Life in retail

Life in retail

I peel my eyes open to a mild headache, only after 2 hours of sleep. I put on my day-clothes, kiss my parents goodbye and drive off with instant oatmeal. If I’m lucky, it’s 5:45 A.M.

Immersing myself fully into the dense, oily, cesspool that is entrepeneurship has been the highlight of my year. I left my monthly 14,000 PHP job in Ortigas, San Juan, and moved to another monthly 14,001 PHP job in Ortigas, Pasig, where my very first Kape Komunidad coffee kiosk is situated. I clean it, I mop it, I refill stocks, I carry heavy cases of milk; I burn myself, I spill stuff, and bump my head. The six-square meter space is like my first born child.

Standing behind the counter is actually quite the charm. Customers approach the kiosk with a somewhat serious look, and state their order in the least number of words possible. Such a stately affair can only be reciprocated with a big smile and a hint of excitement.  I’m a bartender, I know, but it’s worth noting that coffee people like myself wouldn’t have entered into food retail if it wasn’t for coffee. We would have stayed with our jobs in IT…academia…music. This is why coffee and its bartenders bring such a fresh perspective into the urban food culture.

The beast behind the counter. Appia II Compact by Nuova Simonelli.


Grind. Tamp. Load. Extract. What happens next depends on the order. Mostly, it’s a silky endowment of frothed milk, perhaps with a homemade sauce, or hot water so the natural characteristics of cafe espresso are showcased.

Aside from the smooth barista moves, the job also requires a subtle giddiness. “Hello sir/miss, what would you like?” and if I asked how they were, they would always open up. But the thing with Philippine retail is that there is always this presumed social uneveness between the retailer and the consumer. At times, it has been quite embarassing, myself being some sort coffee servant for up and coming medical students. But I brush it off. When you’re a human in Manila, making money every waking day is paramount –that’s the unabashed truth.

The hands of co-barista Veronica, dutifully keeping track of orders.

I actually have a background in Science. I was doing a massive statistical analysis of coral types and cover in my marine-bio thesis. Afterwards, working for a consulting firm, I put my super-skills to good use by working in government-related projects, which excited me. Call it millenial mentality, but I felt that I couldn’t grow and evolve within these fields, or they frustrated me, so I left them. I’m not saying I’m choosy, picky, or maarte, but the things I loved were doing research papers, writing songs, and exploring endless literature on coffee.

But life is not all-good in my little coffee retail. The things that make me anxious are not few, and the stresses are just icings to the cake that is Manila traffic. I’m always asking questions to myself, double-backing on decisions, and feeling personal insecurities rise up like vomit. In small moments, the grass remains evergreen on the other side.

Nevertheless, I consistently remind myself the principles I’ve put forth in starting this endeavor. Creating comfort where there has been none, and catering to these soft and weak spots of peoples. Modern establishments are great, and they belong in main commercial centers. Coffee, on the other hand, oftentimes just needs to be in a simple place where the regular Juan or Juana can ponder on life — or study for an exam.

Coffee in the canteen. Yep, the canteen.
Pushing and shoving, mud and sore feet: Pope Francis’ Luneta Mass

Pushing and shoving, mud and sore feet: Pope Francis’ Luneta Mass

Pilgrimages are journeys, either short and long. One can expect them to be arduous, or they can be unexpectedly miserable. On the day of Pope Francis’ Luneta mass, it was the worst on the streets.

At about 4 A.M., I checked my Facebook — a status update from a volunteer who was issued an ID-and-all had already turned back, due to a mess of cars and crowds along Maria Orosa street. Oh wow.. that happens to be the main entrance. What now? But my head was hurting to consider it seriously, and in a few moments I was bound for Manila City.

On the A.M. frequency, Ted Failon’s voice had an alerted tone, still in rapid dialogue with a frantic field reporter who was observing the events along Maria Orosa street. Ayan na! Ayan na! Hindi na mapigilan ang tao! Tumba na ang barikada! 

Maria Orosa street, cleared for the Popemobile. (Then why was it made the official entrance, to begin with?)

An hour since the radio reportage, we finally made it to Orosa street corner U.N. Avenue, where there was an apparent confusion (like the scene in Ice Age where the animals were pointlessly walking away from the breaking ice). There was a thick, disordered line of people, made unclear by stranded cars. Cars inched against the pedestrians, who were split-seconds away from being squished against the parked bus. It was only 6 A.M., on a Sunday.

The start of the line. To the right, the people trying to find the start of the line. It eventually thickened into a two-lane line.

Tracing downstreet U.N. Avenue, until about Del Pilar, we found the “start” of the line. At that point, it was getting cramped on either side of the street: the “line” going to Maria Orosa official venue entrance with scanners, and the “line” trying to find the back of the former. In the chaos of things, there were multiple quick-myths being echoed. ‘Di na kayo papapasukin. Sarado na sa Roxas. Yung mga may-ID lang ang pwede. But we were in line and, just like everyone else, we mentally vacillated with blankness whether this would be a fruitful effort or not. Surely, the graying lola who was trying to cut me in line wasn’t mentally vacillating. She was leaping and elbowing me!

That early morn, the sky was overcast. “Biyaya yan ni Pope sa ‘tin, na hindi gawing mainit ‘tong araw na to,” a lady said, while our bodies clung like in an MRT rush hour. If my mental and physical toughness was tested in high school special CAT, then my own patience was tested in that stupid line. Truly, I could not fathom each of everyone’s motivations as to why getting themsleves stuck in this thick chaos is worth their time! We would be the philosophical laughing stock of born-again Christians and INC, I thought to myself.

After two and a half hours, we would learn that we just wasted sleep, time and energy. Maria Orosa had been blocked instead, and the scanners were moved to the Taft Avenue entrance. We turned a corner around U.N. Avenue going to Taft Ave., whilst still trying to follow a “line”. We eventually deposited ourselves into a free-flowing, lineless sea of people in back of Rizal Park. The scanners were indeed there, but they weren’t working, and people just passed right through it. We didn’t have to line up. We could’ve just gone straight there. It was a bummer, like Lapu-Lapu’s huge bum, and it had started to rain.

The thick line condensed into an elbowsome single file, as cascaded from the “scanner entrance”, which turned out to be useless. Who was the idiot that told everyone to make one line?

Sitting on our mats, the rain turned the ground into mud, and we were forced to stand up. On the video screen, Pope Francis had boarded his Popemobile, headed for Luneta. People started to get into a cheering frenzy and continued to cram the space, continuously increasing human density within the area. It was becoming extremely unsafe. I pitied ourselves, the Filipino-Catholic people. All to see the Pope. We decided to get out of that cramped place and go back near the Lapu-Lapu statue, where there was more air to breathe (except near the portalets). Squeezing one’s way through barricades of bodies is hard enough, it was harder with the cold through one’s raincoat and wet socks,  by slipping every so often from the mud, with sore hands and shoulders from carrying bags, and without enough sleep. It was a miserable situation; undeniably a far cry from the organized, large-scale worship of other sects.

Suddenly, there was a roar. Pope Francis! He’s here! We positioned ourselves at the screen behind Lapu-Lapu’s bum. The mass was about to begin.

The huge orchestra played through our local set of speakers, and the camera panned towards the altar. It was the same processional song used in the first mass at the Manila CathedralAll that time, the rain started to get stronger. Onscreen, Pope Francis lightly swung the censer, just like how our local priests did it— but this time it was him doing it on the altar

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” As if my body knew, I began to calm down and focus. It was a Sunday, a day of obligation, and I was hearing mass with Pope Francis. Suddenly transfixed at that thought, I felt more and more alive. Even though Pope Francis’ homily was weakly audible, I listened and clung onto each word. In spite of all my internal negativity, I felt moved by an unseen force.

Live, behind Lapu-Lapu’s statue.

In a quick realization, I realized that the mass could not have been any more meaningful without that day’s difficulties. I was a pilgrim. Everyone there — the lola, the little kids, the people who commuted all the way from outside Metro Manila. We stood there in the rain, with sore feet and grumbling stomachs. We heard mass, and we fulfilled the purpose of braving through that whole day. Whether it was unsafe, miserable, and ridiculous was beside the point. It was about making any form of a difficult journey, and quenching it spiritually in the end.

Pope Francis could have went somewhere else. He could have visited Obama or the Queen of England. He could have just went back to Italy, but no. He booked a flight to this little, uninteresting country with so many problems. He chose us. Then, for this final, most difficult day, we also chose him; we journeyed to him. Mabuhay ang Santo Padre! Mabuhay si Kristo!

Coffee in UP

Coffee in UP

The WordPress voice of my little coffee pop-up!

Kape Komunidad

Kape Komunidad got its first coffee gig at the UP Diliman Biology building, on the week of Bio Majors’ Day.  Mia and I came in the building at about 8:45 A.M. on a Friday morning, with myself having very little sleep from preparations the night before. We unloaded our long S&R table, a picnic basket and several dry-boxes (AKA huge Lock ’n Lock’s). One of the lids of those boxes had on it “Drive thru Kape”, from the time that I was still using taped bond paper as my signage. A hippy student wearing glasses came over and read it out loud and giggled. She said she’d come back when were ready to brew. With all these people passing by and giving us curious looks, I felt pressured. And excited.

Table cloth. Condiments. Spoons, mixers. Paper cups, sleeves, lids. Syrup. Mia’s muffins (which were already selling like breakfast sliders, before I could…

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The 5 ways you don’t notice killing wildlife is ruining the Philippines

Feeling Environmentalist

When you were a kid, did you ever own a pellet gun, an airgun, or even a tirador?

If you did, then you probably tried using it on some helpless bird in your backyard. And if you were as good as I am, you probably missed every shot.

Thankfully, my incompetence in accuracy is paying off because I wouldn’t have only shot birds down,  I would’ve sabotaged the country in more ways than one.

Here’s why.

Thanks to Facebook, I’ve seen more photos of birds being killed during the past few months than I have in the last twenty years put together.

UP Black Bittern You might’ve seen this picture of a dead Black Bittern inside the UP Diliman campus going around Facebook since the start of November.

When I first saw the post above, my initial reactions were of disgust and of frustration. Going by Facebook’s comments section, a lot of people felt the same…

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Penman No. 76: A Lesson in Description

A cool lesson in written description!

Pinoy Penman 3.0

Penman for Monday, December 9, 2013


NOW AND then I walk my students in Creative Writing through a lesson in description, which—as I’ve often noted in this corner—is at best always more than a rendition of the physical setting and the people and things in it. In the hands of a skilled or a gifted writer, a plain object can acquire a strange and memorable luminosity. Sometimes all it takes is the uncommon but logical and precise choice of a word, such as when William Faulkner describes a campfire as being “shrewd,” struggling and managing to keep alive despite the wind. At other times good description requires the writer to step back and to set things in a larger context, balancing fine detail with the broader sweep of memory and understanding.

I don’t even need to draw on the likes of Faulkner or Greg Brillantes or Kerima Polotan to…

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