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

Interested in What I Create?


Friday, October 28, 2005

entry arrow2:25 PM | Cover

Dean gives us a peek at the cover of the speculative fiction anthology...

I like.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

entry arrow5:11 PM | Art

I'm taking a break from the reality of checking papers...

Caught the last part of Discovery Channel's Cutting Through, a documentary about an old Chinese peasant woman who finds local fame as a paper-cutting artist. She shucks the ears of the corn she grows and tries hard to put food in the mouth of her growing family. But she has a secret life chronicling her days and her hardships -- hunger in the family, the death of her husband, and others -- through papercutting.

What insight I got from this unique artist's life is in the way the world around her reacts to her art and her fame. At the end of the film, she goes to Beijing to attend her first one-woman show, and while she delights at the attention, she later has to bear with the pompous grandstanding of the "art experts" in the panel immediately following the show. "Living informs art..." the panel members went on and on and on. And while I agreed somehow with what they had to say, I was piqued by the old woman's reaction. She was just slumped in her chair, a bored and sleepy look on her face. It was telling. I had to reflect on my own tendency to display my own intellectual bullshit, and I asked myself, "Do we sometimes just produce too much hot air in the name of artistic discourse?" Yup.

Later on, after the obviously excruciating panel discussion, she has to meet with some of Beijing's art entrepreneurs. One fat Chinese man shows her a book and flips to a page with a Renaissance period nude painting of a woman reclining in the daylight. And the businessman tells her, "I want you to cut me a picture of this, only bigger." The old peasant artist is obviously shocked by the nudity, but she can only smile nervously while the man eggs her on and on. "This is artistic, too, you know," the man says, sounding more like a pervert every passing second. Then she finally says, "You cannot tell me what I want to cut." So there.

At the end of the day, she retreats to her hotel room's terrace. She smokes and reflects on her day, and her art: "However hard life may go," she says in the final voice-over, "I will never do away with my scissors. I will cut anything I want."

Which for me is a good summation of the life of artists. The artist is not excused from the bite of everyday living, like what Butch Dalisay said recently. His art is his escape from the common dreariness of living; ironically, he uses his art at the same time to comment on that very life. Then somewhere along the way, he meets pompous art experts and their theories, and sometimes he has to struggle with the temptations of commerce, as well -- to the point where his artistic integrity is threatened, or questioned. But at the end of the day, there is only the artist in his solitary space, where he knows full well how his art transforms him and where he becomes cognizant of his responsibility to that art as well.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

entry arrow10:39 PM | Devotion

Palanca-winner Wilfredo Pascual now blogs. This, after Jessica Zafra, well ... blogging's getting to be a very writerly thing. Welcome, Willy!

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entry arrow12:13 PM | Scary

What happens when you don't question your religious leaders. And what happens when the conservative Fox News reports on such important current events as the avian flu: "Bird is the word on the street. Why the avian flu could send stocks soaring." What the--? Hear the wonderful Stephen Colbert skewer the cable channel.


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entry arrow10:37 AM | The Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Only silly conservatives can compile a list such as this. But as Franklin Delano Roosevelt once famously said, "A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who has never learned to walk forward." Hahaha! (Master Ninja, meanwhile, provides a tongue-in-cheek commentary about the whole process.) Check out Human Events's book-burning list...

1. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels
2. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
3. Quotations from Chairman Mao by Mao Zedong
4. The Kinsey Report by Alfred Kinsey

5. Democracy and Education by John Dewey
6. Das Kapital by Karl Marx
7. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
8. The Course of Positive Philosophy by Auguste Comte

9. Beyond Good and Evil by Freidrich Nietzsche
10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes

Honorable Mention

The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich
What Is To Be Done by V.I. Lenin
Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner
Reflections on Violence by Georges Sorel
The Promise of American Life by Herbert Croly
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault
Soviet Communism: A New Civilization by Sidney and Beatrice Webb
Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead
Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader
Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
The Greening of America by Charles Reich
The Limits to Growth by Club of Rome
Descent of Man by Charles Darwin

It's easy to deduce that conservatives really, really hate it if anyone rocks the boat with regard such sacred cows as capitalism, patriarchy, race, prudish sexuality, and WASPish religiosity. But before Kinsey came along, for example, people earnestly believed you can grow hair on your palms when you masturbate! A harmful book? Despite some faults in Kinsey's methodology, I still say, revolutionary! While it is a sad testament of our world to have something like Hitler's Mein Kampf seeing publication, I have always believed that that book has long been overshadowed by the more powerful Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

So what's next, a book-burning event a la
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451? If that's the case, here's a list of my own nominees for the burning:

The Complete Collected Poems by Maya Angelou
The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
The Bridges of Madison Country by Robert James Waller
How to Talk to a Liberal by Anne Coulter
The Left Behind Series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
Who's Looking Out For You?
by Bill O'Reilly
A Victor, Not A Butcher by Edward H. Bonekemper III
Inside the Asylum by Jed Babbin
Misunderestimated by Bill Sammon
State of Fear by Michael Crichton
by Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney and Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely
Colossus by Niall Ferguson
Presidential Leadership edited by James Taranto and Leonard Leo
The French Betrayal of America by Kenneth Timmerman
Restoring the Lost Constitution by Randy E. Barnett
Rewriting History by Dick Morris
Betrayal by Linda Chavez
7 Myths of Working Mothers by Suzanne Venker
Affirmative Action Around the World by Thomas Sowell
The Compleat Gentleman by Brad Miner
The Mind and the Brain by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley
Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed! by Katharine DeBrecht

Come on, let's be brutal troglodytes like the Human Events people for a while. Nominate books for the burning, and explain earnestly why....

[via kristine and luis are listening]

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

entry arrow1:38 PM | Banish the Sun!

Please, God. Save us from this oppressive, oppressive heat. It's making people go bonkers. And sick. (Then again, I've always been a rain or snow person... Give me autumn anytime.)

Wednesday update: Hey look! It's a cloudy day! And I'm feeling much better.


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entry arrow1:15 PM | Rosa Parks, 92

"I didn't want to pay my fare and then go around the back door, because many times, even if you did that, you might not get on the bus at all. They'd probably shut the door, drive off, and leave you standing there."


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Monday, October 24, 2005

entry arrow9:15 PM | Fearless Butterflies

If you find yourself in Cebu City this Wednesday night, you can check out this new exhibit of works by Cebu artists, musicians, and writers who are on the out side of the dark closet, if you know what I mean. (That I'm part of the exhibit may be explained by the fact that Dumaguete is essentially a suburb of Cebu City, no?) It's organized by James Iain Neish, the Cebu artist and poet -- and features works by Russ Ligtas, John Bengan, L. Lacambra Ypil, Ronald Villavelez, Zara Smith, Anna Carla Gonzalez, Mitzi Sabanal, Liyo De Norte, Louise de la Cruz, Clee Andro Villasor, Hali Marmol, Angelica Cabais, Sunshyn Alerre, Chastity Manuel, and Shem Garcia. The fabulously queer details are as follows...

Mon y Liza Holdings
Kahayag Cafe
POW Designs


Kabakaba Ba Ka?
An Exhibit

Kahayag Cafe
Old Coaco Building, M.J. Cuenco Avenue, Mabolo
Opening Night: 26 October 2005, 7PM

Mooon Cafe
42 Emilio Osmena St., Guadalupe
Mon - Thu : 5PM - 12MN
Fri - Sun : 5PM - 1AM

UPVCC Little Gallery
UP in the Visayas Cebu College, Gorordo Avenue, Lahug
Mon - Fri - 9AM - 5PM

The program reads: "Showcasing works by gay and lesbian writers and visual artists, illustrating scenes from queer life that applaud the human spirit. Keeping the content personal, drawn from real life, the participants relate their own gay experience in addition to eradicating any misapprehension that they are speaking for the entire gay community of Cebu. Each artist asserts, 'This is my story,' and leaves it at that. The show celebrates life and the people living it, affirming that the queer biography is no more alien than the next person's, varied as the rest of humanity's."

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entry arrow8:24 PM | Under the Light of Bo's Cafe

In Cebu last sepia weekend...

...a cup of coffee before goodnight.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

entry arrow11:21 AM | St. Imelda of the Cold War

This is classic Jessica Zafra humor (yes, people, she blogs!), this time on the beautiful delusions of our Imelda Marcos:

All this talk of the Imelda reminded me that I still have my friend's copy of the Imelda's latest literary opus, a metaphysical discourse called Circles of Life. While leafing through this handsome volume -- the pages are guilt, I mean gilt-edged -- I came upon a revelation most wondrous. Here it is, in the Imelda's own words:

"But the most significant and most exacting for me was the honor of having brought the image of Our Lady of Fatima to be consecrated with the Liturgical Service in Moscow at the height of the Cold War. That was 1985, October, the month of the Holy Rosary, and as I left the Church together with a large retinue of Catholic bishops from the Philippines, a spray of snowfall descended on our (delegation), when (an) old woman sidled close and whispered: 'Madam, for the blessings you have brought to Russia by opening our church to honor the Virgin Mother, much will be exacted from your life!'

"Those anonymous words were prophetic. In a few months, we were forced into exile, and shortly thereafter, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics began to dissolve and the freedom of religion was restored along with other fundamental liberties... It symbolized the sacrifices expected of my own life, the life of my husband, the lives of my children, my country and my people."
(p. 91)

Now it becomes clear: By bringing the image of Our Lady of Fatima to Moscow, Imelda Marcos brought about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. For this she became a martyr of the church. More importantly, the Imelda heeded the Fatima Letter urging the return of the true religion to the Soviet Union, thereby averting the Apocalypse. Truly we heathen scum are not fit to kiss her fabulous shoes.

No one then should wonder why Fatboy Slim and David Byrne are doing a musical about her. Title: "Here Lies Love." Oh, goodie. Move over, Evita! Byrne takes some notes on the project in his online journal:
Researching the Imelda music piece I'm working on I notice that her union with Ferdinand was as much political and economic as emotional. She, from a good family, but the poor side of it, was generally "attracted" to men who were in positions of power and who had financial stability. There were no stories of her dating the local shopkeeper or schoolteacher. No fool, she. (She was beautiful, so she had a leg up, too.) He, meanwhile, was no less pragmatic -- though she was poor, he knew that her relatives represented the South, where he was politically weak (he was already a successful Senator.) And she would look picture perfect in his future political life.

Though he might have been less smitten and more conniving than she, she was by all reports emotionally invested in their relationship, at least for a few years. So there was both love, of a sort, and pragmatism simultaneously. Sincerity and practicality too. For a while, anyway.

There are no permalinks, so scroll down to the September 18 entry.

[For related Imeldific sites, try this very funny one from The Wily Filipino.]


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entry arrow10:55 AM | Oh Crap

Adel Gabot has a disturbing post about ... toilet food. (Check out the last photo. What is she eating?)

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Friday, October 21, 2005

entry arrow10:55 PM | See Ragdoll Bush in a Delicious Freefall!

Ehehehe. This is my first Bush bash since the last U.S. presidential election. Everyone knows now anyway why this man is evil. And dumb. (Did anyone see the "questions in the questionnaire" snippet in The Tonight Show?)

That's why it's so sweet to just do this over and over again. As Veronica Montes points out, "Seriously, I could watch this for hours. I wonder if there's a way to make it into a screensaver?" Enjoy.

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entry arrow6:16 PM | We Remember

I'm not sure (or I don't remember) what I wrote in this Nostalgia Galore issue of Warm Bodies, edited by Oscar Alvarez Jr., Noreen Capili, and Jonathan Catalla and with an introduction by Dean Francis Alfar, but check it out....


Nostalgia is always nice. And funny, sometimes in very embarrassing ways. Congratulations to the Warm Bodies crew! Something like this is an interesting development in Pinoy "blog literature." (Eh? Meron bang ganun? Debate.)

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entry arrow6:10 PM | Buglas in the Heart

I was in grade school -- a distant time when I was a skinny bookworm of a boy the wind could have blown away like a paper doll -- when the province of Oriental Negros turned a hundred years old right at the very start of the 1990s. This period, to me, marked itself as the quintessential Buglasan, perhaps even before the Buglasan* that you now know was ever invented as the current "festival of festivals"; it was the magnificent precursor to all things we see now coagulated to a showcase of booths and cute (and sometimes fascinating) tourist traps, and so many nights spent under the stars celebrating whatever it is we are celebrating at Dumaguete's Freedom Park. But we had no bands playing in all-night concerts then, not even Guinness World Record-breaking motorcades -- yet I remember those days as being particularly heady, and rich.

(I must be careful here. Remember I was a young boy then, and everything in memory, one soon learns, will always be giant versions of their original.)

Yet that celebration in 1991 is burned into my memories as a particular molder of an interesting life (mine). I danced my way through most of the towns in Oriental Negros, always on some fiesta night, from Canlaon to Amlan. I danced. From the elegantly Spanish La Jota to the coconut percussion of the Maglalatik, in a repertoire of folk dances we all had struggled to master under the withering look of one Mr. Corsino, who was my Math teacher in the Special Education section of West City Elementary School. I danced with a company of other pubescent upstarts, their first names -- Georgia, Jonathan, Janleah, Ricky, Jay, Erwin, among others -- a caramelized recollection, the way we remember childhood in panoramic recall.

I never quite reached the southern end of the province in the year it took Oriental Negros to celebrate its hundredth year. By the time the dance troupe I belonged to sashayed its way down to the towns of Bayawan and Basay and later straight on to Manila for a grand performance at Hotel Nikko, I had retired my dancing shoes, and couldn't be bothered to get away from my books. I was about to start high school in Silliman University. It was also a year of moving on.

But looking back, I realize now that my sense of being an Oriental Negrense has always been molded by that singular experience of being a very young boy swept away in a grand tour of what was -- and is -- home.

This is something quite rare for anyone of eleven or twelve years to be able to do so. When you're of that age, your comfortable boundaries probably remain that of home and the immediate vicinity of neighborhood, and perhaps downtown. Travel probably remains a heavily chaperoned activity, with parent or sibling in tow, to big cities like Cebu or Manila, or to some resort town like Boracay. When I was 11 going on 12, it meant bus rides through the hills and plains and mountains of Oriental Negros, discovering that there was so much more to my "home" beside the lazy, semi-cosmopolitan comforts of Dumaguete. With only Ma'am Bennie Vic and Ma'am Erlinda and Sir Plutarch to watch over us as mother hens (and rooster -- but never in an iron-clad way, thank God -- we had a good run of the Oriental Negrense countryside.

We went to the fiesta nights in Jimalalud, and La Libertad, and Guihulngan, and Tayasan, and those other towns with airy names, where we performed our dances in town squares and open-air auditoriums and basketball courts. It was enough for most of us to see the throng of fellow Negrenses, their brown faces round with delight. It was enough to hear the applause; when you're twelve and you get applause for something as tricky as Maglalatik or something as dexteriously impossible as Sayaw sa Bangko, you get a boost that could sustain your self-confidence for years to come. It was for me an early effort in conquering performance anxiety, as well as an early education in sociology and cultural studies. I think it was in La Libertad where I first saw the most extensive (and dramatic) production of a Santacruzan ever. One doesn't get this kind of cultural education every day.

The bus rides were a fascination in themselves, and the various destinations a thrilling discovery. When all performers (the Sidlakang Negros performing group, which included the SPED Dance Troupe, was a bevy of other talents plucked from all corners of the province) would finish a late-night performance in some nearby northern town and proceed to chug on home to Dumaguete, we would always stop by the Sycip Farm in Manjuyod where, in a rest house in the middle of a beautiful, extensive farmland, we would feast on catered food, and rest for a while. Imagine that. A feast late at night, in the middle of a rice field, under the light of moon.

I still remember the early morning ascent to Canlaon on a zigzagging road carved out of the mountainsides, with cliffs plunging down right beside us. The excitement over the dangerous possibilities of a tumbling wreck was palpable in the faces of everyone in our bus, but that was quickly coated over by the delight in our seeing the trees, millions of them, as far as our eyes could see. We had emerald jungle facing us from everywhere. We craned our necks to see the depth of the ravine, but we saw no bottom, only a sea of green. And then there were the flowers. And the birds. That was my first time to see a hummingbird, or what I thought was a hummingbird.

The city itself proved charming enough. We stayed in a hostel on top of a hill. That afternoon, we explored the place and discovered a paradise of vegetables. That evening, we danced. When I woke up early the next morning, I found myself the first to go to the shower. I remember that there was barely any light in the sky yet, but I wanted to be the first in the group to take command of the small bathroom. When I felt the icy Canlaon water touch my naked skin, I swear, nilupad ang akong espiritu. It was the coldest water in the whole wide world -- a therapy of sorts, I must say, because my body felt vibrant the whole day.

To come back down from Canlaon to the plains below, we crammed into our trusty bus again. We were all there -- the Silliman Band and a host of other performers from all over the province -- and were all getting chummy, like a haphazard family. How many fiestas have we gone to together that year? Six? Nine? Twelve? I still remember this tall mannish woman with a very deep voice -- I forget her name -- who performed in "the American Colonial Period" part of the show. Her signature number was a high-heeled performance of "New York, New York." I remember the whole bus egging her on to give an impromptu performance on the leg home. Without much ado, she tensed her body into that poise she began her songs with, and then her deep voice rang out: "Start spreading the news... I'm leaving today...." The whole bus roared. She performed all over the aisle, kicking her legs for effect like a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. By the time she ended her song, we ended with her, crowing out "New York, New York!" at the top of our voice. You don't get a bus ride like that everyday.

Those, indeed, were the days.

Those early days gave me my first taste of what it was like to explore beyond one's comfortable boundaries. It ignited a wanderlust in me that has yet to be sated. It ignited as well a sense of wonder for what goes on beyond our horizons.

At the same time, like the best of one's travels, it made me take stock of where I came from. It showed me my roots in the best way possible. And I know that wherever I may be in the world in the years to come, in my heart of my hearts I will always be an Oriental Negrense.

*to the non-Negrense, the Buglasan is Oriental Negros's equivalent of the Sinulog of Cebu or the Maskara festival of Bacolod. It is an umbrella celebration held once a year that gathers together all the other festivals of the various towns and cities in the province. Buglas happens to be the pre-Spanish name of Negros Island.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

entry arrow9:39 PM | Shaken and Stirred

Craig. Daniel Craig.

Your new James Bond? Eh.


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Friday, October 14, 2005

entry arrow6:44 PM | Literatura 11 Out

The 11th issue of Literatura Magazine is out!

This one's on Style in Translation, guest-edited by award-winning fictionist Timothy R. Montes. The issue features Cebuano stories and poems by Don Pagusara, Brecil Kempis, Blanche Gutib, Adonis Durado, and Cora Almerino, all translated to English and Filipino by Tim himself. He also provides a very interesting introduction on the art of translation.

(By the way, only the links for Issue 9 The 2004 Philippines Free Press Literary Awards Issue and Issue 10 The 2005 Palanca Awards Issue work in the archive. I still have to transfer the other issues from the old site. Forthcoming Literatura issues include something on grafiction guest-edited by Elbert Or, on fantasy and science fiction guest-edited by Dean Francis Alfar, on chick lit guest-edited by Ginny Mata, and on Mindanao literature guest-edited by John Bengan. You can email me for suggestions on future issues.)


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entry arrow2:47 PM | To Walk

If you remember a time when the cost of flagging down a tricycle was one wonderful peso, you will be forgiven when one day you just sputter and gag -- from utter disbelief -- at being asked by some random tricycle driver that the fare these days have risen exponentially, to compensate for the growing horrors of modern-day living. Getting anywhere a small town like Dumaguete apparently now costs you six not-so-wonderful pesos, up from just five early in the year.

Six pesos.

There's even a sinister ring to it, like the hiss of a snake.

The first time I was informed of this, it was at the end of a recent and very short ride between Silliman Campus, where I work, and Tubod, where I live. The distance between those two points can rightfully be considered ridiculous. The quintessential stone's throw away, so to speak. But I needed a ride: I had with me a bursting box full of another weekend's sulky promise of overwork -- the papers of my research classes which needed a good once-over and final grades. And it was a heavy load, backbreaking, and necessitated a ride. So I flagged down a tricycle, and of course barely two minutes later, I was at my door, fishing out a shiny five peso coin to the ready palms of a long-haired driver, someone with a shirt that pronounced to the world that "Nirvana Lives." But Nirvana Lives only shook his head, and with a studied shrug informed me that the fare was now six pesos.

"Six pesos?" I asked. I looked at Nirvana Lives with what must have been a very contemptuous look, something one reserved for dimwits or brazen embezzlers.

"Six pesos," he said -- the tone flat, like he had no care in this world, only that there was some small reordering of the universe and only he was aware of it. He sounded like the messiah of fare hikes.

Nirvana Lives ultimately pointed to a piece of paper, an official-looking letter taped to the metallic hood beneath his windshield Plexiglas, and then he said, "We just got that today." I looked. I looked at the document hard, like a lawyer looking for loopholes. There was no official insignia to the letter, just a dated announcement of a fare hike. And I found that I couldn't bring myself to argue with it, even with the deepest of my suspicions. It's easy enough to be suspicious of drivers. Once I was charged fifty pesos for a ride to Tubod from the airport -- but I had ferociously argued back and called that driver a "dumb ass," and gave him what for me was already a very generous fifteen pesos. This one though, my guts told me, was another story.

And so I just forked over another peso coin, my world sinking to a new low.

To think that I had always thought, all-too-naively perhaps, that five pesos was the ultimate ceiling for price hikes with regards public transportation in Dumaguete. Five pesos, after all, has a psychological, and monetary, finish to it. Five pesos. That figure, if you really think about it, was perfect: it didn't seem too low enough for us to begrudge drivers what everybody knew to be just compensation in increasingly hard times. (The price of oil, we know, have gone through the roof. Of course, prices had to go up.) But it didn't seem too high enough either for us to reel from certain shock. "Five" was perfect balance. It was also handy, necessitating only a singular coin to pass on from one's pocket to some driver's open palm.

Six, meantime, is a notch higher in the value scale. And necessitated one more coin to add to the round, singular material of a fiver. It is a travesty.

Which brings me to a resolution I have always meant to do in a life that's becoming too sedentary for comfort. The only recourse now is to forgo all the monetary inconvenience of tricycle-riding.

The thing to do now is to walk.

Walking saves you money. (Six pesos multiplied several times as one goes about the business of living a life can go far these days.) For the socially-conscious, it very well contributes to the growing need worldwide to conserve energy (even Malacanang -- with Bayani Fernando as figurehead of the movement, however ill-conceived it may appear -- is advocating it, alongside biking). And there's no doubt about it, walking is good for your health. Itfs good for your heart and your lungs. Doctors say it's good for the muscle and the bone growth of your children. And it makes you feel good as well, with all that endorphine rush making you feel like Superman. In 1913, George Trevelyan brought everything down to this truism: "I have two doctors, my left leg and my right."

My medical references tell me that walking reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, lowers blood pressure, reduces high cholesterol and improves blood lipid profile, reduces body fat and helps control body weight, enhances mental well-being, increases bone density (hence helping to prevent osteoporosis), reduces the risk of cancer of the colon, reduces the risk of non-insulin dependent diabetes, helps osteoarthritis, and helps flexibility and coordination, hence reducing the risk of falls. I have always known these to be true -- and I guess it took a fare hike to make me realize what a special thing walking can be.

Dumaguete, come to think of it, is an ideal place for walking -- for the most part, anyway, and most especially in the not-so-distant past when trees, with their promise of a natural shade, lined most roads. (Today, most of these trees have been stripped of their limbs and foliage. That, and the concretizing of Dumaguete's streets, has contributed to an almost unbearable increase in the heat that pervades the city. But that's another story.)

But walking the city is still something one can very well do. The place is small, after all. A popular line around town -- something we tell every visitor here -- goes that everything in Dumaguete is just five minutes away, by foot. Which is true. This is still a place where the pedestrian is king. Even traffic bows to the walking masses; take a close look at any intersection, and you can see all motorized contraptions made powerless by the crossing hordes.

Plus traffic has become something of a snarling headache in the city anyway. It would be very good to put many of these tricycles out of business. With a witless city government seemingly powerless to monitor them, they have become just too many in number, like cockroaches left to fester. And they have made what was once a quiet and clean city into a jungle of smoke-belching and incessantly grating noise. While the rest of the modern world is taking pains to reduce the number of motorized contraptions on their streets, we seem to be heading the opposite direction: we seem to love filling our streets with even the worst of gasoline-guzzling junk. In a CNN report two weeks ago, I learned that many European cities have made the move to relieve their streets with cars and other motorized vehicles. Some have gone to the extreme of offering free public transportation for a year to people willing to have their cars compacted in junkyards. The message seems to be that in a move to a responsible world, an abundance of motor vehicles is definitely out.

I agree. Hence, I walk.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

entry arrow6:24 PM | Kneading Love

Mia Gonzalez has a wonderful story "Bread" in this week's issue of The Philippines Free Press. Buy it.

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Friday, October 07, 2005

entry arrow12:47 PM | Bonifacio Online

Ari Ngaseo presents The Bonifacio Papers. I tell you, this guy's amazing.

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entry arrow12:41 PM | What's 'Happy Birthday' in Frog-speak?


Happy 50th birthday, green dude! (Mark and I used to have a crush on a guy because he looked like Kermit the Frog. Hey, it's not sick.)


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entry arrow12:10 PM | We Will Take Over the World

This is political comedy at its funniest.

Come on, it's funny, no? I have to say, this is one of the greatest evidence to surface regarding Jessica Zafra's old theory of Filipino world domination. I think the Philippines is the world's secret superpower. We may be invisible, but that is our greatest strength. Because we are everywhere, and if we have the will, we will take over the world. The U.S. President's chief cook is a Filipina... Demi Moore's wedding gown designer is a Filipina... We hold the chair of the U.N. Security Council... We have domestics and nurses and caregivers and oil-workers and nannies everywhere... Imagine the possibilities.



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Thursday, October 06, 2005

entry arrow9:00 AM | In the Middle of the Grading Zone

It's a Thursday morning.

I woke up early, still recuperating from the flu and still playing catch-up this week with the final responsibilities of school's last days. The semestral break is upon us college teachers again, and -- compounded with the endless nights checking abhorrent student compositions (most of them, anyway) -- the soul is tired. The lesson I've learned these past nights while still coughing and sniffling but nevertheless determined to mark, correct, and grade the one hundred and eighty student essays which needed to be released by Wednesday afternoon, is this: checking collegiate composition is a punishment I do not want to wish even for my worst enemy.

One can only imagine the painful grind of going over every single grammatical and syntactical murder committed in what is benignly called College Composition. It's an endless and unforgiving repetition, your green pen scribbling hieroglyphics and squiggly lines and sad erasures which make up your corrections and tired commentaries. I must have written the word "awkward" more than a million times. Imagine 48 hours of that, straight: no sleeping, seldom eating because of sheer concentration. I vomited two times, and cried three times. No wonder my Cheshire Cat, the award-winning poet who teaches in Ateneo de Manila, gave her supervisors notice: I think she was in the middle of checking papers and then just decided to quit. I asked her why, but I already knew the answer: it was almost charming and hilarious handling all those dangling modifiers and inconsistent tenses and grade school vocabulary... but in the end, one realized it was affecting one's being a writer: one learned to have a complete distaste for language, especially if one spent too many days trying to salvage it.

Reflecting deep into the cause of this malaise, I inevitably go back to that unfortunate incident last year, the one with my research student who got a failing grade for plagiarism, and who then attacked me -- emotionally -- with mad mother and father in tow. She publicly humiliated me (in a restaurant) by kicking over a chair and throwing an ugly tantrum. I still remember what her father said, while he leaned over and threatened me: "Sometimes students fail because they have bad teachers." That was the last blow. How does one exactly recover from that? I have not recovered from that at all. Yes, the day after that, the father apologized, and two days after that, the student apologized. But no amount of apology can make up for the psychological damage they did to me. I have to say that incident really changed the way I viewed my profession. When it used to be a "noble" profession, now I couldn't help but think of it as a combat zone. I still remember crying so hard... It's been more than a year, and it's still so hard, and I have yet to climb out of that dark hole.

But I am not quitting just yet, though my soul is tired. People tell me: "You just need inspiration." God, I sincerely hope so.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

entry arrow10:20 PM | Nyah

I don't ever want to get sick again. It's a waste of time, and I hated all that sleeping and feeling hung-over from all that meds. Girls and boys, take your vitamins.


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entry arrow9:33 PM | Calling All Young Poets of the Philippines Writing in English

Remember that poetry anthology I was trying to put together two years ago as a sequel to FutureShock Prose? The publisher got cold feet and the whole thing went to limbo, much to my dismay. So I am bequeathing the whole project to Ken Ishikawa who is co-editing a similar anthology with Cirilo Bautista. The call for manuscript is as follows...
The editors of a forthcoming anthology would like to request your participation. The book will serve as a peek into and a celebration of the future of Philippine Poetry in English. Dr. Cirilo Bautista will be editing the project with the assistance of Ken T. Ishikawa.

If you are 35 years old and below, a Filipino, and a writer of Poetry in English please send five of your best representative work to newphilippinepoetry(at)gmail(dot)com. Young poets who have not yet published any books are highly encouraged to send their works.

Please send each of your poems in a single file; don't put all five in one. Don't forget to include short biographical information with a scanned 1x1 photo as your profile will appear in the list of contributors. The deadline will be on November 15, 2005.

Honorarium will come in the form of a contributor's copy. Authors of accepted works will be receiving a reply in their mail.

So go ahead. Get published.

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entry arrow9:00 PM | On Literary Invisibility and What Else Ails Philippine Literature

This is getting interesting. There are two more worthy rejoinders on the whole "what is wrong with Philippine literature" debate raging in all our blogs. One is from Angas ng Kurimaw. And another one is from Butch Dalisay who answers a similar query from a reader of his Philippine Star column. Because the paper's archives doesn't exactly work to our expectations, I am reproducing the whole thing below (with permission from Sir Butch)...

Minding the Market
From PENMAN by Butch Dalisay

I received a message in the mail a couple of weeks ago from a young reader who seemed troubled by a question that many of us have asked ourselves. In so many words, why don't Filipino authors figure more prominently in the global literary marketplace? Where's the Pinoy Harry Potter?

Here's Isabel's letter in its entirety, very slightly edited:
Dear Sir,

I'm 15 years old and I read your column weekly. I know you're very knowledgeable about Philippine literature so I thought you the best authority to answer this question:

How come I never see Filipino authors in the Young Adult section of the bookstore -- even Filipino authors who are American citizens, or living in some other country? I've seen very few Filipino authors in other sections of the bookstore, too, aside from the Filipiniana section.

My main concern here is the fact that I haven't encountered many local authors being published by international titles like Scholastic or Harper-Collins (or even not-as-hot publishers like Puffin or Penguin Books). Maybe it's just that I'm ignorant about how publishing really works, but I find it disconcerting that only British or American authors get to share their books with the world. I know our local publishing companies are pretty good, but don't Filipinos want to expand their literary market to other countries? I've always wanted to see a Filipino-written book in someplace like Barnes & Nobles or Borders. Is it that they won't accept manuscripts written by foreign authors, or is it that these foreign authors simply don't try? Or could it be that (gasp) we simply aren't good enough?

Another thing that's been bothering me is the very limited genres that Filipino writers dabble in. I've only recently started liking some Philippine literature (due in great part to the local newspaper writers, and Jessica Zafra), and I've noticed that most books are, well, compilations of some sort. Poetry, or essays, or newspaper articles, or short stories. Aside from the works written by older authors (or those novels penned in Tagalog), I haven't seen too many novels or even chapter books (our children's books are always pretty short). And in the few novels I've seen or heard about, I've noticed that most stories center around the Philippines or Filipinos, and involve rather depressing storylines. This is all right when done in moderation, but practically all local literature I've encountered is like this. I am not exaggerating, because last year for our English class we had to read local novels for our book reports, and all my classmates complained that the stories were too gloomy and complicated. There was always something wrong going on -- adultery, abortion, leaving the country, family complications, hatred, war, death, etc. etc. Also, it's really good to write about one's country, but that shouldn't be the only thing we can write. After all, most of the world cannot relate when we talk about Manila or sisig or basi or carabaos.

I always wonder: Where is the fantasy? The science fiction? The romance (and I don't mean the kind that has a cover ripped off from a print ad)? The drama, suspense, action, horror? Where are all these stories, and how come no Filipinos are writing them? I know Filipinos are talented, and it isn't all that hard to find inspiration. So what's happening?

The thing that really worries me is the future of our local writers. I have dreams of getting a book published someday myself. But is there a chance? Is there a way for aspiring Filipino authors to get published, and to have an audience larger than the limited one that actually goes to the Filipiniana section? It's been bothering me for a long time, and I finally had to ask. I certainly hope I'm not the only one concerned about this.

Your answer would mean a lot to me, and I would definitely appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Thanks, too, Isabel, for expressing concerns that you surely aren't alone in taking to bed and getting up with in the morning. If you've been following this column, you'll know that I've asked many of the same questions myself, chiefly those having to do with our seeming inability or unwillingness to produce work of greater variety in subject and treatment -- the "genre" fiction that you were looking for. I've also wondered why we don't, won't, or can't write happier stories, given what a fun-loving people we seem to be otherwise. Now let me see what I can do by way of some quick answers to some very complicated questions.

Why don't we see more Filipino writers outside of "Filipiniana"? I don't know if it makes for better marketing -- I'm assuming it does, since local bookstores have done this for ages -- but it's the very existence of the Filipiniana section that prevents, say, Charlson Ong from sitting next to Michael Ondaatje, and Angelo Lacuesta to Jhumpa Lahiri. "Filipiniana" makes it easier to locate the Filipino book or author your teacher sent you to find, but it also exoticizes Filipino writers in their own country, physically and psychologically separating them from what readers take to be the mainstream of world literature. I'll admit that it doesn't bother me as much as it probably should, but then I'm more interested -- as you are -- in Filipino authors getting on foreign bookshelves.

So what's keeping Filipino titles from selling in Borders or Waterstone's? The easy answer is that it takes tremendous marketing resources to secure shelf space in the major Western bookstore chains, given the sheer volume of good books being published by everyone around the world. Even US-based Filipino or Filipino-American authors, despite their literary talent and with all of their local connections, find it difficult to get noticed by the New York Review of Books and to be picked up by Borders. (There are, of course, happy exceptions, and my friend Krip Yuson has been tracking them for us.)

The more sobering possibility is that we simply aren't writing the kind of material that appeals to a broader audience (read: the mainstream American public, with all of its variegations). That's both good and bad -- good because it keeps us focused on and true to the things that matter to us as a people, whether here or abroad; bad because it can also lead to insularity, parochialism, and plain monotony.

I happen to suspect -- maybe to hope -- that every good book will find its audience, and that great books that speak to the human heart will find their way across time and space to the distant but fervent reader.

Why aren't we writing in more genres? We are -- sort of (see my quotations from Tony Hidalgo below) -- but it's a slow burn, especially among older, established writers stuck on rewriting the Noli and the Fili. For young writers and audacious publishers, on the other hand, genre writing (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, crime, etc.) could represent the perfect opportunity to touch base with a whole new generation of Filipino readers and to get out of the groove of solemn and sometimes soporific prose that older writers like me seem to prefer and purvey.

I've often complained about the surprising absence of crime in our fiction -- given what a malevolent lot we are, at least according to the tabloids -- and I don't see why a crime story (say, about a stolen pair of shoes that leads to murder in Pandacan) can't rise to the level of great fiction, with the right touch and sensibility. (Okay, okay, I'm working on it.)

I agree, Isabel: we should be writing about more than ourselves, more than about suman latik. In this our season as the vagrants and wanderers of the world, I welcome stories about the Pinoy's perception of Warsaw and Wollongong.

Why do we keep writing about such depressing subjects? Because it's a gut reaction to the sordid realities around us -- the grinding poverty of the many, the mindless greed of the few, the loss of one's civil liberties, the desperation of a corrupt cabal in holding on to power, no matter what. Beyond that lies the challenge of cleverness -- to expound or to touch on these ancient and seemingly impervious realities with freshness, wit, and even humor. They don't need to be in everything we write -- but they should be embedded in our subconscious, providing ballast to our fanciful imaginations.

Is there hope for young Filipino writers wanting to publish first books that aspire to nothing more than providing an afternoon's delight? What should the Filipino writer bear in mind?

By way of an answer, let me quote from a paper on Philippine publishing delivered recently by Tony Hidalgo -- himself a prizewinning author and now the owner-CEO of a small but vigorous publishing house called Milflores:
Milflores Publishing, a small company by industry standards ... has grown phenomenally in five years by taking creative, calculated risks. From our initial four titles in 2000, we now have 58 titles in the bookstores -- a growth rate of 1,450 percent. From sales of 4,260 books in 2000, we expect to sell around 40,000 this year -- a growth rate of close to a thousand percent.

The most important constraint for book publishers at the macro level ... is the widespread poverty in the country... Another important constraint is the mismatch between the books that the best Filipino minds write and the needs and preferences of readers. Most Filipino books are still written in English though most readers prefer books in Filipino. The best Filipino writers still concentrate on writing fiction (novels, short stories, plays) and poetry in English, while nine out of 10 book buyers want information books. Because of class differences in lifestyles and experiences, the content of the best Filipino literature in English is often at odds with what most readers want from fiction, so they turn, instead, to the movies, telenovelas, and romance novels... The small, but affluent, A and B market is fluent in English and should be the natural market for Filipino literature in English by the best writers. Unfortunately, this segment is also highly Westernized and prefers books by foreign authors. Some of them are even unaware that there is now a fairly large body of work by Filipino authors in English....

In more practical terms, Milflores engaged several dozens of the best, award-winning writers to contribute to humorous anthologies on popular topics like shopping malls, insomnia, beauty pageants, being a Noranian, etc. We also published collections of humorous essays by good writers on migration to America, pregnancy, the single life for women, the gay world, etc. We only focused on the popularity of the topic of the books -- we never told our writers what to write and never asked them to simplify anything for the mass market. In fact, we always selected manuscripts where the writer poured everything he/she had into it, for we believe that books with great passion are the best ones, or to paraphrase Simone de Beauvoir, 'In some sense, every good book is a cry for help.'"

The Philippine Star
3 October 2005

I guess this one should add more fuel to a very interesting fire. Comments!

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

entry arrow2:59 PM | Hail Heresy

The Times of London reports of a study that proves that religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity, and suicide.


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Saturday, October 01, 2005

entry arrow9:13 PM | Since Wednesday...

What defines my days...


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