Posts Tagged ‘cultural studies’

pop goes the world: by any other name

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today1 September 2011, Thursday

By Any Other Name

The debate on Filipino language and identity remains hot as ever, the flames stoked higher recently by Ateneo de Manila University student James Soriano’s essay “Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege”.

It was incendiary and set off an explosive string of comments pro- and -anti on the Internet. I have issues with language and identity myself and have written about them here before. But Soriano’s essay, on first reading, stank of the arrogance of privilege and caste. Referring to Filipino speakers as merely the people who wash our dishes or fetch us from school is at the very least insensitive.

On a second, deeper reading – no, still nothing.

Other writers have “deconstructed” the piece and claimed to have found it “satirical” and like Mideo Cruz’s art, meant to provoke. But why ascribe depth when there is none? The work, hardly well-written to begin with, screams that it was crafted by an unformed, immature personality that reminds me of nothing more than a social climber.

Soriano’s was a straight-up statement of fact and I object to the over-readings. Take it at face value.

From all over the world, reactions poured in. Says the California Dreamer (a Pinoy living in Los Angeles): “The fellow might have a serious attitude problem, but it was not about his attitude but his proposition. There’s always privilege and entitlement, especially where access to knowledge is unequal.  It was mean-spirited to say the least, but wasn’t he just a mirror of what’s wrong in society with a yawning gap between rich and poor, the information haves and have-nots?

“Once more, vanity is the death of us all.  He should’ve kept it to himself because from now on it will be all about a certain (bleep), and not the fact he framed his argument so badly that it fell apart.

“Identity is like water- the more one tries to grasp it, the more it slips past one’s fingers.”

Soriano may have a point in that because of the circumstances shaped by our culture’s colonial mindset and economic exigencies, and some individual families’ affluence, there are Filipinos who speak English better than any of the Filipino languages. Still, there is no call to denigrate the people who speak Filipino through preference, accident of birth, or lack of learning opportunity. And why laud one language over another? We are richer for being conversant in more than one.

We multi-lingual people have the advantage, because the words in the different languages we know have specific nuances; thus we are able to communicate more effectively because we have this formidable arsenal of words. Language is foremost a tool for communication.

This is also the point Carla Montemayor raises in her “How do you make dabog in English?” on Newsbreak Online.

“Since most English people are monolingual,” she writes, “they don’t get this seemingly schizoid shifting from one language and one thought process to another. I, on the other hand, cannot imagine myself using just one language all the time, forever. That’s like having a teaspoon in your hand when there’s a banquet spread before you. Attack with all available cutlery!”

I was in Los Angeles two years when an American friend asked me and an LA-based Filipino friend, “Why do you speak to each other in English and not in Filipino?” We replied “There are concepts we discuss for which there are no words in Filipino; but matters of family and the heart are spoken of in Tagalog.”

That is where identity lies – where the heart is. Language is there to help us articulate what is inside of us, struggling to get free and be shared with others.

* * * * *

My column last week was about first-time novelist Samantha Sotto, whose Before Ever After was published recently by Random House. Her story is a miracle of determination, drive, and dreams coming true. Here’s a Q & A with her:

Jenny:  Is this the first time you’ve written anything or had anything published – are you a professional writer? If not, what is your profession?

Sam: I’m a stay-at-home mom and Before Ever After is my first book. My previous career was in marketing management.

J: Where you educated in the Philippines or abroad?

Sam: I studied at Benedictine Abbey School for grade school and high school. I took up AB Communications at Ateneo. During college, I spent one year in the Netherlands where I studied at the Leiden campus of Webster University.

J: You’ve said elsewhere that Audrey Nifenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife was your inspiration for Before Ever After. In what way is your novel different from TTW?

Sam: I think the key difference is that while Before Ever After spans different historical periods, it is not a book about time travel.

J: You’ve made your characters, except one, non-Filipino. Why did you choose to do it this way?

Sam: This might sound strange, but it was the story and characters that chose me and not the other way around. Max, my main character, popped into my head while I was stuck in traffic in EDSA and told me his story. I just wrote it down.

J: Is there a second novel in the works? Will you set it abroad again?

Sam: I’m 80% done with my second novel. It explores an entirely different concept but is also set in Europe.

J: What has been the most exciting thing so far about this entire experience?

Sam: Holding the finished book in my hands was very surreal. The highlight, however, was when my kids read the dedication of the book.

J: What made you decide to try have your novel published abroad rather than in the Philippines?

Sam: I decided to pursue publishing the book abroad because I wanted to prove to my children that dreams have no boundaries.

The real-life inspiration in Boracay for “Shell”, one of the locations in the book. From the author’s public Facebook Page.

J: It’s been said that Filipinos are not a reading public. How do you think we can increase the popularity of reading in this country?

Sam: I think we should have more accessible public libraries so that people will be encouraged to read.

J: Where can we get your book?

Sam: The trade paperback edition of the book is exclusively available at National Book Store while the hardcover edition is available at Fully Booked. You can also order the e-book version via Amazon, iBooks and Barnes and Noble. People can find and follow me on samanthasotto.com, Facebook, and Twitter (@samanthasotto).

J: Describe your novel in one sentence.

Sam: It’s a fairytale for grown ups.

Samantha Sotto has proven that we don’t have to wait for dreams to come true – we can make it happen. May we all find our happy ever after!

* * * * *

Starting today till September 24 at Silverlens Gallery, catch “Slice”, Kidlat de Guia’s first solo photography show. His wife, performer Lissa Romero de Guia, calls him “the accidental artist”. “Slice” was born of those moments, she says, when “on a whim, [Kidlat] drove to Scout Hill at Camp John Hay. What he found there was completely unexpected: a childhood haunt in its death throes.”

Artist Kidlat de Guia setting up his works for his “Slice” one-man show at Silverlens Gallery. From the artist’s Facebook Page.

The images capture “the eviscerated remains of white clapboard structures in peeling green trim, the ice cream parlor transformed into a garage, debris carelessly strewn on the old tennis courts…[Kidlat’s] knee-jerk reaction to the carnage was to start shooting the beloved space that seemed to have found itself caught ‘in the beginning of the end, and the end of the beginning’. Through the lightboxes these photographs have become, Kidlat allows us a look into a slice of time that may well be gone in the blink of an eye.”

Kidlat is the first of three sons of stained-glass artist Katrin Muller and multi-awarded indie filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik.  ***Email: jennyo@live.com, Web: http://jennyo.net, Facebook: Gogirl Café, Twitter: @jennyortuoste

Image of writer Carla Montemayor here. Image of author Samantha Sotto from her public Facebook Page.

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james soriano on language and identity

It seems the debate on Filipino language and identity remains hot as ever, the flames stoked higher recently with the posting last August 24 at Manila Bulletin Online of Ateneo de Manila student James Soriano’s essay “Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege”.

It was incendiary and touched off a flurry of comments pro- and -anti on the Internet. I first read it at the MB website on Thursday, the 25th. By next day, Friday (perhaps even earlier), it had been yanked off the site.

Good thing it was retrievable via Google cache and posted here at Citizen Media Blogwatch. I repost here in full:

Language, learning, identity, privilege

Ithink
By JAMES SORIANO
August 24, 2011, 4:06am

MANILA, Philippines — English is the language of learning. I’ve known this since before I could go to school. As a toddler, my first study materials were a set of flash cards that my mother used to teach me the English alphabet.

My mother made home conducive to learning English: all my storybooks and coloring books were in English, and so were the cartoons I watched and the music I listened to. She required me to speak English at home. She even hired tutors to help me learn to read and write in English.

In school I learned to think in English. We used English to learn about numbers, equations and variables. With it we learned about observation and inference, the moon and the stars, monsoons and photosynthesis. With it we learned about shapes and colors, about meter and rhythm. I learned about God in English, and I prayed to Him in English.

Filipino, on the other hand, was always the ‘other’ subject — almost a special subject like PE or Home Economics, except that it was graded the same way as Science, Math, Religion, and English. My classmates and I used to complain about Filipino all the time. Filipino was a chore, like washing the dishes; it was not the language of learning. It was the language we used to speak to the people who washed our dishes.

We used to think learning Filipino was important because it was practical: Filipino was the language of the world outside the classroom. It was the language of the streets: it was how you spoke to the tindera when you went to the tindahan, what you used to tell your katulong that you had an utos, and how you texted manong when you needed “sundo na.”

These skills were required to survive in the outside world, because we are forced to relate with the tinderas and the manongs and the katulongs of this world. If we wanted to communicate to these people — or otherwise avoid being mugged on the jeepney — we needed to learn Filipino.

That being said though, I was proud of my proficiency with the language. Filipino was the language I used to speak with my cousins and uncles and grandparents in the province, so I never had much trouble reciting.

It was the reading and writing that was tedious and difficult. I spoke Filipino, but only when I was in a different world like the streets or the province; it did not come naturally to me. English was more natural; I read, wrote and thought in English. And so, in much of the same way that I learned German later on, I learned Filipino in terms of English. In this way I survived Filipino in high school, albeit with too many sentences that had the preposition ‘ay.’

It was really only in university that I began to grasp Filipino in terms of language and not just dialect. Filipino was not merely a peculiar variety of language, derived and continuously borrowing from the English and Spanish alphabets; it was its own system, with its own grammar, semantics, sounds, even symbols.

But more significantly, it was its own way of reading, writing, and thinking. There are ideas and concepts unique to Filipino that can never be translated into another. Try translating bayanihan, tagay, kilig or diskarte.

Only recently have I begun to grasp Filipino as the language of identity: the language of emotion, experience, and even of learning. And with this comes the realization that I do, in fact, smell worse than a malansang isda. My own language is foreign to me: I speak, think, read and write primarily in English. To borrow the terminology of Fr. Bulatao, I am a split-level Filipino.

But perhaps this is not so bad in a society of rotten beef and stinking fish. For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.

It is neither the language of the classroom and the laboratory, nor the language of the boardroom, the court room, or the operating room. It is not the language of privilege. I may be disconnected from my being Filipino, but with a tongue of privilege I will always have my connections.

So I have my education to thank for making English my mother language. ***

I was stunned. I too have issues with language and identity, but Soriano’s essay on the surface stank of the arrogance of privilege and caste. But wait – read again, and what jumps out is an unformed, immature personality that somehow reminds me of nothing more than a social climber.

But wait, there’s more. The lad was born this way. He’s had that attitude for years. Our Daily Bore found this piece also by Soriano, dating back three years ago.

Filipino as a Second Language

By James Soriano

 2008.12.03

The eve of Bonifacio Day brings back memories of my first days as a freshman in high school, particularly the one where I was sitting in Filipino class listening to my then-teacher, Mr. Pioquid, give an introduction to the course.

I especially remember that the reason it wasn’t boring was because he made a lot of noise by dropping his empty tin can onto the cement floor, and then proceeded to liken our young minds to tin cans which must be empty in order to be capable of receiving new and valuable knowledge. Back then, it struck me as very profound.

But there is one other thing that I remember from that first Filipino session, and that is a small parenthetical remark he made while glossing over the more boring (and unfortunately, the more important) parts of the syllabus.

He mentioned something about us taking an Honors course in Filipino by the time we got to sophomore year. I remember that this struck me as very strange: I could understand taking an Honors course in Math or Science or English, like most other gifted students would in other schools. But why would we have an advanced course in Filipino?

Looking back, maybe I was asking the wrong question. What I ask now is: why don’t most other schools have advanced courses in Filipino?

Oops, dumb question. There are a number of good reasons why we don’t.

For one thing, what is the Filipino language in the first place? Is it Tagalog? Is it Tagalog with tidbits of regional dialects? Or is it a genuine halo-halo of all of our major tongues?

As for me, I really don’t know. Members of the academe are still debating these questions as we speak. Therefore, maybe Filipino is just our cop-out: it allows us to say that we have a national language, even if in reality, we don’t.

Besides, it’s not very wise to master a language that isn’t utilized very often in politics or trade. Our laws, for example, aren’t written in Filipino, and neither are our court rulings and executive orders. They are all written in English. That’s why our lawyers take the bar examinations in English, and those who come out on top, more often than not, are people who are very well-versed in the English language.

The same is true with the language of education. In what language are we taught Science, Math, and Religion? Heck, we can even go beyond that: what is the language of the educated and the elite?

It really isn’t a surprise, then, that people who belong on the upper limits of society, like many of the people I come into contact with everyday, like to laugh at people who don’t speak English very well. English is the language of the man in the mansion, while Filipino is the language of the man on the street.

Besides, English is the language of the professional. It is the key to getting employed. This is especially true nowadays, when the trend is to go abroad where all the lucrative jobs are. If your employers can’t understand you, how can you expect them to hire you? In fact, this is also true with jobs here at home. Do you think call center agents are paid to speak in Filipino?

Hence, maybe I should be thankful that I’ve been trained to value the English language ever since I was a young boy. I should be thankful that I was exposed early to English cartoons and stories, for without them I don’t think I would have developed affection for the language. I should also be grateful that I was sent to schools that put a premium on being able to express yourself effectively in English; otherwise my skills as a student would never have been recognized.

Finally, I should be grateful that I was born in a society that never fails to remind me why that’s important.

After all, you don’t need to love your language to be able to love your country. Right? ***

Reactions ran the gamut from “Sunugin!” to “Hahaha!”

Here’s my favorite so far – a translation by Singapore-based writer Kat Nisperos of Soriano’s MB piece into Bekimon, a speech code said to combine “baklese” (gayspeak) and Jejemon. Nisperos, a graduate of University of the Philippines-Baguio, posted this faaahbulous essay on her Facebook Notes last Friday, August 26, and it has been Shared many times at FB.

Dear James Soriano: Bekimon is the True Language of Learning

by KAT NISPEROS on Friday, August 26, 2011 at 5:15pm

Bekimon ang kuda ng mga brainybells. Knowsline ko na ites even before nyumorsok si watashi sa school. Nung litol gurl pa lang akechiwa, acting teacheraka si mudak with flash cards effect malearning ko lang ang jolfabet in Bekimon. More ng in Bekimon ang mga storybookells at coloringbookells kes, pati cartoonella and songlalus more in Bekimon din! Pati ang piyok sa ballure, Bekimon pa din! Pumaylor pa si madu ng tutorlina para may I train si watashi to kyorsa and kyeme in Bekimon.

 Bekimon din akes mag-jisip, nalearning kes ang style na itembang sa schooliber. Bekimon lahat ng nyobject, numeraka, shorkulation, the works mga teh! Jobservation, jinference, moonsalugells, dancing with the stars, monsoonella, kyorthosynthesis, still in Bekimon! Nahearding din ni watashi ang word of the Lord in Bekimon, thus more ng I say a little prayer in Bekimon din.

Pero ang Filipino, imbey! Imbey to death! More ng imbyernakells kamos ng mga tita kes with Filipino! Aneng, jugas jugas ng shinggan? Wass itong kuda ng learnsalugells. Kuda itembang ng mga jugasera ng shinggan! Kuda iteng sa elm street! Kinukuda lang ites pag babaylor sa mga ateng, pag best in jutos kay yayabell, and textsalugells sa driveraka to fetch galore na si watashi.

More ng survivor in the wild ang drama ng bakla in the real world, and wass akembang magegetget ng mga atengs and manongs and chimi-aas kung wass ko knows ang Filipino. Wass ko namang bet majoldap ang beauty ko sa jeepney! Wazelei! Wizzlebomb!

Cry cry, pero keriboomboomlei kasi smarties ang ate nyes and more ng naging proficient din si watashi sa Filipno. Out in the wilderness (i.e. province lolololol) Filipino ang kuda nga mga cousinboom and titobang and lolobells so best in nakikibagay naman ang beauty kes.

Pero teh, ang jirap jirap jirap.. jirap kyorsahin, jirap kyorlatin, imbey! Wititit na nyortural ang Filipino to me, kumukuda lang akesang ng Filipino sa nyorvince and sa.. ugh, lansangan. (Kyorho ng term!!!) Eh Bekimong neng? Kyorsa, kyorlat, jisip, all in Bekimon bet na bet!  Pero like I pyoked earlybird, smarties akesang so nalearning ko din ang Filipino (in Bekimon!) and for more Gumegermany din akes! Ganda lang!

Pagnyorsok ni watashi sa juniversity nagetrakells kes na languagebells din ang Filipino, wass itong shoryalect! Wass lang itong may I steal from Spanish and Bekimon jolfabets, may systembells, may grammarlyn, may semanticles, fireworks and cartwheels! For more, best in original ang pagkyorsa, pagkyorlat, at pag-jisip ng kudang iteng! Which explains kung ketketloo wass makronslate ang ibang pyok, like shupatembangan, nomo-mes-bakla, baklang nagwawater, at digahan/kyemehan!

Knows ko mga teh, more ng makyorho pa akechiwa sa baklang isda. Filipino daw ang main celebrant sa kudahan, pero carebears mga teh; best in Bekimon akes, sa kuda, jisip, kyorsa, kyorlat, kahit anong kyeme pa yan Bekimon akes!

So I say keriboomboomlei, carebearina lang coz way better itembaloo in a societybells na more pang makyorho sa julok na shorne and fishing pond. Ang Filipino ay kuda sa lansangan (zomg), wass itong kuda ng mga brainybells at edukadang becky.

Sa schooliber, sa la-burat-ory, sa boardroomina, sa joferating room.. wass namang Filipino ang kuda, coz wass itong kuda ng mga mutya ng lipunan (pak!). Best in wit akong signal and na-DC ang beauty ni watashi when it comes to being a Filipino, pero keri lang! Bekimon ang tabas ng dila ng ate nyes and I therefore conclude na forevermore connected na akes everywhere else.

Bet mes? Bet na bet! I have my beckys and parlor gays and beauconessas (whether top, bottom, or versa!) to thank, kung wass kayes wass din akes chechembolin ng ganitells in Bekimon. ***

Amen, sisteraka!

This is the first time I have posted other people’s works in full – I do this only to preserve the texts and to provide a springboard for further discussion for those who are unable to access these works otherwise.

As a communication scholar, one of my major academic interests is language and speech code, therefore my curiosity about this. For now, I shall marshall my thoughts to write a “Pop Goes the World” piece on this issue for next Thursday on Manila Standard-Today. Meanwhile, mga teh, feel free to discuss in whatever language you like. ***

James Soriano image from his Multiply site.

taste more:

pop goes the world: son of a breach

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today18 August 2011, Thursday

Son of a Breach

Artist Mideo Cruz’s decision to affix a wooden phallus on the image of Jesus Christ as part of the deliberately provocative imagery in his “Politeismo” has led to an entire nation’s revisiting of its cultural notions of religion, art, politics, and the separation of church and state.

The discourse on the topic has become voluminous and will inspire many future theses and dissertations. Fresh insights into the issue may still be gleaned, especially when the artwork in question is compared cross-culturally to other art or media works.

Consider this: Mideo’s “Politeismo” may be seen as a “breaching experiment”. In that sense, it parallels the work of comedians John Safran and Sasha Baron-Cohen that deliberately seek to disturb, distress, and overthrow popular conceptions of what is normal and what is not.

In social psychology, a breaching experiment “seeks to examine people’s reactions to violations of commonly accepted social rules or norms.” It is often a class assignment in sociology and anthropology classes. A professor of mine at the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Mass Communication is wont to post Facebook statuses that provoke reactions, which he then studies. For instance, he once changed his relationship status to “single”. We all know that he has been happily married for several decades. His post unleashed a torrent of comments which he proceeded to dissect afterwards using the appropriate communication theories. I believe he had a good chuckle over that.

Safran questions the boundaries of religion and race. In a now-famous skit, he knocked on the doors of Mormon believers in Salt Lake City, introducing himself as an atheist “missionary”. An elderly man tells him crossly, “I’m a bishop in the LDS church.” Undaunted, Safran asks, “Have you considered atheism?” The look on the man’s face is priceless. Then there was the time he applied for membership in the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, conveniently omitting to tell the KKK Grand Dragon that he was half-Jewish. The resulting exchange when he is found out is a valuable glimpse into the nature of discriminatory organizations.

Sasha Baron-Cohen, operating some years later in the same vein, took the shock attack to a different level with his heavily sexualized “Borat” and “Bruno” film characters. With “Bruno’s” naked penis given close-ups on wide-screen, the viewer is forced to face his/her own attitudes to the public depiction of sex in a non-pornographic context.

“Politeismo” breached prevailing cultural norms on what art is and how religion should be treated in art. It is a violation of norms that shakes up our definitions and expectations of behavior. Religious sentiment is so deeply embedded in Filipino culture that this particular artwork generated intense emotion not often manifested for other matters. This is the reason the controversy is still in the news. As far as “scandals” in this country go, it’s long-lived.

Would a continued breaching of these norms lead to a change in the way we define “normal”, “sacrilege”, and “art”?

Is this what our society is afraid of – the possibility, even the inevitability, of change?

Final takeaway? If you don’t like it, ignore. Says mandala artist Stephanie Smith, “It is always your choice how you spend your energy.”

* * * * *

University of the Philippines College of Arts & Letters professor Joey Baquiran is reminding the public of the UMPIL (Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas) activities later this month.

In addition to the reading on 25-26 August of papers by various scholars on Rizal’s works (mentioned in my July 14 column) at UP-CAL’s Claro M. Recto Hall, the UMPIL members’ convention on August 27 will feature the Panayam Adrian Cristobal (public intellectual lecture series), a booklaunch, literary forum, and the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas awarding rite which honors “Filipino writers who have produced outstanding works and have dedicated their lives and talents to the development, propagation, and promotion of Philippine literature.”

The first lecturer of the Adrian E. Cristobal Lecture series was poet Gemino Abad. The 2011 lecturer is National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario. His book Rizal: Makata (Anvil Publishing, 2011) will be launched after the lecture.

The Writers Forum topic is “Social Realism and the Writing of the Contemporary Filipino Novel” featuring fictionists Mario I. Miclat (author of The Secret of the Eighteen Mansions), Genevieve Asenjo (Lumbay ng Dila), and Edgar Samar (Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog).

The 2011 Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas awardees are Herminio Beltran (Poetry in Filipino), Fanny A. Garcia (Fiction in Filipino), Elmer A. Ordoñez (Essay in English), Crisostomo Ilustre (Fiction in Iluko), Maria Luisa S. Defante-Gibraltar (Fiction in Hiligaynon), and Sze Manchi (Poetry in Chinese). Paz Verdades M. Santos will receive the Gawad Paz Marquez for Outstanding Educator in the field of literature and The Varsitarian of the University of Santo Tomas the Gawad Pedro Bucaneg.

* * * * *

Perpi Tiongson wrote in response to my July 7 column on Mirana Medina’s Rizal films in Filipino Sign Language: “…FSL does not have its roots in American Sign Language or Signing Exact English, but dates all the way back to the 17th century…Archival documents dating to 1604 relate how Spanish Jesuit priest Raymundo del Prado used signs in the catechism and baptism of Deaf men in Dulac, Leyte. This is the earliest record of signs being used in the Philippines, although signs may have existed long before this.

“ASL came to the Philippines only in the first decade of the 1900s (more than 300 years later) during the American colonization, and heightened its influence on FSL in the 1960s with the coming of Peace Corps Volunteers…Thank you for the time and I hope you can extend courtesy to the Deaf community by correcting this misinformation.”  ***

“Politeismo” closeup from the artist’s public Facebook page. John Safran image here. Sasha Baron-Cohen, as himself (left) and as “Bruno” (right), here. Prof. Baquiran’s photo from his Facebook page. Dean Miclat here.

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pop goes the world: namaste, a place of wonder

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, published on 13 August 2011, Saturday

This article has already appeared on this blog in a somewhat different form here.

Namaste, A Place of Wonder

Namaste Art and Objects in Baguio City  is said to be the only shop in the Philippines that sells Nepali and Tibetan fine goods and art; they also carry  crystals and semi-precious stone beads to be made into custom jewelry.

Located at the ground floor of Porto Vaga Building along Session Road, the shop is small, yet filled with wonderful things. Everywhere is the gleam of brass or perhaps gold leaf, the shimmer of fine pashmina wool, and the sheen of beads displayed on countless racks.

Palanca Award-winning writer German Gervacio in front of Namaste. (April 2011)

I visited the shop last April. Its windows are crammed with an overload of interesting objects. Since they are informed by Buddhist Tibetan and Nepali culture, the meaning behind much of the things escapes the usual visitors.

In the center of the window was an intricate brass figure, winged and haloed, perhaps an avalokiteshvara (bodhisattva of compassion). Yet another gleaming Buddha sits serenely in the window, behind a quartz geode and metal elephant. Elephants (gaja in Sanskrit) symbolize fertility, abundance, richness, boldness and strength, wisdom and royalty. In Buddhism, the “Precious Elephant” means strength of mind, a “symbol of the calm majesty possessed by one who is on the Path.”

There is no wasted space in the shop; every available inch holds something. The walls of Namaste are adorned with paintings, carvings, masks, and a stringed musical instrument, while from the ceiling dangle bells, wind chimes, patchwork fabric hangings, and more.

Buddha figures in all shapes, sizes, and forms abound. One of my favorite tableaus on a high shelf featured a Buddha in the center, flanked by a warrior and a horse. In Chinese mythology, horses stand for virtue and power. From obvious associations, it also connotes speed, intelligence, and natural forces like the wind and waves. In Buddhism, the “Precious Horse” is one of the “Seven Jewels of Royal Power”, said to “travel among the clouds and mirror the Buddha’s abandonment of or “rising above” the cares of worldly existence.

Placed on eye-level on another shelf was a triptych, maybe eight inches high, carved from wood and painted in turquoise, pink, and gold. On the center of the left-hand panel is the Sanskrit symbol for OM, the “eternal syllable”. Buddha sits upon a lotus, and one is carved on either side of him. In Buddhism, the lotus refers to the “complete purification of body, speech, and mind.”

More brass Buddhas sit atop a pile of silk and wool fabric – shawls and what-not. From the ceiling in front of them is suspended a wooden charm carved and painted with the Chinese symbol for good luck.

The shop has many displays of bracelets and necklaces made from crystals and stones.I asked Namaste store attendant Meg Reyes to make me a bracelet. She asked me, “Ano’ng kailangan mo?” I asked her, “Ano ang tingin mong kailangan ko?” She looked into my eyes, while her own narrowed. Then she said, slowly, “Maraming naiinggit sa iyo.”

I was taken aback by that; it was unexpected. But then I recalled two Enochian card readings I was given last year, in November and December; the reader, Malou Mallari, told me both times to be wary of workplace envy. For the same issue to crop up again was an uncanny coincidence; I decided to take heed, and let Meg guide me in the choice of stones for my bracelet.

She put in a mix of power (creativity, health, success, etc.) and protection (anti-negativity, anti-envy, returning back ill-wishing) stones. Because the power stones cost more, I got only one of each, while the rest of the length of the bracelet was made up of the less expensive jet black “anti-negative” stones.

Meg chose various colors of tourmaline; clear, rose, and cherry quartz; and amethyst, jet, lapis lazuli, and angelite to make my bracelet. She placed my chosen beads on a makeshift cardboard stand, like a Scrabble tile holder, and strung them on several strands of elastic thread, then knotted the ends tightly and fused them in a candle flame.

I was also drawn to a tiny brass Buddha statue less than an inch and a half high. (I carry it with me every day in a pouch in my bag, putting it in front of my computer monitor when I get to work in the mornings.)

Before handing me my items, Meg “blessed” both the bracelet and the mini-Buddha in a Tibetan metal “healing bowl”, running a wooden implement around the rim to create a ringing, echoing sound, while telling me to think of good things. As I drew the bracelet on my wrist, Meg advised me to wear the power stones close to the pulse.

Prayer wheel and blessing/healing bowl.

Fast-forward to late May. Now one of the protection stones on my bracelet has cracked in half, and half of the bead beside it has changed color, from black to a murky gray. I was puzzled – I don’t slam my hand around, while the color change is frankly inexplicable.

Then the other day at work I learned that several people whom I thought were friends are backbiting me about my position, though  they admit that I have never done anything against them either professionally or personally.

When the green monster rears its ugly head, it spells the end of friendships. Or not, because now I realize these people were never my true friends, and I’m glad I found that out early on.

I can’t help thinking now that my bracelet took the hit of all that negative energy. A coincidence? It’s still uncanny. Three friends (a writer, a lawyer, and an editor) to whom I showed the damaged bracelet pushed it away and averted their eyes“Nakakakilabot,” they said.

I plan to go up to Baguio on the next long weekend and visit Namaste again, this time to ask Meg for a bracelet made entirely of the “anti-negative” stones as a pangontra. Though I believe luck is what we make it, some coincidences are just too strange and cannot be ignored.

It will also be a treat to immerse myself once more in a world of wondrous things replete with symbolism, a trove of exotic treasures from a different place, a haven for unraveling stress and instilling a sense of deep peace. ***

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pop goes the world: freedom of feedback

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  12 August 2010, Thursday

Freedom of Feedback

The topic that will not die. That’s the storm artist Mideo Cruz unleashed with the recent exhibit of his controversial work “Politeismo” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

That the artwork would offend religious sensibilities in this predominantly Roman Catholic country was a given. The artist expected as much, and in fact deliberately created his work as an artistic statement to provoke people to think about idolatry and, in extension, the role of religion in Philippine culture and their own lives.

However, no one expected how intense and massive the public reaction would be, or that the controversy would go global via the Internet.

The fallout was extensive. Politicians took up cudgels in behalf of the Church – Manila congressman Amado Bagatsing delivered a fiery privilege speech denouncing the work, prompting fellow lawmaker and former First Lady Imelda Marcos to have the exhibit shut down with one phone call. This is turn led to the resignation of Karen Flores, chief of the CCP’s visual arts division, which she announced yesterday at a forum at the University of the Philippines Art Studies Department.

What I found interesting about the entire thing was the extent of the public discourse which came from a myriad points-of-view. Some focused on the work’s artistic merit. Writer Sarah Grutas Tweeted, “Whether Mideo Cruz’s artwork is anti-Christ or anti-Church or not is beside the point. What needs to be addressed in the first place is whether Cruz’s artwork has any artistic merit at all. Does it even deserve public/national discourse? Maganda ba? Original ba? Art nga ba?”

Some opined on the responsible creation of art. Digital media artist Bea Lapa said, “Not all artists are behind [Mideo]. Many digital and new media artists do not want to be associated with this kind of work because we worked so hard honing our craft…I am not even Catholic, but I can see why such disrespect for powerful symbols could lead to chaos. As my brother, a sculptor, said, if we just express without burden of responsibility then we are no better than monkeys with paintbrushes.”

Others took up the issue of censorship. Artists’ Arrest, an “alliance composed of emerging and established artists and cultural activists…from the grassroots, alternative, and independent sectors”, posted a statement on Facebook:

“At this point, any defense or attack of the artwork “Poleteismo” by Mideo Cruz is already moot and academic because it will always be subjective…as it happens, the debate surrounding the artwork has been focused largely on its artistic and moral merits at the expense of calling our attention to what we think are more disturbing actions: the demand of a certain faction of the Catholic church for the resignation of the CCP officials; the vandalism of the artwork and in effect the CCP gallery in which it is in exhibit; and the decision of the CCP to close the exhibit.

“Peace and Beauty”, painting by Mideo Cruz. From the artist’s Facebook page.

“We call on the CCP board to rethink its position about the closing of the exhibit for it already constitutes censorship. We also appeal to artists and citizens to see the higher social wager at stake in this situation: our freedom of expression.  We join other artists and groups in the action to defend our right to express ourselves.”

Los Angeles-based Filipino musician Ray takes a pragmatic stance: “Mideo may well be a rabble-rouser, whose installation only aims to critique our colonial mindset and has stopped short of exploring its roots that go way before the arrival of Magellan (who, at best, only managed to shift that primal spirituality’s direction to a western and Judaeo-Christian orientation even as it moderately succeeded to blend in its animistic origins).

“If some art tucked in a secluded corner of the CCP – whose offensiveness may have been well unknown if not for the recent undue interest – offends anyone, there is less energy expended in ignoring it completely and engaging in more fruitful endeavors. If one finds an overpowering need to expend more energy, try exercise.”

On my blog, where I had posted my previous column which carried an interview with Mideo, 90% of the comments were laced with profanity, and 80% revolved around the thought “What if it were the picture of your mother, father, or other family member that had a penis stuck on it? How would you feel?” The insights here are that people are equating the defaced pictures of Jesus, Mary, and God with their relatives – in other words, Jesus et al. are considered part of the Filipino family – and that reciprocity is a significant value in our collective culture.

“Purity”, painting by Mideo Cruz. From the artist’s public Facebook page.  

Looking at the big picture, what we should appreciate about this entire debate is our freedom of speech as manifested in public discourse of the matter. Topics such as this will always be viewed subjectively. There will always be adherents for either side, and never the twain shall meet.

But to be able to talk about such things freely, to give rein to opinions for or against, is a liberty that we should not take for granted. There are many countries under repressive regimes where such conversation is forbidden and severely sanctioned if against the state’s position.

Social media played a large part in spreading thoughts about this topic. Through the Internet and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, feedback was instantaneous.

Feedback is integral to the communication process. “Communication is useless without feedback” – It completes the whole process of communication, sustains and makes it continuous; serves a basis for measuring the effectiveness of communication and for future planning; and paves the way for the generation of new ideas (Seun, 2010).

It’s good to see our right to freedom of speech getting a workout. But freedom of expression as claimed by artists is another matter. Public censure is a form of censorship, imposed by society; the shutdown of the exhibit by CCP in response to political pressure is a manifestation, as are the statements made by various politicians including the President.

“See Through”, painting by Mideo Cruz. From the artist’s public Facebook page.

If Mideo Cruz and his “Politeismo” caused offense, it has also generated new ideas, shown us the role of religion in our lives, and revealed the most effective channels for communication and feedback.

It also tested the boundaries of freedom of expression. Now we know how far an artist can go pushing the limits before social sanctions are imposed. If only for that, Mideo deserves our thanks. ***

Image of Imelda Marcos here.

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pop goes the world: the unkillable culture of impunity

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  21 July 2011, Thursday

The Unkillable Culture of Impunity

What do former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office officials Manuel Morato and Rosario Uriarte, former Maguindanao elections supervisor Lintang Bedol, Kalinga governor Jocel Baac, and Davao City mayor Sara Duterte have in common?

Aside from the fact that all were or are in government, another linking factor between them is the sense we get that they felt – no, they believed – they were not accountable to the public for any of the actions they committed while in power – and what they did was right, no matter how wrong.

The ongoing Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings on the misuse of public funds by previous PCSO Boards are shining light into dark corners. The public, aghast, watches the testimonies of Morato (former chairman under the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos and director under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ) and Uriarte (former general manager for seven years under Arroyo), and wonders, how did they get away with it for so long?

Uriarte had a huge coffer in the hundreds of millions for “intelligence funds” to subdue illegal jueteng operators but could not give senators any results of these efforts. She gave funds to her chief-of-staff for an organization that senator Ping Lacson found was election-campaigning for Arroyo.

Morato used PCSO funds for his “Dial M” TV show that, according to ratings cited by senator Jinggoy Estrada, hardly anyone watched. There’s the matter, too, of a hotel he’d owned that was later bought by gaming operator contracted by PCSO, raising issues of conflict of interest.

Lintang Bedol swaggers into the Comelec offices four years late to a summons, conspicuously wearing a bulletproof vest. (Like they can’t shoot his head? As broadcaster Pinky Webb said on radio the other day, his face is still “an open target”.) The assembled populace holds their breath for his first words. “Hello,” he says in soft voice, his tones demure. “Kamusta kayong lahat?” What, like nothing happened?

Lintang Bedol at the Comelec on July 19. Image here.

Jocel Baac storms into radio host Jerome Tabanganay’s booth in Tabuk City while the latter is on-air and hits him in the mouth with the microphone for asking uncomfortable questions about the governor’s alleged involvement in jueteng and illegal logging operations in the province.

Sara Duterte hauls away at sheriff Abe Andres, punching him and pulling his hair as her bodyguards, in true playground bully style, hold him down. The public erupts in indignation.

Her father, vice-mayor Rodrigo Duterte, appears on television and gives the finger to her critics and telling her, no need to apologize, inday, you were “doing it for the people”.  With a father like that, no wonder, etcetera.

What makes people in positions of power think that they are immune to public censure and prosecution? Whenever Uriarte soaks a hanky with tears, are we supposed to feel sorry for her, knowing that she signed checks for P20 million and encashed them without liquidation? When Sara Duterte punches an officer of the court in the face for doing his duty, is she to be commended because her motive was to prevent a shanty community demolition?

They have forgotten that being in power also entails duty and responsibility, and nothing justifies the perpetration of violence, deception, and dishonesty.

There are so many more untold tales. Who’s the government official who’d come to work early in the morning with shower-wet hair – and drunk? Who kept hundreds of billing statements mouldering unpaid in boxes, paying only selected accounts, sending several suppliers into bankruptcy and plunging her agency in debt? Who sent her staff on a junket to Hongkong and Macau several months before the elections? And that’s just one person.

I could tell more horror stories that would curl your hair, but since it might neutralize the expensive rebonding you just had, let’s just agree that instances of government graft and corruption are myriad, like ants in a jungle or grains of sand on a beach

The important thing is, can this social cancer be reversed? Can this deeply embedded culture of impunity be ripped out by its roots and replaced with one of responsibility, fairness, transparency, and accountability?

The present administration under President Benigno S. Aquino III is trying, under his matuwid na daan policy, to set things right. It’s a slow process, and more revelations are likely to emerge and astonish, but until a new and improved culture is put in place, we have to endure under the old one.

Delicadeza is dead. Wait, this is old news. We knew that a long time ago.  ***

Image of Manuel Morato and Rosario Uriarte taken by JennyO during the Senate hearing of 18 July 2011, Jocel Baac image here.  Sara Duterte image here. Rodrigo Duterte image here.

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namaste in baguio

When in Baguio last April I visited one of the most interesting shops I’ve ever entered – Namaste, at Porto Vaga Building along Session Road.

Namaste attendant Meg Reyes with writers Clarissa Militante and Genevieve Asenjo.

a place of wonder

It is said to be the only shop in the Philippines that sells Nepali and Tibetan fine goods and art, as well as crystals and semi-precious stone beads to be made into custom jewelry.

The shop is filled with wonderful things. Everywhere, the gleam of brass, or perhaps gold leaf, the shimmer of fine pashmina wool, the sheen of beads displayed on countless racks.

The shop windows are crammed with interesting objects. Here, a brass figure holds center stage, perhaps an avalokiteshvara (bodhisattva of compassion); behind it walk Meg and fictionist Yvette Tan.

Yet another gleaming Buddha sits serenely in the window, behind a quartz geode and metal elephant. Elephants (gaja in Sanskrit) symbolize fertility, abundance, richness, boldness and strength,  wisdom and royalty. In Buddhism, the “Precious Elephant” means strength of mind, a “symbol of the calm majesty possessed by one who is on the Path.”

The walls are adorned with paintings, carvings, masks, even a  musical instrument or two…

…while from the ceiling dangle bells, wind chimes, patchwork fabric hangings, and more.

A view of the Namaste shop interior. I’d love to have one of those intricately-carved wooden stools.

A prayer wheel sits atop a display case.

Buddha figures in all shapes, sizes, and forms abound…

One of my favorite tableaus – a Buddha in the center, flanked by a warrior and a horse. In Chinese mythology, horses stand for virtue and power. From obvious associations, it also connotes speed, intelligence, and natural forces, like the wind and waves. In Buddhism, the “Precious Horse” is one of the “Seven Jewels of Royal Power”, said to “travel among the clouds and and mirror the Buddha’s abandonment of or “rising above” the cares of worldly existence.”

This very interesting triptych is carved from wood and painted. On the center of the left-hand panel is  a prayer wheel with the Sanskrit symbol for OM , the “eternal syllable”. Buddha sits upon a lotus, with more on the other panels; in Buddism, the lotus refers to “the complete purification of body, speech, and mind.”

More Buddhas sit atop a pile of silk and wool fabric – shawls and what-not. From the ceiling in front of them is suspended a wooden charm carved and painted with the Chinese symbol for good luck.

The shop has many of these displays of bracelets and necklaces made from crystals and stones.

I asked Meg to make me a bracelet. She asked me, “Ano’ng kailangan mo?” (What do you need?) I asked her, “Ano ang tingin mong kailangan ko?” (What do you think I need?) She looked into my eyes, while her own narrowed. Then she said, slowly, “Maraming naiinggit sa iyo.” (Many people envy you.) I was taken aback by that; it was unexpected.

But then I recalled two Enochian card readings I was given last year, in November and December; the reader, Malou Mallari, told me both times to be wary of workplace envy. For the same issue to crop up again was an uncanny coincidence; I decided to take heed, and let Meg guide me in the choice of stones for my bracelet.

She put in a mix of power (creativity, health, success, etc.) and protection (anti-negativity, anti-envy, returning back ill-wishing) stones. Because the power stones cost more, I got only one of each, while the rest of the length of the bracelet was made up of the less expensive jet black “anti-negative” stones.

Meg makes my bracelet…

…choosing from these beads – tourmaline, quartz, amethyst, jet, lapis lazuli, angelite, and onyx among them. Beside the box of amethyst beads are two tiny (less than 1.5 inches high) Buddha statues that I was choosing between. I got the one on the left. I carry it with me everyday in a pouch in my bag, putting it in front of my computer monitor when I get to work in the mornings.

Meg places my chosen beads on a makeshift cardboard stand, like a Scrabble tile holder, and strings them on several strands of elastic thread, knotting the ends tightly and fusing them together in a candle flame.

The finished bracelet.

Before handing me my items, Meg “blessed” both the bracelet and the mini-Buddha in a Tibetan metal “healing bowl”, running a wooden implement around the rim to create a ringing, echoing sound while telling me to think of good things. As I drew the bracelet on my wrist, Meg advised me to wear the power stones next to my pulse.

envy breaks rock

Fast-forward to May 2011. Now one of the protection stones on my bracelet has cracked in half, and half of the bead beside it has changed color, from black to a murky gray. I was puzzled – I don’t slam my hand around, while the color change is frankly inexplicable.

The other day a friend at work told me that at least four people in our department, three men and a woman – people I had known from before we came to our present office, people whom I thought were my friends – have been griping about my position at work, though they acknowledged I had never done anything against them, either professionally or personally.

I noticed these four people have barely spoken to me the past several months – now I know why. This was not the first manifestation of their envy. (The first time around, the woman staged a weird and uncalled-for temper tantrum, texting me strange messages.) When envy rears its ugly head in erstwhile friendly relationships, especially in the workplace, it spells the end of friendships. Or not, because now I realize these people never were my true friends.

When Malou read my cards last year and told me that my biggest problem this year would be office envy – “It would really be severe,” she said – I shrugged it off, paid no heed; I was more interested in hearing about whether my lovelife would improve. Now I see what she meant.

And I can’t help thinking that my bracelet took the hit of all that negative energy. A coincidence? Still, it’s uncanny. Three friends (a writer, a lawyer, and an editor) I had showed the damaged bracelet to pushed it away and averted their eyes. “Nakakakilabot,” (gives me the shivers, frightening) they said.

I plan to go up to Baguio on the next long weekend and visit Namaste again, this time to ask Meg for a bracelet made entirely of the “anti-negative” stones as a pangontra. Though I believe luck is what we make it, some coincidences are just too strange and cannot be ignored.

It will also be a treat to immerse myself once more in a world of wondrous things replete with symbolism, a trove of exotic treasures from a different place,  a haven for unraveling stress and instilling a sense of deep peace.   ***

All photos by JennyO, taken April 2011  with a Nikon Coolpix L21.

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pop goes the world: the social effects of manny pacquiao

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 12 May 2011, Thursday

The Social Effects of Manny Pacquiao

In recent years, one of the most interesting phenomena ever to emerge from Philippine media is the Manny Pacquiao phenomenon. There has never been anything quite like it before.

The various forms of mass media are saturated with news about Pacquiao – before, during, and after a fight – from television to radio to the Internet. It seems almost as if time stops in the country when Pacquiao fights; the crime rate is even said to drop significantly, something that would be a good topic for a research study.

What’s so fascinating about Manny?

Manny Pacquiao is a Filipino boxer who, from the deepest obscurity and poverty that most fighters come from, has punched his way into world consciousness and sport history as the “greatest pound-for-pound fighter” ever to grace a ring. His feat of going up eight weight classes, gaining pounds yet never losing his speed, flexibility, and power, has never been done before or since.

In general, fighters tend to stay within their weight class or go up a class or two (which means going up in weight). However, the added poundage takes a toll and as per the Peter Principle, they will hit their “level of incompetence” perhaps a class or two above their original one, unable to eke out any more success from that point on.

As an athlete, Pacquiao is incredibly disciplined. He maintains a strenuous daily training regimen which includes running several miles a day, sparring with several partners, and calisthenics.

His hard work has paid off. He has suffered only three losses – in 1996, to Rustico Torrecampo; in 1999, to Thai Medgoen Singsurat; and in 2005 to Erik Morales, an indignity he avenged in twice, in 2005 and 2006. Once he hit his stride after that, under the able coaching of American trainer and former pugilist Freddie Roach, he has not lost any of the 14 fights he has had since.

Because he has beaten many Mexican fighters, the US sports media bestowed upon him the monicker, “The Mexicutioner”. As a play upon his name, and because of his successive victories against fighters of many nations not just Mexicans, including Hatton (UK), Clottey (Ghana), and, most recently, Shane Mosley (USA), he has been likened to the power-packed enemy-chomping video game character “Pacman”.

Image here.

He offers each fight, each victory, to the nation (pagmamahal sa Inang Bayan); he is prayerful (madasalin), dropping to his knees to thank God after each fight; he indulges his Mommy Dionesia, wife Jinkee, and children (pagmamahal at pagpapahalaga sa pamilya); despite his wealth and lofty stature in sport and politics, he also is an average man prone to temptation with beautiful women (machismo, pagiging tunay na lalaki.) These are attributes deeply embedded in Philippine culture; he is therefore the Pinoy “everyman” that the majority of the masang Pilipino can relate to, and his successes have made him a symbol for the Philippines and Filipinos, his efforts a matter of national pride.

Jinkee, Manny, and Dionesia Pacquiao. Image here.

Prior to the Pacman phenomenon, boxing in the country existed under the radar of the vast majority of Filipinos. It was perceived as a bloodsport, a cruel and inhumane activity participated in by men of poverty hoping to earn a living from prize money. For decades, the popular sport was professional basketball, under the auspices of thePhilippine Basketball Association.

After that, with the success of “Amang” Parica and Efren “Bata” Reyes in the international professional billiards scene, that sport enjoyed a run of popularity, as evinced by the sprouting of billiards halls in nearly every town, and the purchase of pool tables for the homes of those who could afford them.

Despite the achievements of Flash Elorde, Rolando Navarrete, Gerry Peñalosa, and Luisito Espinosa in World Boxing Organization and World Boxing Association matches, it had to take a Pacman and his steady stream of exceptional international victories for boxing to enjoy a resurgence in this country.

Every Pacquiao fight is now aired over multiple mass media channels – pay-per-view cable television, delayed telecast on free TV, for-pay screenings in movie theaters, radio broadcasts, updates on the Internet via news articles, Facebook updates, and Twitter, and between people using mobile phone texting.

Image here.

Round-by-round news of his fights are almost inescapable, being passed around even through word of mouth. Try riding a taxi during a fight; the driver will update you the moment you step inside.

Such a media phenomenon seems to have spawned some social effects, not the least of which is the new popularity of boxing. Undercards are now being seriously watched and the boxers followed, unlike before Pacman when undercards had the same relevance to viewers as the opening acts in big-name concerts (people tend to ignore them and think of them as necessary nuisances). Former undercard boxers such as Nonito Donaire have gone on to gain their own fans.

Boxing and mixed martial gyms have sprouted up in many areas of the country, with more young men than ever hoping to fight their way into the ranks of multi-millionaires, while the out-of-shape hope to get buff.

There are less men in churches on Sundays when there are Pacquiao fights.

Media, particularly print, tout that “there is no crime on Pacquiao fight days.”

Also most telling, Pacquiao has become a symbol of Filipino pride around the world. The persona of Pacquiao has become a sign connoting abstract concepts such as Filipino-ness, national pride, and love of country.

He has entered the national mythos, and that is not the least of his achievements. In Joseph Campbell’s concept of the monomyth or “hero’s journey”, a hero from the ordinary world is chosen to enter a realm of strange events; if he accepts the challenge, he must perform tasks and face trials. If he survives, the hero earns great gifts or boons which he may use to improve the ordinary world if he returns to it successfully.

This Pacquiao has done – entered the strange world of international boxing, performed tasks impossible for other boxers, and earned prize money and learned skills that he uses to better the lives of his fellow Filipinos.

For many, Pacquiao is a true hero, and his accomplishments have made changes on our culture, the effects of which we are discovering as his story still unfolds.    ***

Time magazine cover here. Joseph Campbell image here.

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pop goes the world: language and identity

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 5 May 2011, Thursday

Language and Identity

In a multi-lingual country such as ours that has been colonized by foreigners, language and its use are inextricably linked to issues of national identity and geography.

Tagalog, or “Filipino”, is used as the country’s primary language, and is taught in schools along with English, embedded in the culture during the forty years of the American Occupation. Spanish, spoken by families of the elite during 400 years of Madre España en Filipinas, has sunk into obscurity.

The Philippines, center -the green group of islands that looks somewhat like a dinosaur. Image here.

At different times over the years, either Tagalog or English has been the main medium of instruction, a matter that has always heavily been debated, even fought over.

Cebuanos have contended in the past that there are more Cebuano, or Visayan, speakers, and that it should be the primary language. Tagalog is said to have been designated the national language only for purposes of convenience, being the language spoken in “the center” of the country, where the seat of the national government is located. It’s a case of a language being in the right place at the right time.

We are in a period where Tagalog is the medium of instruction, but many schools are placing an emphasis on the practice of English conversation, giving gold stars and other incentives to class sections that use it. Colegio de Santa Rosa in Makati, which my two daughters attend, is one such example.

Schools are said to be doing this to increase the chances of their graduates obtaining jobs in high-growth sectors such as business process outsourcing, where English fluency is a must, and overseas, because in the past couple of decades the Philippines’s number one export has been human labor.

However, the issue of language has been linked to national identity, and that is another source of contention. As a writer in and speaker of English, I have faced discrimination from native Tagalog speakers, including writers in Tagalog and other Philippine languages, for being “colonized”; I am perceived as somehow unpatriotic.

I write in English and speak it fluently because of circumstances of birth and because I grew up during a time that English was the primary medium of instruction. My sister and I were born and grew up in Manila speaking English, not Tagalog.

My parents were not unpatriotic, it was just that they were not originally from “the center”. My mother is from Bacolod City and speaks Hiligaynon, English, and Spanish; my father was from Cotabato City and spoke Chavacano, English, Spanish, Tausug, Hiligaynon, and some Cebuano and French.

Neither of them spoke Tagalog well; I never heard them speak it at home until I was in my teens. When I did, they sounded barok.

Was it any surprise, then, that they decided to teach English to us, their children? My father also felt it would give us an edge in school; back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the medium of instruction was English. How could they have taught us Tagalog, when they did not speak it fluently themselves and were not comfortable using it?

In 1993 a romance novel of mine in English – Fire and Ice – was released by Solar Publishing, which put out other titles in that series. This was during the heyday of the Tagalog romance “pocketbook”.

Around this time a writing workshop for romance novels was given at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I eagerly signed up. The main speaker was an established writer in Filipino who shall remain nameless. When she learned that my published novel was in English, she said, “Hindi ka Pilipino.” And glared.

I replied, “So you’re saying Nick Joaquin and F. Sionil Jose and Jose Rizal are not Filipino?” And walked out.

When my marriage fell apart because my ex-husband fell in love with someone else, my former in-laws told me, “Kaya ka iniwan ng asawa mo dahil Englishera ka.” Like it was a bad thing, that fluency in English was an evil thing, a right and proper reason for breaking up a family.  That made no sense, and all I could reply was, “But you knew that from the start!” It was in fact a matter of pride for them at first that I and my children have an excellent command of English, and we were paraded around to their family and friends in a Laguna town.

You can say that language plays a big role in my life.

So I read with great interest a Facebook Note posted by broadcaster Rico Hizon, now based abroad and working for BBC World News. It was the speech he gave at the Toastmasters International District 75 Annual Conference, and it was titled, “Being Proud of our Own Filipino-English Diction.”

Hizon said:The Filipino diction is clear, simple, neutral, easy to understand. The Filipino enunciates clearly, pronounces every syllable in a pleasant, even, and non-threatening tone modulated for every ear to capture its essence. And when we speak English, for instance, it is neither American nor British English. It is a Pan-Asian diction. It does not pretend to sound western but both Asians and non-Asians can easily comprehend what is being said.”

He went on to say:  “Speaking in English is not unpatriotic. We are not less Filipinos for mastering another language. We are only making good use of our gift for languages to forge ahead. English should be the medium of instruction in schools.”

I agree with Hizon. I too have the fluency and clear diction, trained as I was by my broadcaster father, who belonged to the old school and insisted on clarity in enunciation. He would have been appalled to hear the squeaky voices and mumbling indulged in by a great many TV and radio broadcasters today.

Pops and me at the ABS-CBN employees’ family day picnic, c. ’70s.

Back when I was growing up, a “golden voice” was required for one to be on radio and TV. Think Harry Gasser, Rey Langit, Orly Mercado. Who do we have on now and what do they sound like? You tell me.

I have parlayed my English fluency in writing and clear diction in speaking into skills that have gotten me work in media when my marriage broke up and I had to support my children. My writing and my voice put food on the table. Would I have been able to do this otherwise? I don’t think so.

In addition to English and Tagalog, I also speak Hiligaynon and some Spanish. I am grateful I grew up the way I did, speaking the languages I do. But just because I am more comfortable using English and Hiligaynon rather than Tagalog, does this make me less Filipino?

If you think I am, then them’s fighting words; say it to my face, so we can step outside and duke it out. If we identify as Filipino, live as Filipinos, and anticipate dying as Filipinos, then we are Filipino, no matter the language we speak, the color of our skin, even the nationality of our birth.

Because love of country resides in the heart and mind, not on our tongues.   ***

Nick Joaquin here. Rico Hizon here. Orly Mercado here.

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pop goes the world: choosing the light

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 28 April 2011, Thursday

Choosing the Light

My first “Pop Goes the World” column came out April 29 last year, and was about David Byrne’s “Here Lies Love” rock opera on the life of Imelda Marcos.

Has it been a year already? Time speeds by at maximum velocity when you’re enjoying yourself, and writing these pieces do count as fun.

I initially envisioned this column as touching upon matters related to cultural studies, and over the past year I’ve opined on a wide range of topics – the serious, such as the BP oil spill and the trifecta disasters in Japan, and the personal, on the multiculturalism of my sister and children and on relationships.

Do they all have to do with culture, though? Yes, because culture is the context in which human activity is embedded. You can’t throw a stick without hitting something to do with culture, which in its broadest sense has been defined as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group,” or, as I’ve read  elsewhere, “the way we do things around here.”

As a social constructionist, it’s interesting to see how different people create their societies based on mutual agreement, notwithstanding the opposition of any vociferous minority that may exist, since the majority prevails – unless we’re talking dictators (a minority of one), and that’s a whole ‘nother thing entirely.

“Far Side” cartoon by Gary Larson here.

We can see the construction of culture within our society happening before our very eyes. An example? Jan-jan’s “macho dancing” on Willie Revillame’s “Willing Willie”. I wrote in a previous column about how I deemed it obscene for a six-year-old to be made to gyrate in that suggestive manner on national television.

After it was published, I got several comments saying, in effect, who was I to judge what was lascivious or not for a young boy to do and where to do it, and that different people have different tastes and just to let each other be. “Live and let live,” they said.

In my not-so-long-ago youth, such a dance would never have made it on TV. Such a dance would never have been taught to young children. Such a dance showing the sexualization of minors would not have been tolerated in the wider society.

Now, however, it is disconcerting to read how a great many people see nothing wrong with Jan-jan’s teary performance, with his parents even suing the sundry people who have taken up the cudgels for their son and others who might be exposed in a similar manner in the future.

Our culture is changing before our very eyes, even as you read these words. For better or for worse?

The good thing is that in this society, we still have a choice. We can choose not to allow our own children to be sexualized prematurely by not teaching them suggestive dances and by not exposing them to such activities. We can choose not to watch “Willing Willie” nor any other show Revillame may be on. We can choose to create a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.

The sad part is that when our culture changes around us, there is no way we or our children won’t be affected somehow, eventually.

But we can try, and rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

Since this is still a free country (more or less, the last time I looked), I will, within my jurisdiction as a parent, pro-actively shield my children as much as I can from what I personally consider negative influences. That means a block on Internet porn sites and no shows featuring Willie Revillame.

I will encourage my children to read more. We started way back when they were toddlers, when I read Dr Seuss aloud to them, which resulted in both my girls being able to master diphthongs in 24 hours. This was followed with childrens’ classics such as “Alice in Wonderland”, and we memorized the hilarious poem “Jabberwocky” as an added bonus. Right now they are into Eoin Colfer and other young adult books – no “Twilight” in our house, thankfully.

The John Tenniel illustration of the Jabberwock.

I will take them to more art exhibits and book launches and other similar events. Last February we saw the paintings and multi-media art of Bea Lapa, Chris Dumlao, and  Rebie Ramoso. We also nearly got Neil Gaiman’s autograph the last time he was here but were turned off by the long lines, something we regretted after.

I will take them regularly to Baguio, where creative self-expression is a part of many residents’ lives. I was up there the week before Holy Week for the 50th UP National Writers Workshop (as a Fellow for English) and was blown away by how vibrant and sincere the art scene there is.

As colorful Tibetan prayer flags flutter above them, 50th UP National Writers Workshop panelists and UP professors Dr Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Dr Gemino Abad, and Dr Jose Dalisay (back to camera) sit awhile at the BenCab museum cafe.

Anthropologist Dr. Padmapani Perez’s Mountain Cloud bookshop at Casa Vallejo, Upper Session Road, is the place “where your soles touch the ground, rumbling in your tummy, dancing where your heart pulses and your breath moves, filling the space between your ears,” as their slogan goes. It’s right beside Hill Station café, and you can move back and forth between the two, settling in the bookshelf-cum-chairs of Mt. Cloud with a coffee or beer from the café.

It’s a small place with a big heart – Mountain Cloud Bookshop in Baguio City. Books are not wrapped in plastic, inviting browsing. The bookshelf/chairs are cozy.

A view of the Mt. Cloud bookshop counter from the loft above.

I participated in a Poetry Slam event there and loved how welcoming and warm the audience and other contestants were. They will be having the third edition of that event in June – do go, and witness something special!

A quiet corner at Hill Station.

VOCAS on Session Road is where you will find food and drink with art and interesting interiors, and where a drumming session might begin – or not. There is no pressure to do, everything simply flows, and one goes with it, flowing in and out as moved by intuition and desire.

Inside VOCAS (Victor Oteyza Community Art Space).

It’s a good way to live, peaceful and meaningful, and I look forward to applying in Manila the lessons learned in Baguio. I choose to fill my life with art and books and love, because I have the right to live my life the way I want to, as long as I do not break the law.

I will create my personal culture while remaining a part of mainstream culture, an individual yet still Filipino to the core.

And as I celebrate my first year on MST’s op-ed page, I invite you to continue along with me on this journey together, as we explore more of Filipino and world culture and society.   ***

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