Film director Yam Laranas expects to be unfollowed over this. He expects to be trolled with more than the usual vitriol. Unfriended and cast out of the “Twitter-verse”. Stabbed multiple times and labeled a traitor like Jon Snow.
All for confessing how much he cares about local Philippine politics. Which is, well, in two words: “Not much.”
He says, “No, it’s not Apathy. Never that.”
Yam has done his due diligence and will vote. He will herd his household to the voting precincts the way he herds them weekly to Church. He has directed a commercial promoting local tourism. He is outraged by corruption. Lauds Filipino values. Prays for rain. Hopes for growth. He is equal parts proud and pissed off by his country, alternately declaring: “Someone’s head needs to roll.” And “We’re one of the happiest countries in the world.”
He says, “This is home.”
It’s just that somehow sometime long ago, he had mentally migrated — his mind spending more and more time abroad. These past years, he says, he virtually lives there — a sort-of citizen of the world.
It happened over time and in perfect pace with technology.
When Yam was about ten years old, he became addicted to Shortwave Radio Stations.
Every day after school, he scoured the airwaves for stations that spoke only foreign languages. Each time he listened to those alien voices, he imagined: “Who is this voice? Where is it coming from? Am I the only one listening?”
“It’s as if I had made contact with an alien race. I wanted to see their world.”
In the 1980s, his mom finally installed a landline telephone in his home in Davao City. The telephone had International Direct Dialing or I.D.D.
It would unleash his inner Kraken. His tentacles would span the globe.
“I couldn’t wait to use it. On Christmas Eve, I picked up a phone book and some old magazines. I cold-called phone numbers from the USA, UK, Canada, and France — — just to say Merry Christmas! I just wanted to hear that foreign voice say something.
When the phone bill came after Christmas, my mother nearly fainted. I got a major scolding and was forced to pay the bill. I spent the next months working my butt off in a dance school teaching little kids how to breakdance. This would not end my telephone travels.”
Around 1996, Yam was watching the News when he saw the CNN live program CNN: Q&A With Riz Khan. The discussion was about the Afghan civil war. The Taliban had just taken Kabul and imposed a strict form of Sharia, forbidding Afghan girls to go to school.
By then, he was a young advertising and film director in Manila — living on his own in his gadget-filled apartment. A proud owner of a telephone that came with all the bells and whistles: Call Waiting, Caller ID, and (of course!) I.D.D.
When CNN anchor Riz Khan opened the telephone lines for Live questions, Yam did not hesitate to call and let it rip: “Education is important to everyone and not just boys. Girls have the right to go to school, too. Why is the world not outraged by this?!!!”
“I was a big admirer of the anti-Taliban Ahmad Shah Massoud. He’s the leader of the mujaheddin, the Lion of Afghanistan. He had fought for Afghan freedom and something I strongly believed in: the equality of men and women.”
His friends were bowled over by his audacity/overconfidence/presumptuous pluck. That casual way he had picked up the phone, called CNN, and asked to talk to Riz Khan (Live! On world TV!) about a war that did not directly concern him.
“But the thing is, that war did concern me.” As it would later concern everyone.
Massoud was assassinated in Afghanistan on September 9, 2001. Two days later, the two towers fell in 9–11.
More people became “citizens of the world” right there and then.
Later they would fly the flags of tsunami-flooded Japan, earthquake-shaken Nepal, terrorist-hit France and Belgium.
When super typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines, the citizens of the world showed up too. In plane-loads and ship-loads of international Aid. Via trending tweets and Facebook posts sending virtual but heart-felt hugs and tearful emoticons. The Pope, too, would later arrive in his pope mobile.
Three months after typhoon Yolanda, the Philippines would thank the world, in a way only possible in this day and age. Electronic billboards lit up with “Thank You” signs at New York Times Square,Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing, London’s Piccadilly Circus, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and other cities.
The Thank You seen around the world would remind Yam of the day he used the telephone to wish a foreign stranger a Merry Christmas.
Now, of course, he has more than the telephone to reach across the globe.
“Now that I’m a film director, I make sure that my stories can cross over and transcend. I tell stories that tend to be universal and speak of our shared horrors and truths.
This is why I love writing and directing horror films. It is the most conceptual of all movie genres. It’s also the most universal. We mostly fear the same things, like dark rooms, ghosts, and monsters.”
Which brings Laranas back to the Philippine presidential election — a monster of a race for which he cares “Not Much,” but hopes to be excused, having explained his reasons here.
To be sure, he’s not alone. Einstein supports a more extreme version of the idea. This Citizen of World idea is, apparently, a thing.
So, there must be countless people like Yam out there… leaning into conversations over dinners and work breaks. Pretending to be more interested and knowledgeable than they really are. All the while scanning the room for coherent bits to say, like Keyser Söze. Hoping to get away with it and, like Yam Laranas, walk free to join the rest of the world.