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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Monday, November 04, 2013

entry arrow7:10 PM | Some School Stories

It is the middle of the school year, and while most college students are out to grab what little vacation they can have in the wonderful, lazy doldrums of semestral break, I still see the grade schoolers and the high schoolers going about their daily grind in Dumaguete, chasing their after-class hours in their uniforms and constant chatter.

Sometimes, when I’m surrounded by these kids in some café like Poppy’s, their chatter cuts through me two-ways: in equal parts fascination and irritation—the last because, by God, they can chatter so with undiscovered decibels; and the first because they become a kind of time machine to old foggies like me. You listen in, and you are amused by the exchanges that are a mix of bragging, wonderment, and budding ennui, all underscored by a lingo informed by the Internet, anime, computer games, hiphop, and celebrity culture. Often, they speak English with a twang culled from years of watching Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. The young today are different creatures. But then again, each generation marks itself by its dissimilarity from the one that comes before.

I think about the specificity of how I grew up, and I’m horrified to know that my own childhood is something I have not exactly mined for remembrance or analysis, conveniently compartmentalized in a box of memories to be slowly forgotten. I don’t know why this is so, and sometimes I think, “Is it too late to try?”

But there are days when I’m forced to comprehend the memories I have forsaken. Sometimes I read a book, and it ignites a flash of memory that would make me laugh as well as unsettle me, for the very articulation of something I too shared in my past, but have lost in the dimness of adult life. That happened to me, too! How have I forgotten that? I’d think. Which is why, when I’m able to, I take out Bob Ong’s breakthrough bestseller ABNKKBSNPLAko! and make it required reading for my Philippine literature classes in the university where I teach. It is the one book that seemed to have been written to map out my own lost memories of growing up in a Philippine public school.

The book’s an easy read, enough to make it as a suitable opener for Filipino writings, which most incoming college freshmen seem to be largely ignorant of, save for Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere—and sometimes, not even that. The Filipino language of Ong’s book is accessible enough for most people, even for those of us in Negros where English is the preferred second language.

But what delights me about the book is its subject matter: it is a casual and comedic confession about life growing up in Philippine schools, from the competition in pencil sizes, to the fervent collection of “stationery,” from the enterprising teachers who had makeshift sari-sari stores over their desks, to becoming literature through the adventures of Pepe and Tagpi. (In my case, it was Bantay and Henny Penny. A dog and a chicken taught me Filipino and English.)

I don’t remember much, but I remember the intricacies of the “badge” system that fleshed out my school’s policy of “speak in English only.” I remember the pospas and the nutribun. I remember Mrs. Valencia, my favorite Grade 1 teacher, pinching my ears for daring to disrupt my classmates’ attention by drawing the Super Friends in my notebook. I remember falling in love with this beautiful girl in first grade—let’s call her Dee—and how I stayed in love with her till the sixth grade. I was so in love, I went to my mother sometime in third grade, and declared my intentions: “Mother, I want to marry Dee.” She only laughed. I don’t remember studying a lot, but I do remember reading my first sentence. I remember playing truant lots of time to watch a movie, and I remember one furious fistfight in Grade 2.

One time, during a “gang battle” of sorts in that grade, I threw a small rock at a kid, which landed squarely on his forehead, causing so much bleeding. Later that night, the kid and his mother stormed over to my house, and demanded redress, and my mother had no choice but to shoulder the medical expenses. After the spanking, she turned to me angrily, and gave me some Bible verse about how important it was to restrain oneself, even during a fierce fight. “If you get into a quarrel,” she said, “you should throw bread instead of stone!”

“But I had no bread with me!” I shouted back.

Which made her laugh. Or so I was told.

Then there’s surviving Math class. I just read an article from The Atlantic Monthly, which proclaimed that “being bad at Math” is largely a myth. This is interesting because I grew up believing I was never a Mathematics person. In grade school, I somehow refused to memorize the multiplication table, for example, because I kept finding myself asking things like, “Why is 2 x 2 = 4?” Always the why. (Which may be one factor why I became a writer instead.)

So every time we’d get these competition quizzes in class, like pitting two classmates together in a two-lane race—where every correct answer to flashcard mathematical problems gave one a chance to step forward where the teacher (and the finish line) was—I’d lose. The winner got to sit down, and the loser had to go over the race once more, until he or she wins. One time in Grade III, I lost to the ENTIRE class.

(But, whatever, I graduated valedictorian anyway, ha.)

I was always bad in Math, except when they gave us one of those “window” exams, and for some reason, I’d always rate high. Not until junior high in Silliman University did I learn to love Math. I loved the intense concentration every exam demanded. I loved it, and all because of Prof. Alice Mamhot. She was a patient teacher. She knew the value of listening, and so she refused to have us write down notes while she was lecturing, always intoning to us a sentence in mock Spanish: “No puede calabang en grande de baha.” And after we were done understanding everything she’d written on the board, she’d throw up her hands and say, “Copy break!” And then we’d finally write everything down in our notebooks. Somehow, that system worked for me. I learned to listen, and I learned to love Math with her. And during one periodical exam, I astounded everybody by getting a 99/100. I got a grade in the 90s that year.

So yes, we all have good Math in us. We just need good teachers.

I wonder what else I can remember from those growing up years...

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