Thursday, April 23, 2009

it's 1995 all over again

Time warp – That’s what this has been. In the last two weeks, I've seen people from my past life – that brief period when I was between 15 to 20 years old, which now seems like light-years ago. That time of my life seemed everything then, but now it seems inconsequential. (I’m sure I’m wrong but it does seem that way).

Whether it’s in deliberate dinner dates, coincidental occasions/celebrations, in ill-positioned mall escalators, through a window of a cafe, during traffic along EDSA – I see them, those characters who knew me in times of yore. Dear old friends I haven’t seen in decades, people who hate me, people who love me, and some other minor characters. They were all packed into a few weeks, as if in a special episode of the lampoon that is my life. As if I accidentally hit rewind to a Green Day song and the tape got stuck for a few surreal moments.

Maybe I just stopped caring, or perhaps it’s just maturity. There’s no awkwardness anymore. No special effort to make an impression. Best of all, there’s no judging. I saw them for what they are now and just ... appreciated them as people, like I do vintage Valentino gowns that I will never wear but would be glad to see on others.

The brand new conversations with these dinosaurs from my past life were among the best I’ve had. Some were hours and hours of profound tête-à-têtes. Some were long enumerations of what happened since. Some were brief but sincere hi-hellos. All of them I will remember. I think.

Now, who might I see next?


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

the luxury of small space

In my last post, I talked about Abito, which I like because they create small, smart, intelligent houses that have minimal impact on the environment. This kind of philosophy really appeals to the hippie in me. Perhaps the reason I love small spaces is because unlike many people (especially those who lived through the depression), I don't have compulsive hoarding syndrome.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has been designing the homes of the future. According to the philosophy, people really only need 2.5 meters all around in order to be comfortable. That's a little extreme, but certainly believable. The philosophy further implies that people who live in these small (but very organized) homes become less materialistic, and have more time to "expand outside of themselves," reaching out more, and fulfilling more artistic goals. And did I say the designs look really beautiful? Well, they do.

Here's another extreme: A 10-sqm home. That's the size of a small walk-in closet (and the average size of a small bedroom here in the third world). But it has everything -- and it's stylish, too. Kinda extreme for me, but certainly inspiring:

Many others who have chosen to live in small houses exactly like this cite three reasons why they live the way they do:

(1) No mortgage

(2) Which means more money

(3) And more time to travel, read, do the things they love (because they don't have to work as hard as they don't "need" that much cash to maintain or pay for a conventional house)

If you think about it, living in a small, simple home affords you MORE LUXURY and FREEDOM. This makes me appreciate the small space we own, and just how ideal it really is for a lifestyle of work-travel-work-sleep. In that order.

And it also makes we want to buy this tiny home in Indiana. I am just kidding. I think. They don't let foreigners buy homes, do they? Maybe I'll just get this portable cube home from Japan and bring it here to Manila.

So, how big is your home?


With property rises around the globe FALLING by 30 to 50 percent, why bother getting a big ovepriced expensive house, right? Last week there was the real estate bubble burst in Spain, and now China's property prices are likely to halve. According to The Financial Times:

Cao Jianhai, professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a leading government think tank, said an apparent rebound in the property market was unsustainable over the medium term and being driven by a flood of liquidity rather than real demand. He told the Financial Times he expected average urban residential property prices to fall by 40 to 50 per cent over the next two years from their levels at the end of 2008. “Prices may not fall in the near term but I expect a collapse starting next year, followed by many years of stagnation,” said Mr Cao, known as one of the “three swordsmen” of the real estate market because of his influence as an official economist.


Read my entry on the impending real estate crisis in the Philippines in the coming year. It looks like indicators of a price collapse are staring to show:

HLURB legal officer Mike Denava says he had noticed an increase in the number of complaints and those seeking refund assistance since December 2008, majority of which come from families of overseas Filipino workers.

“These families said they no longer wanted to continue to pay because of hard times,” Denava informs Inquirer Property.

He surmises that the increase in the number of refund claims could already be a direct result of the global economic crisis.

“In my opinion, this might already be the effect of the global recession. Many of the buyers of houses and condominiums didn’t anticipate this crisis to happen,” Denava says in Filipino.


2. Inquirer Property reported last week that, according to the GPG report, prime 3-bedroom condo prices in Makati fell 2 percent in 2008 after an 11-percent rise during 2007. Proof that troubled times has landed on our shores as early as late 2008 is evident in Global Property Guide’s survey of publicly-available house-price time-series for 2008, which showed prices declining steadily. And seen from a global perspective, the downturn is still accelerating.


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what does your home say about you?

As you know, I have started my "cocooning." I don't really stay the unit all day; oftentimes, I find myself using the common areas, like the gym, the garden, and of course, the trash shoot (where I go at least two times a day when MSP is not around to throw out my garbage).

It is during these moments 'out and about' when my senses go on overdrive; I observe everything and everyone around the building. Call it boredom. Maybe curiosity? Barry calls it voyeurism. Or maybe a desperate attempt to 'connect' to my neighbors without ever really connecting. You know how we urbanites are - we have no desire to truly "know" who lives next to us (I certainly don't want to chat*horrors*). BUT, we still want a glimpse - a small window into the lives of people around us.

When I'm lucky, I get these vignettes while I walk from the elevator to my unit, passing a slightly-open door to another home. Or when I'm on the treadmill in the gym, and I see a slightly-parted curtain. Or in those few seconds that I am in an elevator with another resident, seeing what's in his/her shopping bag.

Who the hell am I living with?

The slightly senior couple upstairs is usually quiet. They look like they are in their late 50's, and they don't live with any children or grandchildren (which is a good thing). I have seen them twice; once in December when MSP stayed with me for a couple of days and we decided to hang out in the common lounge, and again last week when I was alone and saw them bringing in plants, soiling the lobby.

Then three days ago, I passed by their unit and their door was, alas, open. No one was inside. I had a
full frontal view of their lives.

Stark contrasts

Their home, being directly above mine, is of course identical in terms of square footage, ceiling height and other architectural particulars. Like my studio, it comfortably fits two people. But it couldn't be more different.

My box is sun-filled, open, and minimalist. The walls are white, punctuated by a singular modern artwork. Furniture is monochromatic. The kitchen is compact; you can fold it up and take it with you if you wanted.

The upstairs homologue was, by contrast, a dark, heavy hybrid of a Spanish chalet and 1990's bourgeois aspirations. Its layout was sliced into small compartments that closed in space and shut out light. It had heavy fittings and furnishings. You know the type - thick curtains, baroque-framed oils, lacquered wooden furniture. The picture frames bore traces of children who probably left several years ago - perhaps a son and a daughter who are now abroad? In stark contrast to my aluminum compact kitchen and absence of a proper dining area, their house had a formica table, a white enamel sink, and other ageing thingies. The couple seemed like they prefer somberness. That, or they were really older than they looked.

What does your home say about you?

If the world is indeed more homogenous than we think, then perhaps the Housing Evolution study conducted in Italy applies to the Philippines as well.According to this study, there are several types of homes:

Bunker homes. This is what most people live in . Elderly people (50's and up) with limited means hold on to their last house refurbishments, which date back to a more prosperous time in their lives. The result is a house filled with dated decorative details and color schemes. My upstairs neighbor lives in a bunker home.

Hearth homes. Young families live in functional, affordable, flexible, intimate (small) spaces with warm, traditional furniture and pastel color schemes. They have (yikes!) babies or young children, or expect to have children.

Forum home. This is the more affluent version of the hearth home, which is "attained" when the residents/the family gets a bit richer, improves their socioeconomic standing and begins to care more about entertaining at home.

Office house. This is a home for "doing things." People whit hobbies that take up space live in this kind of home. If you knit, bake, stencil, collect and buff little thingies that need to be displayed, then you probably live in one.

Theatre home. This is esentially a "stage set" through which affluent residents express their status, often with a lot of help from interior decorators and architects.

Tent house. A tent house is a "perfunctory space." It is easily set up and taken down. Some call it a "bivouac," usually occupied by students and highly mobile young adults.

Commodity house. This is probably where my condo falls under. This type of home is a step up from the tent house in terms of cost and stability, but is still an "indistinctive dwelling" preferred by young professionals whose "real base" is elsewhere, or is yet to be determined.

Why I live in a commodity house

I call this space "mine" because I am the main resident, but it is technically "ours" because MSP owns half of it - he just doesn't stay in it everyday, like I do. He doesn't care what I do with this box; after all, he just lives in one bag when he stays overnight, and then leaves. I do what I want with the space. Blame the blinding white walls on me.

A very good observer would probably call my home noncommittal; it is lacking in certainty. It does not give out information, nor does it show a strong opinion. Everything here can be taken apart - the paintings and mirrors are NOT attached to the walls (they're just on the floor or casually set up on top of a surface). The book case is NOT built-in, so it can be moved wherever. NOTHING is bolted to a wall or to the floor; not even the modular kitchen. Can you believe that?

It's the kind of space that you can just lock and leave when you're going on a trip abroad. The things in it are not shabby, but nothing is too expensive to worry about. This space does the job. I can cook meals in a jiffy, read a book in the morning when the sunlight pours in, lay in bed (under the duvet) on lazy days, and work when I have to (there's unbelievably fast internet connection). MSP can stay over, as the space is big enough for two. And when I'm alone, it is small enough to make me feel safe.

If our homes really say a lot about us, then this home probably says "I'm in transition." Errrrr, "We're in transition." (MSP seems to have attached himself to my life; saying "we" is still new to me, but I'm getting used to it).

This is a good space, and the neighborhood turned out okay. But ultimately, there's the other luxury city pad with a view. I will never live in a theater home, but I certainly aspire to have a better commodity home. Something we can still lock and leave. Nothing too pricey to stress about. Something we can afford to lose. After all, if you can't afford to lose it, you don't deserve to have it.

We want to own a home - not have our home own us. Ever met people who are too afraid to leave their precious houses for fear that some burglar may take their possessions? We don't ever want to be like them.

We want a home we can easily afford; when there's no heavy mortgage, we can use the money we earn to spend on things that actually grow in value, such as life experiences and relationships.” Free and easy - that's what we want forever.

This "intelligent house" design from Abito" is really interesting, and our current space can potentially be turned into something like it:


In other news, it seems all my predictions are coming true. Spain has slashed housing prices by 30%. I am selfishly hoping that this trend eventually applies to the Philippines.

According to my daily read, The Financial Times:


"Prices will continue to soften as developers and investors adapt to the new reality in Spain, according to most experts. With an estimated 1m new residences currently unsold in the country, most estate agents are forecasting discounts of up to 30 per cent by the end of this year. And in Arganzuela, this trend should throw up bargains in a wide range of accommodation types, from small, turn-of-the-century flats and run-down terrace housing to luxury, high-tech blocks with gated security, swimming pools, gymnasiums and other urban luxuries."

If luxury condominiums here slash prices, we may get that dream pad faster than we think. For now, we wait.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Definitions of cocooning on the Web:

* * * *

Fluffy pillows. Check.

A week's worth of DVDs. Check.

Back issues of my favorite magazines. Check.

Unread chapters of a Kurt Vonnegut. Check.

Fast food delivery numbers. Check.

I'm ready :)