Book Review: “Ayesha at Last” by Uzma Jalaluddin

A mix of giving up on a dream in exchange for security, dealing with a bad boss, crazy relatives, a case of mistaken identity, and old family secrets already reads like the kickass start of a great romance novel. But add in the cultural context of the Canadian-Indian Muslim immigrant experience and you’ve got yourself the gem that is Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin’s debut novel.

A modern and inclusive romance

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Book Review: “One Day in December”by Josie Silver

A novel just in time for Christmas

What do you do when you spot The One, fall irrevocably in love in the span of 60 seconds, lose them right after, spend the next year searching for them in every bus stop in London, then finally meet them again when they’re introduced as your best friend’s new boyfriend? Thus begins One Day in December and the love story of Laurie and Jack, spanning ten years of heartbreak, choosing to be happy, loss, what-might-have-beens, and finding happiness again.

Laurie James meets, or doesn’t meet, Jack O’Mara at the bus stop on December 21, 2008. She’son an overcrowded bus, on the way home from a long shift at a hotel reception desk – a job she’s working while she’s trying to get a job as a staff writer at a magazine. She looks out the window and sees the most beautiful man sitting at the bus stop. He looks up, their eyes meet, and something shifts in the universe. But as fate would have it, Laurie’s bus pulls away just as Jack gets up. Laurie spends a year looking for “Bus Boy” throughout London, roping in her best friend Sarah to help with the search. She doesn’t find him, not until that fateful day when Sarah introduces the new boyfriend that she’s head-over-heels for. “Bus Boy” is Jack, Sarah’s boyfriend.

Romance novels live and die by their characters, and One Day passes with flying colors. Laurie and Jack are fully formed and relatable: good people who genuinely care for each other and the people around them but are deeply flawed as well. The story is told from Laurie and Jack’s alternating point of views, which gives us a lot of insight into their motivations. The downside of this is that Sarah’s characterization gets lost in the shuffle. As Laurie’s BFF and Jack’s girlfriend, Sarah becomes the ultimate example of virtue and success, and any flaws she has is told to us,not shown.

The story also benefits from the longer time span. The ten years it takes for Laurie and Jack to finally be together are caused by both circumstances and their personal choices, which makes their journey all the better for it. There’s some pining to be sure, but neither one fully depends on the other for their personal growth. Josie Silver handles their will they-won’t they with a deft hand, making sure that there are no irredeemable bad guys.

One frustration of mine with regard sto romance novels is when the characters are at the mercy of the plot, where they have no agency and every roadblock to their happily ever after is an external force. I’m happy that it wasn’t the case here.

My only major regret is that the resolution happens so quickly. Laurie and Jack were separated for so long.Surely Ms. Silver could have devoted more page time to their happily ever after? As someone who got sucked into this story, I would have appreciated a longer and more substantial final act.

All in all, One Day in December is highly recommended for believers in love at first sight. And even if you don’t,it’s still recommended for its depiction of supportive female friendships and the importance of finding your own happiness and way in life even without The One.

This review was first published as part of Fully Booked’s First Look Club. Thank you very much to Fully Booked (and Ilia!) for the opportunity 🙂

Movie review: “Crazy Rich Asians”

Some background before my movie review for Crazy Rich Asians:

I LOVE the Crazy Rich Asians series. I went to both signings that Fully Booked organized for Kevin Kwan: the first one in 2015 to promote China Rich Girlfriend, and the second one in 2017 for Rich People Problems.

So yes. Because of this:

  1. I’m heavily invested in this series.
  2. There will be SPOILERS in this movie review.
  3. There will be comparisons to the books.

All set? Everyone ready? Let’s do this!

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The Force Awakened and everything was awesome

I’m a Star Wars geek. That’s probably one of the first things that people find out after they meet me for the first time. I’ve been a fan since I was twelve years old and it’s such a big part of my life that I’ll still be a fan when I’m a hundred and twelve.

What’s life like as a Star Wars fan? I’ve lost count of Star Wars books and comics I have on my shelves (OT: I love the Expanded Universe. Well, most of it. But Timothy Zahn will forever get a pass from me because he created my two favorite characters: Mara Jade and Jaina Solo.). I have costumes! And a lightsaber! And a few toys that I really like (I’m not much for toys but I make exceptions every now and then). I’ve made a lot of great friends over the years because of Star Wars. I also met my future husband because of Star Wars. That’s pretty huge 🙂

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you know that Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was released last December 17 in the Philippines (and December 18 in the US). I’m not going to discuss the movie here – you can do that in countless other sites. (Btw, half of my prediction about Kylo Ren and Rey came true.) I’m going to talk about ALL THE FUN I HAD in the days leading up to TFA <3

I got to sit in the cockpit of a life-sized X-Wing. I repeat: I GOT TO SIT IN THE COCKPIT OF AN X-WING. 01a me in xwing4_oneal

Photo by Oneal Rosero

See that happy smile? That’s the smile of someone who’s read all the X-Wing novels and comics and whose dreams finally came true.

01b me in xwing8 - by mikko miciano

Photo by Mikko Miciano

That photo was part of a bigger photo session with the rest of the Rebel Legion: Bagong Pag-asa Outpost and the Philippine Garrison of the 501st Legion. We looked pretty awesome.
03 TFA3 - RL and 501st by Lawrence Aliwalas and Milchy Pe

Photo by Lawrence Aliwalas and Milchy Pe

02 rebels2 - by robbie ramos

Photo by Robbie Ramos

Speaking of awesome, I officially joined the Rebel Legion with my Jaina Solo costume! I have my previous Padme pastel lake dress (made in 2005 for Revenge of the Sith) and the Padme light blue Tatooine dress (made in 2006-07 but never worn because I never developed the abs to pull it off) but they didn’t pass muster for the RL. Jaina Solo is my favorite EU character so going Jedi for her felt great.

04 RL member card

Ignore my character card design. I don’t have an action pose because I don’t have a purple lightsaber (YET) and I couldn’t use my existing Anakin Skywalker Master Replica Force FX Lightsaber because it isn’t canon (or is it?).

This is Rej and me as Rey and Jaina Solo, respectively. Oh look! Jaina’s carrying Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber! Just saying.

05 TFA1 - rey and jaina solo -by Aids

Photo by Adrian Arcega

I was supposed to attend the gala premiere on December 15 but I couldn’t because of an office event (curses!) and Adrian couldn’t attend either, so our first screening was during an advanced screening on December 16. Just a day late. No biggie. And we also had friends with us so that was pretty awesome also.

07 advanced screening

These are the faces of Star Wars fans who’ve waited years to see Episode VII.

08 happy faces

How was the movie? After seeing it three times (Dolby Atmos, regular 2D, and IMAX 3D), my overall score is 8.5 out of 10. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac (*eeeeeee <3*) are all capable and charismatic actors and are fine additions to the cast. FYI I’m shipping Poe/Rey right about now. Seeing Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher again as Han and Leia gave me both joy and heartbreak. But as a whole, The Force Awakens is essentially an Original Trilogy Greatest Hits. Whether you find that a good thing or a bad thing is up to you. Part of me liked seeing the same themes because let’s face it, history repeats itself. At its core, Star Wars is about the Skywalker family. But now that J.J. Abrams is done with his nostalgia trip, here’s hoping that Star Wars breaks new ground in Episodes VIII and IX.

I love my Mares fins!

I won the Mares Summer Selfie contest for July! While it’s not my first time to win an online contest (I’ve won a few of them by blogging), this was my first time to win one via Facebook Likes. Winning this contest was particularly fantastic because the prize was a pair of Mares fins of my choice <3

mares fins

 

And this is the photo that won me the contest:

mares selfie_small

I don’t look particularly nice in this photo – in fact, I look pretty ridiculous with my chipmunk cheeks – but hey, I was willing to sacrifice a bit of my dignity for the chance to win a new pair of fins 😛 After consulting with friends and gear reviews, I settled on the Mares Avanti Quattro+ in white. They go very nicely with my blue Avanti Tre fins 😀

05 diving5

So how do they handle? I got to test them out during my most recent fieldwork in Tawi-tawi. Power-wise, the Avanti Quattro+ give a good kick. I used them while going against strong currents and managed to cover over 100 meters in relatively good time while carrying a huge tetrapod. Extra force was needed but the fins got the job done so I’m counting it as a win.

03 diving3

 

 

Maneuverability is also pretty good. I had no problems with the tight turns I needed to make while doing fish visual census. For aesthetics, the fins come in black, white, blue, green, and red. I got the white ones because 1) they look so clean and pretty, and 2) they’re easy to spot underwater. Mares says that the red fins stay red even at depth so you can get that too.

Thanks again to Mares for holding the contest! (Underwater photos were taken by Denmark Recamara)

How the BIR drove me insane during my 2014 income tax filing

Last week marked the most aggravating income tax filing I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing. The Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) implemented an electronic filing system supposedly to streamline services. Good in theory. Too bad it sucks.

I was done with my income tax return (Form 1701 for professionals and self-employed individuals) since mid-March. There are several reasons for this:

  1. I hate rushing.
  2. I only have two steady clients.
  3. I take the 40% optional standard deduction over the itemized deductions.

All this adds up to a really simple income tax return. But because of the rushed roll-out and the lousy infrastructure, the BIR’s eBIRForms  setup resulted in even MORE wasted time and effort. But how much time and effort?

NO, it is NOT that simple
NO, it is NOT that simple

I completed my tax return using the offline eBIRForms software package and printed three copies for manual filing. This is what I did for my previous 2251M (monthly percentage tax) and 1701Q (quarterly income tax) forms. The messenger for our family business was going to file my return along with my February 2015 2251M in RDO 52, except that the BIR refused to accept my tax return because it was a manual filing. I was supposed to register with the online eBIRForms website and file the return online. Okay, fair enough.

  1. Register with the online eBIRForms – done!
  2. Use the offline eBIRForms software to export my tax return to an XML file for upload to the online portal – done!
  3. Upload the XML file to the online portal – WAIT!

No matter how many re-export + uninstall-reinstall combos I did, the exported XML file was corrupt. No, the irony was not lost on me.

I had to wait until the second week of April to do the filing myself because you know, I was busy doing my job. A pro tip when visiting your RDO: get queue numbers for the line you think you should be in and for the Officer of the Day. The line to talk to the Officer of the Day usually goes fast – or at least faster than the lines for actual transactions – so you’ll get to double-check your documents with the OD before you get to the head of the transaction line.

I was ready to duke it out with the OD using non-stop arguments that they HAD to let me file my return manually because their software was buggy. Instead, my consultation with the OD left me speechless for several seconds. The BIR staff, or at least the ones in RDO 52, knew that the software was busted! As per the OD, the exported XML file for Form 1701 is corrupt because they “hadn’t finished” the form in the software. AND YOU DID NOT TELL PEOPLE THIS WHY?!?! They told me to print out the confirmation email from registering to the online eBIRForms site and attach it to my documents so that they’ll accept my manual filing.

Keeping frustration on the outside
How I felt like on the inside. Photo used under a CC-Attribution license.

Needless to say, I didn’t have a copy of that confirmation email on hand so I had to hunt for a nearby internet cafe. Thank you BIR security guard and the guard at the nearby pawnshop! When I went back to file at 12:15pm, the staff in the ITR receiving section were out to lunch! When I caught someone about to leave, he told me to wait for them to come back at 1pm.

Me: “Di ba may ‘No Noon Break’ policy?” [Isn’t there a ‘no noon break’ policy?]
BIR Employee With No Respect for Taxpayers: “Sa States lang yan kasi mga robot sila. Di pwedeng ganyan sa Pilipinas.” [That (policy) only applies to the United States because they’re robots. That can’t be done in the Philippines.]

WTF WAS THAT?!?! The “No Noon Break” policy means that you guys take turns eating lunch so that your desks are never unmanned! The guy had the gall to tell me to go out and eat lunch and come back later. Aww hell no! I skipped my lunch so that I could be the first to file when they came back.

I breathed a sigh of relief when another BIR employee finally accepted my manual filing. I found out much later that I breathed too soon. When I submitted my returns, the BIR guy removed the attached 2307 (certificate of tax withheld) forms, saying that they “weren’t needed”. I found that really weird because you attach the 2307 forms to all of the tax returns you submit as proof that you’ve already paid tax on your income. What the guy didn’t say was that the hardcopies of the 2307s weren’t needed because you are required to submit scanned softcopies on DVD! *headdesk headdesk headdesk*

I want to be a good citizen and pay the “correct” taxes as mandated by the law (whether the existing tax rate is fair is another topic entirely). I really, really, REALLY do. But how the heck am I supposed to do that when the BIR makes it so damned hard?! And bonus: the March 2551M, 2551Q, and 1st quarter 1701Q are due on April 20.