Saturday, January 14, 2006

Dubai Album



For the last three years the annual Dubai Shopping Festival has been held from January to February. It used to be held in November to December



MIGRANT WORKERS' 'MECCA'




A mosque in Dubai's uppity district of Jumeira







DUBAI, the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has long been considered as the "Mecca" of migrant workers.

Just about everyone, including the Caucasians--particularly Americans and British--goes there to find employment.




The Burj al Arab (Tower of the Arab), Dubai's seven-star hotel



I wasn't surprised, therefore, when a friend from college sent me an e-mail last night saying she has been in Dubai for the past two weeks looking for work. There have been some favorable interviews, she told me.

She thought of me because I used to write for a major daily there.




A Roman Catholic Church in Abu Dhabi. Notice the turrets and spires protruding from a mosque at the back. Yes, dearie, a church and a mosque situated back-to-back!



For a while there I became quite nostalgic about this Muslim open port city that tolerates a kaleidoscope of races, cultures, religions, and languages.




The Gold Souk (Market) in Abu Dhabi, with nary a security guard in sight


A jewelry store in the Gold Souk



Here are some of the photos that I took of the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which I loved so much for its employment opportunities, cheesebread (although you have to get it from a Lebanese bakery), fresh gigantic fish, and hairy men with tantalizing eyes!




I've lost some weight now, I swear!










Consider him as one of the reasons why would you want to go to Duabi. (All his photos aren't mine, by the way)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Fiction: Franz Asimov



A FRIEND who's using a pseudonym has sent this fiction of his for posting. The first three photos are by Lon Li-wen while the rest are by DJ.



ICONOCLAST GENE

By FRANZ ASIMOV



LATE for his morning class, a boarder takes off his shirt and his shorts and drops them on the floor. Prancing like a stallion, he saunters across the room and gets his towel by the window. His smooth, fair-skinned butt twitches lazily as he makes his way towards the shower room. He does not mind being naked. He is in an all-males’ dorm, after all.

Gene swallows hard as he peeps from under the pillow while he lies on his bed. His roommate does not even bother to close the bathroom door. Gene's fantasies soar but feelings of shame drag them all down. His breathing is labored and his heartbeat erratic. A part of him just wants to get up and join his roommate in the shower while the other screams, "You're going to burn in hell!" Mustering enough courage, Gene turns his back from the sight as if stirring in his sleep. He is praying for strength and forgiveness for entertaining such lustful thoughts.

And, just as Gene is about to fall asleep, his roommate hollers as he steps out of the shower, "Hey, Gene, don't you have a class?" Still dripping wet, he turns on the ceiling fan as he towel dries his hair. He glistens from the water droplets that skim down from all over his body. Gene stiffens. He knows his roommate is still naked.

"No, Rick, I don't," he says, further burying his face under the pillow. "Just let me sleep, okay?" He pretends being annoyed hoping Rick will give up on him. The temptation to turn and look is so immense but seared away by images of fire and brimstone.

Rick innocently sits by his bedside and pulls the pillow away. "Yes, you do. We're in the same class, dude! Now get up already. I'll wait for you, so hurry." Rick's slightly hairy calf brushes the side of his arm.





Instantly, heat rushes all over Gene. He’s dazed at the surge of a fiery sensation, stirring his groins to life. He grabs the pillow and hugs it just in time to cover a throbbing hard-on.

In class the instructor lectures on the literary classics. "The Bible is the best-seller of all time. It is rich in varied forms of literature. But so does the Qur'an or the Talmud, or 'The Art of War,' or even the 'Kama Sutra.'" Then the instructor raises an eyebrow at Gene. "Do you dare contest this claim?"

Gene slightly bows and shakes his head. "No, Mr Guevarra." How can he make a stand when he himself has questions and doubts about the Bible?

"Let me remind the whole class that we are going to analyze the Bible as a great work of man. Tomorrow we will be looking at one passage from the different versions of the Bible. And to make it more exciting, choose your passage from the ‘Songs of Solomon’."

After class, Gene looks for a phone booth so he can call home that day. "Collect call to Bicol, please.... I am looking for Mr Jose Dimagiba. Please tell him this is Generoso Dimagiba." He allows his hand to slide over the phone's metal cord as he stands waiting to be connected. Thinking back, he recalls the many times his faith and worldviews have been challenged again and again ever since he set foot in the university. Just yesterday a born-again student from his dorm debated with him on religious issues. Gene defended his religious affiliation very well since he, too, is well versed in the Bible. His father happens to be the pastor and head of the congregation in their province. Yet deep inside, Gene knows he is seeking a refuge in the teaching he himself has trouble believing in and following.

"Hello?" The authoritative voice sounds familiar.

"Hello, Dad. This is Gene. I want to go home for the Passover celebration. Could you please send money for bus tickets?... Yeah, I know you just sent my month's allowance, but I spent it all buying material for our project in engineering class."
Gene listens intently on the other line. It’s the standard litany about studying hard and being a good son. "Yes, Dad. I know. OK. Thanks."





Gene thinks maybe going home for a while before the start of summer classes will help him weigh things over. But the bus ride home takes his perspective for another turn.

"Hi. I'm Jethro. Going home for the Holy Week?" He nudges Gene who is gazing at the rice fields along the National Road in Quezon province.

"Actually, only after the Passover. I'm Gene. I think we went to the same class, Engineering Science 10, last semester. Right?"

Gene thinks Jethro's aquiline nose, thick eyebrows and high cheekbones are already a sin to behold. He looks towards the view outside the window again. Gene sees a faint reflection of himself through the glass. He thinks Jethro's nose, eyebrows and cheekbones complement his deep-set eyes, full lips and high forehead. He is off to fantasy land as he savors this side-by-side closeness with Jethro. Later, Jethro falls asleep and his head rests unintentionally on Gene's broad shoulders.

They become good friends after that trip, and see more of each other for a year. Gene later learns from Jethro that they are in the same boat of disbelief. It relieves him to know that he is not alone sailing through rough waters of identity and religious crisis.

"I don't know what to believe anymore," he tells Jethro one day.
"You must end this turmoil if you want to be functional. Making choices and standing up for such is a part of life. You can't be caught standing on crossroads all your life." Jethro says, putting his arm over Gene's shoulder.





Gene comes home for Passover the following year. Only this time, it is not to celebrate with the congregation.

Gene perspires and fights a stutter as he tells his father, "I want to leave the flock, Dad. I cannot live a life lying to myself that I am one and at home with the congregation." It is hard for Gene to watch his father take in all his words. "It would be best for me to keep distance from a religion I’ve ceased to believe in. I am sorry, Dad, if I disappoint you." Gene feels as if a thorn has been pulled out of his heart after this revelation.

His father, who seems to understand, looks at him only with love in his eyes and says: "Remember, my son, it is you who will leave. It is you who will also come back on your own. No one shall persuade or force you to come back. I hope you’ll find what you are looking for."

Eyes near to tears, Gene's father leaves him alone in their verandah that night.





Two years have passed since Gene made that decision. One morning he wakes up delighted to the feel of another warm body next to him. Last night was his first and finest liberating moment, and surely would not be his last. In his mind he relives those moments of sheer ecstasy. This first kiss that leads to a trail of touch, the feel of hair being pulled gently by hand, the fusion of two souls into one, resulting into an explosion of a million stars that last to what seems eternity.

The doorbell rings and a letter appears through an opening beneath the door. Gene gets up to get it without bothering to cover his nakedness. He recalls the days his former roommate paraded in naked glory inside their dorm. But this time it is Gene who does the prancing, bare, to the pleasure of another inside their pad.

The envelope bears the seal of the congregation. He sits beside Jethro who rouses from sleep when Gene gets up. Jethro is looking with half-sleepy eyes as Gene reads the letter. Gene lays down the letter as he shifts his gaze at Jethro's bareness. His chest rises and falls in rhythmic fashion. A mountain of flesh with a life of its own. He tenderly places his hand to feel Jethro's heart beat, then continues to read the letter from his father.

Apparently it is his father's turn to perform the breaking of the bread for the Passover celebration. Gene's lips curl, then straightens to a stiff line as he inserts the letter back into the envelope. "To come back on my own, that was the deal," he mutters as if to assure himself.

Jethro senses the letter has affected Gene's mood. Tugging at Gene to lie down beside him, Jethro asks what the letter is all about.

Gene throws the letter away from the bed and says: "Nothing important really. I'll tell you all about it later. But right now, aren't we late for class?"

Monday, December 26, 2005

Taiwan-to-Kalibo


(Photo by Lon Li-wen)



STRAIGHT FROM TAIPEI



ON WEDNESDAY, China Airlines will fly tourists for the first time from Taiwan to Kalibo, on Panay Island, in central Philippines.

Kalibo, home to the Ati-Atihan Festival, is an hour away from Caticlan, where tourists take the 15- to 20-minute boat-ride (on an outrigger) to our Boracay Island, known worldwide for its beaches of sugar-powdery white sand and azure water.

If things go well for this inaugural flight, China Airlines will continue bringing Boracay-bound tourists from Taiwan straight to Kalibo, without passing through the international airports in either Manila or Cebu, on a regular basis.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Wet (Holiday) Season


Football sensation Christiano Ronaldo



HOT BEACHWARES FOR WET SEASON



MAY you all have well-oiled beachwares for a wet and merry holiday season!



Model and athlete Kiko

South Korea’s ‘Ppalli-Ppalli’ Culture


Hwang Woo-suk



FAKE STEM CELL STUDY STEMMED



BIOETHICS students and practitioners in the Philippines (and all over the world) have been following the story of Hwang Woo-suk, the South Korean scientist whose fake 2005 research on producing tailored embryonic stem cells has attracted world embarrassment for his country known for its “ppalli-ppalli” (“hurry-hurry”) culture.

Stem cells are master cells that can grow other bodily tissues and could someday treat such presently incurable health problems as diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The wire agencies said Hwang resigned from Seoul National University after investigators said he faked research results that were condoned by scientists wanting to have their fellow become a “national hero” and by a government desperate to bask in “reflected glory without asking too many questions.”

A South Korean paper said Hwang’s study, which grew into a state project, had skirted “stringent verification procedures by scientists and the government.”

Investigators said they found only two stem cell lines in Hwang’s paper published in “Science,” a United States periodical, in May 2005, and not 11 as the authors had claimed. They added that four clusters, of the other nine stem cell lines, died of contamination in January 2005 and could not be verified as tailor-made cells.

Hwang’s fabrication of research results came into the open after a foreign co-author demanded that his name be stricken out of the paper.

Sociologists said Hwang’s case mirrors speed as a great part of South Korean culture, or what Koreans often call as “ppalli-ppalli,” in a desperate bid to be the No. 1 in biotechnology in the Asia-Pacific region.

Hwang announced in 2004 that he was the first to clone a human embryo. He had also led the team that created the world’s first cloned dog.

It was only two years ago when Singapore, another major regional player desperately wanting to jump the gun on China, Malaysia and South Korea to becoming the hub of biotechnology in Asia-Pacific, did a hasty and unnecessary operation on twin sisters joined at the head that resulted to their deaths.

I wrote a 23-page paper on that issue as part of requirements for my graduate class in bioethics at the University of the Philippines Diliman. The same paper was accepted for presentation at the First Bioethics Congress in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in September 2005.

Here’s the two-page summary of my paper:

Singapore’s Rush to Become Asia’s Biotech Hub: Looking at the Deaths of Iranian Twins in View of a Paternalistic Doctor-Patient Relationship

Introduction

Two years ago the world mourned the deaths of Ladan and Laleh Bijani, the 29-year-old Iranian twins who were born joined at the head, after a historic 50-hour surgery in Singapore. Medical ethicists slammed Singapore for what they deemed as a hasty decision to perform the unprecedented surgery. Singapore stood its ground.

Truth Telling and Informed Consent

Yes, the twins had gambled—and lost. Singapore doctors said the twins were in command of their faculties when they gave a go-signal for the operation that might kill one or both of them, or leave them brain-dead.

Doctors in Germany declined in 1996 to conduct separation surgery on the Bijani twins since they shared a common vein that drained blood from their brains. Doctors in Singapore believed otherwise.

Did the Singapore team of doctors tell the Bijani twins the truth or were they deceived into giving their consent for such a risky surgery?

Austin explicitly asserts that words do, rather than represent, things; and views all utterances as performatives—speech acts that are neither true nor false, but which bring about a particular social effect by being uttered.

Dennett says the intentional strategy, which means adopting the intentional stance, is taken when the two other strategies—the physical and the design—fail in predicting the behavior of an intentional system.

The surgery was indeed done in haste, rendering the motives behind it as questionable. The doctors could have asked the Bijanis to wait for a year or so, and talk it over with other people.

The threshold for the process of informed consent is weighed in relation to the patient’s well-being and self-determination, and assessed depending on the decision’s rationality, not on the competence of the decision-maker.

Kant’s categorical imperative provides that one must act in such a way that it is universally acceptable, and that man must always be treated as an end rather than as a means. Moral obligation is the respect for persons.

Paternalism and Patient Autonomy

In the world of biomedical ethics paternalism—or the physician taking the role of a caring parent and, the patient, a child—is one of the models or metaphors for the physician-patient relationship. Respecting patient autonomy is not always an ideal, since this may prompt patients to leave everything up to their physicians.

The Bijanis sought separation surgery in Singapore when the Lion City, reeling from the declining returns in electronics industry that made it as one of the world’s wealthiest nations, was throwing US$2.3 billion into biotech research and development as it looked at this new venture to be its next financial miracle.

Conclusion

The pioneering but dangerous separation surgery made by Singapore doctors on the craniopagus Bijani twins was done in haste and aimed to help boost the Lion City’s impending claim to become Asia’s biotechnology hub.

Engaging in scientific research is such a lofty endeavor, but Singapore must be reminded that these shouldn’t override the dignity of human beings and their right to protect their individuality.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Gay South Africa


Neethling


RYK HIM IN



A GOOD friend of mine called up the other night saying he would embark on an African Safari early next year, and so I bade him bon voyage.

Also, I reminded him that he could already marry bemedalled swimmer Ryk Neethling as the South African government now recognized same-sex marriage.

I heard some guffaws at the other line, but the ones tinged with so much excitement.

Well, who wouldn't want to marry this South African swimming sensation?

Wings of Change

NEGROS FOUNDATION DELIVERS OWLET



AN ENVIRONMENTAL foundation in central Philippines has, for the first time, successfully bred in captivity an endangered Philippine Eagle-Owl, prompting conservationists and nature lovers to be more optimistic in preserving the island’s natural habitat.

Nicknamed “Bubo,” the owlet was hatched on November 21 and is the offspring of Suplada and Hinahon, according to the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation, Inc. (NFEFI) in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.

News reports say a contest to name the owlet will be held in January among children visiting the NFEFI zoo along South Capital Road. “Bubo” is a temporary nickname for the owlet, whose sex is not determined until it’s fully feathered.

Endemic to the Philippines, the Philippine Eagle-Owl is known as “kuwago” or “bukao,” the vernacular terms for owl. A critically endangered species, the kuwago has lengthened feathers above and behind the eye known as “horns” and “ear tufts,” respectively.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Only in the Philippines


The shepherd
(photo by Lon Li-wen)






GOING BACK TO THE WILD



THE gene pool of tamaraws would soon be closed, as the species, a descendant of the cow, deer and carabao (water buffalo) found only in the Philippines might be better off in the wild.

Wiped out by an epidemic in the 1930s and depleted by the hunt for trade, the tamaraw (bubalus mindorensis) was listed by the World Conservation Union as one of the most threatened mammals on earth.



This had prompted the Philippine government to protect the endangered species (which is endemic to Mindoro, in Central Philippines) for the past three decades and establish a gene pool.







The hunter
(photo by Lon Li-wen)


According to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), the tamaraws have been breeding well in the wild while only two of the 10 captured for the gene pool have survived.

The PAWB said at least 269 tamaraws, most of them young, were seen on Mt. Iglit alone, a big improvement over the 100-head count in the past decade. It said the endangered species have also made their homes on Mt. Baco, Mt. Halcon and Mt. Calavite.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bali Sojourn


A view of Kuta Beach, from the swimming pool of Mercure Hotel where I stayed



PICTURE-PERFECT FRAMES



I DID enjoy watching the recently concluded tennis tournament at Wismilak International, in Bali, Indonesia, where United State’s Lindsay Davenport beat Italy’s Francesca Schiavone in the final round.


Me sitting in front of a temple in Bali




Massage oils




Me taking a dip for some spa magic

I watched with horror, however, the suicide bombings (on October 1) that followed only days after last month’s Wismilak International sporting event.



Food, glorious food!

My friends in Bali were not injured but have surely been affected by the bombings, and even those that hit the world-famous Indonesian island resort in 2002. I then shivered at the horrors of it all, considering that I frequented the Sari Club (where the first bombed had been detonated), in Kuta Beach, with some friends when I first visited there in 2001.

We also went to Ubud (some two hours drive from Kuta Beach), Bali's art hub and seat of royalty in the old days.

The park in the Balinese capital of Denpasar, by the way, is very cruisy. Had driven their one night with some friends. The local guys rode the motorbike and park near where their objects of lust sat that night. And off they went to their Balinese love nests, pair by pair.

Anyway, I uploaded some of my recent Bali photos here, attempting to entertain only happy thoughts (wonderful spas, great architecture, beautiful handicraft, amazing culture, breathtaking views, and delicious food) about that wonderful and enchanting island resort.