Of course, if you were to play this game today, it’s highly unlikely that it would have the same impact that it did back then. After all, spoilers abound all over the internet and the original game’s blocky 3D graphics have aged pretty badly to the point that modern gamers would probably have a hard time looking past them, which is why I’m actually fine with the pseudo-sequel twist that the new FFVII remake is taking… though I doubt I’ll be playing it anytime soon because I don’t have/want to buy a PS4 just yet. 

In the same vein, there are some experiences from childhood that need to be experienced first-hand in order to truly appreciate. Unfortunately, the secrets of time travel elude me and audio-video recording technology was not yet as advanced back in the nineties as it is right now (obviously), so all I have to offer you are these disjointed, unreliable, probably idealized and sometimes wildly inaccurate ramblings of a middle-class almost rich-kid from the nineties.

As far back as I can recall, this is a story that took place sometime in 1993 – and it is based upon a game that probably dates back to many generations before our time. After all, I saw my sister playing this game with her friends when I was only in preschool and I’m sure my parents are familiar with this game as well. 

The game I’m talking about is known as “Sikyu,” which is a colloquial term that we use for security guards here. How this also came to be the name of the game – is something for historians to figure out and not me.

As you may recall from my previous posts, I was a transferee to Iloilo American Memorial School when I was in Grade 3. While I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with my classmates at first, I was gradually accepted as part of the group and got invited to play along with everyone else. At some point, Sikyu became one of our choice games because it was strategic but easy to play – and I’m not really sure how, but it felt like a game that equalized any physical differences between the players. This is why a boys versus girls match of Sikyu during recess time was pretty common. It never felt like we boys had a huge advantage in this game when compared to other games like lagsanay (tag) or ins (not sure if there’s a western equivalent for this game) where footspeed and physicality really play a huge role.

Sikyu is always played with two teams. Each team can have 4 players or more and depending on the rules agreed upon, you can actually have either an equal or unequal number of players for each side like 5 v 5 or 8 v 10. 

The mechanics of the game are pretty simple. Each side chooses a base that should be visible to each other, but a good distance apart. 300-400 meters is ideal. The goal of the game is to simply touch the base of the other side to score a point for your team. You protect your base by just touching/tagging any would-be attackers. The rule is that the person who last touched their own base has priority in tagging someone. It sounds a lot more complicated than it seems here, so I’m going to give you an illustration -- with Nagi’s help. 


Pants Nagi: I've got you!
Pants-Nagi: Uhh...
Skirt-Nagi: My turn!
As you can see from this series of images, assume that skirt-wearing Nagi has just attempted to attack pants-wearing Nagi’s base and thus, pants-Nagi is attempting to tag skirt-Nagi. Skirt-Nagi’s base is the alcohol bottle. When skirt-Nagi touches her base, the tables are turned and now she’s the one with the priority to tag pants-Nagi. This is why a 1 v 1 game is pretty rare in Sikyu. It simply results in a stalemate with neither side being able to get close enough to score.

When someone is caught/tagged, then that person becomes a hostage at the enemy base and has to hold on to the base – however, it does give the hostage’s team an advantage because the hostage’s body is now considered a part of the base. If another hostage is tagged/taken, then they hold hands and form a chain extending outwards – making it even easier to score for their team. 

With this in mind, there was one particularly memorable game of tag that I remember quite fondly. It was a game between the Grade 6 versus the Grade 3. One of my classmates was so confident in our abilities that he challenged the older Grade 6 to this game. 

Now I know I said that physicality doesn’t offer that much of an advantage in this game – but clearly, this doesn’t apply when most of us were just chest-level with the Grade 6. Still, we accepted their challenge, but on one condition: a handicap. We would get 2 points each time we scored while they would only get 1. Of course, the larger, stronger, faster Grade 6 students simply scoffed at this and let us have our way. After all, there was no way that a bunch of little kids were even going to get a single point off of them.

Well, the truth is that they were actually correct – for a little while. We were wildly confused at how they played the game. At the very beginning, they swarmed around in all directions on the field attempting to score and tag us while our fastest runners tried their best to keep up with them. Personally, I was just bewildered and couldn’t even catch up with what was happening. Before we knew it, the score was 4-0 in favor of the grade 6.

It was then that an idea hit my mind. I found a quiet place to survey all the ruckus from and took a head count. I discovered that the Grade 3 players actually outnumbered the Grade 6 by almost half – they were just so much bigger that it seemed like there were more of them.

I called for a timeout and used this moment to inform everyone of a plan I’d been brewing in my head. It was really quite simple: I called upon our largest, tallest players and told them to run straight into the enemy base and attempt to score if they could, but the real goal was to let them get caught. Then I told our fastest runners to find a place to hide and wait in ambush near the Grade 6 base for a bit.

When our tallest, longest players had been caught, they actually formed an extremely long chain that proved difficult to protect, even for our faster and more physically able adversaries. It was at this point that I signaled for our fastest runners to launch their attacks all at once for an easy score.
This strategy took the Grade 6 completely by surprise and in the end (which was decided when we ran out of time at recess), we won with a score of 4-8. In reality, both sides only scored 4 times each, but we did have that handicap we agreed on at the start of the game – it was a technical and moral victory for our side.

There were no hard feelings after the game. One of the grade 6 boys even complimented me for the idea. Of course, that was a one-time deal. It wasn’t a sustainable strategy that we’d be able to use against them anytime soon and as expected, in subsequent rematches we were never really able to win again – especially since they decided that we didn’t need a handicap anymore. The countermeasure is pretty easy: just don’t capture all attackers to the point that you make the human chain in your base impossible to defend.

Still, it was the thrill of the moment for me – for us, hopefully. It may not be something that we would ever be able to replicate again, but for that one important moment, we were united as a team. Together, we were the Grade 3 girls and boys and our hearts were soaring with the pride of being the victorious underdogs.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Dampa^: The Olympic Game That Never Was

The flow of time is relative. From a scientific standpoint, this is factually true. Time is influenced by the several unique forces that act upon matter in the universe such as gravity. Certainly, here on Earth, the dilation of time may seem insignificant, but if you can imagine how time ceases to exist completely and comes to a total standstill at the center of a black hole, then you would have a less ambiguous conception of the relativistic nature of time. You could basically live forever if you could somehow survive the spaghettification of your physical form that would occur long before you can even get near a black hole.

Far detached from the realm of quantum physics, which I am in no position to speak of, time can flow as equally subjective for an individual person. Time, for a human being, can flow very quickly or sometimes come to a complete stop, based on how the brain processes what is happening around that particular individual.

For example, back when I was in Grade 6, my former bully, who was now a very good friend of mine, would often tell me these amazing stories about the games he played with our other classmate (who was much bigger than him by the way, but not a bully) on this state-of-the-art game console called a “Playstation.” Apparently, it was so realistic that you could have a battle between two cars that shoot machine guns at each other until one of them is reduced to a pile of broken metal – or just falls of a platform and crashes and burns. This video game was appropriately named “Twisted Metal.” In another game, you could zoom around in a 3D environment, throw fireballs, and send your opponent flying through several mountains with teleporting strikes resulting in a 20 hit connect combo just like in the anime ovas. This game was “DBZ: The Legend.”

Now for someone like me who’d only played a few Super Famicom games by the hour on rental units and basic 2D games on the Famicom at home (limited to around 5 hours per week on a weekend), this was something magical – and even though I never saw any of these Playstation games first-hand at that time, I could clearly imagine what they must have looked like.

It would be 1998 in my 2nd year of High School before I would get my own Playstation – my father had asked my mother what she wanted for a birthday gift and she said she wanted my father to buy me a Sega Genesis – but we saw the Playstation and opted for that instead. The console came pre-modified and with 20 free games (all bootlegs, of course). Furthermore, while I got to play Twisted Metal 2 as one of the 20 free games that came with the console, it wouldn’t be until two years later when I would find a copy of DBZ Legend to play for myself. While my experience at playing these two games was very much delayed when compared to my classmates from Grade 6, it was no less magical when I finally sat down to enjoy them.

These are things that I could experience, only because the flow of time was so much slower back then – back when the internet was young and access to information was still dodgy at best. Definitely, this is a scenario that can no longer occur in modern times wherein life takes place at the pace of a frantic PUBG livestream and your phone becomes obsolete faster than that leftover take-out pizza in your freezer.
Therefore, won’t you take a journey with me to a simpler time? A time back in the 90’s when rubber bands were a currency and the spirit of competition was fierce and unforgiving? This is the story of Dampa^, the Olympic-level sports game that never was.

I don’t remember when it started exactly, or who was the first to introduce us to the game, but this game of skill called “Dampa^” was the latest craze in good old IAMS (Iloilo American Memorial School). To set things in the proper perspective, this was back in 1993-94 when the first battle between Doomsday and Superman was raging on in DC comics and the local comic book stores were displaying handwritten posters declaring that the death of Superman was near.

Dampa^ is a pretty straightforward game to play. The only tools you need are rubber bands and a pair of hands. It’s a game that you can practice by yourself on any flat, relative large surface that the rubber band can travel on. It can also be played competitively against 2 or more players.



To begin, a designated finish line and starting point are set. The rubber band is then placed flat on the starting point. The player than cups both his hands together in a parallel fashion (refer to Nagi in the pictures because my hands have grown extremely disproportionate due to over a decade of Lawn Tennis) and creates a funnel with a small windhole by the fingertips in order to push out air. Naturally, the hands need to be as airtight as possible except for the windhole. There are different techniques for doing this such as the standard version in the pictures as well as a flatter version called papel (paper) and a more robust looking version called a “bulldog.”
The player then needs to slam the ground right behind the rubber band while holding his hands in position in order to push as much air out as possible and propel the rubber band forward. As you can imagine, this actually created a lot of noise – the kind that often shocked some teachers and got us scolded. To continue, the person who is able to get his rubber band across the finish line with the least amount of slams first wins the game. The reward is that you get to keep your opponent’s rubber bands. Naturally, there were variations to this rule, such as five rubber bands a game or winner takes all. As a result of this game, rubber bands became a sort of currency and kids were begging their parents to buy them a big box of rubber bands – of course, you commanded more respect if all the rubber bands you had were earned via legitimate victories.

To be honest, we were all pretty terrible at the game at first except for the one kid who taught us how to play it. It became THE GAME to play for the boys all the way through Grade 3. We had an entire school year to practice the game and eventually, we all improved from being barely able to move the rubber band half a meter to being able to consistently get the rubber band to roll like a wheel and go on and on indefinitely – sometimes hitting the finish line in one go.


After summer break, all of the boys who played this game (myself included) considered ourselves as old veterans of Dampa^ who were able to impressively get the rubber band to travel at least 2-3 meters with one slam. Whenever we saw the younger kids attempting to play this game, we’d laugh haughtily and challenge them to a game and win using just a single hand (see the picture for the one-handed variation).

At some point, word of the prowess of the Grade 4 boys reached the Grade 6 boys and they came to challenge us in our territory. Therefore, we had our two best guys, Apol and Lynnrd go up against them. I would have gone up against them myself, but I lost in the elimination tourney for the privilege to represent the class. The prize was one new box of rubber bands (about 500 in a box) for the entire class.
So there they were, our two best guys against the two best guys of the Grade 6 boys – and… it was a complete massacre. The strip we used was the 2nd floor of the Grade 4-5 building and the competing area was approximately six meters. The grade 6 gave our guys the privilege of going first. Apol hit the finish line in two shots with his advanced bulldog form and Lynnrd managed to make a rare one hit finish as the rubber band just kept on rolling and rolling beyond the finish line.

Meanwhile, the grade 6 boys must each have taken at least 4-6 tries just to finish. Our hearts were surging with pride at that point and of course, we won the box of rubber bands fair and square – this too was important!

The disgruntled Grade 6 made up a new rule after this battle: rolling is unfair and is therefore illegal. Whenever the rubber band rolls, it should be reset to the last point before it started rolling. It felt pretty unfair because they had basically taken away our greatest weapon – one that we’d perfected over an entire school year of constant practice – but we respected them for being our seniors and agreed to adopt their new universal ruleset.

Unfortunately, over the next few months, the game would somehow fade into obscurity – never to be played again, except in our fragile, somewhat idealized memories. This was due to two reasons:
1. One of our teachers had lectured us against playing this game because the repetitive slamming might cause the veins in our wrists to rupture. I’m not sure how scientific this claim is, but yes, I did actually feel some damage starting to accumulate on the underside of my wrist where you usually take a pulse.
2. There were other more interesting games that gradually took Dampa^’s place such as tex, pogs, and classic board games like Chess, Mastermind and Millionaire’s Game.

Still, Dampa^ holds a special place in my heart as one of the few unique games from my childhood that I was somewhat good at. Furthermore, the experience of being able to compete on an equal stage with the Grade 6 who were naturally larger and stronger than us felt somewhat heroic and noble – like a fairytale hero standing up against adversity. I think this world could use a little bit of that haughtiness -- that arrogance that infuses you with an appetite for life rather than falling into depression at the slightest hint of negativity.

(Apologies for anyone I forgot to tag. Please feel free to share/tag others)

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Great Elections: A Middle Class Kid's Recollections From The Nineties




Life for a middle-class kid in the Philippines in the 90’s was really far detached from how things are today. It was a simpler time before the advent of the information superhighway, a term that’s actually become a bit dated by modern standards.

Back in 1995, “The Lion King,” which had been released in theaters a year before, was still the hottest topic among kids my age. That, along with Street Fighter II, which most of us only knew from looking at collectible cards with 2D chibi illustrations of the characters performing their special moves. Some lucky kids who grew up near the arcades actually got to experience the game first-hand, but I wasn’t among those.

To bring things into context, there were many things back in the mid-nineties that would probably make a modern 9-12 year-old kid nowadays roll their eyes and cringe. Sure, some things like bikes and roller-blades remain timeless, but there was such a huge lack of information that all we had to rely on when it came to our hobbies and interests were tidbits of info from old collectible cards and magazines, or second-hand information from other kids who owned these cards and magazines -- usually a year late.

Let’s take portable gaming for example. The must-own system at that time was of course, the legendary Gameboy. I knew at least 2 of my classmates from IAMS (Iloilo American Memorial School) who owned this system and were at least magnanimous enough to bring them to school and let just about everyone take a turn at them. A far second would be brick game systems – especially the ones that had multiple games from 20 in 1 to 48 in 1 (these games remain timeless today because of Tetris… really hard to go back to a single rotate button and no piece holding mechanics though). Brick game developers really knew how to push the hardware with all kinds of games from shooters to boxing and racing games. Lastly, there were the game systems that used static images to simulate movement such as Nintendo’s Game and Watch series and Tiger Electronic Handhelds based on licensed titles.

Also, you might be thinking, “what about TV?” Well, the majority of people had TV sets (not all of them colored) with all of 4 channels: GMA, ABS-CBN, RPN-8 and IBC-12. Fortunately, we had cable, which meant we had at least 10 channels (24, if your TV could handle it. If not, you had to program in which channels you wanted yourself). Furthermore, most of these cable channels were foreign language channels with no subtitles or filler channels such as Cable Star’s own two movie channels that they managed themselves (you sometimes saw them typing out the titles on-screen) and one all-day cartoon channel that showed just about everything from Joseph Lai produced super robot anime and DBZ OVAs to Heavy Metal (not for kids at all).

What we knew about foreign culture beyond our tiny bubbles of existence were from betamax tapes, comic books, and hearsay from other children who’d had the privilege to travel abroad on vacation.

With that said, the mid-nineties was the time of another memorable event in my life as a middle-class, almost rich kid. Every year, IAMS held the student council elections, which was a huge event with all the fanfare that you might expect from a national level election.

For us kids who weren’t participating in the elections, it meant that we wouldn’t have any classes all day to make way for the campaign concerts of each party (there were only two parties) and for the actual voting and counting of ballots that would happen thereafter.

This particular year, there were two heated rivals for the position of President, I’ll call them Jan and Edward – both Grade 6 students. In hindsight, I doubt anyone actually knew what the student council was actually good for, but that didn’t prevent us from being excited for the election campaigns. Jan’s party would have the stage during the morning, while Edward’s party would get their turn after lunch.

Each party would have a 2-hour long concert performing all kinds of songs and dances while handing out goodies for everyone. These weren’t just run-of-the-mill goodies too. They gave out high quality rulers (the ones with magnifying glasses built in), pencil cases, notebooks, glossy bookmarks with a “vote straight cheat sheet,” candies, and money, real money thrown to the crowd in five and ten peso denominations (five pesos was still in paper by the way).
I distinctly remember that Jan’s campaign was more focused on long speeches talking about platforms, plans, and other things that I’m sure nobody actually understood that well. After all, the internet wasn’t a thing yet and access to information was still a few years away. We really had no idea of how politics worked or that we were actually participating in some minor form of corruption just by accepting all these goodies.

Some of my classmates were also appointed as campaign managers for each party – some of them being campaign managers for both parties. The job of the campaign manager was to hand out goodies and make sure everyone in their particular grade level received a goodie bag with instructions on how to “vote straight.” Conflict of interest? What kind of animal is that?

Over-all, I thought that Edward’s campaign was cooler with all kinds of upbeat songs and he was a better dancer than Jan over-all. Of course, before voting, our teachers briefed us and told us to vote for the guy who seemed smarter because he would do more good. Needless to say that Jan’s party won by a landslide – we were quite impressionable that way. Let me tell you though, it’s not because we didn’t have independent thought back then, but it’s more because doubting a person in authority such as your teacher or someone older than you was considered very disrespectful. I’m pretty sure this concept seems so far-fetched nowadays, but this was really how it was in the 90’s. So if you ever see a 90’s movie and things feel really cheesy for you, just be aware that life really was a lot like that back then.

So that was that. At the end of the day, after the manual counting was done, Jan became president of the student council and everyone was happy. So what exactly did the Student Council do? Well, to be honest, to this day, I have no idea. Perhaps some of my classmates from my IAMS days could enlighten me?





Friday, May 1, 2020

That Time I Fought A Bully In Grade School...

An accurate depiction of how it must've looked like to onlookers

This is a story from nearly three decades ago...

Growing up in an upper-middle class family, we could almost be considered rich in the Philippine context. My father was already a pretty well-established lawyer by the time I was born, so according to my sister, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth... which might not have been much of an exaggeration. 


We were raised on tenderloin steaks, ox tongue, and sizzling blue marlin from the most expensive hotels here -- which at one, point, we had on an almost daily basis. We also had cable TV, Betamax, a Family Computer (NES for western audiences), a PC, Playstation, cellular phones and other modern luxuries from the western world before anyone else did.

Anyway, this isn't a post to brag about our affluence, nor to reminisce those days when we were kinda rich -- which I am not right now.

You see, my most vivid experiences from growing up were my colorful interactions with my classmates. I feel that we middle class kids are a bit underrepresented nowadays, so let me share some of these funny experiences with you.


I was a new transferee from another school when I was in Grade 3 (9 years old). Naturally, being the new kid, everyone wanted to scrutinize you and of course, there will be a little bit of harassment and some bullying -- especially if you are as socially awkward as I was (as I still am in some ways). 

So here's the scenario: It was recess time and I was enjoying a cannister of Pik-Nik, when one of the bullies from my class, a kinda fat, but over-all well-built boy who was about twice my then scrawny frame, said choice words to me that I didn't like.

Now here's one thing I'll tell you right now about myself -- I mind my own business most of the time and I'll never intentionally try to personally malign another individual, so if someone else feels the need to point a verbal assault in my direction, I will respond five times more ferociously.

So, having been insulted by what this kid said, I promptly inhaled the last of my pik-nik shoestring potatoes from the can and then I took the lid and flung it at his face like I was friggin Batman with a Batarang. I'm a tennis player, so my aim is pretty good and the projectile hit the bully directly on the forehead... something which he definitely did not like.

Of course, as you are probably well aware of, a lightweight tin lid isn't going to incapacitate anyone anytime soon. The infuriated bully leapt from the waist-high fence which he was behind and ran straight in my direction -- there was only about 2 yards of space between us.

Assessing the situation in my brain in slow motion, I took the most logical course of action -- I ran. 

Now most people are unaware of this, but fat people? They can actually run quite well if they want to -- and this particular kid was quite fast. Before I knew it, he had run me into a corner. In front of me was the metal fence that led to the school's exit, which was kept close until dismissal time -- It was only 9:30 AM. 

So there I was; an impassable fence in front of me, and a raging bully charging in fast right behind me... what could I do in that situation? What would you do?

Well, in my case, a switch just sort of flipped inside of me and I placed my left foot into the wall and used that to kick off and charge straight back at the bully -- he wasn't expecting this, of course. Basically, I ran myself into a corner and then decided to just attack my bully instead of waiting to be pounded into the ground.

I lashed out at him with a flying punch, which he had to cover up to defend -- but he was so much stronger than me that even though he just deflected my strike, he sent my flying back at least a meter. Gathering my footing, I charged at him again. This time, he met my attack with a counterpunch right at my face. Of course, I was so committed to attacking that my momentum actually pushed him back. I also landed a good one right on his forehead. Then again, with a simple shove, he sent me flying back. 

This sort of pattern continued for a while, with me continuously charging at him and being sent flying back every time -- but before I knew it, I was actually holding my own. I was fighting back against a much bigger, much stronger kid and I wasn't actually getting hurt that much.

About three minutes into the fight, a security guard came up from behind the fence and broke us apart.

He told the other kid in our Hiligaynon: Na ano ka man? Kadako dako simo ya! Basi mapatay mo ni sa! (What's up with you? You're so big, you could kill him!"
While he told me: Ikaw man ya? Ka isog isog simo! (As for you! You're too brave for your own good!)

Anyway, the fight ended with both of us suffering a cut or two on the lips, but none the worse for wear. From that point on, my bully and I became sort of frenemies, but we'd actually become pretty good friends by the time we both graduated from sixth grade and went our separate ways on different high schools.

It's kinda amusing, because my most vivid memories of my classmates are the times when I was having a good old fistfight with one of them.