Sunday, September 10, 2006

SPipol: ASTROBOY GROWS UP


Photo and Article by Dylan Yap Gozum

He goes by many nicknames – Space Cowboy, Astroboy, Speedy, Sanosuke - but for Christian Umali, 24, easily the most recognizable and best remembered among the staff of SPi’s cafeteria current concessionaire, Sunrise Gourmet, these are all reflections of his true self: a child struggling to come out from within his fragile frame, ready to take on the world with a ready smile and an infectious humor that is rarely seen in these parts.

The road that led to this day, however, wasn’t easy. The second of 5 siblings, his own Mother, a vendor, thought of him as semi-autistic. “Mahina daw pagiisip ko,” says Christian. His academic history, however, doesn’t seem to agree with that statement. He already finished a year of college at AMA as a computer and mobile phone technician, and was already on his second year at Datamex on a Computer Technician course when financial problems got in the way. He then found himself bussing tables at Tropical Hut Malibay. After his 5 months were up, he found employment at Sunrise Gourmet. He does the dishes on Sunday nights (the dishwasher comes in Mondays-Fridays), and alternates between the dining and counter areas during weekdays while earning Php 28.75 / hour on a 12-hour shift. After work, he would walk home (yes, you read that right) to sleep or do his laundry. Regarding his walking home, he said he’s been walking to and from his house for many years now. He even recalls that the longest walk he’d ever done was during Christmas of 2004 from Filinvest Alabang to Baclaran. It seems that times haven’t changed much.

If it weren’t for hard times, he would have preferred to be in the Ateneo taking up Fine Arts, “but I am married to my job right now”, he says. Most of his free time is used going online, busting at least a hundred pesos per week (“I am an internet addict”) and posting scanned copies of his animé drawings in his own webpage (
http://umalizord.deviantart.com), and practicing arnis and kendo (“I started to learn these when I was still in AMA. I now use a book that was given to me as a gift.”) In fact, if you might catch him with that long plank of wood strung to his back – all of 22.7 kilograms - fret not. It is actually a weapon but we won’t go into details.

If anything, what Christian really loves doing is to draw. He brings his portfolio everyday to work and draws during his break time. “My first drawings were of cars. I loved cars. I would draw vintage and futuristic cars. My very first animé drawing was that of Astroboy, but I gave him a twist. I made him realistic by changing his hair a bit. After all, he was a robot who used to be a real boy,” he said. His favorite animé series is the Gundam saga and he has joined drawing competitions sponsored by Level Up!, which holds the Philippine franchise to Ragnarok. He claims to have started a comic strip using original characters when he was in Grade 5 about two siblings (“They are the protagonists.”) who wanted to return to the past to correct their mistakes and bring back their dead mother. Entitled “Blade Hunter”, the two have to look for 9 blades, which lead to a time portal which can grant wishes. It really sounds like a very interesting plot for a telly show.

Alpha and Omega Mentals. Artwork by Christian Umali

Eikichi Onizuka and Edward Lightning. Artwork by Christian Umali

“Alam mo ba na I only started to talk when I was 5? They said my very first words were ‘I love you’, which was something I learned from Sesame Street. Muppets always say that they love things!,” he recounted. He said that he learned his English from Sesame and that he recalls with fondness the song SING, which was written for the show but was popularized by the Carpenters when they recorded it in 1973. He even knows what disease Jim Henson died of. Just amazing!

What endeared him more to SPi employees, however, were his antics. I first noticed him while having lunch with SBU mates. He was bussing a table next to ours by spraying it with water first, twirling the two spray bottles much like a cowboy would with two guns, wiped the table dry and then walked away with a grin. I was dumbfounded. “Many compare me to Love Añover (Traffic update segment host of GMA7’s Unang Hirit). May natutuwa sa kanya, may naiinis din. They said we have many things in common. Like her, I like to be fun and make fun of my work. I love my work. I never want it to be boring.” Well said for someone whose motto is ‘I am who I am.’ I reminded him that Love started at Probe Team as a PA. Christian, in fact, watched her life story on Magpakailanman. He then proceeded to recount Probe Team’s history (“Nagsimula talaga sila sa Channel 2!”) and enumerated the 4 women who founded the award-winning show (“Luchi Cruz-Valdez is with ABS CBN now.”). Hey, this guy can win in quiz shows!

I’ve been hunched over my computer for over 2 ½ years now as an English Editor and I wonder, on reflection, whether I’d trade places with this guy than whine about my miserable existence as a regular employee, another obscure face among thousands who pass through the halls of this company, because unlike many of us who are content with our daily routine, Christian goes beyond his comfort zone. “I am very adventurous. Sometimes I even find myself in dangerous places. I just want to find out how it is to be in different situations. They say na baliw daw ako, na mahina ang ulo ko. I am constantly misjudged. I tell them, mas nanaisin ko pang maging baliw at walang ina-agrabiyado kesa maging matino pero marami namang ina-agrabiyado. My supervisor, however, thinks I am advanced. Until now, puzzled pa rin ako sa ibig niyang sabihin dun.”

You can say that I do envy him and his joie de vivre. Indeed, it would be such a waste if I didn’t learn anything from this chat over coffee at 4 in the morning. Love your work, find ways to enjoy it, explore possibilities – these are Christian’s enduring legacy during his brief stay with us. “I don’t want to be known as a great person pero as they say, I am one of a kind. My message is simple: Don’t take your work too seriously because you’d get old early!”

I asked him what his dreams were for himself. This he hesitated to answer. The sense of uncertainty was palpable in his silence. “I guess yung usual dream, eh yung magkaroon ng sariling house. I’d just explore all possibilities. Sabi nga, nobody can tell the future. Expect the unexpected. Malay ninyo, I might even find employment here at SPi,” he says, his eyes sparkling. Asked if he were going back to school, he said he had to look for another job, and then will re-enroll. “Baka balik na ako ulit ng square one. I have only fragments of memory left of my school days. It’s been three years already.”

Certainly, we owe it to people like Christian to be better at what we do because much is expected from us who were given much. If we just put our hearts to it, we can actually touch – and change - the lives of many people like him. I was conveniently reminded by a line of the character Pistol in Shakespeare’s play ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’: “Why, then, the world\'s mine oyster, Which I with sword will open.”

Astroboy, the world is your oyster. Make the most of it! SPi surely will never be the same without you.


The Alan Fraser Activity Center
September 24, 2006
4:56 AM

3 comments:

mayfel27 said...

that was really touching...i've always wanted to befriend with christian coz i wanna know why he's like that, and one more thing, gusto kong arburin yung isa sa mga sketches niya. My officemates and I call him 'NAruto' instead of sanosuke, 'kasi during saturdays madalas suot nya yung parang armor na may "konoha villager' symbol...
one time nga nung nagparoute ng comments para sa concessionaire, nilagay ko dun na, "gayahin nyo si christian kasi mabilis syang magtrabaho"...I found your blog very inspiring. thanks God there's someone like you who can write good things about persons like 'christian' who, most of the time become "laughing stuff" of other people....God bless

I write for the world said...

Mayfel, wow! This is really touching as well.

Thank you, thank you so much for setting aside some of your precious time to write to us and for reading our blog.

We hope that we are able to touch your heart and make you appreciate that no matter what the level of people in life is, they are still worth loving, knowing, befriending.

Keep up your humanity. Such qualities make the world a better place.

Dylan Yap Gozum
Editorial Director | Backspace

Anonymous said...

hi it's me chris umali anyway thanks sir dylan for posting about me in this article in the canteen i hope you inspired in this article (even i'm wasn't around the building)but i'm miss everyone in the building and i hope i'll come back someday in my "PLAYGROUND" to give smile to everyone in the building.

"Force the world to revolve around you. It's more fun to think that way."