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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?


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

entry arrow3:10 PM | Weary

Outside, the light has turned gently -- and I can feel the afternoon ebbing away to one more night time. The clock ticks hard, and there are too many distractions, too many dramas, and too many small heartaches that try to compete for my attention. The heartaches are particularly wrenching, and no matter how much I ask, Why?, only the void answers back. The dramas I don't need. You know who you are. Deep inside, I want to shout, but I have no time for impatience, and so I just take a deep breath and try one more time... And there's only one day left. It's becoming quite an uphill climb, but I realize I will not let all this faze me. These are the hours you soon realize you just have to keep on trying, or everything else will overwhelm you.

In the meantime, you can read Charles Tan's interview of me here, in time for the Fully Booked/Neil Gaiman contest.


You know what's funny about characters you write about? They live, and can become quite demanding. You first imagine them as orphans, perhaps. And then, later, in the midst of your flow, they demand the resurrection of dead parents. And you go back, of course, to revise, and revise...

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

entry arrow2:09 AM | Postcard From the Writing Trenches

I apologize if I can't talk, text, or email back. I've cocooned myself to do some heavy-duty writing. It is past two in the morning, and I'm very much loaded with caffeine. I'm trying to finish and polish my novel Sugar Land in time for the August 1 deadline set by Man Asian. But this realization suddenly strikes me: if I don't make it to the short list, at least I know I tried. And still the best thing would be: I will actually have a novel to my name. That's definitely something. Because how many of us still go around saying, "Someday, I'm going to write a novel," yet never really get around to it? That someday, alas, has come for me. And while I will not be sleeping in the next few days, I feel strangely happy.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

entry arrow12:53 PM | What's Going On in Dumaguete, Culturally Speaking

Finally, the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee website is up -- and a week before the deadline, too. I really don't know how to make websites -- my knowledge of html is virtually nil and my sense of web-design and what-not is limited to Geocities' point-and-click platform -- and I don't have time to even try to learn the craft for real, but it's also strange that many people seem to know me from an old reputation of having had come up with a Philippine literature website (now dead). But I had no other recourse but to come up with the CAC website, because frankly nobody else seemed willing to do it. So here goes my attempt. And now, to proceed to other pressing matters...

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Friday, July 25, 2008

entry arrow2:08 AM | Christine’s Payag Sling and Other Reactions

The truth of the matter is, you can’t write about anything or anybody in Dumaguete without acknowledging the dangers inherent in proximity. The city is too small. We are all bound to bump into each other sooner or later. Which sometimes make for fearful—and perhaps even fearless—experiments in column-writing. The slightest negative depictions, if there are any, indeed carry, and can have the repercussions of tidal waves. Small towns invariably have the habit of magnifying mole hills. And for a lack of better things to do in a city so small, the best entertainment for everybody, of course, is gossip. “Did you read what so-and-so wrote about so-and-so?”

The inbox can easily become a battleground, of sorts. Years ago, in the eve of a local election, I gave some criticism and recommendations to shore up a hopeful future for the city—and one response I got was an incensed suggestion to go to Quezon Park and do my ranting there. I believe I was told to take a long walk on a short pier. And sometimes, there are even articles I write that don’t even see print at all. My editors would email me and say, “This is too dangerous, Ian. Let’s not print this.”

And so there are days when I just have to tell myself that I must have the courage of lions, the way I try to carry on writing about local stuff—but that’s only in a haphazard attempt to cushion myself against all possible recriminations, enough to carry me through another week. Dumagueteños, I know for sure now, are a notoriously wary bunch, and they have deep-seated suspicions against anybody who carries the tag of “journalist.” Write about any of them, and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is this request: “Can I read the article first before publication?” which is, of course, a no-no for anybody worth his journalistic stripes. Which may be why I quit being one to become a teacher instead.

The thing is, in my columns, I like to champion things. But when there’s a fly in the sandwich, what do you do? You can’t simply ignore it, and continue chomping down on the fly-flavored food. Years ago, I learned to control my baser urges to do snark-writing. This was after a sorrowful incident where I happened to give a not-so-pleasant review of a show, and got perpetual hate from the organizers. So I told myself: “If something is bad, don’t write about it. Being ignored is worse than the bite of the harshest critic.”

This philosophy carried me through for years, which invariably led towards maudlin articles: too much championing makes you look like a schmuck. You become someone who’s only capable of so-called “praise-release.” And there’s nothing like the occasional snark to liven things up, to generate discussion. That’s one of the best goals of democracy, right?

The responses I got from my recent trips to the new restaurants in the city were certainly interesting. Some quibbled on the rankings—“This one does not deserve this rank,” or ”This one is better than that other one”—but really, rankings are arbitrary in nature. What’s more important is the fact that we do have some great new eating places in town: the article becomes an open invitation to sample their fare, and perhaps to patronize them if you liked what you ate. And taste, needless to say, differs from one person to the next. Circumstances also largely dictate one’s views on things. A reader who went by the name of Egao messaged me in my blog: “I heard that people haven’t been liking the food at Gabby’s Bistro: ‘Cajun chicken was dry,’ ‘adobo is typical,’ ‘meatballs were burned,’ ‘servings are tiny’ were among the complaints…” That’s quite unfortunate. But I can only judge from how the food tasted that day I first devoured them—and as far as I’m concerned, that meal I had was very, very good.

And what are the circumstances by which I visit these restaurants? In the perfect disguise of an ordinary customer just come in from the streets. No announcements. Just me, the menu, the waitress, and the food that finally arrives. Sometimes in small parties, too—where you can be sure the kitchen staff will be harried enough to even bother making tweaks on their food preparations.

Here’s a reaction that’s even more interesting. In my previous article on the high society of Dumaguete, an acquaintance of mine [who will remain unnamed because he has decided to keep his anonymity for this article] felt that he was the one who was anonymously finger-pointed by me as the “supposed” historian of Dumaguete. My original line was: “When did [a certain person] ever become a historian of Dumaguete?”

He wrote me an email, a very long one. I wrote back: “I hope you don’t mind if I publish this soon as a reaction column.” He replied: “[Okay] ra nako, but [please edit] the wrong word na sayop,” and then: “[Please] promise me [you] will [edit] it [for] me, [I] am [a] positive person always. I need [your] reply before [you] will publish this soon as a reaction column.” I replied back: “Unfortunately, as a matter of journalistic principle, we are not allowed to do that.” We are indeed discouraged to let pour subjects read our articles first before printing. Later, he emailed back: “Ayaw na lang, [thanks]. I will explain na lang my side in a lecture series in my school.” And my response was: “Well, it’s not as if I will be negative. I’ll just edit your letter and print it, that’s all. And having a lecture series is not really an equivalent of having what you say be read by newspaper readers. You will have to trust me on this.” I never got a reply to that.

The guy has the best intentions, needless to say—and he always seems to be in the middle of things whenever the local city government tries to put on a cultural show. That is good. According to him, Tatler’s Margie Enriquez asked him in Tanjay what type of historian he was, and our guy told her he was a “family and cultural historian due to [his] family background.” He went on to list down the exalted and hallowed names from an extended family that borders our idea of distinguished. Bueno familia. There are other things he wrote about where he attempted, by a stretch, to defend why he is a “cultural and family historian.” And I will not begrudge him that any more. He is who he says he is.

I hope he permits me, however, to explain where I’m coming from.

You see, I have realized, these days, that we are all increasingly living in a world where superficial labels often trump the meatiness of what comes after hard work. These days, people can come up to you and say, “I’m a model,” when in fact they’ve only done one T-shirt show in a small mall somewhere off downtown. I know some people who call themselves “poets,” when they haven’t written anything at all—but the fact that they habitually go to literary cafes and socialize with other writers and share in their angst-ridden philosophies of writing somehow makes them think they are, in fact, poets. There is something about the Internet Age where words are slowly losing their meaning, because they’re appropriated too much by too many to suit their own definitions of how things are.

Look, lately I’ve done considerable research and writing to come up with a history of the literary tradition of Silliman University. Does that make me a historian? No. But that makes me a history buff. And the people I interview who are brimming with oral information about things historical are not historians, either. They’re sources.

What makes a historian? For me, three things make a historian: training, output, and recognition from peers. Training: you first have to undergo the rigid academic discipline of history. That means going to school, learning from a mentor, going for higher studies. Output: you have to do countless hours of research, and then put out what you have learned in journals and books for the rest of the world to know the history you have uncovered. As they say, “Publish, or perish.” And finally, recognition from peers: other historians—especially those already distinguished in their fields—must recognize your own efforts, appreciate the vitality of your contributions, and call you a colleague.

When you don’t meet any of these, you are only a history buff. Which is not a bad thing, of course. There are countless history buffs who have contributed great things to the world. But let’s call all things in appropriate measure. Or else words will lose their meaning.

But, of course, my dear friend, if ever I’m wrong about where you stand, please take my sincerest apologies. Sometimes, though, when you write columns such as this, you will have to take a firm stand about what you believe in, or else why bother writing columns at all.

Sometimes, it pays though—especially if you live in a small city—to give harsh words meant for the most steadfast of friends and acquaintances. Days after my restaurant article came out, Nerisse Cabrera, a family friend, emailed to tell me that the odiferous waiter had long since gone. A few days after that, I went to Payag sa Likod, and there met the fabulous Christine Torres, its proprietor.

“Ian,” she said, “I read what you wrote about Payag.”

Mao ba?” I said, grinning sheepishly.

She only laughed heartily—and thanked me for writing about Payag.

That was one of the most enjoyable nights I had in recent memory. We talked, we laughed, we drank her Payag Sling, and became tipsy enough to enjoy the wee hours of the morning.

And that’s what I like about Dumaguete, most of all, as personified in Christine. Despite everything, we are an educated lot who knows how to distinguish between pure slander and harsh criticism. The true Dumagueteño knows how to take criticism, and make that the crux of a challenge to have an even better life, and an even better run of things.

So here’s a toast to Christine, and all that.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

entry arrow8:09 PM | The Longlist for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize

Guess what I found in the mail inbox today. Some good news -- great news, in fact. My novel, Sugar Land, has just been long-listed in the second year of competition of the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize. (Last year, Jose Dalisay Jr. was shortlisted for Soledad's Sister, now out in bookstores everywhere.) And do you know what's even sweeter? I'm in the company of three other Filipinos, all of them very good friends: Lakambini Sitoy for Sweet Haven, Miguel Syjuco for Ilustrado, and Krip Yuson for The Music Child. Filipinos compose the largest batch of nominees, second to the Indians. (About time!) And for this alone, I feel greatly honored.

Seriously, I don't think I'll get into the short list. The other names are quite formidable. As Oscar hopefuls would say, "It's honor enough to be nominated." Char! This means harder work for me in the next few days as I try to complete and polish off that manuscript before a certain deadline in August. Oh God.

The press release from Hong Kong goes:

The Administrative Committee for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize has today announced the longlist of works for this prize:

Tulsi Badrinath, Melting Love
Hans Billimoria, Ugly Tree
Ian Rosales Casocot, Sugar Land
Han Dong, Banished!
Anjum Hasan, Neti, Neti
Daisy Hasan, The To-Let House
Abdullah Hussein, The Afghan Girl
Tsutomu Igarashi, To the Temple
Rupa Krishnan, Something Wicked This Way Comes
Murong Xuecun, Leave Me Alone, Chengdu
Kavery Nambisan, The Story That Must Not be Told
Sumana Roy, Love in the Chicken’s Neck
Vaibhav Saini, On the Edge of Pandemonium
Salma, Midnight Tales
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, Lost Flamingoes of Bombay
Lakambini A. Sitoy, Sweet Haven
Sarayu Srivatsa, The Last Pretence
Miguel Syjuco, Ilustrado
Amit Varma, My Friend, Sancho
Yu Hua, Brothers
Alfred A. Yuson, The Music Child

This longlist of 21 unpublished works of Asian fiction in English will be reviewed and evaluated by the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize judges, who will announce a shortlist of works in October 2008. The winner will be announced on Thursday, 13 November at an awards ceremony in Hong Kong.

The judging panel for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize is Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada (Chair); Nicholas Jose, writer, scholar and former Cultural Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in China; and Pankaj Mishra, acclaimed Indian writer and thinker.

The 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize longlist was chosen from submissions received from all over Asia. The largest single group of submissions was from India, followed by the Philippines. The rest came from other countries throughout the region. The Prize received submissions from well-established as well as first-time authors, and entries included translated works as well as works originally in English.

Peter Gordon, Executive Director of the Man Asian Literary Prize said: "The long list, which contains unpublished works from throughout the region from Japan to Pakistan, demonstrates once again the depth and diversity of Asian contemporary writing. We were pleased that many of the works on last year's long list were published or are scheduled for publication, and we hope that highlighting Asian writers will have a similar effect this year and in the years to come."

Go, Team Philippines!


And, like Miguel (who said it first in his Facebook), I'm also tickled to see all our names in The New York Times' Paper Cuts blog. And the The Guardian's James Wignall notes the strong showing of Filipino writers in the list. (Link sent in by Ed Maranan.)

Here's hoping that's a good sign of things to come.

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entry arrow9:20 AM | Brookside Baby

Baguio Writers Club president, Babeth Lolarga, now blogs.

[via pine for pine]

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

entry arrow12:52 PM | The Dove, The Eagle, The Lion, and The Penguin

I was talking about the poet to my Philippine literature classes last night in our marathon session on Filipino literature after the Second World War. How delightfully crabby and naughty he was -- but also a poetic genius without compare. How he got booted out of U.P. for salacious (for that time, at least) poems. How he eventually found his way to America where he was cited by the critic Edward J. O'Brien -- who edited The Best American Short Stories series from 1915 to 1926 -- as one of only half a dozen writers who count in America. How he eventually stopped writing, with his poetry slowly creeping into obscurity from most of the literati in the U.S.

And so when I got the news via an email from the poet Eileen Tabios, I got goosebumps -- because, for the second time in two years, Penguin Classics, arguably the world's most-respected authority on literary classics, has picked up another Filipino author's work. In June 2006, we had cause for rejoicing when Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere made it to Penguin's catalogue. "About time," we all said.

Now, the maverick poet and Philippine National Artist for Literature Jose Garcia Villa gets the same royal treatment with the publication of Doveglion: Collected Poems.

The book is edited by John Cowen, with an introduction by Luis Francia. (Way to go, Luigi!). This is the Penguin website's description of the book: "Known as the 'Pope of Greenwich Village,' José Garcia Villa had a special status as the only Asian poet among a group of modern literary giants in 1940s New York that included W. H. Auden, Tennessee Williams, and a young Gore Vidal. But beyond his exotic ethnicity, Villa was a global poet who was admired for 'the reverence, the raptness, the depth of concentration in [his] bravely deep poems' (Marianne Moore). Doveglion (Villa’s pen name—for dove, eagle, and lion) contains Villa’s collected poetry, including rare and previously unpublished material."

I want Nick Joaquin to get the same Penguin treatment. Joaquin and Wilfrido Nolledo were already writing magic realism even before the Latinos came along.

Be a good Filipino, and buy the Villa book now.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

entry arrow10:23 AM | Miss USA and the Floor

A brief observation while watching Miss Universe 2008: there seems to be some kind of magnetic attraction between the butts of recent Miss USAs and the floor. In the tradition of Rachel Smith who last year went bum-bum on the floor during the evening gown competition, the highly-anticipated-to-win Crystle Stewart exactly did the same thing. (According to Mark, who's the Miss Universe aficionado in this part of town: "How dare she disappoint me!")

But Crystle naman got up with more grace and spunk. Rachel just gritted through a thin smile right after. Crystle, on the other hand, got up and clapped -- but afterwards she did look flustered. Compare the two:

Look back at Crystle. The question was obviously clear in the professional beauty queen's face when all the top ten finalists lined up for the category's finale: What the heck just happened? Did that just happen to me? Here's hoping that her instinctive move post-fall was worth some saving grace. But I bet the judges were already covering their eyes when she did that, and gave her a measly average score of 8. Yikes.

(The International Herald Tribune breaks this story first.)

Miss Spain looks like an Internet puta. I want Miss Kosovo to win the crown, but she won't -- and now my best has to be either Miss Colombia or Miss Venezuela. Still, this has got to be the most boring Miss Universe in years.

Whoever wins, I don't care. The Philippines has sent a drunken-sounding girl to the pageant again -- and we will never ever win the crown as long as foreigners dominate Bb. Pilipinas' judging panel and dinosaurs like Pitoy Moreno and Stella Marquez Araneta remain the honchos to determine our international beauty queen-wannabes. 


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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

entry arrow2:49 PM | Dancing Around the World

The New York Times is right. This series of videos -- Matt Harding's YouTube hit "Dancing" -- is ridiculously, unfathomably charming and inspiring...

Charles McGrath writes:

The title is not misleading. "Dancing" shows a guy dancing: a big, doughy-looking fellow in shorts and hiking boots performing an arm-swinging, knee-pumping step that could charitably be called goofy. It’s the kind of semi-ironic dance that boys do by themselves at junior high mixers when they’re too embarrassed to partner with actual girls.

The dancer is Matt Harding, the 31-year-old creator of the video, and with some New Agey-sounding music playing in the background, he turns up, grinning and bouncing, in 69 different locations, including India, Kuwait, Bhutan, Tonga, Timbuktu and the Nellis Airspace in Nevada, where he performs the dance in zero gravity.

He started doing it at work, years ago, when he was living in Brisbane, Australia. “I’d dance at lunchtime or during an awkward pause or just to annoy people,” Mr. Harding said. “It was sort of a nervous tic.”

Now he’s on the streets in Mumbai one minute, balanced on the Giant’s Causeway rock formation in Northern Ireland the next, and then he’s in a tulip field in the Netherlands or in front of a geyser in Iceland. Sometimes Mr. Harding dances alone. On a Christmas Island beach he has an audience of crabs, and on Madagascar he performs for lemurs.

But more often — and this accounts for much of the video’s appeal — he’s in the company of others: South African street children in Soweto, bushmen in New Guinea, Bollywood-style dancers in India, some oddly costumed waitresses in Tokyo, crowds of free spirits in Paris, Madrid and rainy Montreal, all copying, or trying to, his flailing chicken-step. Mr. Harding even dances for a lone military policeman (unmoved to join him) in the Korean demilitarized zone.

In many ways “Dancing” is an almost perfect piece of Internet art: it’s short, pleasingly weird and so minimal in its content that it’s open to a multitude of interpretations. It could be a little commercial for one-world feel-goodism. It could be an allegory of American foreign policy: a bumptious foreigner turning up all over the world and answering just to his own inner music. Or it could be about nothing at all — just a guy dancing.

However you interpret it, you can’t watch “Dancing” for very long without feeling a little happier.

I don't think I have the nerve to do something like this, but hurrah to Matt and all white boys like him who can't dance -- but have a helluva time making us smile.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

entry arrow1:29 PM | Danton Remoto to Talk About Queer Literature in Silliman University

My Philippine Literature classes, and the Queer Theory classes of Karl Villarmea, are holding a lecture/forum on 'Ladlad and Queer Literature in the Philippines with Danton Remoto this Friday, July 11, 5:30 p.m. at the Audio-Visual Theater 1, Multimedia Center, Silliman University, Dumaguete City. We have decided to make this a part of the Albert Faurot Lecture Series on Culture and the Arts of the Cultural Affairs Committee, with help from LitCritters Dumaguete. The lecture/forum is open to the public.

About the Lecturer: Danton Remoto was born on 25 March 1963 in Basa Air Base, Pampanga. He was an ASEAN scholar at the AdMU where he obtained his AB Interdisciplinary Studies in 1983. With his Robert Southwell Scholarship, Remoto obtained his MA English Literature, 1989; then, on a British Council fellowship, another MA in publishing studies, 1990, at the University of Stirling, Scotland. He was a Local fellow for poetry at the UP Creative Writing Center, 1994. He was at Hawthornden Castle, 1993, and later, at the Cambridge Seminar. Remoto teaches at AdMU where he manages the Office of Research and Publishing. He is also studying for his Ph.D. in creative writing at UP. He was an associate of PLAC and a member of the Manila Critics Circle since 1989. He has won various awards, among them, the ASEAN prize for the essay, 1979; the Palanca for the essay in 1987; the CCP literary award for poetry; the Stirling District Arts Council award for poetry and the short story. Among his works: Skin , Voices , Faces (Anvil, 1991); Black Silk Pajamas / Poems in English and Filipino, (Anvil, 1996). He edited Buena Vista [Alfrredo Navarro Salanga's poems and fiction], 1989 and co-edited Gems in Philippine Literature, 1989. More importantly, he has co-edited the Ladlad series with J. Neil Garcia. (From Panitikan)


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Sunday, July 06, 2008

entry arrow9:57 PM | 300

I usually number the files of my columns that I write for Visayan Daily Star to keep track of things, and to organize them from first to latest. Sending my latest one, I found myself putting in the number 300. That stopped me. My 300th column? Whoa. That's some kind of personal milestone. I did some quick calculation, and if my math is correct, I've been writing The Spy in the Sandwich for 6.25 years. That's a lot of column inches.

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entry arrow8:59 AM | Pintados

Say what you will about the controversies surrounding this year's Hari ng Negros, but this body painting competition, with photography by Allan dela Fuente and Eric Estampador Cabales and art direction by Nui Caballes, looks very interesting. (More with the link...)

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entry arrow8:04 AM | The So-Called Church of Oprah

It's a Sunday morning. Perfect for this rant...

I've seen the notorious YouTube video which began circulating around since Oprah Winfrey backed Barack Obama for the U.S. presidency.* And this morning, I just got another online invitation to view the whole thing all over again -- and what can I say.... This time, it threw for a loop, because the sender is one of my most favoritest persons in the whole wide world. (He still is.) But I'm very skeptical about the whole "controversy." It's so easy to make videos like this, edited to make a particular slant. Hell, anybody can take several footages of Mother Teresa and edit them to make it look like she's the biggest ho in Calcutta. I mean, come on, haven't you ever seen that mock trailer of Stanley Kubrick's classic horror movie The Shining made to look like it was a touching father-and-son bonding story or as a romantic comedy? That one is available in YouTube, too.

And I know very well the panic-inducing tendency behind this effort since I grew up with a very typically Christian fundamentalist environment. I was a devoted Sunday School kid and teenager with such loyalty to Calvary Chapel, back when it had great and compassionate pastors. When I was a kid, I used to write Jack T. Chick Publications for free copies of their comics and tracts (especially The Crusaders series -- I had the whole set), all of which tried to make all of the world -- Africa, the old U.S.S.R., India, evolution, Islam, Mormonism, the Catholic Church, Bible scholarship, rock music, the New Age movement, hitchhiking -- into grotesques masks of overpowering evil. And fundamentalists are often the most gullible people I know -- they swallow everything their pastors tell them. In one church meeting I attended, one guest pastor was shouting at the congregation with a conviction that all women should go back to the kitchen and the bedroom where they belong. I was so aghast at that message and wanted to walk out, but when I looked around, people were nodding and nodding. And in one recent luncheon with my own family, I found my blood boiling when I found most of them running their conversations (gossip was more like it) this way: "So-and-so is this. Is he Christian?" or "So-and-so just passed the Board. Is she Christian?" or "So you're friends with so-and-so. I hope they're Christian." That kitid-thinking drove me absolutely nuts. (In Church parlance, ni-backslide ko. I don't mind that ostracism, because I am still secure in my Christianity naman. You really don't need any gossip-swinging, judgment-bearing church to be Christian.)

But back to that Oprah video, which I won't even link here. It is so sad how earnestly "Christian" people try to bring other good people down, especially those who are trying to make something good out in the world. Look, I don't even like A New Earth, the Eckhart Tolle book she loves, but loving the book and being enthusiastic about it doesn't make Oprah a bad person with the intention of "making" an anti-God Church. The idea itself is so preposterous and absurd, I can't believe people actually believe in it. She is not the Anti-Christ. (Patrick Buchanan is, hahaha!)

*Do you smell a manufactured controversy to blindside fence-sitting conservatives for the election? I do.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

entry arrow12:02 PM | Life and Death

Luis Joaquin Katigbak -- the king of nothing-to-do, fiction compadre, great friend, and music critic extraordinaire -- messaged me once to ask that old record store question: What music would I bring to a deserted island? I thought hard about it in the seconds he gave me, and came up with one surprisingly strong conviction. That I love film soundtracks, and that they are for me the contemporary equivalents of the evocative symphony music the classical masters used to compose. There are many film score composers that I love, although John Williams -- responsible for many of the most memorable scores there are (E.T., Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, among others) -- is not one of them (too Hollywood pedestrian for me), although his suite for Forrest Gump is the one rare affecting score I like. My personal favorites include Thomas Newman, Michael Nyman, Vangelis, Henry Mancini, Bernard Herrmann, John Barry, James Horner, Howard Shore, Maurice Jarre, Rachel Portman, James Newton Howard, Ennio Morricone, and Gustavo Santaollala. I guess, this is mostly because their scores emphasize dramatic points of stories, and I am drawn to that as a hopeful storyteller. Take this music clip titled "Life and Death" from the TV series Lost, for example, which is brilliantly scored by my current favorite Michael Giacchino.

I love the way Giacchino (who is also responsible for the whimsical score for Ratatouille) takes his cue from his title, bookending this piece with a sense of hopefulness and then a sense of the sinister. It reminds me easily of how life should be viewed: with utmost optimism fueled by a sense of mortality.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

entry arrow10:39 AM | From the Highest Hiding Place

Spend the evening
with a friend
and pretend
it's still ten years ago.

Cover your wounds
as if they're visible.

-- L. Lacambra Ypil

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

entry arrow11:32 PM | A Brief History of Dumaguete's "Finest" and Oriental Negrense High Society

Purely by accident, I came across last May’s issue of Philippine Tatler, the country’s local glossy which highlights the oh-so-beautiful life of the Filipino elite and the landed—those dahlings who populate the column-inches of our society pages, glittering in gold and diamond, and signature wear, and the irrefutable air of perfumed privilege. Those dahlings who are, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once described them, very “different than you and me.”

The magazine’s immediate attraction was the cover—quite an unusual one for a rag given to photoshopped worship of its society denizens, both the Gucci-ganged young and the Botoxed old, who are given to posing with stiff-backed patrician postures for Philippine Tatler’s cameras in resplendent clothes and in equally sumptuous—if bordering on baroque—settings. The May cover instead was an artful nude of some female model done up with stylized hair ornaments, and offset by a background that was a shock of Matisse and Gaugain put together. “The Art of Beauty,” the big headline blared out, promising the “sensational images by international photographer Nigel Baker.” I have always had a strange compulsion for magazines, and I thought that perhaps this issue of Philippine Tatler was worth picking up and skimming. The price is hefty at P200 per issue, and when I do buy it I make sure it is for a good reason. Then again, it has been a while since the last issue I read. And besides, there was that certain perverse pleasure to be had in scanning the pictures of our supposed “betters,” mock-envying them their comforts in Forbes, their vacations in Capri, their dancing nights in Majorca, their shopping in Rodeo Drive. (A boy can hope for the good life…)

And then there it was, in the inside pages: a generous portfolio of “Southern Gentry,” with several pages devoted to portraits of, and short articles about, “Dumaguete’s finest.” As with the case with anything, nothing comes close to gripping anyone’s interest but stories of home. Gripping it was indeed—and there was also that wild sense of vindication for the native in me, one who recoils every time I hear (or come across) suggestions that Dumaguete is probinsya through-and-through, with all the attendant connotations of the uncouth, the unwashed, and the uncultured. We already suffer enough from the indignities of having a name we have for our people and our culture—bisaya—becoming a curious synonym for baduy, no thanks to the enduring caricatures we bear because of Manilyn Reynes and Annabelle Rama hamming it up, hard accent and all, in the wild terrain of local popular culture.

But I say this beyond typical native pride: Dumaguete may not be a big city (and hopefully it will never be), and it may still teem with occasional barriotic tendencies, but uncultured it is not. Together with Baguio (which is tropical Dumaguete’s cool-climate twin), we may be the most cultured city outside of the four main metropolises (Manila, Cebu, Davao, and Iloilo) in the country. Tatler’s recognition that there is a well-spring of, ehem, “social finesse” in our midst is heartening. It may be artificial recognition, but nevertheless.

I know of a writer—one Lia Bulaong—who, upon stumbling on one of Manolet Teves’s society columns in The Visayan Daily Star online, was tickled pink at the very idea of “high society” in Negros, thinking the combination highly unlikely, given the—ehem—provincial tones of our lives here. That’s typical, of course, of many Manileños, and we have all somehow learned to forgive the prejudiced short-sightedness of some of them. Then again, she may not have recognized that the “true-blue high society” she knows of from her native Manila actually spring from four (very interconnected) points of the Visayas—Iloilo, Bacolod, Bais, and Cebu—who go by the names of Lopez, Lhuiller, Villanueva, Preysler, Del Prado, Arroyo, Ledesma, Teves, Osmeña, Vicente, Romero, Garcia, and what-not.

Historically, Negros Oriental has a rich history of the burgis and the elite. The landed hacenderos of the island—which includes Negros Occidental—often keep track of each other, attend each other’s parties, and intermarry. They may have different “kingdoms”—the Bais-Tanjay-Dumaguete-Pamplona families, the Victorias-Cadiz-Sagay families, the Bayawan-Santa Catalina-Basay-Sipalay families, the Kabankalan-Ilog-Himamaylan families, the Canlaon-Guihulngan-Vallehermoso-San Carlos families, the Bacolod-La Carlota-Silay-Talisay families—but most are sugar barons welded together by common crop, a shared fortune, as well as accidents of history.

In the best of our old times, some Negrense girls used to make their debutantes balls at St. James Court in London. This glittering world is partly chronicled in the pages of Kabilin, the now-rare coffee table book of the province’s history, published when Negros Oriental turned a hundred years old in 1989. That world though has mostly disappeared, precipitated by the sugar crisis that decimated the ranks of the hacenderos and robbed them of much of their wealth in the 1970s and the 1980s. And all that are left are their slowly disappearing acreage, strong memories of the golden age, and—to borrow a devastating quote from Savannah’s Jim Williams (who was immortalized in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil)—“their good manners.” Manolet, in one of our talks about Negrense history, calls that bygone era as the days of Tara, a name borrowed of course from the gilded pages of Gone With the Wind. I plan to write about that conversation soon, when Manolet waxed nostalgic about the parties in Azucarera de Bais, before hard times—and the conquering barbarians—crashed the party, and ended everything.

And for that, perhaps it is best to quote the full text from Fitzgerald’s story “The Rich Boy”: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.” That suits perfectly well the cycles of fortune of our local high society.

But to go back to the list of Dumaguete’s finest according to the gospel of Philippine Tatler… It was a good enough feature written by Marge Enriquez (with great photography by Wig Tysmans). But the first question that held me was: when did [a certain person] ever become a historian of Dumaguete? I bet Valentino Sitoy and Caridad Aldecoa-Rodriguez would probably disagree. Still, the Tatler story gathers a well-deserved and merry bunch that groups together such local social butterflies as Mariant Escaño-Villegas, Manolet Gonzales-Teves, Rico Absin, Chiquiting Sagarbarria, Jack and Pristine Raymond, Herminio and Victoria Teves, Victoria Del Prado-Carballo, Amanda Diago-Vicente, Irene Villanueva-Wicklein, Virginia Teves-Laurel, Maria Lourdes Vicente-Ortiz, Alexandra Teves, and Lucille Raymond-Villanueva. Most of them Teveses.

And yet I can’t help but feel that the true cross-section of Dumaguete high society has not really been fully represented in these glossy pages. Not that I’m complaining. Unlike most of the Philippines whose idea of “lordship” and “society” bears a strong Spanish aquiline nose, Dumaguete is unique with its strong American influence that has produced an upper/upper middle class of mostly non-Spanish stock (including those with Chinese roots) who holds great sway in local things political, social, economic, and cultural.

What the Spanish traditionally contributed to local high society was their sense of fabulous fiesta, especially during sipong, their annual celebration of harvest, a fête that ran from Canlargo in Bais to Tanjay to the sugar houses along Avenida de Rizal in the famous Boulevard. What the Americans brought with them was a sense of high culture, and that was when Negros learned to appreciate Shakespearean plays, operas, dances, and concerts. From Silliman University, for example, came two of the best hostesses the province has ever produced or nurtured: University First Ladies Pearl Gamboa-Doromal (daughter of an ambassador and wife of President Quintin S. Doromal) and Francisca Ruiz (wife of Chicago-based consul Leopoldo T. Ruiz who became Silliman’s first Filipino President), both of whom set the highest standards for hospitality in Silliman and the rest of Dumaguete.

Thirty or fifty years ago, Negrense society can be best described as mostly Spanish—but not so much anymore. You can feel it in the way many of the subjects in Tatler’s pages describe their daily lives: quietly living in the countryside among the sugar canes, pushing for what they call life rendered in simplicity, and staying away from the social and cultural limelight as much as they can. That’s a sad shadow of their immediate past, something I wish they can recover from, because these people—when they really want to—can really help transform Dumaguete and Negros Oriental’s future for the better. New York and Boston and Detroit and most of the best cosmopolitan cities in the world are the way they are because of strong patronage by their wealthy and their “high society” to help their hometowns attain strong footing in cultural currents. Think the Rockefellers. Think the Vanderbilts. Think the Kennedys.

If I can add to that Tatler list of Dumagueteños who deserve being profiled as one of “society’s finest,” I would put in Arlene Delloso-Uypitching, who is fast becoming the best hostess around town, one who gives exclusive and very fabulous parties in her two homes in Valencia town; Dennis Trillo, favorite son and now famous matinee idol; Josie Sy-Limkaichong, who has redefined public service in the third district of Negros Oriental; Wing Del Prado, who is reasserting an artistic claim to her family’s old-name heritage; Patrick Sy Chua, who has become both first-class dentist and patisserie connoisseur; Cecille Hoffman, who spearheads local awareness for gender rights and environmental concerns; Angeline Dy, who is fast-becoming both the ice cream and computer queen in the city; Adrian Arnaiz Dionaldo, who is slowly redefining the idea of real estate in Dumaguete; Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas, who has inherited the literary greatness of her parents, including National Artist for Literature Edith Lopez Tiempo; Heinz and Esther Windler, who are environmental stalwarts, and whose beautiful house was once featured in Architectural Digest; Karen Villanueva, Bais City’s first daughter; Dean Sinco, Foundation University’s favorite son and now sought-after architect; Mike Romero, son Miguel, and uncle Eddie Romero (our National Artist for Film), who are continuing the grand Romero legacy of the province; Laura Teves-Sy, who is the perfect marriage of the local Spanish and Chinese communities; Angel Amigo, a former fashion model who comes from old wealth; Gilbert Uymatiao, the foremost organic farmer in the province; Cahirup Armogeña, who is helping slowly regain for the family their old glory in the hotel-and-restaurant business; Pia Francisco-Sy, former Miss Silliman and sister of top fashion model Ana Francisco; Pearl Gamboa-Doromal and daughter Meg, who are practically Silliman royalty; Rajo Laurel, top fashion designer; Mike Butler, transplanted Australian entrepreneur who has made Dumaguete his home and has helped revitalize its sense of tourism and culture; Jacqueline Veloso-Antonio, one of Dumaguete’s legendary beauties who is making a reputation for herself as a savvy businesswoman; Annabelle Lee-Adriano, who has transformed Antulang into an increasingly world-class resort; Joy Sanchez-Bobon, who is one of the most successful businesswoman in the city, and is known as “the quiet entrepreneur” of Pamplona; Mel Montaño, a native son who has come home from abroad to help the city become an unlikely BPO powerhouse; and Suzanne Lu-Bascara, one of the original beauty-and-brains from Dumaguete who now wields clout as the head of a local BPO. There are countless others…

Which just means that, even more than sugar cane people, Dumaguete absolutely teems with “high society” who truly makes things matter in this city of gentlest people, dahlings.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

entry arrow8:47 PM | What I Saw Over the Weekend

And now there are six of them. I thought it would be a close call between Guihulngan's Joseph Hornido and Silay's Carlos Ruiz -- but in the end, it was Mabinay's Ralph Jadraque who (to the surprise of many) made it to the ranks of the Hari ng Negros that came before him. Curiously though -- and I usually have good sense for picking winners -- Ralph was the very candidate that first piqued my interest in the beginning when the ball started rolling for the pageant in the mountains of Canlaon. But he seemed like the silent sort, even though that proved deadly, given the hard work he gave for the competition. In a batch that had never been more competitive since 2006, it soon proved difficult to settle on just anyone, and for a while I thought Dumaguete's Michael Angelo Cristobal, Talisay's Orville Cordova, Dauin's Nelson Bandoles, Amlan's Lord Chester Tan, Bayawan's Kareem Capulso, and Vallehermoso's Herzzl Rubia had equal chances as well to bring home the sword.

But my money was definitely on Silay. One of Negros' best young artists, Carlos doesn't look like your conventional pageant patty but he grows on you in leaps and bounds... Bacolod's bet -- who shall remain unnamed because he is actually such a nice guy -- was easily the best-looking one, and actually came in as second runner-up, but truth to tell, he went so far for so little, stumbling through Hari's gloriously notorious Q&A system (a grueling three-part process that really was meant to separate the "thank-you-guys" from the true winner) with answers that seemed like the tattered aftermath of landmines. (And to those who are prone to quip with such tired responses as "This is a beauty pageant, not a quiz bee," my retort is: your concept of beauty is unforgivably shallow and skin-deep, so go back to your cave where you belong.)

In the end, the one who made the first best impression was the one to beat. Congratulations, Ralph.

[there are pictures from last saturday's pageant at hari ng negros' friendster site]

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entry arrow1:57 PM | Things You Don't Know

There was this student in my research class who had been absent for several meetings. I kept calling her name out for attendance session after session -- but she was never around. But that happens all the time, so I was not surprised, nor even miffed. Finally, last Friday, I dropped her from the roll. Today, I find out that she had brain surgery twice last month, and had just died from aneurysm. I feel stupid and grave for not knowing.

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entry arrow12:39 AM | Bulawan Online

There's a new literary magazine online devoted to Philippine literature, and this one's putting a focus on literary works written in Filipino. Bulawan Online is the brainchild of National Artist for Literature Rio Alma, whose company I enjoyed immensely in Baguio last summer.

What is Bulawan?

Ang Bulawan Online ay isang lathalaang pampanitikan at nakabukás nang pangunahin para sa mga makata, kuwentista, at tagapagsalin ng tula at maikling kuwento. Nakabukás din ito sa mga pagsusuri ng aklat pampanitikan at pagtalakay sa mga paksang pampanitikan. Tuwing dalawang buwan, ilalabas sa lathalaang ito ang napilìng katangi-tanging tula, maikling kuwento, at salin nang may kalakip na komentaryo.

Sa ganitong paraan, nais ng lathalaang ito na pasiglahin ang mga makata’t manunulat at makatulong sa pagpatnubay ng pagsulong ng panitikan ng Filipinas, lalo na ng panitikang nakasulat sa wikang Filipino. Hinahangad din ng lathalaang ito na makapag-ambag ng mahusay na babasahing pampanitikan para sa mga estudyante’t guro ng wika at panitikang Filipino. Ang pagbibigay naman ng pagsusuri sa mga ilalathalang akda ay isang paraan ng paglinang sa kritikal na pagbása ng panitikan at pagdudulot ng gabay hinggil sa iba’t ibang paraan ng pag-aaral sa isang akda. Sa kabuuan, nais ng Bulawan Online na magtaguyod ng Panitikan para sa Dangal ng Bayan.

Ang lathalaang ito ay handog sa bayan ng Pambansang Alagad ng Sining Virgilio S. Almario. Nanunungkulan siyang Punòng Editor at kasáma sa Lupon ng mga Editor sina Roberto T. Añonuevo, Romulo P. Baquiran Jr., Michael M. Coroza, Vim Nadera, at Fidel Rillo. Mga Kagawad sina Phillip Kimpo Jr., Sophia Lucero, Eilene Narvaez, at Ernanie Rafael.

Do give the site a visit.

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