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

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

entry arrow10:52 PM | Old Photographs, and Dr. Albert Faurot

I love old photographs, especially the ones with white borders. There's something about their look -- the wear and tear, the creases in the corners, the faded prints, and sometimes even the dirt and the thumbprints marring the texture -- that gives them something extra special, a sense of history perhaps, a sense of an unarticulated story. On the last day of the National Writers Workshop, which was being held in the End House (the legendary Albert Faurot's Silliman residence, which was the site of the workshop the last time it was held in the university -- Dean's and Sarge's year, I am told), I chanced upon some old colored photos by a certain Don Luis.

Who was Don Luis? What is his complete name? Where is he now? Does he still do photography?

There were many copies of the two prints above which were left to rot in some hidden bin near a dilapidated bookcase, so I just swiped one copy of each. (No guilt, no guilt.) Hey, I like found things. I knew the house used to be a gallery for Silliman artists after Dr. Faurot's death, but the house basically was left to go to seed, most of its valuable paintings and prints and books ransacked and placed in odd spots around campus. I remember seeing, when I was still in college, Dr. Faurot's hardbound copies of Yukio Mishima books in an old shelf in the former School of Music. They were left there at the mercy of termites and silverfish. Of course I stole them, just because I pitied the way they were left discarded like that. I was also told that his collection of male erotica was gathered and burned by some moralistic troglodyte. His grand piano had never been tuned since the early 1980s. The house, after the artists were told to vacate the place, had become a boarding house for single teachers from the College of Performing Arts, and the grounds which used to be the gathering place for artists and writers from all over the world, was left to the crawl of weeds and what-not. Its name, the End House (because it can be found at the end of Silliman's Langheim Road), suddenly took on a different meaning. I am happy though that with the new University President, the Faurot house is being reclaimed from the doldrums of forgetfullness.

But it's sad to consider how people can be very forgetful. Dr. Albert Faurot is an unsung legend. He was a missionary from China who transfered to Dumaguete to teach in Silliman University, and made it a cultural mecca. He was a writer, a pianist, a nurturer of the arts, an exemplary professor. He wrote two influential textbooks on the arts -- Culture Currents of World Art and Culture Currents of World Music, the very first books on fine arts that I read as a kid. His influence was so that he was cited by 1996 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Toshihiro Takami as one who pointed him to the right path. From the Ramon Magsaysay Awards website:

Sometimes, when Takami could not find a job, he would cross two mountains on foot to the seashore to dive for clams. "No one taught me how to swim; necessity taught me. I sometimes carried two big sacks of clams on my shoulders over the two mountains back to my town and exchanged them for salt or rice. I did this kind of thing to support my family."

To find work or to earn extra money, Takami says he willfully cheated and lied. An instance of this occurred in 1951 when he was in Kobe: "One day I found from the classified ads of the Mainichi English newspaper that a missionary at Kobe College was looking for a cook. I thought that this would be the right kind of job and that I would try it. Opportunities come to us unexpectedly, and we have the freedom to seize them by stepping forward." So Takami had an interview with Professor Albert Faurot, an American missionary from Kansas who taught music and art at the Christian-run Kobe College. Faurot had just arrived from China, where missionaries were being evacuated in the wake of the communist takeover in 1949. He was unmarried and lived by himself.

"I learned some English in high school before the war," Takami says, "so I could handle some conversation. And I said [to Faurot] that I could cook. He was desperate. He was a single man and even today I think he doesn’t know how to make coffee."

"Okay," Faurot said, "come back tomorrow and you will start."

"That is the time I told a lie," Takami says, "that I was a cook. He believed me." But Takami adds that he did have some experience cooking in the Zen temple. "The monks took turns cooking but mostly they just watched the rice cook," he said. Then, after the war, Takami worked for six months for an American military family. He learned to bake biscuits and fry eggs and bacon. "But I never actually saw a cookbook," he says, and he certainly did not know how to plan a menu.

On his way home from the interview with Faurot, Takami went to a big bookstore in Osaka and bought himself a copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Every night, with the help of a dictionary, he translated new recipes into Japanese. "For some time I never served (Faurot) the same kind of breakfast or dinner," Takami says. "I think that, to this day, he believes that I’m a professional cook."

Working for Faurot, Takami’s life began to change: "I saw that he trusted me. When I said I was a cook, he said, ‘Okay.’ He fixed a salary and hired me. When I went with all my dirty clothes and one pair of torn rubber boots to wear, he said, ‘Okay, you will start living with me in the same house.’" Faurot fixed up a room for Takami next to his own and bought him a new desk, chairs, curtains, and bedding. "This was the first time in my life that I had a private room." Next, Takami says, "he gave me a large amount of money and a small notebook to keep accounts. He said my responsibility was to keep the house, plan meals, write menus, do the shopping, keep all records in the book, pay the bills, and report only once a month to him. I never met this kind of person before. I was ready to cheat and I knew how. But when I experienced such trust, this really began to change my own life. I couldn’t cheat this person. I began to trust this person, and I also began to trust myself."

Faurot never asked Takami to come to church with him. But Takami did see Faurot reading the Bible in English and going to church every Sunday. One day Takami asked Faurot to take him to church -- to the Japanese church. Takami was so impressed by the sermons preached by Dr. Hiroshi Hatanaka, the president of Kobe College, that he began to attend regularly. "I was so used to leading a very poor life that I thought the [Japanese] Bible was something I really shouldn’t spend money on." So he got himself a free copy of the Bible from a missionary, a small, pocket-sized New Testament that he read with the help of a dictionary. He began to attend Bible study. "When I came to the Gospel of John," he says, "this particular book spoke to me directly. Many times I had a very strong spiritual experience." And when he came to the story of Paul, he says "all the life that I had thus far experienced became meaningful." After that, Takami asked the pastor to let him join the church and to be baptized.

Eight months later, Faurot moved from Japan to Silliman University in Dumaguete City in the Philippines. Before leaving Japan, he arranged work for Takami with another missionary and also asked friends in Nebraska to help raise funds to further Takami’s education in the United States.

Dr. Faurot shouldn't be forgotten the way he is being forgotten now.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

entry arrow12:03 PM | The Girl Takes a Fall

Mark has better coverage of Miss Universe 2007, but the most shocking part of the whole pageant was Miss USA Rachel Smith falling on her arse...

Yay. (She still was fourth runner-up though. Japan, a poor imitation of last year's Kurara Chibana, won. At least some horray, an Asian girl finally got the Mikimoto.) The fall got me thinking. Every time we watch pageants kasi, there is always this secret wish that one of the candidates falls or trips for our cheap, demeaning entertainment. But to actually witness one happen, it was like ... whoa, that did not happen. Poor girl.

Then again, the girl may have taken a fall, but a country has taken a bigger fall as far as I'm concerned. Host country Mexico has done it again: giving itself a strained reputation for something coming close to pageant hooliganism with all their booing and general misbehavior -- the third time this sort of thing has happened (and always because their bet gets sidestepped for a worthier candidate). I'm wondering whether Miss Universe should ever set foot in Mexico again. Poor Miss USA, who seemed to be the object of their ridiculous booing. She didn't deserve any of this.


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Monday, May 28, 2007

entry arrow7:29 PM | Weird Things

[Because Mark tagged me.]

Each player of this game starts with six weird things about him or herself. People who get tagged need to write a blog post of their own, as well as state the rule clearly. In the end, you need to tag six people as well and list their names. Remind them that they've been tagged!

I have eight.

1. I clean at night. I do all my sweeping, mopping, and rearranging at night, usually starting around 8 o'clock, with Discovery Travel and Living Channel on. There's usually coffee on standby, and then I go about things slowly. It's a ritual. I usually finish around four o'clock dawn. It's a therapy.

2. I need absolute silence when I write. The slightest sound -- television, music, etc. -- makes me lose all my concentration, and I get frustrated. I have a silent grudge against those who don't get this at all.

3. I fear snakes, even the ones in books. A month ago, a teeny, teeny snake -- the size of a small earthworm -- got inside my pad, and I went nuts, even when I was smashing it with the hammer. I still have this memory from childhood: I was reading a book about nature and stuff, and when I turned the next page, there was this huge picture of a snake baring its fangs. I jumped up screaming, and my brothers just laughed at me. Then again, I have a fear of height, too. Every time I'm in a very high place, especially when I'm on a walkway, I get this strange urge to just jump.

4. I watch movies in the middle row, in the middle seat, in the middle section. Always.

5. I graduated cum laude in college, but I hate studying. Especially when all you're required to do is memorize stuff. I never studied in college. I hated memorizing. When I was studying Physical Therapy, I made it as far as third year, but I couldn't take going about things via rote memory anymore. My epiphany came when I went on my first hospital duty. With my smock and my black bag, I visited my first patient, and then told myself: This is not what I see my life to be. I must have stood on that hospital corridor for hours, grappling with a decision I knew I had to make. The next day, I told the Director I was quitting P.T. for good. This was in the middle of the term, mind you. I didn't study anymore, and when I took exams, I relied on plain "eeny-miny-moo" to get through the multiple choice tests. It was liberating.

6. I believe in doing everything and anything at least once. I'm already 31.

7. I am incredibly naive. You have no idea how naive I can be. My friends laugh at me sometimes because sometimes I just don't have a clue about what's going on. And sometimes people do get to use me (without me knowing what's going on) because I'm too trusting. But when I do wise up, there's no stopping how angry I can be.

8. There is a kinky side of me that I cannot divulge, because it will freak everyone out. It's so kinky it's unbelievable. Silence is the only recourse.

I'm tagging: no one. I'm a meme killer.

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entry arrow1:44 PM | Reports From the Lazy Zone

You must know that I am manic-depressive, of the non-threatening kind. I am amazingly creative and bubbling with ideas for long stretches of time -- but when every ounce of that has been spent, I spiral to silence and slovenly ways, often lasting for days or weeks, and are often very dark. Starting with my arrival from India, I've found myself in a minor depressive phase -- "minor" because I'm not depressed at all, only lazy. Then again, after the work and travel I've done in the past month, I think I can allow myself this respite from workaholism. And so I've allowed myself to put everything on hold. The apartment has gone to seed as well (it's a pigsty of neglect), and I've opted instead to watch trashy television, to read my newly-bought books (you have no idea how many I bought in India), or watching movies. Yesterday morning, while Mark slept, I rediscovered Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, which I had sniffed as being too blah the first time it came out. It's a minor companion to his more searing dramas like Interiors or Match Point or Crimes and Misdemeanors, but I like it because it allows itself to be funny even when it punctures all our notions of what makes a working relationship. All I needed to appreciate the film was a little maturity pala, and I did watch it more attuned to the pains and qualms of its story of two couples going through the minefield of marriage and relationship.

(Side note: Don't worry, Ma'am Ce. My response to Florin's article for Silliman Journal is a short story I'm titling "Consecration." I'm done with the first part na.)

Of course I know this slothful idyll has got to end soon. In fact it will end tonight, because I plan to wield the broom and the mop in a while, and proceed to wipe away every grime from my pad. (I always clean at night, don't ask me why.) And then it's a return to work. And I'll be truly happy.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

entry arrow3:46 PM | The Annual Dumaguete Workshop Portraits

And just like that, another workshop and another summer is over...

Taken after the last workshop session last Friday. From the top, LaVerne dela Cruz, Kristian Abe Dalao, Jan Paulo Bastareche, Sharleen Banzon, Sasha Martinez, Primy Joy Cane, Pancho Villanueva, Michelle de Guzman, Mia Tijam, Martin Villanueva, Krisette Sia, Justine Yu, Jennelyn Tabora, Janina Rivera, and Catherine Alpay. Robert Jed Malayang not in picture. (He just disappeared.)

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

entry arrow11:23 PM | Blank Proem

This morning, I crushed my spectacles getting up from bed. It broke under my foot like a human heart, fragile always to things that ram: your sudden lightning, for example, or how I become invisible. I've been walking around all day half-blind, groping for reasons why things break, or why lives fall apart at the slightest whiff of the proverbial camel's straw. As I cut through the blur and the aching throb pulsing from behind these eyes, I will give you only my blank spaces. Think: How silence can be louder than any cry. How some nothing from me should be something for you. How the heart can only take so much without your seeing for real how words can tear, how wounds can grow. How I ache to touch your eyes and your pain, and let you see there is a world behind the blindness, beautiful like clarity. I close my own, and wish you the gravity of quiet, the refreshing lull after the lightning finally spends itself.

And then of course, you wake up. In your eyes, I see the sun.

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entry arrow3:43 PM | The Search for Leafy Greens

UPDATE: There's a raging controversy whether those who eat fish and no other meat can ever be called a vegetarian, as in "pesco-vegetarian." I just found a more correct term for my preference: non-ovo-non-lacto-pescetarian -- someone who eats fish, but no dairy or eggs, and certainly not red meat. It's a mouthful, but here's to clarity.

When I was growing up in the early 1990s, my family lived in what was then the quiet boundary along Airport Road between Piapi and Bantayan, which was the veritable end of the world as far as Dumaguete was concerned. It was a place so far-flung from the rest of everything else that there was virtually no traffic, and the atmosphere -- unlike how it is now -- was almost that of the countryside’s. What is ABC now was empty lot then. Right across the street from where we lived, there was a small and quite popular restaurant called Tocho (in a house which has now become a part of the ever-spreading ABC).

Tocho, basically a converted garage with the front lawn taken over by little huts that covered customers from prying eyes, was owned by a certain Jun who had created in his small food business what would be the precursor for many of the current al fresco joints in town -- from Gimmik to Barefoot to Habhaban. Tocho was short for “tocino and chorizo,” which were the house specialty -- and everyday, many people would flock to Jun’s door to take their regular bites of the famous sweet meat. People like my old friend Krevo, for example, but who, one day, abruptly decided he needed to become a vegetarian.

Krevo had to approach Jun to make a deal with his boarding woes: since he could no longer eat meat, was it possible for Tocho to make vegetarian dishes as well? Perhaps careful not to lose a regular customer, Jun quickly said yes, and Krevo seemed genuinely happy with the prospect that his vegetarian restrictions could finally be met in a city not too keen on having meat as absent fare in everyday meals. Being a vegetarian in Dumaguete, it had seemed then, was to undertake the almost impossible: most Dumagueteños could not comprehend the slightest idea of a meatless dish, so much so that even an ordinary “vegetable” dish was often to be found sprinkled with tiny morsels (or worse, shreds) of pork or beef to make the presentation complete. But with Tocho seemingly on board with his lifestyle change, Krevo was happy.

Only much later did I notice he had not been going back to Tocho as he used to. “What happened?” I asked. Krevo shrugged with weary surrender and said, “They kept serving us cabbage, meal after meal after meal” -- an unfortunate instance that defines the very ignorance -- or apathy -- of most people when it comes to strict leafy dieting.
How time has changed since then.

A few weeks or so ago, I too decided that maybe it was time to give up on meat altogether. The reason was partly for health, and partly for principle: as Mark had often told me, it would not seem right for anyone to call himself an animal lover and still condone the eating of pork or beef or mutton or chicken -- meat that come to us tainted by the very cruel nature of the slaughterhouse.

It was Mark who first decided to make the switch to leafy greens when he saw on YouTube some videos from PETA that detailed the inhumane (and industry-standard) methods of animal massacre, just so we could sate our taste buds primed for dead flesh.

For me, it was easy enough to give up pork or beef altogether. Chicken, however, was another matter, given that I had always been a chicken boy all my life: my longtime idea of culinary heaven was a banquet of grilled chicken cooked Jo’s style.

Sometimes, though, principle wins, and I have never looked back since then, having found to my delight that not only were salad and tofu and vegetable dishes a delight, they also were quite healthy. My digestion improved, I seemed more energetic, even with the avalanche of stress that has come to define my work life -- and within mere weeks, I lost a total of 10 pounds and two inches from my waistline.

While Krevo’s unfortunate cabbage incident no longer holds true today, the hunt for leafy greens in the city can still prove to be a daunting task -- or, if not daunting, then quite limiting, given the fact that in this small town meat is still the byword for any ordinary meal. There’s the vehemence from most people I tell the news to: most seem bent on debunking the whole idea, sometimes foolishly suggesting that “pigs were there to be eaten, or else they will overpopulate the world.” Mark has since debunked this notion, which can take another article.

Then there’s the availability. Not a lot of eating places know their vegetables, and when they do have such dish purporting to be "all vegetarian," it is often dismaying to find they have sprinkling of either meat or seafood. How many times have I come across menus that have very long lists of meat dishes, sparing only a few entries of the vegetable kind? How many times have I ordered from this meager list, only to be told that the vegetable dish I wanted was not available at all?

Last Friday, we had gone to Imay, the new restaurant at the ground floor of Check Inn, to -- well -- check out its menu and its much-ballyhooed ambience. Truth to tell, its ambience was basically cafeteria-style minimalism, nothing special at all. Its poor service -- the lack of professionalism and significant product knowledge of its waiting staff was appalling -- did not rectify our immediate disappoint. Still, we ordered because we were hungry. Imay had five or six dishes listed under the heading of “Vegetables” in a haphazard-looking menu. I pointed to the first entry: “Do you have tofu with mixed vegetables?” We were given a quick “no” by the clueless waiter -- much to our dismay. When the waiter did come back from the kitchen, he was excited to report to us that the dish was, in fact, available. So we ordered that, plus a plate of adobong kangkong. The tofu vegetable mix was all right but completely boring, but the adobong kangkong was one major disappointment soaked in an abundance of soy sauce -- it was all stems and no leaves. But Imay is typical of many Dumaguete restaurants.

A long time ago, I had asked another friend, the cultural aficionado and fervent vegan Dessa Quesada-Palm, about the establishments around town she knew offered the best vegetable dishes. From her report, she said that old Mei Yan was notable for sizzling tofu and its lohanchay; South Sea Resort has adobong kangkong and monggo guisado, although one might have to specify a special preparation without meat or seafood; Chow King has tofu and kangkong sans bagoong; Chantilly has spaghetti alfunghi; CocoAmigos has frijoles refritos, vegetable curry, and salads; and Why Not has tofu schnitzel, salads, vegetable curry, and vegetarian pizza. Among the pizza places, Shakey’s has a vegetarian or plain cheese pizza, mojos, and their salads (their Greek salad is Dessa’s favorite), and Chez Andre has pizza margherita and gourmet vegetarian pizza. Sta. Monica Beach Resort -- apart from their puso, seaweed, and eggplant salads -- offers a wide selection of vegetable dishes which the staff can prepare according to one’s preferred style. Sta. Teresa, too, occasionally serves various vegetable dishes and salads, but it’s mostly a hit-and-miss affair.

Three restaurants stand out however in relative degrees of vegan seriousness, and they are -- in ascending order of leafy delight -- Boston Market along Santa Catalina Street, the Persian Palate in the Spanish Heritage along San Juan Street, and finally Mr. D along Silliman Avenue.

Why are they the best vegetable joints in town? I'll tell the reasons why in a while...

Becoming a semi-vegetarian in Dumaguete City, like I said, is not easy, although I have made it easier on me by choosing a more relaxed -- some would even say cowardly, even traitorous -- route towards food purity: I have chosen to be pesco-vegetarian, which means I eat fish, the main source for my protein. Anything else -- poultry, pork, mutton, beef -- I cannot eat.

Vegans (as opposed to “vegetarians”) like Mark consider that a sad compromise, just as much as ovo-vegetarians (those who choose to eat eggs) or lacto-vegetarians (those who choose to eat or drink dairy products, like butter, cheese, or milk) break their hearts. Vegans choose a stricter (and often moral-laden) sense of food intake -- nothing is ingested or used that remotely comes from an animal, and they go as far as foreswearing honey, leather accessories, and silk. There are also the extreme ones: the fruitarians, for example, do not eat anything else but fruits, but also only fruits that have fallen to the ground by themselves -- plucking one from a tree for them is the equivalent of “murder”; then there are those whose preoccupation is macro-dieting -- which meant eating only nuts and berries. There are other kinds, and many of the adherents can be fanatical about their food philosophy. But I steer by my own principle, dictated by my own needs: no red meat, period.

Of course, there are those who find such change of diet horrific: they make pronouncements such as “I simply cannot live without meat,” and then eye me with such amused bewilderment, like I were a freak with an agenda. This does not bother me at all because I have since learned to accept that many people can be blinded by custom and habit and find an alternative lifestyle discomforting to even consider. I, too, have given such pronouncement. Upon learning that Dessa was vegetarian, I had been one of those ignorant boors who patronized her choices with false-sounding “admiration,” and then declared to her face my own immovable sense of carnivorehood.

Truth is, after you make that fateful decision about meat, the days soon pass you by and you realize you don’t miss meat at all. You don’t even think about it. In fact, you feel lighter, more energetic. Have you ever stopped to consider that sense of lethargy that consumes you after eating lechon, or any such food? Nothing like that in the leafy green world. And like I said previously, I’ve since lost 10 pounds -- and counting -- since turning vegetarian a few weeks ago. And this even with the amount of rice I am eating again. And sometimes even soda. Mark has lost a total of 30 pounds.

Becoming semi-vegetarian (I still eat fish, after all) for me was a consideration brought about by principle and a want for healthier living. We do not parade our disdain for meat, nor seek to convert meat-eaters to a “cause.” I chose to be like this because, really, spinach is so much more yummier than the grease-laden instant gratification of pork shanks.

Still, as I've said before, it is difficult to be vegetarian in a society that worships its red meat. Boston Market, the new restaurant along Santa Catalina Street which is increasingly becoming popular among Dumagueteños that the staff often has to turn loyal customers away because of the quickly-filling capacity, has five choice salad dishes that go beyond merely being “salad.” Because I don’t eat chicken anymore, I cannot order Boston Market’s Christina’s Salad, which the chef specifically concocted for those who want to lose a few pounds. It is an ultra-low carb dish consisting mostly of greens, cucumber, broccoli, avocado, tomatoes, and chicken topped with Boston Market’s special brown dressing. It was my transition dish to eventual vegetarianism.

Of course, the typical Caesar Salad (greens topped with black olives, croutons, and Parmesan cheese) is present in the menu. What’s more or less delectable for me is Boston’s tuna nicoise (tuna and hard-boiled egg -- yay -- on fresh greens, tomato, and cucumber) and lunch salad (tomatoes, cucumber, turnips, broccoli, bell pepper, sweet onions on a bed of greens and fresh straw mushrooms, with a choice of seared chicken breast -- which I cannot consider -- or fish fillet). The grilled veggie kebabs is a wonder of assembly, it being a savory blend of grilled tomatoes, aubergines, okra, bell peppers, and sweet onions, with brown vinaigrette and fresh straw mushrooms on a bed of greens, served with roasted potatoes.

It is Boston’s Garden Fresh Salad that I consume more often though because of its utter simplicity, and its straight-on veganism: one only gets lettuce and assorted greens, with tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumber, and with a choice of dressing, although I constantly choose the herb-garlic one that has enough tang to it to consider an addiction.

Sometimes, though, they add slices of egg to everything, so you may have to tell the waitress to take that thing out.

In Persian Palette -- because of its Indian culinary tradition -- vegetarianism is so much more pronounced, it is sprinkled everywhere in the menu. For starters, you have a choice of veggie samosas, which are triangular pies laden with spices and potato, but most of the time, I vacillate between the hummus (with chick peas, lemon, and garlic served with pita bread) and the Babagamoosh (with eggplant and garlic dipped in olive oil and spices). Its soup entrees range from tomato, to spicy tofu, to dal or lentil, to spinach. The curry entries are a mixed lot, some with mutton and beef thrown in, but for those who wish to avoid an encounter with meat, there is the generous list that goes from spicy mongo curry, to lentil, to spicy chickpeas, to spinach lentil, to tofu potato, to tofu spinach, to veggie beef curry—all of which come with rice, of course, but for those dishes that don’t, the rice entrees that are leafy friendly are a choice between tofu biryani and veggie meat biryani.

And having mentioned veggie meat, I must talk about this secret among vegetarians who may still have some pangs of memory for meat. The secret is tofu -- which, when prepared in imaginative ways, are excellent substitutes for poultry, pork, or beef, complete with taste and look. I’ve eaten tofu “chicken” nuggets -- Jollibee-style -- that are grand approximations of the real thing. In Persian Palate, this tofu illusion comes via veggie adobo or asado dishes. They even have spinach pizza and spaghetti, which are cheesier than most ordinary pizzas, and more filling, too. And most of all, guilt-free.

But for instant veggie gratification, there is finally Mr. D, an eat-all-you-can joint along Silliman Avenue (beside PNB) that has, for its philosophy, the mantra “Eat your life to the fullest.” Which sounds positively sinful, were it not for the discovery of the owners who found that its growing clientele seemed to prefer vegetable dishes more than the meat dishes. After a little more than two weeks of operation, vegetarian dishes became more than a staple for the establishment.

My attraction to the place springs from various reasons. There is a certain gaiety to the place that I find hard to ignore -- everybody’s friendly, and one feels instantly at home. At P88 per weekday meal (strictly no left-overs), the culinary deal seems more than a bargain. Then there is the home-cooking factor: all of its dishes are meticulously prepared around the clock, each of which brings with it a touch of mother’s cooking. That you have to follow ten specific dining rules is part of the charm of this restaurant where limitless eating of “comfort food,” as proprietor Ramon Diaz insists its menu to be, is held sacred. The first time I ate there (before I became a vegetarian), I had my fill of Indonesian onde-onde, baked biko, crunchy fish, spicy fish fries, sautéed ground pork, paella valenciana, Chinese paella, green mussels in garlic, crabs in coco milk, and dinuguan.

We did not come back for a long time after turning green because we thought that meat would be Mr. D’s biggest come-on for local customers. When we did come back, Mr. D surprised us with its variety of vegetable dishes, which Mary Ann Diaz has made sure have not been compromised with any kind of meat, ground or otherwise -- a practice many local restaurants seem to do. Consider the sprouted mongo, the banana heart salad, the adobong kangkong, the ginataang gulay, the mongo soup, the sautéed Baguio beans, the fish with sweet chili sauce, the lumpiang hubad, and the crispy kangkong -- all of which we had in our last full meal in Mr. D. The dessert they offer -- sharing a commonality of being wonderfully native -- usually consist of strawberry or pandan maja blanca, cassava cake, and sapin-sapin, a delicious tri-colored rice cake.

There are, of course, other restaurants in the city with one or two good vegetarian dishes to offer, but these three seem more serious than the others in pursuing the interests of an often ignored segment of society. For that, we salute them. Bon appetit.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

entry arrow4:04 PM | Back From India

So this is what it feels like to be home. Coming back, I can see how much a life can change in a span of mere days. But I will blog about this -- and about my trip -- soon, not now. All I want to do right now is rest and reacquaint myself with my old life (and see how much of it I can do without).

India was wonderful and beautiful.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

entry arrow6:48 PM | In Transit

My little throbbing headache is indicative of how I've really lost touch of the art of traveling. I'm in Changi Airport in Singapore, waiting for my connecting flight to Chennai, India, where I will take the domestic flight to Madurai (formerly Madras) where The American College is. (I love Singapore Airlines.) I've been flying the whole day now, started early this morning in Dumaguete, and it's the end of the day, and I'm still traveling. Kapoy baya pud, which goes to show I'm no longer so young. I just wish I had a bottle of water with me, and a dose of Ponstan. I miss my family, and my bubu.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

entry arrow6:29 AM | India Bound

It's been a while since I've traveled. A decade in fact. Years ago, the pages of my first passport were littered with stamped or stickered visas from all over, like a haphazard collection reflecting a life on the go. But I was young and itching to get my fill of the world before I settled into the responsibilities and groundedness of adulthood. Boy, did I. My second passport was a curious blank, because I had applied for a tourist visa to Dubya country, and was told by a gray-haired, sour-looking consul named Carol Potter that my papers were just too ... broad. She had taken about 30 minutes trying to decide what to do with me, and finally I got denied my visa because I was too "broad." So I asked, "What do you mean by that, ma'am?" And she wouldn't elaborate, just dismissed me with a wave of her hand and told me to look at the special form letter for such queries. Carol Potter. God, I still remember that name, and that face.

I think that ended, or killed, for the most part, my wishes to ever go anywhere. And then 9/11 happened, and suddenly it was even much harder to go. So I stayed close to home, and traveling increasingly became a distant memory. (Sometimes I wonder and then I tell myself that maybe all that traveling is a fictional past I've created for myself, to make me sound more worldly. There are days I believe in that notion.) The farthest I ever went to in the past ten years was up north, to Manila.

My third passport's new. And look here, there's an Indian visa gleaming like a promise. Last night, because everybody tells me to do so, I've loaded up on Diatabs and other medicines, just in case. People tell me, "Don't drink the water," or even, "Don't drink the water even when you're showering." My brother tells me, "You're connecting to Madurai on a domestic flight?" and makes the face of someone who has just sniffed an overpowering barrage of spices. I tell myself, don't mind them. We always get surprised too when we see our foreign friends, and they tell stories about how they got warnings of everyday terror before they had ever set foot in the Philippines. I'm sure India will be a grand place.

Still, I wonder if I still know how to travel anywhere. The first time I went out of the country ten years ago, I was so afraid of being lost in the transit that I had to ask my brother, a well-traveled guy, about tips on not getting lost, especially when we have to go through Customs and such. His brilliant advise: "Just follow where the crowd goes." All of this amuses me, since I used to be a backpacker from way back, and was so used to sleeping in airports and train stations. I'm leaving tomorrow for Singapore, then straight on to Chennai, India where I catch a connecting domestic flight to Madurai. Five days of being somewhere else.

I wasn't ever nervous about the idea of going away from home in such a long time. But now, writing this, the familiar knots in my stomach manifest themselves, and reality finally sinks in: I'm traveling. And so, India, here I come.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

entry arrow8:22 AM | Favorite Songs No. 7 : How Did You Know

Dearest Bubu,

I'm sorry for waking up mushy today, I did not mean to. But it's a beautiful Sunday, and there is a certain urgency to the morning: in a few days I shall be leaving for India, and that means I will not be seeing you for a while. "For a while" for both of us can actually mean eternity, and if there is one sadness that is twin to my excitement of having to travel again, it is that I cannot be with you like I do almost every day for the past four years.

Today, we celebrate our nth monthsary, and it may seem strange for many people that we still celebrate something as blatantly diabetic for its mushy sweetness. Why celebrate monthsaries? Do they really mean anything? they ask. But I have always considered it a kind of miracle that we are still together after all these years, and by God, are still very much in love with each other, even when I get too busy sometimes, and there are many differences between us that can spell doom for ordinary people. Not us. We have transcended everything to be with each other, and that is a miracle I celebrate because what we have is what gives my life meaning.

Today, while I putter about the apartment trying to flit from one kind of work to another, I listen to this song from Gary Valenciano, and I can't help but tear up more than I use to, because this song -- which you don't really like, hehehe -- means so much to me because it contains the whole truth about what I really feel about you.

And so here it is...

... and we can sing along, if we want to.

I remember so well
The day that you came into my life
You asked for my name
You had the most beautiful smile

My life started to change
I'd wake up each day feeling alright
With you right by my side
Makes me feel things will work out just fine


How did you know
I needed someone like you in my life
That there's an empty space in my heart
You came at the right time in my life

I'll never forget
How you brought the sun to shine in my life
And took all the worries and fears that I had
I guess what I'm really trying to say
It's not everyday that someone like you comes my way
No words can express how much I love you

Repeat Chorus

I love this song -- composed by Cecile Azarcon Inocentes -- because unlike most love songs that cater more to an acknowledgment of the carnal and the quickening nether regions or even the politics of emotional blackmail, this song is about being grateful. Where else do we get a song that is about gratefulness, about thanking one's significant other about "filling up that empty space in our hearts"? I like its primal honesty, about how it shows all of us that true love is really about completion. It's not about sex, it's not about having the proper trophy to hang around with, it's not about answering our baser instincts: it's about the magic that glimmers in the truest coming together.

And we have that, bubu. And so, from the deepest part of my heart, I would like to say thank you for everything. Happy monthsary.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

entry arrow6:30 AM | Surf and an Endless Horizon in Antulang

Going to Antulang is a journey of seemingly endless heartaches, especially for those who want their pleasures immediate, like instant coffee. Or perhaps going there is much like one prolonged expectation, like a promise that takes its time to unfold.

Take a jeepney or a hardy car from Dumaguete City to Siaton, near the edge of Zamboanguita down south of Oriental Negros, and the highway takes you to a swift distance to a bend somewhere along the way that takes you further down a gravel road that knows only the meaning of stretches. Some people estimate the distance from the highway to the limestone cliffs that dot the Siaton seacoast to be roughly thirty minutes (or a bit more) of riding through harsh but beautiful countryside—a sunny, almost barren, landscape overgrown with strange thorny bushes, tigpud trees, and the sporadic shock of gumamela (antulanga in old Cebuano). When the journey nears its end, if you are quick enough to notice the unusual from the blur of speed outside, you can also get some glimpses of Tambobo Bay where the yachts, many of them, are bobbing in the blue waters.

The prolonged journey inland is part of the charm of Antulang, because once you are inside its sprawling compound, you are immediately made aware that the protracted journey was worth it: this is where heaven and sea make their love nest. The blueness of sea and sky together becomes unequalled comfort. Tranquility is another name for it.

I have never seen this generosity in the expanse of sea and sky before, not until I came to Antulang. Because the place occupies the rounded bottom of boot-shaped Negros island and is situated right at the very edges of limestone cliffs, Antulang juts out into the Mindanao Sea facing Zamboanga, and from some vantage point, the place seems to float into the blue. “Sometimes,” Annabelle Lee Adriano, the owner of Antulang, told me while we sipped the home-made caiprinha with lychee, “we see the moon rising in the east just as the sun is setting in the west—and all these, of course, occur in the same horizon,” like a beautiful accident of alignment in the heavens.

We were in Antulang—together with Annabelle’s husband Edo and their precocious daughter Suyen whom I liked to call Scout after the energetic character in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird—because we wanted to get away from the city. While there was rest and relaxation to consider, somehow the place itself begged exploration.

Antulang, the resort, has vastly improved from its start in 2000 when it grew from a ragtag bunch of rooms and a restaurant to something approximating subdued modishness. Today, you see that it now has the trappings of a modern resort—the restaurant has food that may be one of the best in Oriental Negros (their puso or banana heart salad has a creaminess and crunch that make it a must from the menu), the ground staff tends horses for guests to ride, the salt-water infinity pool is expansive and elegant, and the accommodations range from midsized minimalist comfort to private villas that have their own cliffside view and pool.

But Antulangan (how the entire place is called—literally meaning “where the gumamelas grow”) is more than just its popular resort, which is the site of countless commercial photo shoots (retailer Bench has made the place one of its favorite locations for commercial shoots, and the infamous Alfred Vargas sexy coffee-table book, produced by Walker Briefs, was shot in many of its nooks and crannies by photographer Ronnie Salvacion). It is, in the long run, the cumulative experience of being in Siaton town, in the beach or atop the lime rocks with the sight of sea and sky, and the possibilities of myriad marine encounters. Venture down the stone path that leads from the resort to the pebble beach below, and you find yourself in the rush of surf and the calm blue-green of Mindanao Sea. Go further, and there are caves and nooks in the limestone walls to examine like an intrepid geologist.

One secret corner of the Antulangan stretch of coast is a little resort somewhere in the pockets of huge beach rocks that hide lagoons and sandy sound. Kookoo’s Nest, reachable only by a considerable hike down a steep, winding incline of limestone steps, is owned by a British couple who spends half the year in London and the other half in this tropical getaway that is a little bit more than an elaborate hut with two or three cottages nearby for letting. The cottages, however, are appointed in what can be said to be Bali aesthetics with a lot of Siaton sensibilities thrown in. The result is an eclectic style that soothes and amuses at the same time. A perfect day in Kookoo’s Nest is simply sitting down on one of those rocks that litter the white sand beach, watching the tide come in.

There is always the opportunity, however, of boarding one of the yachts or little skips that trawl the area and explore the curve of water that embrace the coast. Ms. Adriano owns a boat named after her—or, if you are the literary type, the famous character from the poem by Edgar Allan Poe—and aboard the Annabelle Lee, we cruised through the area, hoping to beat the sunset. The pilot took us to Tambobo Bay, an area that surprises with its population of boats of various kinds flying international colors. On one spot, there is the British man with the brown yacht. On another, an Italian who owns a Chinese junk. There are boats of all shapes and sizes, and the men flying them are the colors of the rainbow. The small community that embraces the beach that shape the bay is a ragtag affair of architecture, approximating an eyesore but could be really embraced as nicely peculiar. In this setting, aboard the Annabelle Lee, we watched the sun go down, and delighted in the smell of salt on our skin.

When we went back to the resort for dinner and song, the blue sky has become a thick blanket of stars, something you do not readily see in the city drowning in false light. Having had my fill of dinner, I sat back and relaxed in the ambient glow of the pool lights and the soft incandescence of lamps sprouting from the ground everywhere. I thought of taking a midnight dip in the pool. I thought of strolling the grounds among the dwarf tigpud trees and tuba-tuba plants. I thought of sleeping to the sound of surf. From the railing that separated me from the void where the sky was and where the sea was below, I strained my eyes to try to catch the horizon from the darkness, and it dawned on me that there was none at all, that everything was a comfortable wall, or a blanket.

In the quiet, I breathed deeply like I have never breathed before.

[photos from antulang.com]

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

entry arrow9:49 PM | Third Day of the Workshop

You know why I've been silent. Been busy -- slowly driving myself mad -- with organizing the National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete. With Mom Edith largely in need of rest, the delegation of tasks have taken on gargantuan proportions. Today, I just came back from the Wednesday outing session in Antulang Beach Resort, and it ran the whole day, and I had to cancel my early night class simply because I was too tired. Went to bed last night at 4 a.m. trying to connect millions of loose ends with thousands of things to do, and promptly woke up around 6:15 a.m. to catch the van ride to Siaton along with the other fellows and the panelists. Can you say no sleep? I have not been sleeping a lot lately, and sometimes I even forget to eat. And because Sawi Aquino did a disappearing act today, Susan Lara and Macariu Tiu -- the panelists for today -- invited me to become an instant part of the panel. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm officially "old." I have now become part of the workshop panel, hehehe. We all had a fun time in Antulang, courtesy of great friends Annabelle and Edo, complete with sinfully filling lunch, several snacks (the favorite being a salakot of fried ripe bananas dipped in sugar), and a tour around the sea and Tambobo Bay aboard the Annabelle Lee. And now I'm back to the comforts and demands of the city. I'm in La Residencia/Don Atilano with Mark trying out my new MacBook for the first time, using the restaurant's wifi. Having a new laptop is enough to forget all the tiredness of the past few weeks. I should blog again very soon.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

entry arrow11:58 PM | Goodbye, Jay

He was our first fish, the first of many ones, and probably the hardiest. We named him Jay because he was a flamboyant blue betta (otherwise known, horribly, as a Siamese "fighting fish") who reminded us so much of the witty first winner of Project Runway.

Jay died of old age tonight. He was such a good boy, quick to recognize us. In his stead, we have red Iman. But there will never be another Jay. Goodbye, old friend.


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Friday, May 04, 2007

entry arrow8:59 AM | Incident Report

Sometimes, the perplexing things that can befall a teacher come from the unlikeliest of sources. Like strange parents with plans to maneuver you into his or her web of utter shamelessness.

Last April 24, after I finished my 3-hour lecture on Philippine Poetry in English—a special marathon session—for my Literature 21 classes in Silliman University this summer, a certain foreign doctoral student (whose nationality will not be named) approached me, and told me he was the father of one of my students. It was a good enough beginning. I was tired from the long day, and the long lecture, and so when Mr. ___________ began by telling me he had been listening to my lecture and that I seemed to him to be a very capable teacher, the compliment buoyed me a little bit—only to have everything crash in the very next instant.

I had given him profuse thanks for the compliment, but then he proceeded to tell me something that I sensed to be more than just an appraisal of my lecture style. I was soon proved right when he insisted that I should make extra efforts to “take it easy” on his son—in a sense, to give the son special treatment in my class, given his nationality and his unwieldy grasp of the English language, which Mr. ___________ said would make it “impossible” for his son to follow closely what I had to teach.

I was dumbstruck. I never had something as bizarre as this before in my class, and I did not know what to say.

When I regained my capability to speak, I told Mr. ___________ that it was against my personal and professional judgment to give his son “special treatment,” because it would create a dangerous (and unfair) precedent for the rest of my students. I quickly reminded him that all students enrolled in my class had to pass several rigorous prerequisite subjects—including three language courses with intensive emphasis on developing grammar, reading and listening comprehension, and composition—before they could even enroll in Literature 21. I told him these prerequisites should prepare anybody extensively to handle the language employed in higher literature course. All Literature 21 students then are presumed to have a working knowledge of English to handle the often difficult concepts in the teaching of literature.

It was not as if I never had foreign students in my class before. I told him that I have taught Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, and Korean students who had similar struggles with the demands of the course—including the language—but that not one of them had asked for special treatment, and in fact earned my respect (as well as passing grades) for their admirable efforts to understand and pass the course despite the linguistic and cultural obstacles involved. I also remembered quickly that I was once an exchange student in the International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan, and I had enrolled in a class where the subject was exclusively taught in Japanese. I don’t remember ever asking for special treatment from my professor, and I worked even harder to earn what turned out to be an excellent grade.

Still, given all this, I had earlier given caution to his son and another student of the same nationality that Literature 21 was quite an intensive course, and especially so in the time-pressured atmosphere of the summer term when the entire curriculum (challenging even in the normal term) is compacted to a mere month and a half of study. I had even suggested to his son and his friend that they could probably take up the subject on the regular semester so that they would be spared the added pressure of the summer. But both had told me they would try very hard to handle the pressure. Still, I also warned them that Literature 21 is a class on Philippine Literature, a subject which entailed intensive coverage of Filipino writings not only in English, but also in Tagalog and Cebuano. Both said they would try very hard to look for external help with regards readings in languages they couldn’t understand.

Finally, wishing the whole encounter to be over so that I could go home and relax, I told Mr. ______________ that it was not—and never will be—right for any parent to ask a teacher to revise or modify a course to suit his child. The sad thing was, Mr. ______________ still insisted on his terms, all the while telling me he was not there “to ask for special treatment,” and all I could do to finish the exchange was to tell him that I would look into the matter. I refused, however, to promise that I would indeed give special treatment for his son.

Afterwards, I felt the insult grow when I came to full comprehension his efforts to shield his son from the regular demands of a course I had been teaching for the past five years. That particular insult I felt was even heightened when Mr. ______________ presented me with a gift from his old country—which I hesitated to accept, but I hurriedly presented it to the chairperson of my department as an unwrapped “evidence” of untoward behavior. This was, for me, an act that smacked of a kind of “bribery” to do as he wished me to do. (But I have also taken note that this “gift-giving” may be a matter of cultural differences, and gifts like these may be an accepted lot in his culture.)

Later, I found out from various colleagues in the English Department (and the rest of the University, it would seem!) that Mr. ______________ has a reputation for doing exactly this to teachers of his son—but have learned to ignore his entreaties.

It’s a sad story—and the summer term goes on.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

entry arrow11:53 PM | Literatura Festival 2007

This is what is keeping me and LitCritters Dumaguete busy these days, among other things...

Click here for a bigger image.

The Silliman University Literatura Festival is a month-long event held every summer to honor Philippine writers. It is also meant as a venue to tap the talents and expertise of resident writers and literature scholars of Silliman University and Dumaguete City, as well as visiting writers and scholars in literature, culture, and the arts who are in Dumaguete around May. (Last year, Dean Francis Alfar spoke on speculative fiction in the Philippines. This summer, writers Timothy Montes, Susan Lara, Marjorie Evasco, and others will speak on varied subjects.) The Literatura Festival mainly serves as the Related Literary Events arm of the National Writers Workshop.

The workshop starts this Monday, May 7.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

entry arrow1:06 PM | Even When Your Heart's Aching

I don't know why, but I'm cleaning the pad, and I'm planning what to do after I finish, and I decided, "To heck with everything," and forced myself to give the broadest smile ... and suddenly I just feel happy.


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entry arrow9:49 AM | No Labor Day

In many ways, I'm thankful for May 1, how it forces me to just stop and take in one day very slowly, like a forbidden but long-awaited leisure, away from the maddening impulses of regular existence. I almost feel guilty about not rushing out to accomplish what must be done by x hours. I realzie this is the first time in many, many weeks that I have opted to wake up late, with the midmorning sun already pouring into my windows like a lost friend. I have been used to waking up to a slight panic every time the tiniest bit of sunlight trickles in every morning. Dawn was my herald to get things going because I have found out many days ago there was just not enough time in any given day for me to really do and finish anything. Of course, blogging now, I still realize the same story is true: my work still piles up, and there seems to be no end to anything. But somewhere deep within me, I think I have let go a little bit of something: that clamp that has me whispering "Oh God, help" every five minutes or so. I am the worst kind of workaholic, somebody who has a schedule to keep, and no clue to how to manage it. Deep inside, I tell myself I will never ever do this to myself ever again. But how do you stop? And do I really mean what I tell myself?


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