Carljoe Javier is the author of “And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth“ (he also did a recent guest post for the site), and an avowed geek whose particular background and history gives him a unique view of life and geekdom in the Philippines. In the first of a two-part interview, we talk to him about that background, and what the word “geek” means to him.
What’s your family like? Are they geeks like you or the type who love you in spite of the Emma Frost action figures?
My mom is totally non-geeky. She’s very supportive, but I get the sense that she kind of just nods along and thinks, O sige anak kung yan ang gusto mo.
My younger brother, who is also back in the States, is a bro in geekhood as well. Though there’s a five year gap between us, we share a lot of geekhood, we used to hang out in the comic book store and he went a step further by actually working at the comic book store (whereas I just worked at the library). He’s also got a much better Magic: The Gathering ranking than me. And we played a lot of video games together; we’d have our specialties. I could never beat him at fighting games, but I always pwned him at sports games.
I’ve also got a younger sister who I am trying to influence in geekiness, but she’s in high school so she’s still worried about looking cool and fitting in.
As for the extended family, cousins and the like, I’m a bit of an outsider, no geeky group around.
I know that you spent part of your formative years in Los Angeles. How long did you live abroad?
Yeah my mom and I moved to the States when I was three. I’m the eldest, so by the time we moved back to the Philippines when I was fourteen, we were making the trip back with my younger bro and my sister who was a baby at the time.
What was the biggest adjustment you had to make when you moved back to the Philippines?
Oh, the heat. haha. That and the mosquitos. Seriously, I spent the first couple months in air-conditioned rooms and the mall.
But culturally, I found myself in a pretty middle class neighborhood and I had come to the country assuming that I would have to learn and assimilate whatever was in front of me.
In that sense then, language was the hardest thing. I came back to the Philippines armed with enough Tagalog that I could hold a conversation, but the idioms were very different, (the only spoken Tagalog I’d been exposed to other than that spoken by other Fil-Ams came from Tito Vic and Joey and Rene Requeistas movies). People would use words and I’d look them up in the dictionary and they wouldn’t be there. Case in point, “Pare, ang lupit nung flipkick mo kanina.” I’d run home and look at the dictionary and it would say “Cruel.” And I’d be wondering how a flipkick could be described as cruel.
Also, on my first day of school, people laughed at my accent, and I’ve made a conscious effort to not have that accent since then. But then sometimes when I’ve been drinking the accent will sneak out and make an appearance.
Is it any different for geeks in the U.S. and geeks here, in terms of environment, problems, opportunities?
Hmmm, not really sure. I guess again there’s the availability of materials. We have it better here in terms of most gadgets being cheaper (except Apple stuff) and with piracy making most things really available at low cost. Whether you buy pirated or orig, piracy has helped to drive down prices and make things more accessible.
But then being in the States means that you have access to most everything (at least in LA, which is where I’m from). Also, the conventions are a bit more frequent, and have their own dynamic abroad.
I know that you’ve worked in a men’s magazine and as a teacher at an all-girl high school. What other jobs have you held?
I had to work when I was an undergrad since my family didn’t really have any money. So since I was a freshman I was writing for magazines and broadsheets, writing about music, movies, video games, and whatever else editors were willing to throw at a kid like me. It was fun in that I’d be at press conferences and doing interviews and I was just this kid, just overwhelmed by it all. In some way or other I’ve managed to practice journalism for almost a decade now.
I’ve taken rackets like proofreading, editing, and translating books. I’ve done PR writing, writing for websites. I’ve worked with on government and NGO projects dealing with development, labor relations, and other concerns. I took a teaching post at a university for a while. I’ve written a couple of films, done consultancy with an animation house, consulted on political campaigns, written scripts for a TV show. I guess I’ve made an effort to get involved in a variety of things and expose myself to different kinds of writing.
What was the toughest interview you ever had to do?
I haven’t found interviews, while they occur, to be really difficult. But if I were to relate one interview, I suppose it would probably when I interviewed Neil Gaiman. First is, well, we were treated rather shoddily at the time (not by Neil, but certain organizers). We were kept waiting because “diyaryo lang naman kayo e“, and there was just really a general abrasiveness and undeserved irritation directed at us for no real reason.
The interview itself was actually quite funny. From our publication there were three at us for the interview: our female editor, another dude, and me. So the female editor gets a beso, the other dude gets a handshake, and then Neil Gaiman takes my hand, pulls me in, and gives me like this hug. He’s a tall guy and I’m very small, so there I am wrapped in Neil Gaiman’s arms. And I never recover from that. I just kind of melted in his arms, and I spent most of the interview time just sitting there with goo-goo eyes, stuttering and barely able to ask questions in complete sentences. I lost all professionalism, was no longer a journalist but a drooling fanboy.
Do you remember when you were first referred to (or referred to yourself) as a geek?
I’m not sure of the exact moment, but I suppose it happened in grade school. I had thick glasses, was terrible at sports, got good grades, and liked going to the library.
What does it mean, for you, to be a geek? Especially being a geek here in the Philippines.
There are 16 different definitions of geek, last time I checked the dictionary, so I guess there could be more now, but I think it had to do mainly with having an immense repository of knowledge (a good amount of which is probably not important to the majority of the people on the planet), having an affection for something that is (relatively) non-mainstream, and because socially inept or awkward. I feel the need to make a differentiation between geek, nerd, and dork in talking about social ineptitude or awkwardness. The geek is aware of his social ineptitude, the nerd doesn’t care, and the dork doesn’t know. Other people are free to quibble with this definition (of course, I mean, come on, that’s what we geeks do!) but that’s how I line it up.
Being a geek in the Philippines I suppose has its own dynamics because of the class divide and availability of geeky material. I mean, if you’re a music geek now, you just have type a few keywords and you can start downloading indie and hard to find music. But when I was in high school, if you wanted the good stuff you’d save up a month’s worth of baon and make a pilgrimage to Tower Records, or go to Recto where they had these stores that had tapes of underground punk and metal bands. And well, rich kids had ready access to ordering stuff, abroad, online, etc, buying books, all that. I guess if you’re on a tight budget, it’s pretty hard to be a geek in the Philippines. So it requires a substantial commitment.
To which fandoms do you pledge allegiance? Are there any for which you would be considered the “rabid” type of fan?
I’m kind of an all around geek. I play video games, read lots of books and comic books, watch a lot of movies and TV shows, listen to a lot of music. But if pressed, I’d have to admit that at the top of the list is Star Wars, which I admit I have a potential of rabidity for. I haven’t gone too far beyond G canon, but working within G canon and KoToR, I’m pretty rabid. I also love Halo to an insane level. And I’ve got a thing for Batman and the Batman mythos. But like I said, I like so much stuff that I could probably spend a whole day talking about each of them.
What opinion in your fandoms do you most often find yourself debating with friends?
Again, there are a lot of these points of contention. At present my friends and I are fighting over Trakata as a viable form lightsaber combat.
I find there’s always some discussion to be had about who the hottest Star Trek women are. You’re always got the 7 of 9 fan, and oddly enough I have a friend who will argue rabidly for Borg Queen. I’m going with Hoshi and T’Pol from Enterprise, who for me tie for first (Come on, those times when they had to rub each other down in the decontamination chamber?) with Kirstie Alley’s Saavik coming in at second.
Say I’m a geek from out of town, and it’s my first time in Manila. Where do I go, what do I do?
Ha, this sounds like a trick question. Where should a geek hang out? If you’re a geek and you’re gonna hang out with me, I guess my first option would be to just play Rockband at my house, have a few friends over, and get some pizza and beer. But barring that I’d invite that person to join Geekfight, an extremely fun quiz night organized by quizmaster Paolo Jose Cruz.