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The date was July 17, 2008.

The place, the United States Embassy in Manila.

And the time, it was early in the morning.

We left Bulacan at around 4:30 am, hoping to avoid the grating traffic. We can't be late, can't play with fire. Not today, at least. This was a very important day.

What happens today could very well decide if I will be able to go to the USA.

So, there we were at Baywalk at around 6:00 am, two full hours early for our interview. I was groggy and sleepy, but I'm glad I woke up early today. I've never been to Manila Bay at this time of the day, and I must say, I'm missing out on a lot here. As polluted as Manila is, I thought the air here was fresh. I can see why numerous people would want to wake up at 5:00 am and jog here.

Anyways, as luck (or lack of it) would have it, my documents needed for the appearance were incomplete. Instead of having the last page of my papers stamped with "$ 131.00", only "$ 31.00" was stamped.

It was 7:30 am when I found out about this, so in 30 minutes, I had to find a way to somehow put a "1" there. The VISA officer probably felt my desperation, so she offered me a postponement. I had to be there again by 10:00 am, otherwise my interview (and the f*cking $ 131.00 I paid) would be nullified. Sh*t. And to make matters worse, BPI opens at 9:00 am. Great.

We went to the nearest BPI branch we knew (the UN Avenue branch) and basically conducted a stakeout. It was really funny... I know how cautious and scared of robberies these banks are, so it must have been weird for them to see this car parked directly outside of their office an hour before they were supposed to open. Haha. And for us to tell them we were waiting for the dude who carries the keys to the vault (who I shall dub the "Keymaster" from this point on), well, let's just say the security guards were earning their pay at this moment.

So we waited and waited for the Keymaster to arrive. The wait eventually turned into a guessing game, where we tried to determine whether the person entering the bank was the boss or not.

Sample quote: "'Di yan yung boss, tingan mo, ang pangit ng kotse oh..."

And so he arrived. He was a little dude, the guy you'd never think holds the key to moolah. But he was nice. Unfortunately, he wasn't of much help. He politely directed us to another branch of BPI nearby (I think it was the Dewey Ave. branch?). He told me that was the office that dealt with problems like this, since it happens often. WTF?!?! Not exactly the best endorsement for BPI...

At around 9:00 am, I finally got BPI to correct their error. So we hurried off to the Embassy, and thankfully we were able to get inside. I really think that the appointment times are useless, as we weren't even questioned inside.

So there we were, waiting for our turn. I have to credit the Embassy here, the whole process was very seamless. Though the waiting time was a bit long, it was never a hassle. As an IE, I admire it. As an applicant, I love it.

While inside the interview room, I noticed that the person sitting in front of me is LA Tenorio of the Alaska Aces. I fought the urge to ask him what the hell he was doing here when the PBA season was in full swing. Then I remembered, his team was eliminated the previous week. Since I like him as a player (and former Blue Eagle), I didn't rub it in his face.

*By the way, since I saw him on US soil, does that technically mean I've met a basketball player in the US?*

Anyways, my grandma and I were called for our turn. I thought the interview would take place inside a room and we would all sit together and discuss stuff. I was wrong, though... We were asked to stand up during the whole interview and answer his questions by speaking at the mic/radio hybrid attached on the glass. It was really awkward.

The interview lasted about 5 short minutes, and in that span of time, we had to convince him we were coming back here. I can't say I really got to unleash my whole "I love the Philippines so much I just have to come back" speech, since he was directly asking my grandma the questions.

At the end of it all, he didn't trust us. He didn't believe we'd come back. And to think, I shaved the goatee I grew for 4 months for this.

And there it was. We were denied a VISA. We wouldn't be going to the US anytime soon. The leave-with-no-pay, waking up at 3 am on a perfectly good day to sleep, the $ 131.00 application fee, the stakeout at BPI, everything... It all went down the drain. In 5 freaking minutes.

And you know what? I'm actually relieved. And truthfully, I was happy.

Yes, the sting of disappointment was undeniable. It was the US, after all. But overall, though, I was kinda glad that I wasn't leaving Davao yet.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to be with my family again... But right now, I'm loving life alone. This is the first time I've been left behind for an extended period of time, and somehow, I feel good about it.

Right now, there's too much to leave behind. Kreng's still here. My closest friends are here, some of my relatives are here, and I'm still loving my job. Hell, ever since my mom left, I've gotten so much more involved in her business. I was given a taste and an idea of how to run a business, and right now, I think I'm doing a decent job. Since I have so much time to myself, I've even found the time to play more basketball than I ever did before.

As much as I thought life would be harder with them not around, the exact opposite has happened. My life has slowed down, and I feel more relaxed lately.

See, all these were just pipe dreams when they were still here. Now, they are facts.

I never meant for this post to sound like I like it better when they're not around. Or that I feel like I can truly live on my own right now. Very far from that, in fact.

What I mean is, with them not around all the time, I've been learning new tricks everyday. How to spend money wisely, paying (though not with my own cash) the bills, thinking of ways to cut costs, knowing your limits, learning the value of good health, etc. The importance of all those things have been amplified the second they went to the US. And right now, I'm still feeling things out.

And the denied application only means more opportunities to grow.

For that, I can safely say that it was truly a blessing in disguise.
Epilogue: Music is a universal language. And music tells so much about a person. So in an effort to let you know me better, here are the last five songs shuffled and played on my iPod. Interpret them however the hell you want to.

1. "Believe Me, Natalie" - The Killers, Hot Fuss
2. "I Got A Woman" - The John Mayer Trio, TRY!
3. "I Want You" - Common, Finding Forever
4. "Hola' Hovito" - Jay-Z, The Blueprint
5. "Light Powered" - Deastro, Ghostly Swim

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

Ok, I know everybody's talking about the past Draft these days, but I got something else on my mind...

Is the NBA Championship all that it's cracked up to be?

To avoid further discussion, YES. Yes, it is. It truly is the greatest prize in the sport, the sole goal (ideally) of any professional basketball player.

But somehow, I keep asking myself: is it really the best gauge of a player's greatness? I mean, if Player X puts up virtually the same stats as Player Y, but Player Y happens to win more titles in his career, is he truly better? Or is there something else there that we just don't see? Or, more importantly, does he deserve to be seen as the greater athlete?

And really, despite all the hoopla that is the NBA Draft and the impending Free Agency period, I keep coming back to this one topic. Maybe the high of seeing the Celtics win is still fresh in my mind, or maybe it's because I don't really know most of the players in the Draft, but this is one thing that I keep thinking about.

And it always brings me back to two players.

Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett. Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan. Big Ticket, Big Fundamental.

You see, as recently as 2006, it would have been blasphemous to say that Kevin Garnett was on the same level as Tim Duncan. Talent-wise, you might be right. But in everything else? Nuh-uh. Tim Duncan was always the better player, the smarter leader, the greater teammate. Kevin Garnett was always the "lovable loser", a transcendent superstar with street cred to match that just couldn't seem to win anything substantial.

The stats? They played to a virtual stalemate. Timmy D averages 21.6 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 51% FG, and 2.4 BPG. KG? He averages 20.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 4.4 APG, 49% FG, and 1.6 BPG. Really, they were always thisclose to each other in terms of stats.

So why all the love for TD while KG was left in the cold? Simple. The rings. The titles. The chips.

Throughout the years, Tim Duncan was seen as the champion between the two. He's boring as hell, sure, but he was a proven winner. He brought four titles to San Antonio and won the Finals MVP thrice. As charismatic as Garnett was/is, all that really matters is the ring count. And up until 2008, the scorecard read: Tim Duncan: 4 & Kevin Garnett: 0.

But somehow, that changed this past June. Kevin Garnett suddenly got his. The prize was his. And just like that, claiming that KG is as good as Duncan suddenly didn't sound that ridiculous. There were doubters, obviously, what with Paul Pierce winning the Finals MVP, but there was no more doubting that Kevin Garnett was now a "winner".

And, really, that's what's led me to make this post. That's what made me ask the all-important question...

Why? Why just now? Why not then?

Why did it take me (along with so many other people) just now to recognize the realness? Why is my heart and my mind suddenly comfortable with KG being a "champion". But more importantly, why was it hard for me then to recognize his excellence when he was playing much, much better? Better than he did this year. Or at least just as well. Why?

To put it bluntly, this really made me question the tags we place on so-called winners. Yes, of course their excellent play led them to their titles. And yes, they aren't really chopped liver. But, in my mind, it could also be because of the situation they were placed in.

Remember, when Kevin Garnett was drafted back in '95, he played for an unidentifiable Minnesota team. No real history yet, no pride, no great players on board to teach him the game... And by his second year, he was producing well.

Contrast that with the Tim Duncan Robot, who was placed on a team that had David Robinson, Avery Johnson and Sean Elliott. All proven winners, all with playoff experience.

Not to take anything away from Timmy D, though, because he's clearly elite, but man... Could his job be any easier?

I hope by now you catch my drift. But if not, it's simply this. Assume KG was in Duncan's place... Still believe he'd have lost all those first-round match-ups? Titles really are important, believe me. But maybe it doesn't really tell us the whole f*cking story.

Maybe Minnesota wasn't really KG's fault.

Maybe he's a victim of dumb management.

And maybe, throughout the years, he was truly as good as Tim Duncan.

And we only recognize that now? For shame.
P.S. I really wanted to post this separately, but I don't know much about boxing to dedicate a whole post to it. But I am EXTREMELY elated my fellow Filipino Manny Pacquiao dominated once more.

And to the people befuddled by my sudden KG love, this video probably has a lot to do with it. Enjoy.

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

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