After a nice day out, I browsed through the iPhone pictures I had taken. Much to my surprise, I found this; a photo taken without my knowledge, through some accident or mistake that resulted in something not so bad at all.
Anaphase: the fourth step of mitosis, in which each doubled chromosome splits at the centromere…
I read on.
…producing two groups of chromosomes that each migrate to opposite ends of the cell…
I read on.
…pulled by spindle fibres.
I sighed, then repeated the process. This time I read slowly; pausing at each word, letting its meaning sink in. Surely, I reasoned, repetition would provide the key to committing the information to memory. I’m going to ace tomorrow’s biology test, I told myself.
But morale was running low, and fatigue was setting in. It was late. I pondered my next move - lethargy is never good during a test, but neither is not knowing the answers. A delicate balance had to be found, and quickly. I was wasting time, idly procrastinating; I was supposed to be studying; learning, not—
How do you learn?
Science, as always, can provide us with an answer.
In the brain, it’s all about neurons. And pathways, and synapses, and potentiation. Heidi Johansen-Berg, of Oxford University, explains:
Learning mainly takes place at synapses, the junctions between neurons where information is relayed.
When learning new skills of information, certain sets of neurons fire simultaneously. A synaptic pathway connects them; every time you repeat the activity, the synapses become more robust, and the pathway becomes stronger.
The process… is called long-term potentiation… After a strong connection is established between these neurons, stimulating the first neuron will more likely excite the second.
It seems that repetition is indeed the key.
But we’re not quite there yet. Recalling my earlier studying efforts, it is clear that my methods were still proving to be ineffective. The bottom of this conundrum is yet to be reached.
Perhaps a change in style is all that is needed.
My enthusiasm rekindled, I returned to the sheet of definitions, pen in hand. I drew a diagram; hardly artistic, but an adequate representation of the dreaded anaphase. I recited its meaning, while at the same time playing out the process in my mind. I explained it to myself, speaking aloud; once again, I paused at each word, letting its meaning sink in.
Repetition, but not quite. One thing had changed, though - now I had a willingness, a thirst.
A desire to learn.
Your ears are cold. — said the hairdresser while cutting my hair, in a feeble attempt at making conversation with an obvious, but true remark.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them. — For The Fallen, Laurence Binyon
From the moment he stepped out of the car, he felt it.
The noise of the airport was getting to him, not in a bad way. Whilst checking in his baggage, and lining up the endless queues, the voices of unknown faces bounced around the hall. Though the tones were not familiar, the languages were.
“Keilan kami aalis.”
At an airport, one can usually detect a multitude of different tongues, and the boy, being a seasoned traveller, knew this.
“Alas-dos ng hapon.”
But this place was different.
Only one language was being spoken. It was not English, yet he could understand them.
He knew that this meant take care. He knew that it was spoken in Tagalog. He knew that he was surrounded by Pinoy compatriots, all preparing to board a flight to the Philippines.
From the moment the plane began its descent, the feeling intensified.
The boy looked out the window, called by the glow that was beginning to emanate from the misty plexiglass. He was greeted by stars - not in the sky, but on the Earth. Millions of lights lit up the night — street lamps, buildings, cars. Colourful neon signs that brought to mind the sparkle of Las Vegas.
He began to see patterns in the sea of lights. City streets became elaborate constellations, and cars became comets shooting past.
In the distance, he spotted a cluster. Here, the buildings rose to majestic heights, and the lights shone so bright that the streets were illuminated with the strength of daylight.
This was the centre of the galaxy. This was the centre of the city. This was the heart of Manila.
From the moment he exited the airport, he knew for sure.
The boy knew that this was no mere holiday destination.
The boy knew that this was home.
And home, it was.
In the following days he found himself journeying throughout the urban sprawl of Metro Manila, the province in which the eponymous city of Manila is located. To old residences he went, to places rooted deep within his memories. To the homes of family friends he went, meeting people whose faces he could not put a name to. And yet, they remembered him.
On one occasion he made the southerly trip to Lobo, Batangas. A straightforward, 100 kilometre drive was rendered a laborious, 200 minute marathon by the relentless traffic of the Philippines. Anywhere else, this would have been atypical, but here, it was the norm.
While much of the time was spent asleep, the last half hour was spent gazing out the window in awe and wonderment. Undulating hills lined the scene, so tall that they lay on the cusp of becoming mountains. They were rough, insincere; shaped by regular landslides that carved gaping holes in them.
The road meandered around them, on precarious cliffs and rickety bridges. Its Filipino nickname stems from its winding shape - bitukang manok, literally translated as chicken’s intestine.
And as he travelled, he tasted.
The food of Batangas, the food of Antipolo. He tasted the distinct flavours of provincial cuisines. He tasted the delectable delights of the Philippines. Among the many were dishes such as sisig, panotsa, and lechon. Spice, intensity, excitement — he found it all.
And as he tasted, he heard.
The sounds of the street were unlike any other. Intense, industrial; he heard the urban-ness. The quarrels of angry drivers. The honks of angry drivers. The roar of their cars, speeding away while the lights still shone red — futile attempts at beating the ebb and flow of traffic.
And as he heard, he saw.
From his window, 23 floors up, he saw the metropolitan forest, densely packed with not trees, but skyscrapers. And the haze — was it mist? No, it was smog that obscured his view of the horizon, it was smog that was the cause of the city’s faded palette.
He drank it all in with gusto.
But, as he listened to his families’ stories of times gone by, he realised that, while he featured in many of them, as hard as he tried, he could not remember them. Nor could he tell any stories of his own. Had he forgotten? Or had he simply missed?
For a moment, a shade came over him. He recognised the many goods his family’s move from the Philippines had brought them, but now, he began to consider what had simultaneously been lost.
But the light returned soon enough, as his mind turned away from the past, returning his focus to the present.
On the flight back to Melbourne, he thought. About the trip. About what he had seen, what he had felt, what he had experienced.
Upon his return, he felt the comfort, the familiarity of home, the gladness that came with being back. But it felt restrained. The satisfaction wasn’t as immense as he had previously imagined it to be.
Its cause was clear — he missed the Philippines.
Then he felt it. A desire for expression, a desire to share.
And he sat down, opened up his laptop, and wrote.
The best font choices are the ones where readers do not notice the font, but the message. — the Urban Fonts team, on an epic infographic which you can find here.
The city is, of course, Melbourne, where the baristas thrive and the customers delight. Cafes line the hidden alleys and backstreets that exist even in the CBD. The vibe is unparalleled, the buzz of the street invigorating. Melbourne, a city of mystery, a city of intrigue; a city of flavour.