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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?


Sunday, November 30, 2008

entry arrow4:46 PM | Gelo

Shoot me, but I am kinda watching The Buzz while I'm working (TV is my background noise of choice), and Kris Aquino was interviewing Angel Locsin and Piolo Pascual about their new movie. And Piolo was saying, in Tagalog, "And we would like to thank our fans -- the Gelos! -- for supporting our love team..." or something like that.

Kris, oblivious as always, asked: "What's Gelo ba?"

And Angel went: "It's the name for our love team -- Angel, Gel... Piolo, Lo. Gelo."

Aba, parang Bennifer or Brangelina.

I almost vomitted.

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entry arrow1:26 PM | The One with the Constantly Surprised Look on Her Face and Needs to Lay Off on the Botox

It wasn't hard to miss Greta Van Susteren -- or The-One-With-the-Constantly-Surprised-Look-on-Her-Face-and-Needs-to-Lay-Off-on-the-Botox -- and her recent post-election interview with Sarah Palin in FoxNews for some reasons. Every conceivable news channel worth its salt in responsible journalism was covering, fervently, the attack on Mumbai, and here was FoxNews -- "We Report. You Decide." Whoopee -- doing such a loving, loving coverage of a certified political "old news." The difference in coverage was simply jarring.

And The-One-With-the-Constantly-Surprised-Look-on-Her-Face-and-Needs-to-Lay-Off-on-the-Botox's almost-bedroomy demeanor with the Alaskan governor was so gosh-worthy it bordered on the sapphic. "Have you eaten?" Greta asked Sarah somewhere in the interview, and then proceeded to Palin's kitchen, where both "palled around" (FoxNews' recent favorite term) like they were on a date. And Sarah went pa-cute and gave another one of those kilometric answers without periods or a point. I switched to CNN. There was new information about gunmen in Taj Mahal Hotel. I switched back to FoxNews, and the headline below Sarah's talking head went: "Gov. Palin talks about caribou and moose hunting."

Seriously, this is news?

FoxNews is the dumbest thing on television. I have a couple of good friends who work for "Fox & Friends" (and you know naman that I love you guys), but FoxNews is the dumbest thing on television. Which may be why every time I hear somebody confess that he or she watches FoxNews regularly, I have a tendency to give that person wide berth, avoid them like the plague. It's like admitting you're retarded, and are proud of it.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

entry arrow1:25 PM | Mother, After the Fall

My best friend rushed me to the hospital the other week in the middle of a dinner party after I got a frantic-sounding text message from my cousin: my mother was in the emergency room of the university hospital. "There was an accident," the message read. Those dreaded words you always hope you will never get -- but there they were, as clear as the backlight of my cellphone. We rushed.

She looked ravaged, but seemed all right. There were bruises on her face. She was lying on a gurney, ready to be taken to her private room. "What happened?" I asked my older brothers.

"She was going around the city with Dory," Rocky said. "They were carrying baskets of fruit. They were going down the steps -- and she missed one. She fell hard."

Mother is old. Anybody knows that any sort of falling is dangerous for old women. Her hips! "What did the doctor say?" I asked.

"She's had her x-ray. We're keeping her here overnight, for observation," he said.

But mother was suddenly in high spirits. For a bruised woman, she looked suddenly fine. She was all about telling us what happened to her -- but could not exactly remember the details. "All I remember was, there was blood on my face," she said. "And people were looking at me."

"Why'd you have to go around carrying baskets of fruits?"

"I was bored. I wanted grapes."

I looked down the floor, and saw her footwear. "Ma, why are you wearing high heels?"

"I hate flats. I can't walk in them."

Mother, 76 years old, refuses to give up her high heels. At her age!

She's fine now. The other day, she saw Quantum of Solace with my cousin -- and hated it. "Why were they fighting over water?" she said, and then wistfully: "I loved Sean Connery. There was no one like Sean Connery. This new guy is ugly."

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entry arrow11:32 AM | What Does Dewey Know?

Many months ago, Mark and I were sitting in the backseat of his car, and his six-year old niece was up front. Then she casually asked, "Daddy*, is Eee-yan your best friend?" We both looked at each other and then laughed. "Yes, Dewey," we chorused.

Days ago, I went by Mark's office to say hi, and Dewey was there busy drawing on pink (pink!) Post-Its. She said she wanted to draw us. And these were what she drew (click to enlarge):

Note the heart and the holding of hands. Pray tell me, what does a six-year-old know?

*That's how she calls Mark

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entry arrow9:52 AM | Dumaguete, Light and Dark

There is truth to that cliché, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” What we see is governed (or at least informed) by the relative. That is to say, perspective is slave, always, to context. What you see is always something you have been led to see.

You can throw bricks and stones at me right now for sounding positively academic. (I can’t help it. I’m a teacher.) But let me give you an interesting proposition: there is an apocryphal story that contends that when Christopher Columbus first sailed to the Americas, the Native Indians could not see the ships hurtling towards shore because they simply had no concept of what a “ship” was, and thus could not see it, even when it was right in front of them. Of course, this story is much debated and borders in legend. But it does make us think: do the things that we see actually exist? Or can our brains play tricks on us sometimes?

This is a strange beginning for an article about Dumaguete in the photography of John Stevenson and Hersley-Ven Casero, but bear with me.

I first understood this concept of “tricky perspective” when I began taking photography as a college hobby. I was young, and found myself suddenly trying to become familiar with the visual grammar of Richard Avedon, Bruce Webber, Ian Bradshaw, Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus, Man Ray, Vittorio Sella, Gary Winogrand, Frederick Sommer, Jerry Uelsmann, Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Louis Faurer, and many others like them. These were the Greats: men and women who took photography from the hands of enthusiastic amateurs and turned it into art.

Photography is the most democratic of all the arts. The camera is a ubiquitous object (there’s one in your cellphone right now) and just about anybody can click a shutter. It’s not hard. But the thing that separated the Greats from the rest of the click-happy majority was the concept of the “photographic eye”—that strange ability to capture real life moments in arresting artistry (which is called “composition”), and governed by a vocabulary that shares the same aesthetics as painting. Unlike painting, however, photography had the added conceit of the “real,” thus rendering it with a power to consume our attention that is surpassed only in modern art by cinema.

But let me go back to my college days. There were days on end when I would go around the streets of Dumaguete City snapping pictures of everything—children playing in the streets, vendors hawking their wares, people strolling the Boulevard, women in dasters going about their daily tsiangge haggle. When there were big events that called for parades, I would take pictures of the swirling dresses, the colorful floats, the abundant smiles.

The Dumaguete captured by my camera’s lenses was a colorful city informed by the language of travel magazines and brochures. This very fact did not bother me at all, and I never even thought hard about the innate perspective that went subconsciously into my compositions. Everybody else I knew who photographed Dumaguete seemed to capture the place in exactly the same manner. Swirly. Sweet. Smily. Full of balloons. Which is not bad—but I have since come to suspect the context with which I take photographs of my city. I am perhaps informed by the native tendency to show one’s place in the sunniest of disposition, the way we clean our houses in anticipation of visitors. Was this the real Dumaguete I’m taking pictures of? Or something subconsciously fabricated or staged-managed?

I ask these questions because the first time I saw the Dumaguete photographs of Mr. Stevenson, I was struck by a completely different pictorial story. His pictures seem to come out from a certain netherworld, something at once familiar and strange: his is a Dumaguete rendered in the starkness of film noir, always with a hint of dark mystery or something sinister to them. I don’t see this Dumaguete at all with my own eyes, but nevertheless my gut tells me that Mr. Stevenson’s pictures are truthful, too. They are, in fact, the perfect foil to our tourist-brochure perspective, something that colors the photography of Mr. Casero, especially his early photography. Combined, Mr. Stevenson’s pictures and Mr. Casero’s (and ours) become the all-encompassing portrait of our city: Dumaguete in dark and light.

I have known Mr. Stevenson for about eight years now, and Mr. Casero a little less than that. I first knew of Mr. Casero when he was drawing editorial cartoons for MetroPost, and made what is probably the most fantastic (and highly observant) caricature of me as a columnist for that paper. I was impressed. I first met Mr. Stevenson when a common friend noted our shared fascination for old films and for photography. That both work together now under the same department in Foundation University seems divinely connected to me since I see their works as perfect composites of the visions and revisions of Dumaguete. They’ve had exhibitions together before, notably in their parent university—and it is only fitting that both their visions of Dumaguete can be shared to the greater community through an exhibit titled “Dumaguete Light and Dark,” sponsored by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee, and running till the end of November at the Main Exhibition Hall of the Robert and Metta Silliman Library.

That the exhibit coincides with the Dumaguete fiesta is by design: it helps celebrate the city’s charter day by showing a profile of Dumaguete as it has never been seen before.

Besides his photography, Mr. Stevenson is also a writer and filmmaker, an American who has chosen to reside—sometimes to his own bewilderment—in Dumaguete for the last ten years. He first became interested in photography as an artistic medium at the age of twelve. Born in 1942 in Berkeley, California, he is the only son of David L. Stevenson, a well-known scholar of Elizabethan and contemporary literature. Being Dumaguete-bound was probably farthest from his mind growing up. He was educated at, among other places, Windsor Mountain School (in Lenox, Massachusetts), Westminster School (in London), and Western Reserve University (in Cleveland Ohio), where he majored in English literature and philosophy. It was an education that was designed to lead him, like his father before him, to a conventional academic career. He decided to buck that by briefly studying film production at CUNY Film School in New York City. He soon entered the work force in search of a career in film and photography, which led him to San Francisco. It was love (and assorted friendships), however, that led him to the Philippines.

There was a time when I would trekked to Mr. Stevenson’s old house somewhere near Bacong Beach where we would view and discuss old black-and-white films, mostly film noirs, such as Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon and The Asphalt Jungle, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker. That was instructive for me to understand where he came from and what informed his aesthetics. For the uninitiated, film noir is a cinematic term that describes stylish Hollywood crime dramas—which emphasize moral ambiguity and sexual motivation—and chief among its styles is low-key black and white cinematography, signaling the symbolic contrasts that govern our lives. That is what you exactly get in his photography—a Dumaguete in black and white, populated with people whose faces become unwitting battlegrounds for the dilemmas and ambiguities within.

Mr. Stevenson hesitates to title his works, which only adds to the whole “ambiguous” theme of his pictures, but there is one photograph that works best to capture what he is trying to say. It is a black-and-white scene of a Dumaguete fiesta, and people are milling about the Boulevard. On one side is the sea, with the city’s lights reflected on the dark waters. On the other side are booths to house the assorted eating places who have temporarily set up shop along the city’s grassy and tourist-friendly promenade. In the middle are various men walking about. Some are seated on a stage set up in the middle of the brick walk. Two men—one in a white shirt and the other in something with flowered prints—are distinct in the foreground. They are in the midst of so much celebration—and yet, there on their faces are faces of total boredom or total blankness.

The first time I saw this picture many years ago, I exclaimed: “That’s Dumaguete!” I still cannot explain what made me exclaim so, but the ambiguity felt real: Dumaguete is ambiguous, a city of such renowned “gentility”—but the most discerning among us often confess to seeing or feeling a darkness that lies within that generosity of soul.

Mr. Stevenson has another shot of the Boulevard that tries to be clearer about this duality, or ambiguity. It is a shot of the pier, right where the Boulevard turns a corner towards where the ships are.

The cemented embankment that separates Tañon Strait and the streets of the city divides the picture perfectly: to the right, the rolling sea—wavy, but monotonous in its grey expanse; and to the left, Dumaguete’s streets garbled by parked motorcabs and street signs—unmoving, but teeming with such bottled energy.

A triptych, all set in the Boulevard, involving a single wooden stand selling some sort of merchandise (for P5.50) with Tañon Street as a backdrop, is also emblematic about the city Mr. Stevenson tries to chronicle. The wooden stand occupies the middle of all three photographs. In one, a woman and child enters the frame from the left, and regards the stand with an uninterested stare. In another, the wooden stand occupies the frame all by itself, with only the seawaves for company. In the last photograph, a man sits at the background, looking quite introspective, his hand cupping his head. The blur of an incoming motorcycle enters the frame from the right. And still the waves roll on, and the stand remains immobile. “That’s Dumaguete!” I exclaimed once again. A Dumaguete where nothing—and everything—seems to happen, where the rolling sea is the only constant (there goes your paradox), and a rickety wooden box becomes symbolic of the immobility that afflicts most of us in this sad, contented city.

Mr. Stevenson has other photographs, of course, all of them detailing his recurring theme: shoppers outside Lee Plaza milling about with vacant faces, a frowning man looking at a gas pump, people sitting in the shadows of the Boulevard at night with Christmas parols the only illumination they have, a boy staring impassively out of his humble house’s veranda, a uniformed schoolgirl pausing dramatically by the seawall.

They add up. Mr. Stevenson, informed by his love of film noir and by his outsider/foreigner status in Dumaguete, shows a city that is irrepressibly social, but also sad, teeming with people but also of loneliness. Like any artist grappling with their muse, he does not deliberately set out to render Dumaguete so: “The idea is to use a camera to seize moments in time, moments that seem to capture the spirit and feeling of the world around you in a powerful and dramatic way,” he says. “I was excited by the idea of doing this kind of photography in Dumaguete because, unlike places which have been pictured a million times by everybody, no one had ever worked in this style here, so I had virgin territory in front of me. Although these photographs form a kind of picture of Dumaguete and its people, they have no message. When I took them, I had no particular theme in mind, nor did I intend any judgment on what I saw. They reflect only my instinct to shoot at that particular moment.”

That may be, but we can alter a bit the cliché that begins this article, and say, “The message is in the eye of the beholder.” We see his photographs, and a kind of pattern emerges, and it carries a message whether he likes it or not. It is, of course, also a “message” that is substantially helped by the peculiarity of his style. Mr. Stevenson acknowledges this: “Photographs have a life of their own, in spite of the photographer’s intentions. I am often amazed to find that a finished picture has a completely different feeling than I imagined it would have when I took it—sometimes for the better, often for the worse. So it’s not fair for me to take too much credit for the result in any particular case, no matter how good it might seem. I’m just happy that so much turned out so well.”

And what is often the result? A picture of Dumaguete’s dark and pulsing heart—and I appreciate that as a good, complimentary contrast to our own overwhelming tendency to focus on the bright, brochuristic, and facile sides of our city.

We can say that Mr. Casero is of that brochuric bent—his pictures are full of color, of smiles, of laughter, of costumes, of bright sunsets—but I sense that his pictures have a subversive heart that popular photography often lacks. Still, this is incredible for a photographer who only took to the lens quite recently. Though a recipient of the annual Artist Award given by his alma mater Foundation University, Mr. Casero—it bears mentioning—is a marketing graduate. Which may be why the tilt of most of his early works tended towards a “photographic marketability” of Dumaguete. His well-received efforts have an assuredly mass appeal, and his various awards and achievements show that: he is a finalist of the Philippine Airlines Photo Contest, a finalist of the Water is Life Photo Contest, and champion of the 2006 Buglasan Photo Contest. His works have also been featured in various photography websites, and he has published both nationally and internationally.

Mr. Casero’s work is a stark contrast to Mr. Stevenson’s, even if many of his latest works now come in black and white—something, he says, he got from the latter. Looking at their works, I can say both have slightly influenced the other. But not so much. Consider the leaping trio of boys in the beach during sunset in Mr. Casero’s collection. Consider the stomping figure of a little girl in school uniform walking past a banner that reads “Be Honest.” Consider the splashy photo of a boy laughing and playing in the surf. Consider the low-angle shot of milling people (one of them in a wheelchair) gathered around one of the Boulevard’s distinctive ornate streetlamps, with the sky swirling with clouds in the background. Consider the seated boy flanked by huge advertising tarpaulins showing a laughing baby happy with Pampers diapers. Consider the boy leaping with joy as his kite escapes flying to the air. Consider the close-up of a boy whose small face is the tight shot for this exercise—but look at the sparkly depth of his eyes. Mr. Casero’s color photographs are even lovelier in their cozy comforts: a trio of children sitting on a makeshift swing, the shadows of five kids in a playground as they swing towards a sunset, a quartet of kids scrambling up a tree, two girls picking seashells in the sunrise, a figure of a boy framed by a dark foreground of sand and a bright background of silver clouds and spilling sunshine, a wide-angle shot of a parked bicycle that seems to hurtle towards a sitting boy…

Even a shot of a young girl picking through garbage in a landfill seems surprisingly sweet. Or at least romanticized.

And yet the sweetness of his photographs—all populated by children—does not lend a diabetic bent to them. They lack the grainy and direct sadness of Mr. Stevenson’s photographs, but they nevertheless share that theme of ambiguity. Because although Mr. Casero’s work may seem perfect for another generic issue of a travel magazine, they are surprisingly informed by a certain gravity. This gravity is an apparent acknowledgement that there is “something else” behind these children’s smiles and their antics. That “something else” borders the region of photojournalism and its penchant for social messages. Here, that message is given to us in a very subtle manner. Mr. Casero’s pictures make us feel delight in his stock images of happy children, but we are left with a nagging doubt at the back of our heads that something is completely off. And so we begin examining even further his photos—and we discover an entirely new world: that of happiness in desperation’s robes. In that sense, Mr. Casero’s photographs may be the most subversive in the whole exhibit.

I actually conceptualized this exhibit many years ago, and this year, the CAC has finally made this vision alive. This month we are celebrating the fiesta of Dumaguete City, and what other brilliant way can we give tribute to the City of Gentle People except through these glimpses through photography.

I will end with this question: which is the real Dumaguete? It’s all in the eye of the beholder. We all create our own sense of place, perhaps informed by where we come from.

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entry arrow12:56 AM | Cleaning

If there is one thing anybody must know about me, it is this: my day can never begin unless the bed is made, every pillow arranged in a perfect pile, every crease in the sheets flattened out, and the sheet itself pulled tight to unforgiving hospital corners. An unmade bed is portal to my dark things. It signals my possible descent into my personal secret madness. I can eat you alive when I leave home early with you still sleeping on my bed, and I come home to sheets and pillowcases mottled like snake skin.

My apartment is the microcosm to my psyche. Order is sexy, thus everything must be in place. Even the hints of "disorder" -- the magazines piled on the floor, the books stacked against each other on a tabletop -- is by design. The best way to gauge how I am is to consider how apartment is kept, for the moment. There was a time, last year, when a skirmish with somebody at work brought me to my lowest circles of hell: and it showed in the pigsty that surrounded me. Three months later, when I emerged from that hell somewhat healed, cleaning the mess became a kind of purging. With everything sparkling clean, I felt I could live again.

Nobody knew, except Mark.

It takes me exactly 12 hours to clean my small apartment. Everything -- even the dirtying that precedes it -- is by design, and I refuse help. My mother texted me early this morning, "Have you had lunch?" she asked. "Later," I texted back, "I'm beginning to move things around. I'm cleaning the pad thoroughly, in preparation for year's end." "Perhaps you should ask for Efren's help," she told me, "He doesn't do anything all day." (Efren is the family driver.) "No," I texted back with finality, "I want to this alone."

There are reasons why I want solitariness: first, house-cleaning is a kind of meditation for me, and I think about how life has become as I attack the cobwebs, the cakes of dust, the balls of fallen hair, and what-not that have collected in hidden corners and in the shadowy underbellies of furniture; second, there is the matter of my leisurely-approach. Perhaps, "leisure" is the wrong word. "Deliberate" is better. I am my mother's son, and she has taught us well to regard the hidden dirt of all things. Even the bottoms of every foot of every table must be swiped with wet cloth drenched in Lysol-flavored sop.

It takes me exactly 12 hours to clean my small apartment. I have thousands of books and movies everywhere: they spill out of my shelves, which already occupy two walls, and have invaded table tops. There are also stacks of papers and files and spring-bound things I hoard for some forgotten project, all of them winking with importance, and thus are successful in being spared from an urge to cull. Everything seems fragile, and so I move about the place like a monk on cat's paws. I sweep. (This can take forever.) I mop. I take a pause once in a while to watch what's going on in Discovery Travel and Living. I go down on my knees to handscrub the floor. I sweep. I clean the windows. I sweep. I wipe everything. (This, too, can take forever.) Every CD, every book, every DVD, everything must gleam. I clean the toilet and bath. I sweep. I take a bath. I wash the dishes and wipe the mini-kitchen clean. I change the bed. I air out the closet. I sweep. I take a bath again.

It takes me exactly 12 hours to clean my small apartment. I usually clean one night over the weekend, when the quiet makes me think I am the only creature stirring in the city. Sometimes I finish when the dawn is already breaking, and I sleep through the morning. Tonight, I thought of beginning in the afternoon, and now it is midnight, and I am done.

I do this once (and sometimes twice) a week. It's a curse of habit and persuasion. Because I cannot embark on any work unless the floor is sparkling, and there is the scent of lemon in the air.

All these is my measure of private madness. I live with it. Because for the most part, it balances my life, and keeps it ... clean. But I know it has a dark side. The trick is to know when the compulsion has you in its claws.


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Thursday, November 27, 2008

entry arrow2:48 PM | Lazy Thursday

I'm a spoiled brat. I'm the youngest of six, and I have the art of getting what I want from family members down pat. Not that I abuse this power much. Only occasionally, like now. Got home late last night, the first time I've been drunk in ages, and the first time I actually went out dancing since forever. Woke up quite late, near noon. I took care last night to drink enough water and take Biogesic to prevent a hangover. Didn't feel like going out for lunch, so I texted my mother who lives in the other side of town. "Mom, just woke up and I'm hungry," I texted. "Can you send over some food? Pleeeassse?" In thirty minutes, the family driver arrived bearing a feast. I told you, I'm a spoiled brat. Sometimes.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

entry arrow7:52 PM | Queens Pinoy

The writer Ramon Bautista now blogs.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

entry arrow11:06 PM | Charles and Mia Edit a Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler

I should have blogged about this days ago when Mia Tijam herself announced it while on vacation here in Dumaguete with [name withheld]. But so many things happen from day to day, and sometimes you just don't want to blog about anything.

In any case, this is a good project that needs trumpeting: a sampler of some of the speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) by Filipino writers that are being published locally and abroad -- a "selection of stories that," co-editor Charles Tan writes in his introduction, "both Filipinos and readers abroad can appreciate."

I'm honored to be part of the sampler, alongside Dean Francis Alfar, M.R.R. Arcega, F.H. Batacan, Douglas Candano, Michael A.R. Co, Khavn De La Cruz, Pocholo Goitia, Francezca C. Kwe, Apol Lejano-Massebieau, and Vincent C. Sales.

And the blogs abroad are responding! How cool is that! Futurismic takes note. And so do SF Signal and BoingBoing.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

entry arrow10:36 AM | Chuck Won the Man Asian!

Here's one for Philippine literature! Miguel Syjuco's novel Ilustrado has won the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize.

From the press release: A panel of three internationally acclaimed authors and experienced literary judges named Filipino author Miguel Syjuco winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel Ilustrado, a fictional account of a young Filipino caught within a notorious scandal spanning over the Philippine history.

The panel of judges for the 2008 prize praised Ilustrado: "The shortlist for the Man Asian prize testifies to the great vitality of the novel in Asian societies undergoing hectic and unexpected transformations. In the end, we had to choose; and Ilustrado seems to us to possess formal ambition, linguistic inventiveness and sociopolitical insight in the most satisfying measure. Brilliantly conceived, and stylishly executed, it covers a large and tumultuous historical period with seemingly effortless skill. It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humour."

The prize winner was announced at a celebratory dinner at The Peninsula Hong Kong. Miguel Syjuco was awarded USD 10,000.

Ilustrado was selected from shortlist of five, including Kavery Nambisan's The Story That Must Not be Told, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi's The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, Yu Hua's Brothers, and Alfred A. Yuson's The Music Child.

Read an excerpt from Ilustrado here.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

entry arrow8:57 PM | Eliza Knowlittle

From Maureen Dowd's column in The New York Times:

And yet, [Sarah] Palin still seems disturbingly unconcerned about how much she does not know.

Calling Tina Fey. Here’s Palin defending herself on the contention that she got confused about Africa:

My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.

Umm, what daw?

America, you have your own Erap na!

[swiped from gibbs cadiz]

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

entry arrow7:01 PM | On Trying and Trying Again

"I wasn't losing -- I was just learning how to win."

- Ted Turner, on the Atlanta Braves winning the World Series after 18 years of losing


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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

entry arrow11:27 AM | Kinsmen Online

Months ago, in a writers’ conference in Baguio, while we were waiting for a van to take us to the house of National Artist BenCab, a bunch of friends and I stumbled on an online phenomenon that took ego-tripping to a new level: it was called Google Fight, and it inserted Internet technology to our most casual sense of narcissism.

Google Fight is relatively old (almost as old as Google itself), but my Baguio friends found it quite novel. It takes something as simple as search, and turns it on its head, making Googling a game of "My father is stronger than your father"-proportions. The idea, of course, borrows the very wonders of Google, the world’s foremost Internet search engine whose secret algorithms allow it to scour the billions of webpages available out there, just to ferret out information most worthy of one’s search words. In less than a decimal of a second.

Of course, in the usually private act of our Internet surfing, the idea that comes must be common to all who have half the wit of being curious: “If I Google myself, what will I find online?”

Google Fight takes that fascination further by giving any Internet user two search fields: you simply type in two specific keywords, each to its own search field, then you press Enter—and Google Fight determines which keyword brings back the most returns. If you type in “Obama” vs. “McCain,” for example, Obama wins hands-down with 244,000,000 returns compared to McCain’s 157,000,000. This means that there are more Internet references and links to the keyword “Obama” than to “McCain.”

In Baguio, this led to a merry Google Fight between all our names—which begged the Existential question just right for the Information Age: if you Google yourself, and you don’t find anything, do you really exist?

Googling oneself, of course, is such a narcissistic thing to do. It is also something that spares no one, and everybody I know is guilty of it. One friend Googles himself constantly, just to settle his inflated sense of paranoia that people may be spreading bad gossip about him online. (The infamous Brian Gorrell blog has made that a plausibility, of course.) I, too, Google myself sometimes—for a variety of reasons, one of them being a tiny sense of affirmation—God help me—that I actually exist. And I do get unique results of my online self-searches, if only because I have such a weird family name. I’m not a Piñero, a Reyes, a Villanueva, a Perez, or any of that sort. These are surnames of thousands. I’m a Casocot—that stands out clearly from a crowd of surnames.

I used to be ashamed of my surname. Casocot. The whole thing sounds utterly made up. I also used to be convinced that it sounded silly, somewhere in the neighborhood of Makabalig-otin, or any of those memorable Siquijodnon surnames.

My father used to tell us that the Casocots a generation before him had coined this strange family name out of thin air because the Murillos—our supposed old (and real) family name—were being hunted down by the Japanese kempetai during World War II. As to what specific offense or guerilla honor it was, I have no idea. But father was often fond of tall tales, and while I used to be inclined to believe him, I really have no way to verify anything anymore. He died when I was 21, and with him died a chance for knowing the real score. So now my brothers and I are stuck with merely wishing for the generic-sounding “Murillo,” because, truth be told, that surname does make things easier. At least bureaucratically-speaking. My brother Rey, who is based in Los Angeles, got tired of being asked to spell out and explain “Casocot” every time he had to process papers that he had since legally changed his surname to that of my mother’s maiden name, which is Rosales. (Now there’s a very generic surname.) He had also given himself a new second name, Gio. So the Rey Rosales Casocot of old is now Rey Gio Rosales. Everybody mistakes him for a Latino now, and he doesn’t care.

Casocot. It sounds dirty sometimes, and when foreigners do try to pronounce it, they say “Casket” instead. Like “death” itself. Even the great poet Eileen Tabios once called me Ian Rosales Scott. Because, well, there’s just no spelling it correctly, especially the first time around.

Kasukut. Casukot. Kasokot. I can go on, and on.

And so, I tried Googling the whole damn surname, to see if I could get anything beyond returns with my name in them. (This is easy to do. I simply wrote in “Casocot –Ian –Fermin –Rosales,” which effectively cancelled any returns with “Ian Fermin Rosales” in them.)

I did get some results.

One historical website lists down what remained of old Filipino surnames before the Claveria Edict of 1849, which called for the Hispanization of family names in Spanish colonial Philippines. One entry points out to an old Tagalog surname, “Casuco,” which meant “fellow surrenderee.” (My ancestors surrendered? To what? And is “Casuco” the real forerunner of “Casocot”?)

But now, also a deepening mystery. There is now the matter of “kinsmen” found online, all of us sharing a weird name, most of them quite thick in Nasipit or Butuan City, Agusan del Norte. Who in heavens is Alona Brenda Casocot? Danilo Casocot Brucal? Vhim Pate Casocot? Felix Casocot? Rodel Castor Casocot? Jesebelle Casocot? Maria Ruena Casocot? Sirelo Casocot? Lauro Casocot? Florencio T. Casocot? Nestor Malalis Casocot? Are they relations?

Why does a certain Lalaine Casocot proclaim in her Friendster profile, “nvr let guys hurt u..we women r d planetz pride..so wen guy hurtz u..,stand tall and say!!Im too beautiful to be yours..!!”? And why does a certain Christine Casocot, also in Friendster, describe herself thus as “gwafa q wui, way palag kay wla tambal sa insicurities hehehehehehe..”? Do Casocots normally murder language this way?

Worst of all, who is Flordeles Casocot?

And why does she have an online dating profile for a site usually reserved for mail-order brides desperately looking for white, dirty, old men? And why does she look like an overly Block & Whitened tsimay? And does the same blood course through my veins? Oh. My. God.

Fun, fun, fun.

Try it. Google yourself. Sometimes you can never guess the surprises you will find online.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

entry arrow3:03 PM | Phoneless

I lost my cellphone. It was in my hands one minute, and the next minute it simply vanished. I have no idea where it is.

I tried to retrace my steps. I was in the classroom waiting for my new students to finish filling out their information sheets... Then I went to the office right after to settle matters of grades... Then I talked to my department chair... Those are the only sure things I get about my day yesterday, but the individual details have been lost to an exquisitely thick fog. My brain was foggy yesterday. And I lost my phone.

And why was my head foggy? It took me almost a day to figure out for sure, and it came to this: America was voting a historic moment, and of course you'll get a foggy head from almost 48 hours of non-stop television viewing, a stretch of eternity hopping around CNN (to get my facts straight, with smart middle-of-the-road punditry to make sense of things), FoxNews (to feel enraged by the unapologetic right-wing tone of everything), and BBC (to relax, while still getting the news I needed).

I don't know when I'll be able to get a new cellphone. It amazes me though that I don't seem to care.

And yes, my head is still foggy.


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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

entry arrow2:05 PM | Obama

In 2004, when the blundering fratboy fool and fundamentalist conservative tool George W. Bush won a second term as American president, I was predictably despondent, because I knew, deep in my bones, that it was only going to lead to a shattered world. (I was right.) I was depressed for a week. My apolitical brother, who is not exactly the brightest person in the world, raised his eyebrows and said, "Why do you care? The U.S. presidency does not affect any of us." I wanted to tell him, but it does. I think writer Jessica Zafra said it best: "This is our election, we just don't have the vote." Because whatever America does, so goes the world, really -- and only a nincompoop hiding in his cave can't see that.

But now, America has showed us it has the capacity to learn from history, and right its mistakes. Barack Hussein Obama, a black man, is the 44th President of the Union.

His speech in Grant Park in Chicago tonight, acknowledging his historic win, gave me goosebumps. Read it:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled -- Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he's fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation's next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House. And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics -- you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to -- it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington -- it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America -- I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you -- we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek -- it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House -- a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends ... though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn -- I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world -- our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down -- we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security -- we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright -- tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America -- that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing -- Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves -- if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time -- to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth -- that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

It made me cry.

Now, if we can only take America's lead and bring back decency and smarts to our own tattered Philippine presidency.


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Sunday, November 02, 2008

entry arrow3:57 AM | Filipina Poets Online

The poet Luisa Igloria has posted an impressive bulletin board on Filipina poets, complete with online sources and sample works. It's worth more than a cursory look. It is a veritable treasure of a resource into the works of our great women poets.

(I just wish though that my photo of Mom Edith Tiempo got credited. Once, some time ago, I saw my photo of her published in a book, with nary a mention of where the book's researchers got it from. I found myself strangely feeling miffed by that. I never contacted the book's editor or publisher, though. Should I?)

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entry arrow2:15 AM | Ambush Photography

I was looking at my photograph below with Akihiro Sato again, and it got me thinking: What is strange about this picture? I just got my answer. It's a rare photo of me with a celebrity. And this one I consider kinda "accidental." You see, I was snapping a photo of Mark and Aki together, and when I was done, Aki waved me over to where he was. And like an automaton attracted to beautiful things, I found myself gravitating towards him (who wouldn't?), and then Mark took our photo. Eh.

Which got me wondering. I've been with a lot of famous people -- dined with them, trekked with them, talked with them, got drunk with them, whatever -- but I don't have a lot of photos of me with them. Most of the time, I just don't feel like asking for a snapshot with them and me.

I find this strange. Because I'm not exactly immune to the whole allure of celebrity. So why don't I usually feel like asking for snapshots with celebrities? Then I read what Clint Eastwood had to say about this sort of ambush photography in film critic Roger Ebert's blog: "It is the Chinese Water Torture. And 99 times out of a hundred, the stranger they hand their camera to looks through the lens, pushes the button, and says 'It isn't working!' and then the fan has to walk over to the guy and demonstrate the camera and say, 'Now try it'. And then it isn't working again. Looking at someone looking puzzled at a camera, that's the story of my life."

I realized this is the very reason why.

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entry arrow12:18 AM | The Rowing Endeth

By Anne Sexton

I’m mooring my rowboat
at the dock of the island called God.
This dock is made in the shape of a fish
and there are many boats moored
at many different docks.
“It’s okay,” I say to myself,
with blisters that broke and healed
and broke and headed--saving
themselves over and over.
And salt sticking to my face and arms like
a glue-skin pocked with grains of tapioca.
I empty myself from my wooden boat
and onto the flesh of The Island.

“On with it!” He says and thus
we squat on the rocks by the sea
and play--can it be true--a
game of poker.
He calls me.
I win because I hold a royal straight flush.
He wins because He holds five aces.

A wild card had been announced
but I had not beard it
being in such a state of awe
when He took out the cards and dealt.
As he plunks down His five aces
and I sit grinning at my royal flush,
He starts to laugh,
the laughter rolling like a hoop out of His mouth
and into mine,
and such laughter that He doubles right over me
laughing a Rejoice Chores at our two triumphs.
Then I laugh, the fishy dock laughs
the sea laughs. The Island laughs.
The Absurd laughs.

Dearest dealer,

I with my royal straight flush,
love yon so for your wild card,
that untamable, eternal, gut-driven ha-ha
and lucky love.

[I needed this poem. Thanks, Ralph.]


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Saturday, November 01, 2008

entry arrow11:39 PM | We'll All Have What She's Having

I don't think it was cosmic coincidence. But last night, I felt the need to watch one of my favorite movies again, Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally..., which I first saw as a high school freshman at the height of Dumaguete's last big typhoon. I remember venturing out downtown when the winds were in full force, just to while away my boredom while the storm was blowing away trees and galvanized iron roofs. The movie was showing in Ever Theater, and I had no idea what it was all about, but I got in and fell in love.

It's still the one movie I turn to when I want to be romantic and wise all at the same time. And of course, Meg Ryan's fake orgasm scene in the deli still ranks as one of the best in contemporary cinema, punctuated of course by Estelle Reiner's famous line: "I'll have what she's having."

Estelle was director Rob Reiner's mom, and her one line in the movie has become as immortal as "Nobody's perfect" at the end of Some Like It Hot.

I just learned she died today at the age of 94. She will remain remembered as long as there is cinema.

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