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

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Friday, November 29, 2013

entry arrow1:14 AM | Camera Boys

It is not easy to curate a photography exhibit. Then again, it is not easy to curate anything at all—the careful selection of available works, the creation of a cohesive storyline and theme, the building up of a presentation that best highlights the artistry on display—but it is more so, I think, with photography. As an art form, its biggest challenge is that it is easily the most widespread and democratic, not really good things: because in a world drowning in a glut of images, selecting that which finally transcends towards art—enough to merit a show—is a difficult high wire act. But curate I did, anyway.

I guess it is easier, however, when the photographs one is curating happen to come from two young artists I know whose raw talents I first took notice of only a few years ago when they were still students at Silliman University. They had an arresting zest to their works that became all the more profound as they further developed their skills. I have always considered these two Silliman’s equivalent to the burning talent of Foundation University’s Hersley-Ven Casero. Of course, the past years have only seen more of an unfolding of their quiet photographic genius—and so finally, under the auspices of the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee, both have finally been given their own show. Finally: Urich and Henz—camera boys with that all too rare “eye”—are ready for the unveiling.

This debut exhibition of two of Dumaguete’s best young photographers, Urich Calumpang and Henzonly Alboroto, easily shows the muscle of their training with the Silliman University Camera Club, under the stewardship of founder Greg Morales. For their first photography exhibit, Mr. Calumpang and Mr. Alboroto explore the peculiar shadows and the interesting geometries of life in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental. As avid street photographers, I thought these would play up to their strengths—but it was also fiesta season in the city, and what’s best to show a love for Dumaguete than to showcase it in art.

For Mr. Calumpang, who considers himself a minimalist street photographer by heart, the photography of everyday things that most people take for granted interests most his sensibilities as a chronicler with a camera—and for this debut exhibition, he has gone to the streets to capture everyday symmetry and balance, light and shadows, lines and details, hues and the human element, mostly with his iPhone camera. Mr. Calumpang’s fascination for the extraordinary and the symmetrical in the common defines him best as a photographer—and you see that in his shots of architectural detail, of lines, of geometrical shapes. All these from everyday objects and scenes, of course. This appeals to the obsessive compulsive in him.

For Mr. Alboroto, a photographic sensibility shaped by the works of such people as Henri Cartier Bresson, Steve McCurry, Matt Stuart, and Hersley-Ven Casero, has given him a chance to explore the personal through the things that surround him and captures his camera-ready imagination. For him, his photography—even if in the service of street photography or photojournalism—is, most of all, a vessel for self-expression, for mapping human emotions, which is why there is a certain tenderness that pervades all his works, even ones that is starkly photojournalistic.

In both their works, Dumaguete’s heart has been perfectly captured.

Which seems perfect and ironic at the same time because, though both spiritual citizens of the city, both are actually strangers to it. At least in terms of origin. Urich Calumpang, after all, hails from Tanjay, Negros Oriental. He graduated from Silliman University with a degree in management in 2012. Currently a Dumaguete-based freelance events photographer, his works have been published in international, national, and local newspapers and magazines, including Newsweek Asia, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippines Star, The Freeman, Dumaguete MetroPost, and The Negros Chronicle. He has given lectures on photojournalism for the Department of Education and several private schools in Dumaguete City, and he is currently the official photographer of the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee.

Henzonly Hope Alboroto, on the other hand, hails from Tagbilaran, Bohol. He graduated from Silliman University with a degree in mass communication in 2013. Currently, he works as a network marketer and a freelance graphic designer. He does mainly street photography and photojournalism, and some of his works have been featured in Yahoo! News, Sun.Star Daily, and professional photography blogs.

Catch their exhibition opening on November 29, Friday, at 5:30 PM at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium Foyer Gallery. The exhibit, open to the public, runs until December 17.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

entry arrow11:01 PM | Not a Vacation

I had a small accident last Saturday morning, which sprained my right ankle pretty badly, I was advised by the doctor to get some bed rest "and defy gravity." Dr. Yap, of course, was talking about my swollen foot. So there I was in bed, trapped in a cellular dead zone of an apartment without wifi, surrounded by bags of groceries my brother mercifully bought for me -- in pain, immobile, unconnected, unable to do work. This was not the vacation I was longing for. It got me thinking: what kind of a life am I leading that it had to take an accident to get me to rest? Things will have to change.


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Friday, November 22, 2013

entry arrow1:25 PM | I Love Dumaguete

There seems to be some newfound love for free-standing, lighted up letter signs in Dumaguete these days. For what seemed like a long time, you could find one at the very heart of the Rizal Boulevard, right before the line of tempurahans—a proclamation of such electric presence that read: “I [Heart] Dumaguete.” With the swirling Visayan Sea and Siquijor as backdrop, it had proven both romantic and misplaced—but nonetheless, you could see people flock to it in a rage of selfies to be posted in a thousand Facebook walls. The ante was raised even higher by the Dumaguete Tourism Office when it planted a similar sign at Quezon Park—this time a multicolored version that expunged the singular and individualistic consideration of the first sign with the more collective and emphatic, “We [Heart] Dumaguete.”

All and good—because who doesn’t love Dumaguete?

It has its enduring charms that make it a unique place in comparison to other Philippine cities of its size. And it has always renewed itself by the influx of people from other places who come to visit, get beguiled, and then stay. And even if they don’t stay for long, they always come back to this place whose very name—“dagit”—suggests the beguilement of having been captured.

I asked two former students—and friends—why they keep coming back. Even if graduation from Silliman University meant they have gone through the portals and are now living lives somewhere else, secure in careers that keep them busy.

Michelle Eve de Guzman now works for Cebu Pacific, a job which takes her everywhere in the country. But she finds time, somehow, coming back here regularly, for a spell. “I love Dumaguete because it is where I discovered who I am, what I want, what I can do,” she told me. “The city has a certain vibe that encourages people, students in particular, to act on their yearning for adventure, culture and nature. When I was a college student in Dumaguete, everything was possible; everything was within reach.

“Now that I have graduated and live in Manila, I keep coming back to Dumaguete. It’s a place in the world where I am happy, where I can breathe and rest. I can hop on a motorcycle and head for the nearest beach. I can appreciate art while checking out the newest restaurant in town.

“When I was younger, my energies were extended outward, to the world. Now that I’m more grown up, I take care of myself and my peace of mind. In both these phases in my life—Dumaguete.”

As for Dok Timbancaya, his work as an enterprising events organizer for EVO Party Solutions is making him one of the most sought-after party planner in the Visayas and Palawan. He is our Tim Yap, minus the unnecessary frills—somebody with a tremendous sense of party, but knows enough to make the party and not the personality the event itself. He is the ninja of the Visayan party world, but even so, he manufactures all sorts of excuses to keep coming back to Dumaguete—a place that thoroughly sustains him.

“The best touristic activity in Dumaguete is actually living in it,” Dok tells me, “because after two weeks, you may want to stop being a tourist and start becoming a resident instead. The real attractions in Dumaguete are not the tourist spots but the people it. “Dumaguete is a great community, and everyone comes off with this educated air. It may be a world all its own but it is by no means backward. It is actually a melting pot of culture and interests, which is an ideal intellectual venue for anyone who’s not interested in maintaining useless facades. I’ve met the most talented people in Dumaguete—from the arts, to literature, to performance, all the way down to computer engineers—they’re all there. Most of Dumaguete has refined taste.

“When it comes to having fun and partying, I don’t know of any other cities that know how to have create merry havoc like the people of Dumaguete—but when it needs to be serious, they can be. People here are more real and honest—and nice. Dumaguete is intellectually progressive and is a great place to grow up in. Dumaguete built me and I will always give back to this community that raised me. The city has taught me these values, and I want to share what I’ve acquired in my successes and help it grow more and improve. I want to give it things that we can be proud of. Dumaguete is my happy place. I feel whole here.

And Dok, ever the party wizard, goes on to say: “It’s not about keeping up with the scene. This is about how we do it here in Dumzville!”

Dumzville—which is how the young of the city happily call their beloved city. Happy fiesta, Dumaguete. And may the love of people for you carry you on for a hundred years more.

Dok's EVO Party Solutions is presenting the DUMA Electrique Fest for the 2013 Sandurot Foam and Color Festival tonight, November 22, at Hayahay in time for the Dumaguete fiesta. Grab your tickets and enjoy music by DJ Miki Taka, Clyde Harris, Jack Stone, Rich Rubillar, Ryan Sanchez, Phil Oncenes, Zachary Norman, Robin Right, MC Phat Jay, Team Centerline, and Team Gore!

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

entry arrow12:06 AM | Chronicling a Cultural History

On November 21, a Thursday, we are going to launch the coffee table book, Handulantaw: Celebrating 50 Years of Culture and the Arts in Silliman University, at 5:30 PM at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium Foyer. In attendance will be some of Silliman University’s cultural icons over the years, including theatre actor Junix Inocian, dancer Lucy Jumawan, writers Myrna Pena-Reyes, Lorna Makil, and Cesar Ruiz Aquino, theatre producer Luna Inocian, animator Ramon del Prado, painter Kitty Taniguchi, among others. The event culminates a year of relentless research and writing for many of us in Silliman, under the generous sponsorship of Julio Sy Jr. and the Tao Foundation. It will be a signal for me, at the very least, to finally get some proper sleep.

But I am reminded of what Albert Camus once said: “Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.” It was this clear-eyed perspective of what culture means to society that has kept me going the past year, and kept me sane as I—and editors Warlito Caturay Jr., Sherro Lee Lagrimas, Diomar Abrio, Annabelle Lee-Adriano, Leo Mamicpic, Moses Joshua Atega, Ron Jacob Calumpang, among others—struggled with a project that has consumed us through the best of times and, alas, also through the worst of times.

In 2009, two years before the Cultural Affairs Committee of Silliman University celebrated its golden anniversary, I made an innocent suggestion to the organization that perhaps we needed to take an ambitious step in our commemoration of the 50th anniversary and spearhead a project that would document the rich cultural history of this university.

“Why not make a coffee table?” I said. Alas, in life, the one who speaks out almost always gets the painstaking job of making true what has been hatched in words.

Needless to say, I got the chief editor’s job of compiling, and overseeing, a work of putting together in one volume not just fifty years of the CAC, but also a hundred years of culture and the arts in Silliman. Would I have said anything in 2009 if I had known what it would be actually like to undertake a project like this? Well, if I had only known, I would have quaked in my shoes: but I didn’t know, and for the most part, an ignorance of what was entailed indeed ironically gave birth to this book.

This book, indeed, constitutes a collective act of remembering. As a work of cultural history, it contains significant fragments of the past fifty years and even more—assembling a cultural mosaic of the locale that paints an unfolding story: over all these years, it continues to shape, instruct, and inspire generations of artists and cultural workers in its own being and becoming. This book, in that sense, thus becomes a work that also invites a necessary conversation involving retrospection and looking forward. Hence, we have titled this book Handulantaw—a deliberate connection of the Cebuano words handum/handumanan (“reminisce/keepsake”) and lantaw (“looking forward”). The handum part of that spirit is evident enough in this project. The volume is a work that is devoted, first and foremost, to chronicle two things…

First, we aimed to chart, with the persistence of ferocious researchers and archivists, the vibrant history of culture and the arts in Silliman since its founding by Presbyterian missionaries in 1901, when it was still known as Silliman Institute. This includes the ripples that history has made not only in Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, but also the Philippines and the world. The undertaking of this task has not been easy, however. Much of the data and artifacts of this specifically local cultural history remains unarchived, uncatalogued, and unresearched, which meant we had to search and sift through hundreds of photographs, programs, memoranda, and so on and so forth that have lain undisturbed and covered with dust in countless rotting photo albums and scrapbooks in many houses as well as in dim storage rooms around campus. A herculean task, indeed—for how to shape all of that which we have gathered into a coherent story of Silliman’s cultural tradition? For the most part, what we have also done is to engage in conversation many of the people who have contributed to that cultural tradition over the course of the last century, their voices constituting a veritable oral history of art and culture in Silliman University. We caught National Artist for Film Eddie Romero in his house in Quezon City early in 2013, for example—just a few short months before he died. His story and the stories of Silliman’s other artists and cultural workers were more than ripe for this project. We felt it was about time to record these before many of the bearers of the cultural narrative, too, passed away.

Second, we have compiled a work (which includes essays, profiles, photographs, and graphic design by some of the best writers and artists working in the university and Dumaguete today) that celebrates the first fifty years of Silliman’s Cultural Affairs Committee, which is otherwise more popularly (and affectionately) referred to by its acronym. The salute to the CAC is fitting: it has shaped much of the university’s artistic history since 1962 into a steadfast platform of culture that has fostered local talents and showcased the best of national and international performing groups—inevitably making Dumaguete arguably the Cultural Center of Southern Philippines.

We finally started work on this book in 2012. The idea sprang from what we had perceived to be a simple need to celebrate, in a lasting way, the golden anniversary of the CAC. Fifty years, after all, is a landmark of admirable persistence for any institution: that meant a continuity of its goals, and an unending belief of what it could achieve to make the arts an integral part of the identity and transformation of the community.

Handulantaw was conceived to address an absence since much of the cultural history of this country has involved telling the story mostly from the point-of-view of Manila, the national capital. It is a narrative that paints, if unintentionally, a mute canvas of the cultural wellsprings that exist elsewhere in the country. The way our popular media and our monographs constitute the story of national art, it seems as if almost every artist and artistic production has to be located in the jungles of the capital to matter, or to make a dent in the story. Within that context, Dumaguete City becomes an interesting case study of culture in the Philippines. A small city outside of the economic league of bigger provincial cities like Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, Iloilo, Naga, Cagayan de Oro, and Baguio, it has nevertheless become an unlikely center of culture in the Philippines, helping to shape in definitive ways the literary, musical, and theatrical landscapes of the nation. What other city of its kind could boast of producing two National Artists—Romero for film and Edith Lopez Tiempo for literature? What is it about Dumaguete that makes it a geographic cultural wonder despite neglect—or perhaps just mere cultural mismanagement—by the local government? The answers are unclear, but culture thrives in Dumaguete City anyway. In 2010, the young Dumaguete filmmaker Carmen del Prado sought answers in her documentary, Dumaguete: An Artists’ Haven, and comes up with one: as a university town of a very specific geographic location (situated in a tropical bosom within the combined embrace of mountain—the Cuernos de Negros—and sea—Tañon Strait) with a very specific temperament (slow, reflexive), the place has become a “place of nurture” for those with artistic sensibilities. The academic environment unique to the place, of course, provides a solid framework for cultural growth, or least sustenance. Thus, to tell the story of culture in Dumaguete, we also have to tell the story of Silliman University. One is intrinsically intertwined with the other.

But it is ultimately the people that make the place for what it is, and in Handulantaw, we have come to an understanding that the dynamics of art and culture in Silliman and Dumaguete cannot be told fully without considering the individual personal stories behind the development of each artistic field. What is local theater, for example, without Amiel Leonardia or Ephraim Bejar? What is local literature without Edilberto and Edith Tiempo? What is local film without Eddie Romero and Ramon del Prado? What is local music without the generational efforts of the Dimaya and Vista families? This book, thus, attempts to tell the story of local culture through the prism of the lives of selected cultural movers. There are hundreds of them, of course, as is only fitting for a university that has withstood the test of time for more than a hundred years. Our choice of fifty is both arbitrary and specific: the first because all lists must eventually cap its number or risk the chaos of a flood of names without end, and the second because fifty is a good round number that coincides with this book’s celebration of the CAC’s golden anniversary. This list of “Cultural Movers” is a selection of people whom the editors have deemed to be prime movers of culture and the arts in Silliman, culled from a painstaking process that lasted almost a year, with patient consultation with various cultural stakeholders in the community.

In the final analysis, taking note of the general history of culture and the arts in Silliman University and Dumaguete City, as well as the individual stories of our Cultural Movers, we have come to understand, foremost, the passions of the artist and the lengths they go to shape that passion, to see it embodied as an artwork. Often that meant doing battle with forces, subtle or unsubtle, that hinders full expression of that consuming artistry. To paraphrase the observation of a fictional character in a popular animated film, the world is often unkind to artists. The work of culture is often both frustrating and rewarding. And sometimes, the frustration can start to break our spirits—if only temporarily. Once, while doing an Arts Month event in Dumaguete with theater actress Dessa Quesada-Palm, I turned to her with what must have been despair in my voice: “Why do we do this? Cultural work can be such a thankless job.” But she turned to me and said, “Because despite everything else, we love what we do—and we cannot help but share it with everybody else.” She is right, and this book is a chronicle of that imperative.

I am particularly happy that I work with kindred spirits in the Cultural Affairs Committee of Silliman University. Under Diomar Abrio’s savvy leadership as the University Cultural Officer, and with keen support from University President Ben S. Malayang III, the CAC has worked hard in recent years to put structure and balance to the cultural life of the university and the city. This book celebrates that striving for cultural structure and balance in CAC’s first fifty years. Those years have indeed shown remarkable consistency and unflagging faith even as the sands of time continue to shift under our feet, which is perhaps a testament to the Silliman Spirit.

In the end, the legacy of Silliman in Philippine arts and culture cannot be denied. Handulantaw is our touchstone. This is our occasion to remember and to commemorate. This is our chance to understand what immortality, especially in the arts, really means in our transient world.

But this is nevertheless an incomplete story, as any such project will always be. This story will always remain an unfolding one. But such is the grace of a rich history. The challenge is in the putting together and in the making sense of its parts, and what may seem so disparate, belonging to distant contexts of time and space, are brought together here in a narrative that becomes accessible, real, and meaningful to the present.

This is what we are celebrating: that intractable yearning in each of us to sustain life and creativity come what may. It is, indeed it is, a powerful and irresistible covenant with the Divine. (This article is slightly modified from the preface for Handulantaw.)

The entire editorial staff of Handulantaw at the Luce Auditorium.

The art and research staff of Handulantaw at the Luce Auditorium.

The writing staff of Handulantaw at the Luce Auditorium.

The members of the Cultural Affairs Committee at the Luce Auditorium.

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Saturday, November 09, 2013

entry arrow8:16 PM | Devastations

Earthquakes, typhoons. You always wake up in the aftermath of these devastations thanking the fates you have lived through the bad, and thanking even the higher fates for how the worst had missed the city where you live by pure accident of geography. Yet somehow it feels wrong to do even the slightest sort of thanksgiving: there are other people and other places who are living through the nightmares you have miraculously been spared from. So what do you thank for, really? Suddenly, to give thanks seem to have become an exercise in selfishness. Silence seems to be the most appropriate response. There will be no talk about the slightest inconveniences of having no electricity, for example. Better that than full-on devastation. So you turn on the television or the radio or the Internet instead, and the full horror of what has happened in the past 24 hours mounts for you in such graphic news clips and sound bites and social media links. The statistics and the pictures do not lie, and you are left to ponder once more the incessant questions about fleeting life, and the helplessness you feel in the glare of natural monstrosities. How do you deal? How do you help? How do you escape the glare of deaths and destruction everywhere and still remain human?

[Photo by Noel Celis/AFP. Read the Rappler article here.]

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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

entry arrow7:02 PM | So, Let's Dance, Tom Hiddleston...

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Monday, November 04, 2013

entry arrow7:10 PM | Some School Stories

It is the middle of the school year, and while most college students are out to grab what little vacation they can have in the wonderful, lazy doldrums of semestral break, I still see the grade schoolers and the high schoolers going about their daily grind in Dumaguete, chasing their after-class hours in their uniforms and constant chatter.

Sometimes, when I’m surrounded by these kids in some café like Poppy’s, their chatter cuts through me two-ways: in equal parts fascination and irritation—the last because, by God, they can chatter so with undiscovered decibels; and the first because they become a kind of time machine to old foggies like me. You listen in, and you are amused by the exchanges that are a mix of bragging, wonderment, and budding ennui, all underscored by a lingo informed by the Internet, anime, computer games, hiphop, and celebrity culture. Often, they speak English with a twang culled from years of watching Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. The young today are different creatures. But then again, each generation marks itself by its dissimilarity from the one that comes before.

I think about the specificity of how I grew up, and I’m horrified to know that my own childhood is something I have not exactly mined for remembrance or analysis, conveniently compartmentalized in a box of memories to be slowly forgotten. I don’t know why this is so, and sometimes I think, “Is it too late to try?”

But there are days when I’m forced to comprehend the memories I have forsaken. Sometimes I read a book, and it ignites a flash of memory that would make me laugh as well as unsettle me, for the very articulation of something I too shared in my past, but have lost in the dimness of adult life. That happened to me, too! How have I forgotten that? I’d think. Which is why, when I’m able to, I take out Bob Ong’s breakthrough bestseller ABNKKBSNPLAko! and make it required reading for my Philippine literature classes in the university where I teach. It is the one book that seemed to have been written to map out my own lost memories of growing up in a Philippine public school.

The book’s an easy read, enough to make it as a suitable opener for Filipino writings, which most incoming college freshmen seem to be largely ignorant of, save for Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere—and sometimes, not even that. The Filipino language of Ong’s book is accessible enough for most people, even for those of us in Negros where English is the preferred second language.

But what delights me about the book is its subject matter: it is a casual and comedic confession about life growing up in Philippine schools, from the competition in pencil sizes, to the fervent collection of “stationery,” from the enterprising teachers who had makeshift sari-sari stores over their desks, to becoming literature through the adventures of Pepe and Tagpi. (In my case, it was Bantay and Henny Penny. A dog and a chicken taught me Filipino and English.)

I don’t remember much, but I remember the intricacies of the “badge” system that fleshed out my school’s policy of “speak in English only.” I remember the pospas and the nutribun. I remember Mrs. Valencia, my favorite Grade 1 teacher, pinching my ears for daring to disrupt my classmates’ attention by drawing the Super Friends in my notebook. I remember falling in love with this beautiful girl in first grade—let’s call her Dee—and how I stayed in love with her till the sixth grade. I was so in love, I went to my mother sometime in third grade, and declared my intentions: “Mother, I want to marry Dee.” She only laughed. I don’t remember studying a lot, but I do remember reading my first sentence. I remember playing truant lots of time to watch a movie, and I remember one furious fistfight in Grade 2.

One time, during a “gang battle” of sorts in that grade, I threw a small rock at a kid, which landed squarely on his forehead, causing so much bleeding. Later that night, the kid and his mother stormed over to my house, and demanded redress, and my mother had no choice but to shoulder the medical expenses. After the spanking, she turned to me angrily, and gave me some Bible verse about how important it was to restrain oneself, even during a fierce fight. “If you get into a quarrel,” she said, “you should throw bread instead of stone!”

“But I had no bread with me!” I shouted back.

Which made her laugh. Or so I was told.

Then there’s surviving Math class. I just read an article from The Atlantic Monthly, which proclaimed that “being bad at Math” is largely a myth. This is interesting because I grew up believing I was never a Mathematics person. In grade school, I somehow refused to memorize the multiplication table, for example, because I kept finding myself asking things like, “Why is 2 x 2 = 4?” Always the why. (Which may be one factor why I became a writer instead.)

So every time we’d get these competition quizzes in class, like pitting two classmates together in a two-lane race—where every correct answer to flashcard mathematical problems gave one a chance to step forward where the teacher (and the finish line) was—I’d lose. The winner got to sit down, and the loser had to go over the race once more, until he or she wins. One time in Grade III, I lost to the ENTIRE class.

(But, whatever, I graduated valedictorian anyway, ha.)

I was always bad in Math, except when they gave us one of those “window” exams, and for some reason, I’d always rate high. Not until junior high in Silliman University did I learn to love Math. I loved the intense concentration every exam demanded. I loved it, and all because of Prof. Alice Mamhot. She was a patient teacher. She knew the value of listening, and so she refused to have us write down notes while she was lecturing, always intoning to us a sentence in mock Spanish: “No puede calabang en grande de baha.” And after we were done understanding everything she’d written on the board, she’d throw up her hands and say, “Copy break!” And then we’d finally write everything down in our notebooks. Somehow, that system worked for me. I learned to listen, and I learned to love Math with her. And during one periodical exam, I astounded everybody by getting a 99/100. I got a grade in the 90s that year.

So yes, we all have good Math in us. We just need good teachers.

I wonder what else I can remember from those growing up years...

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