Tropical Storm Washi (Sendong) took over 1,000 lives in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City alone due to flash floods triggered by its heavy rainfall.

For many, winter is the coldest harshest season of the year. So when Tropical Storm Washi (Sendong) struck Mindanao just a week ago, it brought its own tragic chill to a tropical nation. The death toll has topped 1,257 with 85 others reported as missing, making it the year’s deadliest tropical cyclone. The cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in northern Mindanao were hardest hit due to flash flooding from the torrential rains, and damage from the storm reached nearly 1 billion pesos.

In response to the disaster, the government has mounted a massive rescue and rehabilitation effort, with government and private agencies leading fundraising events to help the victims. In addition, international aid has started to pour in with countries such as China, France, Japan. the United Kingdom and the United States pledging help to the affected areas.

Despite all the promised aid, one cannot help but think back on whether enough was done to lessen the impact of the calamity. Some have pointed out to PAGASA’s poor forecasting of the storm and the population’s unpreparedness. Others blame the continued effects of global warming and deforestation of the nearby affected areas, which made the flooding worse than it seemed. And still others point to corrupt public officials who pocketed fund for improving flood management infrastructure.

Whatever the reason, the important thing is that everyone does their part to make sure we are better prepared when such a situation takes place. It is sad that such a tragedy had to take place, and the proper people should be held accountable as needed. The main hope that we have is that in greeting a new year, we move forward carrying the lessons of the old year.

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Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, remains an equally enigmatic figure after taking over from his father.

The recent passing of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il has placed his isolated nation (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) back in the world spotlight. Already known for its repressive regime built under a cult of personality of its founder Kim Il-sung (Kim Jong-il’s late father), the country is also one of the most militarized countries in the world and has an active nuclear weapons and space program. The nation had already been involved in the bloody Korean War of the 1950s with its neighbor South Korea (officially the Republic of Korea), and relations have alternated between promising highs and frightening lows (notably the sinking of the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan by a North Korean torpedo in 2010). While initially involved in six-party talks in the late 90s, these fell through when the North Korean government proceeded with weapons testing and uranium enrichment programs (intended for its nuclear weapons).

With the late leader’s youngest son Kim Jong-un now assuming the role of his father and grandfather, an air of both hope and uncertainty has filled the air. For one, the new leader of North Korea is an even greater mystery than his predecessors were and as such, no one knows truly what to expect of the young man who is now the head of the most secretive country in the world. One can only hope that after more than six decades of suffering, the North Korean people will have some real change in their lives and the world can breathe easier for once.

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Comically, I am starting to believe in a sense of Armageddon slated by doomsday prophets to take place late this year. For one thing, the movie lineup for this year is a dream for many moviegoers. Here’s a quick rundown of the ones I have in my sights:

  • The Dark Knight Rises. This is the last Batman film to be directed by Christopher Nolan, who brought back respectability to the DC Comics franchise with 2005’s Batman and 2008’s The Dark Knight. Christian Bale promises to deliver a solid performance as the Caped Crusader and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne, while two classic villains will make for an interesting film. Anne Hathaway looks impressive as Catwoman/Selena Kyle, while Tom Hardy hopes to deliver a more intellectual and sinister portrayal of the brutal Bane.
  • The Avengers. With the recent string of well-received Marvel superhero films putting in an impressive build-up, it is only fitting that they get together as the mighty team known as the Avengers. Most of the cast from the previous flicks will be in the film such as Robert  Downey Jr. (Iron Man/Tony Stark), Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury). Notable additions Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk/Dr. Bruce Banner), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye/Clint Barton) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) are worth watching out for as well.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man. This is essentially a reboot of the Marvel franchise featuring the web-slinging superhero alternating as high school student Peter Parker, now being played by Andrew Garfield. Other notables to watch out for are Emma Stone (love interest Gwen Stacy), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben Parker), Sally Field (Aunt May Parker) and Rhys Ifans (The Lizard/Dr. Curt Connors).
  • The Expendables 2. With the first film satisfying my craving for action star mayhem to the hilt, this film promises even more bang for the buck with an even bigger lineup. You have the returning cast of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Randy Couture (whew, had to catch my breath there) to start that appetite going. Then you add Liam Hemsworth as the team’s sniper, Chuck Norris (critical mass right there) and Jean-Claude van Damme as the primary antagonist (a rival mercenary), and you have a film that is more loaded than a tanker full of nitroglycerin going over a cliff. Seriously.
  • Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. After the lackluster performance of the first Ghost Rider film, Nicolas Cage (Ghost Rider/Johnny Blaze) is eager to give the anti-hero a rebuilt image. Johnny Whitworth takes on the role of the antagonist Blackout while veteran actor Christopher Lambert plays the role of the monk Methodius, who aids Ghost Rider in the film.
  • Skyfall. The 23rd film in the famous James Bond series features the return of Daniel Craig as Agent 007 of the British MI6. Judi Dench is back as boss M, around whom the plot revolves involving her past actions. Javier Bardem plays the main villain, with Naomi Harris taking on the role of field agent (and inevitable Bond girl) Eve. The release of the film is part of celebrations of the famed spy film franchise, for it was 50 years after the first Bond film Dr. No made its debut in 1962 with Sean Connery as the lead character.
So with that kind of film lineup, I somehow can’t help thinking that this would be a great way for any movie fan to go out. And these are just the ones I am looking forward to personally.

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Speaking of which, 2011 was one heck of a year for me. Here are some milestones I could actually crow on:

  • Became part of the pioneer support team for Zynga’s game forums. Basically, I would search the forums for posts and reply to those I could address as per support guidelines.
  • Celebrated my sixth year in the company, when I once considered six months as a miracle. Though I have remained an agent, I did apply for the game lead position and served as interim lead on occasion when no lead was available to cover our shift.
  • Hosted my first wedding reception ever at the request of a dear friend. The whole affair went very well, better than I had expected.
  • Attended my first running events. While not an athlete by any means, this got me interested in getting a few pounds (and inches) off my frame. And as long as I paced myself, any fears of collapsing in a heap would stay wishful thinking.
  • Hosted my first sportsfest in over two years, at the TELUS Healthy Living Cup finals. It all came about after a chance meeting with a top banana for HR while attending a meeting with the company president.
  • Was featured in two promotional videos for the company (branding video and advertisement for company event), as well as hosting an episode of Career Jam focusing on TELUS.
  • Attended my first laser tag session with siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews. 15 minutes is definitely enough for one session.
  • Attended a beach outing at Magalawa Island, Zambales as part of my dad’s birthday celebration. I plan to go back there soon enough.
  • Attended the first Dayrit family reunion in almost two decades at the ancestral home in Taytay, Rizal. Grandma’s amazing hot chocolate still tastes as wonderful as ever.

So what does 2012 bring for me? Your guess is as good as mine. Hopefully, more fireworks for me this time around.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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