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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?


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

entry arrow12:05 AM | Pinoy Penman and Winning Hyphens

Two things.


Butch Dalisay Jr. now blogs. Let the tribe increase some more.

[via traveling through blue]


Exie Abola just won this year's NVM Gonzalez Award for the best published fiction, with "At the Ends of the Hyphen," a story which quite intrigued me the first time it was published in the Philippines Free Press -- so intrigued that I emailed Exie about it. I think that was the first time we corresponded. Janet Villa won the Special Prize for the wonderful story "Closeopen," which was published in Philippine Graphic. Congratulations, guys!

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Monday, November 28, 2005

entry arrow1:23 AM | The Gospel of Click

One day in 1997, I had just come from attending an exhibition of Elliot Erwitt's works from his Magnum days, in Tokyo. I was happily toting along with me an autographed copy of Erwitt's book Museum Watching when, right before the entrance to the subway station in Ginza district, I caught sight of a poster advertising the photographs of Sakiko Nomura*. What I saw was this:

Talk about falling in love. My mind raced, and my pulse quickened. Who is that man? I asked silently, searching for a narrative. Why is he naked in bed, and smoking a cigarette? Why the disinterested look? And whose hand is he holding? Is that a woman behind him? Or a man?

I have since then marked that moment in Ginza as having made me see, with sheer naked lust, the possibilities of photography as being more than just a hobby of catching random photographable moments. Like all great art, photography was also an act of making love.

People who know me best know this about me: photography is a consuming passion.

Which is why I must announce this, especially for the benefit of those who have asked me about a certain blankness in my online life. Because finally, I've managed to upload some photos into my Buzznet account, which has been sadly empty since I opened it more than a month ago.

I couldn't find the installation software CD of my new digital camera for the longest time, preventing me from transfering the photos from the camera to my computer. And there was also the slight problem of having caused a memory error while I was taking some, uhm, very private pictures -- which resulted to the camera being unable to load properly all pictures. Finally, after fretting for about a month, I fiddled endlessly with the controls, and managed to delete the offending picture. Lesson learned: I will never ever use my camera for evil purposes again. Ahahahaha!

Sometimes, I find it strange that my closest circle of friends from college -- Kristyn Maslog-Levis, Ted Regencia, Eric Samuel Joven, Beth Castillo-Winsor, Clee Villasor, and a bunch of others -- have taken to photography like it was an alluring sweetheart. Is it perhaps because we are all Mass Communication graduates? But most of us never even enrolled in Photography class back in college. (My reason was that I refused to be tainted by a teacher I secretly considered a nincompoop.) All I remember is that we used to go around town a lot with cameras strapped around our necks, taking photographs of anything that caught our fancy.

Most of my other friends (among them, ex-lovers and former students) who do not belong to our group which is loosely called The Midnight Society -- like Kaija Korpi, Raszceljan Salvarita, Donnie Calsena, Perfecto Medina, Jutsze Pamate, James Iain Neish, and John Stevenson -- are certified aficionados. Their photography amazes me.

Donnie Calsena's Negros Country

Raszceljan Salvarita's enter@yourownrisk

Even Bubu has increasingly shown a tendency for taking elegant shots with his camera phone. Like him, Kaija also has a very gifted eye for color and angle. Her pictures from Miyajima Island and Kyoto remains for me the best photographic evidence of those magical times when we traveled together. On the other hand, John, an American photographer, manages to transform his love for film noir to a black and white portrait of Dumaguete steeped in sad shadows.

John Stevenson's D.I.s

My close friends and I all have very divergent styles. Kristyn these days have taken to photographing the poetry of nature -- which means trees, and lakes, and flowers, and pelicans. She does them with picture-postcard perfection, and yet for me, they transcend that distinction by having a certain darkness to them.

Kristyn Maslog-Levi's Africa in My Backyard

Clee, on the other hand, is more eclectic, but mostly combines his startling images of Cebu city life with his graphic design. (Lately, he's been into homoerotic nudes.)

Clee Andro Villasor's Abstract

I love portraits, though. Young Filipino writers who have been through the Dumaguete workshop know of my annual project of taking a photo of each of them in poses and angles I deem right for their personalities -- often coming up with strange results. I also love shots of strange things done up in stranger angles -- like white monobloc chairs seething in the sunlight, like naked mannequins "dressed" up in newspapers, like shadows of tables creeping across wooden floors. I once had a series on television images -- something that proved ghostly: I love the touch of luminescence that got "transfered" from the small screen to my film. I had another series of photos of a friend taking shabu, back in the old days when I called myself a romantic rebel: I photographed everything of the intricate process, from him rolling out his aluminum foil and rolling it into a manageable tube, to him melting the crystals on a spoon, to him finally chasing the delicious smoke. I showed the photos to a visitor from Switzerland, who promptly paid me $200 for the entire thing. That was my first sale, and I still don't know even now what the appeal was to him.

In an essay I wrote a long time ago, I quoted Susan Sontag who, in her seminal book On Photography, once wrote: "To collect photographs is to collect the world." I still find that true. I take photographs as haphazard mementos of this floating world, and to impose a kind of order -- just by clicking a button -- on the chaos of the everyday and the deluge of visual stimuli surrounding all of us.

[Read more about photography in a review of Geoff Dyer's new book The Ongoing Moment.]

* The page is in German, so kindly Google in a translation, if you want. There's also an interview here in Japanese, which you can easily translate to English. God bless new web technology.

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entry arrow12:49 AM | Pinoy la Vie en Rose

Astig! This digital film by Aureus Solito ...

... has just been accepted to premiere in the U.S. via the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, the first Filipino feature film to do so. (Ramona Diaz's Imelda was part of the program in last year's festival, but it is a documentary film, which subsequently won for Best Cinematography.) I have yet to see Solito's film -- although I cannot imagine it reaching as far as Dumaguete -- but all I've heard of this film has been mostly raves. Except when I read some magazines and newspapers like yesterday's Philippine Daily Inquirer (which had a feature on its young male star), and I find the boy's Born Again parents so gung-ho about their pious religiosity and their haphazard distancing from the movie's gay theme. Being of Born Again background, I know how this cha-cha works. Oh well, I just roll my eyes, and in mIRC chatspeak, I'd just love to slap their faces with a large trout.

On a related note, I'm still trying to realize a directorial dream of putting out Solito's play Esprit de Corps. I'm not sure I'm brave enough though.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

entry arrow12:29 PM | The Wages of Voting For Stupid

I really wanted to go home five minutes ago and have lunch, but this I had to post: people who voted for Dubya last year are now feeling a little stupid about it. Like, doh. (Say that Homer Simpson-like.) I always say people deserve the politicians they carelessly vote into office -- and I also mean all of you troglodytes who voted for PGMA (which reads like "pygmy" to me). Ah, politics. I'll leave the nuances of this to mlq3.


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entry arrow11:05 AM | Scintillating Life in 625 Pages

You know it's a very good book ...

... if you take time just caressing the cover and smelling the bound pages, and regretting every page turned as signal for the imminent end yet breathlessly reading on because of the liquid prose, the surprising insights, and the grandiosely detailed look at lives well-lived. Katharine Graham's Personal History is the thinking person's adventurous autobiography. You know it's a very good book when you want to put it down every so often because it gives you sudden urges to write something of your own.


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Friday, November 25, 2005

entry arrow5:03 PM | Lamangan Update No. 1

Rereviewed Joel Lamangan's Deathrow and Mila, and yes, there were signs of impending nose-bleed, but I managed to hold my nose up in time. But I watched this ...

... for the first time. I purposely missed its original run, because I was already suffering from a Mano Po 3 and Aishite Imasu nausea attack. What can I say about this movie? Flat comedy that goes nowhere fast. Even its "much-heralded" (by whom? by Regal's PR department?) animation sequences are laughable. There are also countless mistakes in the movie that go beyond directorial ineptness. Eric Quizon and Kris Aquino are winsome, at the very least, but there's absolutely nothing to get from this rubbish. There are some funny moments, but it's basically a cheap remake* (complete with the obligatory death scene of the best friend) of the all-time gay film favorite Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey -- with the whole dynamics of Will and Grace thrown in for good measure. Come on now, Mr. Ricky Lee, admit the "homage" in your weary script. The singer JayR is largely wasted in a thankless role (where he plays Kris's newest beau), and it was also painful to watch a very woody Cogie Domingo try to wriggle out a performance. It was embarrassing. One of the directors I featured in that post texted me soon after to say that Joel Lamangan and Lily Monteverde actually deserve each other. I asked, "How come Lamangan is so respected in the local film world?" and the answer that came back was: "He is very good at posturing himself as a great director, and convincing other people of that." Oh.

Next: a rereview of Sabel and Walang Kapalit. Just pray that I don't get any more nose-bleed.

* Lamangan seems to be fond of this. In Mano Po 3, the teary scene in the car where Vilma Santos must eventually make her choice between Jay Manalo and Christopher de Leon, is an unabashed copying of a similar scene in The Bridges of Madison Country, where Meryl Streep must also make her choice between her husband and Clint Eastwood. Needless to say, Eastwood's film has more resonance.


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entry arrow4:00 PM | No Fiesta For Me (Where I Talk about Idols and Sacrificial Food, Extreme Cinema, Bad Keyboard Design, Stale Pan de Sal, and Chicken Barbecue)

What should be a day of relaxation just isn't. In fact, I'm getting a headache. But I needed to get out of my apartment, which was becoming too comfortable, you know what I mean? I had planned to finish Katharine Graham's Personal History somewhere quiet today, but I guess that's out of the question now. I'm in an Internet cafe instead, and it's already four o'clock in the afternoon, and I've reset this stupid computer assigned to me three times already. What moron of a designer thought of putting a "power" button right beneath the "delete" key in this goddamn keyboard? Every time I want to delete something, my fingers -- which move from sheer memory of previous keyboards -- almost always settle on the "power" button, and then my screen goes blank, and then I have to press the "wake" button, which takes forever to function. When it does, my mouse doesn't work anymore, and the cursor on my monitor is nowhere to be found. I can't do anything else except to press the reset button if I want to finish this goddamn post. Grrrr.

There's no class, of course, and the city is abuzz with the fiesta spirit -- you can smell the lechon in the air almost. But I don't really consider myself the type of person who makes much ado with fiesta treats, and who goes from house to house to get them. I do know friends who frequently bus out to farflung municipalities just to fiesta; I don't get that. I just don't see myself going to other people's homes and expecting to be treated to a feast of cholesterol-laden food. Perhaps that's because I grew up devoutly Protestant, and I still remember those old preachers from my childhood admonishing their Christian flock that fiesta food is sacrificial meals to Catholic idols. Today, my family is blah about that restriction: we still don't celebrate fiesta at home, but that doesn't stop us from going to other people's homes and eat their "sacrificial offerings to idols." Ahaha.

So I woke up today quite late; almost noon, in fact. Then I went out to buy food in the corner karinderia. But what did I expect? It's closed for the fiesta, darn. To amuse myself while I griped and while I watched, back-to-back, Oprah on Star World and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Jack TV, I brewed some coffee with the last of my paper filter, and ate the pan de sal I bought last night from the nearby bakery. They were not fresh anymore. Nice lunch, I told myself. Eventually, stale bread proved too meager enough to settle my hunger pangs, so I showered, dressed up, and went straight to Jo's for some chicken inato, bird flu be damned.

Later, in the local pirates' lair, I bought a DVD of Three...Extremes, the anthology movie of extreme shorts megged by Fruit Chan (Dumplings), Takashi Miike (Box), and Chan-wook Park (Cut). Miike I already love because of Audition, which sealed for me once and for all how dating could be deadly, it could cut you to the bone like a fine piece of string. I've already seen last week Chan's feature-length version of Dumplings, which considers the idea that the way to looking young for eternity is to eat dumplings made out of ... unborn fetuses, and I loved it -- particularly the scene of the reddish globs of fetuses being chopped to fine pieces by the creepy/lovely Bai Ling. The fact that the movie was photographed to perfection by the acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle made the whole process look delicious. How do you reconcile that with your moral bearings? You're being offered a cinematic vision of fried fetus, and you find yourself licking your chaps. The short version supposedly has a different ending, so that made me want to take a look into the anthology movie. I wonder why extreme cinema never made a dent in Philippine filmmaking, the way it has in Hong Kong, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. Maybe we're not that sophisticated enough to muster some courage?

I also bought Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, because I'm an anime freak, and Ross McElwee's Bright Leaves, a documentary about tobacco, because I've been on a non-fictional mood lately.

I plan to watch Doom, too, because I've heard it's really a stupid movie. And I need that now: to waste away the rest of the afternoon watching something stupid. Then I could call it a day, and go to sleep early. Tomorrow, things go back to normal in Dumaguete. I have a three-hour Philippine literature class to attend to, and I'm really looking forward to going back to work. Seriously. Holidays are so cheap these days, they're a dime a dozen. There's already Monday's early celebration of Bonifacio Day to think about, and then Silliman University quickly follows that with a week's worth of intramural games. Sheesh.

I should really count my blessings, no?

I miss my bubu so much.

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entry arrow11:06 AM | Waiting...

Love is a force of nature. That got your attention, didn't it? Which may be why ...

... since I read the first slate of production news that came out about Ang Lee -- who directed the personal favorite The Wedding Banquet years ago -- now directing Pulitzer Prize-winning author E. Annie Proulx's story, "Brokeback Mountain," I was ecstatic. The story had caused a sensation when it was first published in The New Yorker (read the original story here, courtesy of Angela Solis), and now it has been adapted to a film. Can you say buzz? Can you say great expectations? Go to website and watch the trailer here. Then read the Newsweek article here. Then find out the production details here. Just watch it, watch it, when it comes to our shores. (If LaGuardia doesn't become too holier-than-thou, that is.)

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entry arrow10:31 AM | The Next Wave Away From Here

The American edition of Time Magazine has an article on Filipino teachers in the U.S., and discusses culture shock:

But coming to the U.S. can be a culture shock for people who have worked in countries where educators are accorded great respect. Despite their country's poverty, teachers in the Philippines seldom have to deal with the discipline problems that plague many inner-city public schools in the U.S. In the Philippines students are ritually deferential to teachers and stand to address them. U.S. school districts try to smooth the transition. Tasha Franklin, director of training and teacher development for Baltimore's teaching residency program, led a four-hour workshop in October for the teachers Duque had hired in Manila.

After putting them at ease with softball questions about what inspired them to teach and how they responded to challenges, she asked them how classes in Baltimore compared with ones the teachers had had in the Philippines. Franklin, like most of Baltimore's students, is black, and the Filipino teachers were hesitant to respond at first, fearing they might offend her. "Back home it's so different. It's all obedience and respect," said one. "Here the students are, um, very direct, very bold." Franklin nodded but pushed for more. "Please don't be polite," she urged. Shyly at first but then with increasing frankness, the teachers spoke up:

"They get free lunches, and yet you hear them complain that they don't get anything from the government. In our country poverty means nothing -- no food, nothing."

"They're loud."

"They're intimidating."

I don't think I can ever do this.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

entry arrow4:30 PM | Update on the NVM Gonzalez Fire

From Janet Villa

You may send cash or donations in kind to the University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing (ICW) or bring these to the Writers' Night on December 7 at the UP Hardin ng Diwata (Faculty Center).

See previous post for details about the fire.


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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

entry arrow1:10 PM | In History, a Glimpse of Dumaguete

(Because tomorrow, we celebrate fiesta...)

The ubiquitous motorcycles on Dumaguete's streets
(photo courtesy of Moses Joshua Atega)

It is best to see the city before it wakes. In the growing brightness of dawn, you see it in full light minus the garish distractions of traffic, and of the growing hordes that overwhelm the senses and disperse through the din. Every time I wake up early enough and jog through my routine -- past Tubod, through the quiet of Silliman campus, then to the beaten paths of the Boulevard to greet the sunrise -- I am convinced that this is the best time to commune with the city of my birth. Everything stands around me like images in still pictures, but concrete enough to behold in three dimensions. During these moments, I understand how the city works, how it casts its spells, how it negotiates through our endless skirmishes of hating it one moment for its smallness, and loving it the next for its charms and convenience. There is no place like Dumaguete: it is an aberration of a place, a cosmopolis trapped in small town garb.

The famous Dumaguete Boulevard
(photo courtesy of Myrza Sison)

Sometimes I can only imagine what it must have been like before Dumaguete became what it has become. Everyone says that our present is the sum of the quirks and nuances of our history. But contemplating even the march of change in a place like Dumaguete is difficult to do because this city retains this aura of having not changed at all. I can easily believe a Dumaguete -- as it is now -- fully formed from the start, like Athena jumping out of Zeus's forehead. Why? Because there is this sense of permanence that pervades the place, even in the way things move -- always slowly, like our Dumaguete weather remaining constant, unchanged.

I can only imagine the early Spanish conquistadores, led by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, catching a glimpse of the island from distant Bohol where he had settled in the beginning of his explorations. Our island for him was not too far -- he could see snatches of its mountains -- but everything was probably clouded in ancient mist and the haze of distance. Eager to reconnoiter everything in the name of the King of Spain, he had dispatched several of his men, led by his chief pilot Esteban de Rodriguez and assisted by Joan de Aguirre. They bundled together some supplies that would last them a week, boarded a frigate and set sail to investigate the mysterious strait between Cebu and what was soon to be called the island of Negros. According to historian Caridad Aldecoa-Rodriguez, the current that caught the small expedition had been swift, and quickly carried the men to the southwestern coast of the unknown island.

It took the band so much longer than the time given them to explore what they set out to investigate. A week had already passed, and the Spanish men back in Bohol had given up as lost the frigate with Rodriguez, but on Holy Saturday, in 1565, the men returned looking healthy -- although the Bornean pilot Tuasan was inexplicably missing.

The men spoke of the island of Buglas, and said that it was peopled by dark-skinned natives, hence Negros. The natives were mostly forest dwellers, and were said to be squat, black, and wiry-haired, and among them lived the proto-Malays, variously called Bukidnons, Montes, Manayans, Carolanos, Mondos, and Ambaks. But, save for traces of these primitives, the place was mostly deserted. The natives of the other Bisayan islands considered Buglas to be a remote and almost uninhabited island, where the god Laon lived in a volcano and who, when he was angry, would spew out lava to punish the people below. But what settlers there were also worshipped a great number of gods, each tasked to certain functions in everyday living. They believed in anting-anting or charm, in abat or evil sorcerers, and in onglo or forest creatures, as well as in omens and evil spirits who lived in rivers, big rocks, and dalakit trees. They had no belief in the afterlife, nor believed in a heaven or hell -- but they appeased their pagan gods with rites in caves or under trees performed by the babaylanes, women priestesses who had a spiritual connection with their animist spiritual world. I think of that world which used to be familiar of the place where we now live -- and there are stirrings of ancient spirits.

It was said that the people the Spaniards found in those scarce settlements along the coasts were hostile to the newcomers, quickly fleeing to the mountains at the sight of them or at the sound of the white men's guns and cannons. But finally Rodriguez and his men found an old man and a boy in a village, who told them stories about the island, and about the other settlements that could be found inland.

Miguel de Loarca, in Relacion de las Islas Filipinas, estimated that the population of Buglas at that time, in 1580, was somewhere between six or seven thousand, and that the side of the island facing Cebu was sparsely populated. The densest areas were those between Tanay and Dumaguete, and settlements such as Nayon, Namaylan, Vinaluagan, and Ilog dotted the environs -- small places which could just rightly be called family clusters, all of which were mostly peopled by migrants from Cebu and Bohol.

But Buglas -- and Dumaguet -- was largely a peaceful place, and by 1582, the population had grown to twenty thousand. Buglas, for the most part, was considered a remote wilderness, with no economic, cultural, or social significance. It was a geography of stasis, of often stifling unchangability -- and it would remain so until almost three hundred years. And perhaps even until now. You can still smell that ancient quiet.

Dumaguete's old church, convento, and watch tower in 1890,
taken from Dean C. Worcester's The Philippine Islands.

What the Bell Tower looks like today

In 1890, in his survey of the Spanish-controlled archipelago, the American statesman Dean Worcester visited Dumaguete and described the barrio as a typical Bisayan town of the better class, whose people were largely prosperous. Its shops, after all, were well-kept by its Chinese merchants, and catered to a population that numbered around 8,000. In good condition, too, were the church and the convent adjacent to it, and standing near both was -- and is -- the Bell Tower, which served then as both belfry and watchtower, particularly for the Moro invaders who would regularly steal through the place and pirate everything away.

Negros, for the most part, had been a favorite raiding place by the Moros, starting in 1600 when the Spaniards abandoned their fort in La Caldera in Zamboanga in 1599. After that surrender, the Moros periodically stole into the island, most destructively in 1722, 1754, and 1785 -- burning the barrios in Dumaguete, Budiong, Dauin, and Siaton. They burned rice fields, cut coconut trees, and killed all domesticated animals. Rodriguez writes: "In 1839, Moro pirates attacked Dumaguete, Bais, Amblan, Dauin, and Bacong. They killed or kidnapped the inhabitants, and carried away articles of value from the churches and houses. On June 2, 1860 the Moros attacked the town of Guihulngan and destroyed or hauled away many valuable things. The beautiful convent of Guihulngan was burned to ashes."

It may be said then that Dumaguet -- the first Christian pueblo facing Mindanao -- chose in particular St. Catherine of Alexandria, herself a warrior-saint, as its patron, perhaps to signify protection for the place from the Moro marauders. "Dumaguete," of course, comes from the word "daguet," which means to kidnap or to snatch, as Moro raids happened all the time in its history. Imagine a typical day when vintas would suddenly appear in the horizon. The bell in the watchtower would ring in rapid succession, and everybody would then scramble to run to the mountains. Those who were too slow, or too sleepy, would then be boarded into the vintas to be sold as slaves in Sandakan, Borneo. But once, the image of St. Catherine of Alexandria that was placed at the center of the church's altar was found to have plenty of amor seco seeds clinging to the hem of her dress. The people invariably thought that the image had gone out at night to drive away the Moro raiders from the shores of Dumaguet. Legend says that she did this by commanding the bees -- which lived abundantly in the tall antipolo and mango trees that used to line our shores -- to attack and drive away the marauders. But the Moros ceased coming when the Spanish navy started using steam vessels which ultimately ended the raids.

The old Casa Tribunal in Dumaguete in 1890,
taken from Dean C. Worcester's The Philippine Islands.

In 1890, when Worcester visited, he found a Casa Tribunal which was a little more than ordinary, being made of nipa, bamboo, and hardwood. "It was unusually comfortable for a building of its kind," wrote Worcester. Traversing through the small place, he found that there was no real market, but that there was the so-called tiangue, which was merely a nipa roof extending out of the wall to shelter people from the elements. This was located on the north bank of the mouth of Banica River, in a place called ihawan -- where people sold cow meat, carabao meat, and pork, as well as corn and tobacco. The Gobernador P.M. then was Don Antonio Fovar Mascoleta, with Fr. Mariano Bernad as Cura Parocco. Don Esteban Coxino was Gobernadorcillo, Don Cecilio Flores was Capitan Pasado, while Don Leon Flores and Don Marcos Ossila were Cabezas actuales. Eight years later, Dumaguete's population had grown exponentially, and the town now had fifteen cabezas de barangays. Although brigandage -- particularly notorious are the exploits of Buhawi and Camartin -- was still a problem, already there were small signs of progress. For example, mail services in Dumaguet and the rest of the island was exemplary, performed by pollistas (forced laborers) and cuadrilleros (foot soldiers).

But before sugar was introduced to the island in 1850, Negros -- and Dumaguete -- largely had a static economy, and was a disappointment for the Spaniard. Progress was limited. There were no roads, and infrastructure was non-existent. According to Fr. Pedro Sanz, "the island was submerged in the most scandalous misery, scandalous because the misery or poverty was due to negligence and laziness." Which might seem evident in this: the natives, after all, were content with their lot in life. They planted a little palay, some corn, some camote -- just enough to meet their necessities. A lot which seems to ring true even today. The Spaniards learned to stay away, to live in the bigger and more populous districts in the islands like Cebu or Iloilo, although they still charged the natives for tributes in beeswax, honey, and rice. Fishing was not considered an important livelihood at all. Cacao and corn were introduced as agricultural alternatives to jumpstart the local economy -- but both proved to be disastrous failures, the crops having been eaten away by the swarms of locusts that plagued the island. But the opening of Iloilo to world trade in 1855 and of Cebu in 1860 increased the commercial potential of Negros, and locals soon found out that agriculture could pave the way to economic progress. Rodriguez writes: "By 1855, according to the exact date taken by each parish priest, the produce had reached 618,120 piculs whose value, calculated at P3.50 on the average, gives the astonishing amount of P2,163,420."

Sugar, in a sense, transformed Negros. By 1870, because of migrating Spanish and foreigners hoping to make their fortunes in sugar, the population had increased to 187,130.

And yet, life for the most part remained simple.

The only feast day was dedicated to the patron saint, and was celebrated simply. Gov. P.M. Victor Espada described the typical fiesta in his Memorias de Negros Oriental in 1892: "In the morning there is one solemn sung mass and sermon, a procession followed in the afternoon. During the day some divert themselves by witnessing a moro-moro or encanaz. In general they pass the day in the cockpit which is their favorite diversion. In the evening, they light some fireworks and with this, it can be said that the fiesta has ended. It is very rare that there is dancing in the day or night...."

How things change. And how things also remain the same.

Happy fiesta, Dumaguete!

(The historical information here is taken from
Negros Oriental and the Philippine Revolution by Caridad Aldecoa-Rodriguez, published in 1983 by the Provincial Government of Negros Oriental. The book, together with three other volumes which comprise the province's history, is available at Village Bookstore, Noblefranca St., Dumaguete City.)

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Monday, November 21, 2005

entry arrow4:01 PM | A Legacy in Flames

NVM Gonzalez was the compleat Filipino writer, whose works -- although written mostly in English -- had that unmistakle texture of the native that made them distinct from the literary outputs of most of his contemporaries, like Joaquin, like the Tiempos, like Arcellana. Iconic still in the teaching of Philippine literature is the image of Lupo in the river. His novels were masterful studies of the common tao (usually a kaingero or a fisherman in Mindoro), and even The Bamboo Dancers, that strange novel which is more cosmopolitan than the rest of his ouevre, can still be studied as a piece that tries to situate the common Filipino as he is in the world. Teaching The Bamboo Dancers once, a long time ago, was also a joy of studying the subtle touches of character and narrative that only the true master can do. (Most Filipino writers -- both of the printed word and the cinematic -- can do well to study that non-hysterical style.) When he died a few years ago, we in the Philippines felt it as a great loss. It was a harbinger of sorts that also signalled the gradual passing away of the old masters, which happened in the ensuing years. But, we told ourselves: they will live on in their works and in our memories. But now, most of those works by Gonzalez, as well as mementos of a life well lived, are gone, in flames. The Manila Times, with Bing Sitoy reporting, has the complete story.

I'll soon be posting information on how to send donations or help, if you want.

[this news via a text message from Susan Lara and an email from Janet Villa, my co-winner in the 2003 NVM Gonzalez Award]

Update from Gemino H. Abad:

I visited with Narita yesterday. She is taking it very well, and speaks of rebuilding their cottage. It was her dream before the fire that their cottage would also serve as an NVM library and museum. At the moment, cash donations would be deeply appreciated. Lili (Liliosa Mangosing) Evangelista will soon go to the Philippines. [For those who are U.S.-based], you might, I think, give her your donations. Later in the future those of us who have some NVM memorabilia (photos, letters, etc.) might donate them also to Narita. I do not have the address of the Lesaca family -- Narita's immediate neighbor -- where Narita and family are staying temporarily. You can use my address, if need be:

Gemino H. Abad
Department of English, Faculty Center
University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City

Send your help now. You can also read Babeth Lolarga's report from the scene in Frank Cimatu's blog.

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entry arrow12:13 PM | Online Hawker

Why is there suddenly advertising all over Eating the Sun? Heck, I have a friend who just received a little more than $200 for just fifteen days worth of ad space with a certain pop-up advertiser. That's more than I officially get in a month. So I'm jumping on the advertising bandwagon. Who says maintaining a blog doesn't pay? Ehehehe.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

entry arrow6:43 AM | The Depths

Who wouldn't love the pirate who gives you a regular dose of obscure French cinema, porn, independent films, Japanese manga, and documentaries that will never get shown in local theaters?

I just bought the DVD of James Cameron's Aliens of the Deep. The Titanic director seems to be straying far from the realm of fiction now, and heading straight into the world of fascinating fact. (And I guess me, too: I've been watching more documentaries this year, and reading more non-fiction books, including Katharine Graham's autobiography Personal History, borrowed from Dominique Cimafranca. And the stories I'm writing of late are more historical than anything I've done in the past. Which may be a strange comment to make, since most of my old stories are autobiographical. As one friend once commented, after reading "The Players," a particularly nasty look into the lives of college students in Dumaguete: "This is not fiction, Ian. This is an entry from your diary." Ahaha. Ha.)

But to go back to Cameron's new documentary: it's fascinating because it presents life thriving even in the most hostile environments on earth (or at least, in the depths of its seas -- where there is no sun [the dynamo that makes our lives on earth possible, one of the movie's scientists proclaim in the beginning of the movie: "In a sense, we are all solar-powered," she says] and thus no photosynthesis, and where there are extremes of pressure and temperature).

Roger Ebert, in his review, writes: "Aliens of the Deep is a convincing demonstration of Darwin's theory of evolution, since it shows creatures not only adapted perfectly to their environment but obviously generated by that environment. It drives me crazy when people say evolution is 'only a theory,' since that reveals they don't know what a scientific theory is. As the National Geographic pointed out only a month ago, a theory is a scientific hypothesis that is consistent with observed and experimental data, and the observations and experiments must be able to be repeated. Darwin passes that test. His rival, creationism, is not a theory, but a belief. There is a big difference."

Thumbs up, Ebert.

On that note, everyone should read this great article by 2001 Nobel Prize winner for Physics Eric Cornell, which he wrote for a recent issue of Time Magazine, about the festering controversy regarding the teaching of Intelligent Design, which is really creationism tarted up as "science." It's in an online archive you must subscribe to, but you can go right ahead and buy the issue in your newsstand. It's the one with Steve Jobs on the cover.

But what the heck, I'll be a pirate myself and just post the whole thing here:

What Was God Thinking? Science Can't Tell

By Eric Cornell

Scientists, this is a call to action. But also one to inaction. Why am I the messenger? Because my years of scientific research have made me a renowned expert on my topic: God. Just kidding. You'll soon see what I mean. Let me pose you a question, not about God but about the heavens: "Why is the sky blue?" I offer two answers: 1) The sky is blue because of the wavelength dependence of Rayleigh scattering; 2) The sky is blue because blue is the color God wants it to be.

My scientific research has been in areas connected to optical phenomena, and I can tell you a lot about the Rayleigh-scattering answer. Neither I nor any other scientist, however, has anything scientific to say about answer No. 2, the God answer. Not to say that the God answer is unscientific, just that the methods of science don't speak to that answer.

Before we understood Rayleigh scattering, there was no scientifically satisfactory explanation for the sky's blueness. The idea that the sky is blue because God wants it to be blue existed before scientists came to understand Rayleigh scattering, and it continues to exist today, not in the least undermined by our advance in scientific understanding. The religious explanation has been supplemented--but not supplanted--by advances in scientific knowledge. We now may, if we care to, think of Rayleigh scattering as the method God has chosen to implement his color scheme.

Right now there is a federal trial under way in Dover, Pa., over a school policy requiring teachers to tell students about "intelligent design" before teaching evolution. The central idea of intelligent design is that nature is the way it is because God wants it to be that way. This is not an assertion that can be tested in a scientific way, but studied in the right context, it is an interesting notion. As a theological idea, intelligent design is exciting. Listen: If nature is the way it is because God wants it to be that way, then, by looking at nature, one can learn what it is that God wants! The microscope and the telescope are no longer merely scientific instruments; they are windows into the mind of God.

But as exciting as intelligent design is in theology, it is a boring idea in science. Science isn't about knowing the mind of God; it's about understanding nature and the reasons for things. The thrill is that our ignorance exceeds our knowledge; the exciting part is what we don't understand yet. If you want to recruit the future generation of scientists, you don't draw a box around all our scientific understanding to date and say, "Everything outside this box we can explain only by invoking God's will." Back in 1855, no one told the future Lord Rayleigh that the scientific reason for the sky's blueness is that God wants it that way. Or if someone did tell him that, we can all be happy that the youth was plucky enough to ignore them. For science, intelligent design is a dead-end idea.

My call to action for scientists is, Work to ensure that the intelligent-design hypothesis is taught where it can contribute to the vitality of a field (as it could perhaps in theology class) and not taught in science class, where it would suck the excitement out of one of humankind's great ongoing adventures.

Now for my call to inaction: most scientists will concede that as powerful as science is, it can teach us nothing about values, ethics, morals or, for that matter, God. Don't go about pretending otherwise! For example, science can try to predict how human activity may change the climate, but science can't tell us whether those changes would be good or bad.

Should scientists, as humans, make judgments on ethics, morals, values and religion? Absolutely. Should we act on these judgments, in an effort to do good? You bet. Should we make use of the goodwill we may have accumulated through our scientific achievements to help us do good? Why not? Just don't claim that your science tells you "what is good" ... or "what is God."

Act: fight to keep intelligent design out of science classrooms! Don't act: don't say science disproves intelligent design. Stick with the plainest truth: science says nothing about intelligent design, and intelligent design brings nothing to science, and should be taught in theology, not science classes.

My value judgment is that further progress in science will be good for humanity. My argument here is offered in the spirit of trying to preserve science from its foes -- but also from its friends.

There you go.


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Thursday, November 17, 2005

entry arrow1:19 PM | Random Things to Amuse Me While My Stress Level Shoots Up Because of Work

I'm barely breathing, but here are some things to amuse all of us...

1. National Public Radio presents The Gospel According to Oprah.

2. William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Told Entirely in Emoticons.

[via bookslut]

3. Isagani R.Cruz now blogs.

4. Pure evil.


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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

entry arrow11:53 PM | On the Necessity of Travel

Last of Three Parts

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

"Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience. He that traveleth into a country before he hath some entrance into the language, goeth to school, and not to travel."
--Francis Bacon, "Of Travel" in
Essays (1625)

It was around this time, on November 1997, when I decided -- together with one Dutch and two Finnish friends -- to go backpacking through the length of Japan. It was the beginning of autumn break, the leaves were slowly turning golden, and there was a nippiness in the air that was quite unfamiliar to me, the sole tropical boy in the bunch. The Finnish girls Kaija and Anu, and I had earlier decided to winter later in December in Hokkaido, of all places, while Martin -- our tall golden Dutch boy -- was intent on visiting Nagano later that year, where the Winter Olympics was being held.

This was our last chance to vacation together, so by the time the school term ended, we had mapped and budgeted out our travel plans. This was, in a sense, our way of bonding close as much as we could before facing the farewells that we knew would come by the following year. We also wanted to see as much of Japan as possible. We loaded our cameras, and packed our bags.

We decided to start way out west, as far from Tokyo as possible, without getting on an airplane, managing our itinerary only through our Japan Railways reservations. I had always dreamed out of traveling by train. In the Philippines, this is mostly an impossibility; what trains we have are rickety affairs that do not conjure the romance of rail travel -- but we do make up for it, I think, via mostly fascinating boat trips and bus rides. But I am digressing.

The best way out of Tokyo to our starting point in Hiroshima -- 894.2 kilometers away -- was the shinkansen, Japan's famous bullet train, which could easily crunch what could be a day or thereabouts of travel time into a span of only three hours and fifty minutes. From Hiroshima, it was decided we would course through a route that would include Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. That way, we could have the best sampling of the country: from the ancient (with Nara's old temples and Kyoto's geisha districts) to the modern (with Osaka's well-defined cosmopolitan feel). In Hiroshima, we knew we could take in the historical as well: this was ground zero, after all, of one of World War II's gravest atrocities -- the A-bomb.

But this is not really an account of the travels I have done when I was a much younger man. What I really want to talk about is how important travel is for any man, or woman. And eventually, what I want most to talk about is how one such traveling can take you to detours you've never planned, and which eventually could change your life.

I had exactly one such detour. You see, we took an unplanned day trip to the outskirts of Hiroshima. And saw the most beautiful place on earth.

Miyajima Island -- which literally means "shrine island" -- is set in a tranquil inland sea and is accessible only by ferry. Our day until then in Hiroshima had been marked by autumnal rain, the cold kind that falls softly and creates mist. Which seemed strangely appropriate for our excursions to the Peace Park, where all memorabilia of the nuclear bombing are enshrined. At the end of that excursion -- nearing four o'clock in the afternoon -- I had suddenly pointed to an entry in my travel book. "Miyajima," I told my friends, "I want to go there next." It was unplanned; but somehow the normally quiet Asian boy got his way among the more aggressive European types. When we eventually arrived, what we saw was probably the Japan of our dreams. The first thing one sees is the grand Otorri gate, resplendent in deep red, that guards the entrance to the island -- and frames Misen San, the island's highest peak. Traditional houses and shops of exquisite beauty -- looking almost like paper houses laced with grids of wood -- dotted a perfectly preserved landscape, the abundant color of which was the green of the grass made damp by the passing rain. There was the famous pagoda and there were shrines and temples, and there were lamps -- both along roads and on the water that embraced the tiny island, and there were those red arches -- the torii -- that symbolized "passage" in this land of the rising sun. That there were hundreds of deer roaming all over the place was an extra bit of magic. This is it, I thought, my travel's fairy tale.

I've always believed that that late afternoon detour changed the way I viewed my life, and my place in this world. I began to believe in the magic of chance and discovery. I began to appreciate what was beautiful -- and to strive for it. I began to appreciate what was strange to me, and to readily embrace it. I began to see the world as a Chinese box, always full of surprises and hidden depths.

The life I've lived for the past thirty years has largely been a fortunate one, if only because it has taught me a fundamental truth about what it means to have lived at least moderately well: to be able to appreciate things deeply, and with such a huge capacity of spirit, one must acknowledge the necessity of travel.

It is a poor man, indeed, who does not get to travel. (When I say "poor," I am talking in the sense of spiritual fulfillment, not economics.) Stasis -- the fact of having remained only in one place, and never having ventured forth to what is promised beyond the horizon -- is tantamount to a metaphysical kind of blindness. Or geographical paralysis of soul. Or, however you might put it -- but the emphasis is on the static life that has known no adventure.

Various wise men from all of history have prescribed travel as a requisite part of growing up -- because it means two things: that you are finally able to leave the stifling (and it is always indeed stifling) confines of your comfort zones; and that you are also finally able to encounter strange things and strange peoples that will help you realize what is the unifying truth about the universe: that this is a marvelously diverse world, made colorful and vibrant because of that very diversity.

We can only learn to appreciate all our differences when we get to travel, and that is what is needed to achieve the harmony that eludes us all. All wars, if we must be reminded, starts from the premise of a consuming need to mandate sameness -- of religion, of race, of politics. To learn to appreciate the diverse is the surest way to a world at peace. But alas, most of us are trapped in the confines of small places. Make that a metaphor for a state of mind, and there you go. The most narrow-minded people I know and who affect the worst kind of discrimination in society (and thus stagnate it) are usually people of these two kinds: non-travelers, and non-readers, which is really a kind of adventure travel via the imagination.

It should be laid down as law: one must travel extensively before the age of 30. Or else risk having every ounce of our ignorant prejudices become the essence of our lived lives.

Someone once said that the Philippines is a country invented by writers. I think that person was thinking of Rizal and his revolutionary contemporaries when he came up with that very thought. I will go even further and say that it is also a nation invented by travelers. The ilustrados of our noble, heroic past -- count among them Rizal and his ilk -- were largely travelers. And their very travels became the objective correlative for the fact of their "eyes opening": in Spain, for example, they saw how democracy could be so sweet. In other lands they had visited, they saw the kind of progress they could only hope to achieve back in their native shores. This is particularly true of many of the educated people in the West who see to it that they travel Europe, or the rest of the world, as part of their education, and before they finally take on the responsibilities of adulthood.

Some people are pessimists and readily take into account "expenses." But I know so many people -- myself included -- who travel on charm and a shoestring budget. And you don't even have to go far to partake of travel. The Philippines has infinite places to start our legs wandering. The saddest thing is, I know of many Dumaguetenos who haven't even gone beyond the Boulevard -- not to Apo, not to Siquijor, not to Casaroro Falls, not to Lake Balinsasayao. Not even Bayawan, or Canlaon. What sad, boring lives they must live.

To travel is to commune with the world, and in the process you become a repository of great things observed in the course of that travel. Without travel, you cannot truly say you have managed to live well at all.

In photo: With Kaija Korpi and Martin Slot.


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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

entry arrow7:09 PM | From Baguio With Love

Frank Cimatu now blogs.

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entry arrow12:41 PM | Breather

I'm in an Internet cafe downtown, and I'm waiting for the goddamn stores to open after this slooooow lunch break. I find myself cursing this pratice of small-town stores closing around noon. Makasapot kaayo. This is wrecking my whole schedule, really, and I'm angry. I'm already sleepless. And harried. And caffeine-deprived (at least for the day) since I had to rush from bed to printing out my script and program to showering to meeting with the committee and the University President this morning. Ayayay. I do like the rush of the work, but I have to admit I'm feeling a littte pooped right now. I'm definitely getting a facial later. So to cheer me (and you) up, here's something to merrily shock us through the day...

Why? Because he can. As Ricky Reyes would say with that lilt of his, "Ang gandaaaaa...."

[via nesting ground]


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Monday, November 14, 2005

entry arrow6:44 PM | Cross Your Fingers, World

If this is true, then this is the biggest good news to come in a very long time. Should we celebrate in the streets? Not yet, not yet... But God, I hope we can. Soon.

[via criosdan]


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entry arrow1:41 PM | Whoopsie

Oh, look. I find myself busy again with committee duties for Silliman University. (We're in search for our twelfth University President, and -- as usual -- I'm in charge of the program for their forum this Thursday.) Holy ulcers ... See you around, guys. This won't take long.

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

entry arrow2:10 PM | The Last of the Beat Generation Speaks Up

There was a time, when I was an angst-ridden teenager, and I devoured most of their works like a fever, from Allen Ginsberg to Jack Kerouac. I still look back fondly on those inclindations, but the angst has ebbed away like most remnants of youth. But here is Lawrence Ferlinghetti in The New York Times Magazine. He may be the last of that generation of writers we call the Beats, and here he is speaking up, and still making some sense. An example:
... It's high time we honored this endangered species... the literarians in the world, and there are millions of them. They are not considered the dominant culture in this country. What's called the dominant culture will fade away as soon as the electricity goes off.

Are you saying the word "literarians" refers to all readers of books, as opposed to people who prefer their culture plugged into an electric socket?

Yes. In the 60's, there was a famous slogan,"Be Here Now," which in fact was a best-selling book by Ram Dass. Today, with the cellphones, the fax, the Internet, the whole schmear - the slogan you have today is "Be Somewhere Else Now."

Ahaha! Oh, well. And with that, I have to go and write something. (Or maybe read the rest of the Saturday away with a really juicy book.)

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entry arrow7:15 AM | Like Waking Up to Bliss

Gentle rain on a Saturday morning, the sky a smiling hue of damp silver. Dewdrops on the leaves right outside my window. The smell (and then the creamy taste) of perfectly brewed coffee. Annie Lennox's Medusa playing in the background. A thick book in my hands. A message from a beloved Guam-based friend on my tagboard. A three-hour Philippine literature class to prepare for. I can't ask for anything more. Good morning, people, and have a heavenly day.


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Thursday, November 10, 2005

entry arrow9:47 PM | Google Knows Best

And now for a little experiment that demonstrates that the world's premiere search engine not only is funny, it's dead-on funny.

Type "FAILURE" in the search field, and like the best things in life, click "I'm Feeling Lucky." That will take you to the truth that defines all truth.

(Yeah, yeah ... but Google hastily explains why, too. Killjoys.)

[via muddynights]

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entry arrow12:51 PM | The Pursuit of Rest

Second of Three Parts

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

"If thou hast a fountain, shut it up; let even the fountain have a rest."
Alexei Konstantinovich Tolstoi, Collected Works of Kosma Prutkov (1884)

There is much in our culture to decry the idea of rest. The stillness that we take of the notion -- a picture one associates with withdrawing from a world of work to get some sleep, to watch a marathon of television shows, or to meditate on the slow setting of the sun in some faraway beach where silence is the only mark of being -- often makes "rest" become mistaken as a synonym for "laziness." The trickster folk tales of Juan Tamad becomes a case in point: here is a guy who takes rest to the extreme, because he falls asleep with mouth open waiting for the guava to fall on its own, rather than expend energy climbing the guava tree and getting the fruit himself.

Running through the literatures that treat "resting" in one way or another, one finds that the word itself is often associated with the notion of death or dying, sometimes in the physical sense (as in "May his soul rest in peace"), and often in the metaphorical (as in "going to seed," or becoming stagnant in the middle of creating). But even God needed rest. Our religious mythology of creation has him up to his arms creating light and the world for six days straight -- but on the seventh day, dammit, He rested.

Brought up in a family where the Protestant work ethic is the silent code for how things ought to be in the household, for me "rest" became marked with a sense of guilt. This must be why I cannot seem to say "no" to whatever it is requested of me. My best friend Kristyn in Sydney tells me that this may be my Achilles' heel -- overworking myself to death just to please other people. "You overwhelm yourself with so many responsibilities which you don't even have to take," she tells me constantly. Most days I agree with her. In my quiet moments, when night threatens to break into the darkest gloom of early morning and I still find myself sweating it out on a variety of projects, the only recourse is to cry. Or vomit.

Which was why it was a rare measure of self-regard when, at the end of a particularly hard semester where paperwork went beyond the decent, I decided to make the effort to go on a break -- and God bless GMA for making it possible; the wily dwarf's political missteps aside, she sure knows how to delight us with her gifts of giving us long weekends. It has always been my notion that the Filipino is a sad lot because he is overworked and often overeducated, but also highly underpaid; long vacations strewn throughout the year perhaps are only just.

I took to that unprecedented weeklong vacation by jumping my inhibitions, and deciding -- on the spot -- that I was going to Cebu, whether it was a good idea or not. Most people, I believe, restrain themselves from traveling by dreaming and drumming up projected expenses that will burn holes in their pockets -- but Kuya Moe (Atega) has taught me well the gifts of traveling far and wide on a shoestring budget, immense good will, and with a cellphone contact list that runs the gamut of Tawi-Tawi to Basilan. If you are a Sillimanian, you will also take note that proclaiming yourself an alumni may be the best ticket to enjoying any place with the best possible deals -- an enjoyable privilege of taking part of the so-called Silliman Spirit. Like the typical Filipino in the Diaspora, there is always a Sillimanian somewhere in any given spot in the globe.

That Monday, I packed whatever it was that passed for "traveling light" (a pair of jeans and shorts, four t-shirts, and an assortment of toiletries not readily available in a typical convenience store; it is also important to consider that one good pair of shoes that can pass for both casual and formal), and with Mark, proceeded to take the land trip via Sibulan and Lilo-an. (See previous post for the detailing of this adventure.) We mostly slept through the van ride of Cebu's southern country -- an interesting landscape that seems more Greek to me than Filipino. A little more than an hour later, the metropolis itself beckoned like an overly-painted woman: I loved the garishness of the ubiquitous billboards, the endless traffic that screeched, the heat that emanated from the asphalt and the friction of city people passing each other in their haste of running through their busy lives. In other words, something totally alien for the Dumagueteno -- a vacation from my idea of the usual.

In Cebu, we stayed in Apas along Lahug, in Camp Lapu-Lapu, on the immediate outskirts of the city's premiere IT Park, which is a large-enough enclave patterned after the Western idea of urban planning: you find here wide and concrete streets with brown bricks for pedestrian lanes; sidewalks lined with carefully maintained foliage; blocks and blocks of well-manicured lawns interrupted only by buildings that do not shame with their grand architectural statements. It is home to several off-shore contact centers -- one of which currently employs Mark as travel specialist. I think of the IT Park as the "front yard" to Mark's place in Apas, which is a more humble affair in the middle of an interesting neighborhood with small alleyways and intimately situated neighbors. Here, many of the denizens of the nearby contact centers stake their residence -- mere rest stops actually from their relentless schedules of being harried contact center agents, which, like how we constantly hear of it, sometimes require graveyard shifts.

While Mark went off to work, I made myself promise to do two things I haven't been doing lately, all in the name of "rest": sleeping, and reading. The malls were not even a consideration; there is only so much one can do promenading around the busy corridors of SM City and Ayala Center.

The sleeping part was easy enough to do. I slept twelve hours most days in the beginning of the vacation, my body soon becoming used to the sweet languor. Strangely, by the end, I had developed a weird preference for waking up at four in the morning where, after breakfast and coffee and shower, I could do so much more for the day. But it was a "doing" that had nothing to do with work, but everything to do with pursuing what relaxes. And that ultimately led to the second part of my vacation deal: reading.

First, I read Elizabeth Kostova's best-selling vampire tale, The Historian, which markets itself as a cleverer take on the Da Vinci Code appeal -- I think not so successfully (although Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review, I still say it's a weak historical novel). Second, I read Doreen Fernandez's book of essays on Filipino food culture, Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture, which gave me fodder (ehem) for understanding the cultural underpinnings of our palate. And then I read Barbara Leaming's Marilyn Monroe, an exhaustive biography of the movie star which I liked for its relentless parade of facts and anecdotes to her tragic story, but which I liked most of all for culling a strange conclusion about the creativity fostered in the menage a trois of Arthur Miller, Eli Kazan, and Marilyn, that spilled into such crucial works as The Crucible, After the Fall, The Misfits, On the Waterfront, and others. It is an interesting guide to how our private lives can be telling about our public efforts.

Three books, in one week. That was a record. I'd sit in Bo's Coffee House most mornings, drinking Colombian brewed coffee, after breakfast of fried eggs, rice, and hamonada at The Breakfast Club. And by the end of that week, I felt as rested as in any point in my entire adult life. Good rest, I think, is the ultimate recharger: it was only then that I truly understood how it could give you zest to pursue worthier things at the end of the vacation from regular life.

Why do we need rest? Conventional wisdom applies. Because our bodies are machines that need maintenance, that need some oiling and pampering. Because we will work best when we are at our prime. Because we need pause. Because it gives you a return ticket to the best parts of living -- which is reading in my case. Because there is nothing as enjoyable as watching sunsets on a secluded beach without giving though that in the next second, there are those deadly deadlines to beat. Because rest, if you ask me, is one way of really learning to love ourselves. (To be continued.)

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

entry arrow7:59 PM | More Random Finds (and Some Fleeting Thoughts) ...

... while I tackle the beginning of another school term...


A slice of Dumaguete in The New York Times. (It's all about the bangus nga kinilaw.)


Time's early signs of ambition. (Which gives me pause about my lot in life.)


SpongeBob is back! From CNN.com: "SpongeBob SquarePants is the most widely seen show in Nickelodeon parent MTV Networks' history... It has also generated nearly $4 billion in merchandise sales since its 2000 premiere. Much of that is adult-sized; about a quarter of regular SpongeBob viewers are adults, more than double the typical Nickelodeon show, Cyma Zarghami, Nickelodeon's chief executive, said. 'SpongeBob came at a time when the country was maybe a little bit blue, and SpongeBob was an endlessly optimistic character that came along and gave us a boost,' she said, trying to explain its popularity."

Naah, I don't think that's the real reason why, dearie...


Some utterly good news, specially that I had given up on the next few years as a conservative hell-hole. Bush is in deep, deep shit. Republicans are getting swept away from office. Intelligent Design in school just received its first big blow. Oh, thank heavens...


Barbara Jane Reyes reports from the Academy of American Poets, and finds some typical American bores.


What I would give to watch these...

on DVD again. These are some of my life's few movie-viewing pleasures... films that make me take pause, about the lies we tell ourselves to have beauty in our lives, about the subterfuge of resentment and loving that comes with every family, and about the artist in his process of creating....


I'm writing an essay, and I find myself listening to my old copy of the soundtrack to William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet by Baz Luhrmann, which I used to play over and over again in my Tokyo apartment.

I find myself still loving this album. Everything still sounds fresh here. Even soulful, and sometimes mad in that raw, beautiful way.


I like Keira Knightly, and find her beautiful just as much as the next man...

But her chin worries me. It's strangely distracting.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

entry arrow10:41 PM | Roger's Sage Advise to Filipino Writers

This guy, Roger Olivarez, knows shit. Reading this story from The Manila Times (who should know better than to publish publicity-drivel), where the guy advises Filipino writers on how to "break into" the international writing market, makes my blood boil, because he knows absolutely nothing. An excerpt:
"In the American publishing industry, there exists a trend to go global and there is a growing interest in Asian authors," he said. "Several writers from Japan, China, Hong Kong and Korea are already making names for themselves in the US. So far, not even a handful of Filipinos are getting this kind of break."
Hello? Jessica Hagedorn? Han Ong? Bino Realuyo? I have a feeling this Roger guy was being pompous just about the same time that Barbara Jane Reyes, current winner of the James Laughlin Award, makes her acceptance speech to the Academy of American Poets ... and reads them a poem, in Tagalog.

Olivarez noted that the success of these writers could be attributed to the fact that they've learned to follow the American standards in writing. He said there are many talented writers in the Philippines but they "must learn how to adopt to international standards."

"If you read the new books being published in the US, today, you'll notice that the chapters are very short. The paragraphs are also very short. This is done to make it easier for the reader...."

At this point, I had to stop reading and burst out laughing. If by "American standards in writing" he means Dan Brown or Danielle Steel, then no thanks. He's basically saying, "Hey, dumb down your prose for dumb Americans who can't read beyond two sentences strung together, and you're the next John Grisham." Did anyone say 'sell-out'?

And guess why he is making all these grand statements: to publicize his new novel. The title? Noli Me Tangere 2, a supposed update of the Rizal novel.


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entry arrow8:50 PM | Map Your Blogosphere!

Sometimes, one needs to know who are one's online neighbors....

So here's a snaphot of mine, courtesy of TouchGraph GoogleBrowser, which maps out everybody in the World Wide Web who links to you. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon? More like 19 clicks between Pinoy bloggers, according to Dean Jorge Bocobo, who thus pronounces: "No blog is an island!"

[via philippine commentary]

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

entry arrow8:08 AM | A Run-in With Contemporary Filipino Cinema

Just when I thought the Mano Po horrors have ended last year with what was supposed to be the last of a "trilogy" (trilogy, my ass), I get this from Manila Bulletin:
Since Regal Entertainment's Mano Po series began, it has become a staple in the annual Metro Manila Film Festival every Christmas season. This box-office hit series has also been expected every year with its followers looking forward to its stellar cast and its tear-jerking stories. This year though, the series takes a twist. Mano Po 4: Ako Legal Wife will still make moviegoers cry but from laughing hard as Mano Po 4 is a comedy!

A what?

What's worse: it's being directed by Joel Lamangan again, positively the worst Filipino director alive still working. That he is sometimes being touted as the successor of Lino Brocka galls me, because the proper inheritor of that distinction is Mario O'Hara, who proves it with Babae sa Breakwater. Lamangan, I tell you, is the symptom for all that ails Filipino cinema, considering that there are better filmmakers around him who are not as fortunate as him with regards amassing film projects.

Erik Matti, truth to tell, is still the better filmmaker because Matti is a master of visual stylistics that Lamangan can never hope to be. Given that cinema is still primarily a visual medium, that accounts for a lot. Consider, for example, the success and cult status of Terrence Malick, who may ramble on and on in The Thin Red Line, but he is able to give it resonance through imagery. And consider the grudging local respect still given to Celso Ad. Castillo who lifts the tawdry by garnishing it with vibrant photography. (Think Virgin People.) Matti only has to learn to make a good narrative to finally distinguish himself. I always thought Sa Huling Paghihintay was a stunning visual feast -- think of the scene where Bernard Palanca bicycles through a field of flowers, which easily reminds me of the best of Zhang Yimou or Wong Kar-Wai -- but the movie was hampered by a convoluted (actually non-existent) storyline. When he is not writing the script (such as in Mano Po 2), you see a glimpse of Matti's possibilities as a director.

Yam Laranas used to be of the same tendency. Radyo was an early indication of genius, which soon flowered into the visual mastery of Balahibong Pusa. Pusa, however, fell flat, story-wise. And yet I stil remember that scene in the rain, with Joyce Jimenez and the black umbrellas. Laranas, of course, has since graduated spectacularly with Sigaw, arguably the best of the lot in last year's ill-conceived Metro Manila Film Festival (which had three Lamangan entries!).

Do I still need to mention the Reds and Lav Diaz? Enough ink, I think, has been spilled chronicling their worthy efforts. Not enough attention has been given to Robert Quebral, whose irreverant and surprisingly intelligent Sex Drive has yet to see a follow-up. And what happened to Quark Henares whose Keka was an absolute delight?

I like the films of Mark Meilly, because they show a certain polish I wish becomes a significant and permanent part of Filipino filmmaking. What about Cesar Montano? A budding director whose Panaghoy sa Suba was well-received, he is still an unproven case. We have to wait and see what else he has to offer. Jose Javier Reyes, even with his commercial movies, can do no wrong for me because he infuses all his movies with a characteristic intelligence and wit, which should only be expected from the writer of Oro Plata Mata. When he is good (as in Toro, 9 Mornings, Pare Ko, and Radio Romance), he is very, very good. When he is not so good (as in Malikmata), he is still immensely watchable.

Rory B. Quintos and Olivia Lamasan, on the other hand, are promising directors who seem to come from the same mold as the early Marilou Diaz-Abaya, but they need to get out of the Star Cinema schtick, a "genre" of Filipino melodrama that may be effective but ultimately seems hollow. That said, I like their films, which seem to be a substantial inheritor of the old Viva glossy films. Their fellow woman-director Joyce Bernal seems to escape everybody's critical attention, but I think that's because she concentrates on what looks like mild fare (Booba, Super B, D'Anothers, and Masikip sa Dibdib). And yet there are days that I believe she may be our comedic equivalent to Buster Keaton (the director, and not as the comic actor) -- always overshadowed by others, but whose comic instincts will eventually be noticed. I have yet to find another person who cannot be reduced to sheepishly admitting that he or she enjoyed Booba immensely. (Wenn Deramas, in Ang Tanging Ina, comes close -- but that film seems to be a fluke. The guy still seems perfectly suited to small-screen dramatics. And please don't get me started on Mac Alejandre.)

I still say Jeffrey Jeturian is Ishmael Bernal's heir apparent. This guy has his finger on the nation's pulse, and constantly surprises and assures us with what he comes up with. Consider his filmmography. Sana Pag-ibig Na in 1998 showed us what he could do with a pito-pito film -- that even the starkest of filmmaking circumstances can still show a significant greatness if a great director is behind the wheel. In Pila-Balde, he showed us that he could take a trend (TF, in this case) and bend it to his will, so much so that by 2001 with Tuhog, he skewers even that trend (and the popular consciousness that let it flower), and starts a satirical mark that continues with Bridal Shower and Bikini Open. Heck, for a Tagalog, he could even do a Cebuano movie via Minsan Pa, and do it well. This guy is a genius. ("You say that because Jeffrey drove you to the airport once, in Manila, during a frightful storm," my conscience says. Trust me, this has nothing to do with my respect for the guy's abilities.)

I don't expect the elderly -- but still surprisingly active -- Eddie Romero to make any film soon. (Although how I wish that the National Artist -- a fellow Dumagueteno -- can make a film straight out of the sugar days of Bais and Dumaguete.) Among Joel Lamangan's older contemporaries, Laurice Guillen still churns out interesting and ambitious, if flawed, films like Santa Santita -- albeit an effort which becomes better when eventually compared to the lameness of American Adobo and the melodramatic embarrassment of Tanging Yaman. Our own answer to the masterful genre-bending capabilities of the late Stanley Kubrick, Mike de Leon, seems reclusive, his last worthy effort Bayaning Third World too cerebral -- a postmodern Rizal? -- for many unfortunate moviegoers to take. Maryo J. de los Reyes still comes up with interesting films now and then, but I miss the whimsical brightness of Bagets (which now seems to be Reyes's territoty) or the rawness of Working Girls (which also now seems to be Jeturian's territory). Peque Gallaga, with the mixed-reviewed Pinoy Blonde, is on his way to reclaiming his throne as local filmdom's major don -- but he will forever be haunted with such early successes as Oro Plata Mata and Scorpio Nights. (How do you top those?) I thanked God that the hectoring streak that marked Marilou Diaz-Abaya's run from Rizal to Muro-Ami to Bagong Buwan, finally ended with Noon at Ngayon, which proved to be a worthy if a bit lightweight sequel to Moral, despite the fact that everybody wanted to have the same cast of Lorna Tolentino, Gina Alajar, and Sandy Andolong back. Tikoy Aguiluz, who had been riding a critical high with such efforts as Rizal sa Dapitan and Segurista, ambitiously gambled with Tatarin, and fell flat. (Five words: Rica Peralejo as Amada? Ugh.) Today, he seems busy with his annual international film festival, a worthier effort than that infamous sacrilege on a Nick Joaquin favorite. Mel Chionglo, on the other hand, can be described as a fascinating example of a hit-and-then-miss director, whose works (Xerex, Burlesque King, Lagarista, Lahar, and Sibak) still run the cycle of critical wrath and praise. And what happened to Chito Rono? Feng Shui is the last film that still reminds us that this is the same director who made the wonderful Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa and Curacha, but he now seems lost in the limbo of coming up with a plausible film fantasy (Yamashita and Spirit Warriors, anyone?). I miss Chito Rono's films. I used to look forward every year to his films.

Heck, I miss the films of anyone of those I've mentioned above. They seem to be no match to the sheer quantity of Lamangan films coming out year after year. One friend once offered this telling joke last year, "They should rename the Metro Manila Film Festival the Joel Lamangan Plus Others Film Festival instead."

Every freakin' year, there's a new Lamangan film coming out of this supposedly dying national cinema, and every freakin' year, I tell myself, "Give this guy a chance. See the movie, and judge it for its merits."

And every freakin' year, I get out of the movie theater screaming for a refund.

Lamangan is Eternal Disappointment personified. Thirty minutes into Walang Kapalit, that 2003 Sharon Cuneta-Richard Gomez reunion movie, I bolted out of the theater, nauseated by the inept filmmaking, particularly the sloppy script and the strange editing technique that seemed like an experiment by a hapless director-wannabe rather than by a veteran. Bulaklak ng Maynila, Deathrow, Aishite Imasu, The Flor Contemplacion Story, and Sabel were embarrassing in their failed earnestness and self-importance, and Bugbog Sarado was a herculean mess that went nowhere fast. The only Lamangan films I like are Sidhi and Pusong Mamon, the latter still something I have to weigh because in the middle of production, Eric Quizon supposedly took over the director's chair.

What ails a Lamangan production? Is it a certain amateurish look in the production? But the movies of Gil Portes also show the same tendency (think of Miguel/Michelle, Saranggola, Mga Munting Tinig, and Mulanay), yet he still comes up with arguably powerful moviemaking. Is it a certain theaticality in the pacing? But Carlos Siguion-Reyna (the critic Noel Vera's favorite whipping boy) exhibits that as well, and can still come up with the remarkable Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya and Azucena.

I think it's a certain insincerity in the storytelling, coupled with a sometime technical conceit (the editing in Bulaklak, for example) that never works, and even (most of the time) a technical drabness that overwhelms everything. As a director, all he can offer are histrionics masking itself as drama (as in Filipinas). I wish for once that our movie directors, especially Lamangan, will stop believing in the notion that Filipinos like all that shouting in lieu of dialogue. Lamangan ultimately never excites, he never offers insights, and he has no sense of film composition. Give me a stunning mise-en-scene in any Lamangan movie, and I will give you a million dollars. I said "stunning," not "passable".

But to give the guy a break (because everybody deserves one), I am going to go into a two-month in-depth study of all his works, listed below:

Ako Legal Wife (2005)
Nasaan Ka Man (2005)
Sisteraka (2005)
Aishite Imasu (Mahal Kita) 1941 (2004)
Mano Po III: My Love (2004)
So... Happy Together (2004)
Sabel (2004)
I Will Survive (2004)
Filipinas (2003)
Bugbog Sarado (2003)
Ang Huling Birhen sa Lupa (2003)
Walang kapalit (2003)
Mano po (2002)
Bahid (2002)
Magkapatid (2002)
Hubog (2001)
Mila (2001)
Deathrow (2000)
Abandonada (2000)
Bulaklak ng Maynila (1999)
Warat: Bibigay Ka Ba? (1999)
Mister Mo, Lover Ko (1999)
Sidhi (1999)
Pusong Mamon (1998)
Bayad Puri (1998)
The Sarah Balabagan Story (1997)
Bakit May Kahapon Pa? (1996)
The Flor Contemplacion Story (1995)
Silakbo (1995)
Anghel na Walang Langit (1994)
Kapantay ay Langit (1994)
Pangako ng Kahapon (1994)
Hanggang Saan Hanggang Kailan (1993)
Ikaw (1993)
Kadenang Bulaklak (1993)
Hiram na Mukha (1992)
Ngayon at Kailanman (1992)
Darna (1991)
Kalapating Musmos (1986)

And then, by January, I will post a report. I will try to see each of these films with the eyes of a hawk, and try to dig for any semblance of merit, in case I didn't find any the first time around. Pray I will not develop a brain hemorrhage.

Some say that the savior of Filipino filmmaking are the digital films that are currently reaping raves from both critics and audiences. That may be the case. But as long as our critics -- save for a few like Vera, Ed Cabagnot, Gibbs Cadiz, and Lito Zulueta -- act more like PR people than cultural arbiters (did I say Nestor U. Torre?), and as long as our national cinema caters to subpar talents the likes of Lamangan, I swear Filipino film will continue to be looked on by so many as something hopelessly mediocre. This is something far from the truth, of course, but if the next best "effort" lauded everywhere is Mano Po 4: Ako Legal Wife, who can argue with them?


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