Monday, December 29, 2008

No One Throws Away Memories

During the preparation for our 35th Grand Reunion, it was a welcome surprise to see batchmates still having their copies of the yearbook, high school pictures (mostly in black and white), and other paraphernalia. The yearbook especially was very useful in identifying and locating long-lost classmates. It was an ubiquitous fixture in every get-together we had and it never failed to cause laughter and smiles. During the reunion, ten copies of the yearbook were found at the NDDU storeroom and half of it were sold right away.

People who keep precious memories are often dismissed as sentimental fools. But as we come to a certain age when our mental recollection of people, events and places starts to fade and dim, these memories become valuable reminders of who we were, where we were, what we wore and ate, who we were with.

In these times when people are obsessed with the here and now, when today's trends are tomorrow's trash, memories serve as milestones which mark our life's journey. Memories are guideposts as we reflect on the life we have had. There are times when we have to dwell in the past to understand the present and to plan ahead. Memories are to be relished like homecooked meals our mothers served us. These memories are the stars that we forget to see while we are cursing the darkness around us. Surely, no one has a past so bleak that it is deemed better forgotten. One who has no use for memories must have amnesia! :)

The Hallmark card theme song said it right: No one throws away memories. There are memories that are forever etched in our hearts and minds. And our memories of the best years in high school are now enriched by recent memories of our 35th Grand Reunion.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Filipino vampire myth in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight

Twilight, the international bestseller by Stephenie Meyer (now a blockbuster film), contains a reference to a Filipino vampire myth named Danag. The main character Bella Swan was intrigued by vampire Edward Cullen's revelations and decided to search online for more information about vampires and this is what she found:

"The rest of the site was an alphabetized listing of all the different myths of vampires held throughout the world. The first I clicked on, the Danag, was a Filipino vampire supposedly responsible for planting taro on the islands long ago. The myth continued that the Danag worked with humans for many years, but the partnership ended one day when a woman cut her finger and a Danag sucked her wound, enjoying the taste so much that it drained her body completely of blood."*

The website referred to in Twilight is Enchanted Doorway which features World Vampire Myths.

* Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, pages 184-185 (page 116 in hardbound copy)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What I am thankful for this year

Gratitude in Chinese characters

12 monthly reasons for gratitude this year:

January - a great start for the year as I was armed with the resolve to pursue old/new interests.

February - the gift of realization that family and friends who tell me "I'm here for you" are not really there when I need them.

March - a renewed sense of commitment to finish my MBA degree no matter what /who may want to detract/distract me from it.

April - feeling joy from the birth of my grandson (actually my brother's) by affinity.May - finding my graduate school studies exciting and exhilarating.

June - seeing strength within after someone attempted to derail my MBA studies.

July - rediscovering my youthful enjoyment of comic books.

August - rediscovering my passion for research.September - a ruptured disk made me take things slow and easy, stress-free.

October - seeing my book collection grow and grow thanks to Ebayph suki-sellers and the newly-opened National Bookstore branch here.

November - celebrating my 12th birthday (that is, if life begins at 40).

December - relishing the thought of leaving 2008 and looking forward to 2009 which my instinct and gut-feel tell me is going to be a lucky year for me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Baby with Hitchcockian cheeks

Baby Shawn James has the plumpest, most pinchable cheeks among the babies I've had the privilege of coddling/cuddling. I could see why it takes a lot of self-control on the part of grown-ups NOT to pinch his cheeks.

I've been secretly calling him Hitch, short for Hitchcock. Hehehe.

Starting Christmas Break: Reading on Reading

Writing about Reading on books about Reading reminds me of Norman Rockwell's self-portrait. :-)

This Christmas break I intend to start reading books on reading; its joys and sorrows. There is a formidable reading list presented by Nicholas Basbanes, a self-confessed bibliophile: A Gentle Madness, Among the Gently Mad, Patience & Fortitude, A Splendor of Letters and Every Book Its Reader.

For brief respites from the Basbanes tomes, there are: Passion for Books edited by Harold Rabinowitz & Rob Kaplan, Casanova was a Book Lover by John Maxwell Hamilton, The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford and So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson.And oh, did I mention I just finished reading The Physics of Christmas by Roger Highfield?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dream car

If I have the money, know how to drive (can hire a chauffeur), and have a garage at home, any of these cars would be perfect for me:
Source: http://www.youthedesigner.com/2008/12/02/32-killer-car-designs/

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dreams and nightmares

When I was young, I often had a recurrent nightmare. It was dark and I was running away from several people. They finally caught up with me. The next thing I knew I was either hung over a bottomless well or being held by someone grasping my foot over a well. As I was struggling, I could hear my screams echo in the walls of the well. I was shouting: Don't let me fall.

Another childhood nightmare was caused by a photo I saw in an aunt's album. In it, her college classmate was wearing a hat on a beach. She posed before a large driftwood and her hand held on a fragile branch while her right foot leaned back on the trunk. Because of her long, billowy skirt, it looked like she was missing a foot. In my nightmare, there was this one legged lady chasing me; sometimes by herself, but many times she was with the others who chased me to the well.

In high school, I had dreams of flying. I was flying in my street clothes and not in some costume. The wind softly rushing and hitting my face and hair exhilarated me. When I tired of flying, I would be bouncing about like on a giant trampoline. This was the closest I got to a high without the aid of marijuana or illegal drugs proliferating at that time.

When I hit my 30s, my nightmare looked like a magic act where a magician pulls out seemingly endless streams of thin cloth from his mouth (or it could be the influence of pictures of a yogi I saw who used a thin strip of cloth to perform a cleansing asana by slipping it through the mouth and out a nostril or swallowing it and withdrawing it from his intestines, inch by inch). In my nightmare, however, the cloth was organic like endless fat, ropey noodles. For what seemed like hours, I would be pulling these from my mouth. I would, from time to time, use my teeth to cut them. But a few seconds later, I would start to choke as a new batch would push out of my mouth.

Reading Stephen King's books often gave me nightmares. When I read Eyes of the Dragon, I was sick with the flu. As my temperature went up and down, I would find myself in a nightmare alternating between King's alternate world and my waking world. It felt like walking through a shimmering portal between worlds.

The Tommyknockers gave me a pleasant dream as I dreamed the appliances and pieces of furniture moving by themselves. So I took advantage of it and had fun rearranging them around the house. No sweat!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Reflection on the autumn years of my life

(Theme from Mulan)
performed by Michael Crawford

Look at me you may think you see
Who I really am but you'll never know me
Every day it's as if I play a part
Now I see if I wear a mask
I can fool the world but I cannot fool my heart

Who is that man I see staring straight back at me?
When will my reflection show who I am inside?

I am now in a world where I
Have to hide my heart and what I believe in
But somehow I will show the world
What's inside my heart and be loved for who I am

Who is that man I see staring straight back at me?
Why is my reflection someone I don't know?

Must I pretend that I'm someone else for all time?
When will my reflection show who I am inside?

There's a heart that must be free to fly
That burns with a need to know the reason why

I won't pretend that I'm someone else for all time
When will my reflection show who I am inside?
When will my reflection show who I am inside?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christmas Wish List

The R2 Fish School Kit to train my goldfish!

And here's what I also want to teach them-

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quote . . . unquote

From Ian Rosales Casocot:

The eminent scholar of mythology G.K. Chesterton once famously observed that “a room without books is like a body without a soul.” I believe in that wholeheartedly—and often I do find myself picking my friendships by the size of their libraries. Deep inside, I think books signal a depth of character, and imagination, that deem the room-owner worthy enough of an emotional investment to strike for long-lasting friendship. Truth is, we can always afford hundreds of close acquaintances. But close friendships are vital, and forever. Books become a measure of that vitality. Not always, but often. And for the most part, my life has been enriched by great friends who read. They challenge me, and I grow from that. In trying times, they are also the ones with the most imagination to carry you through the darkest days without becoming, uncomfortably, like Job’s comforters.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Middle age goals & aspirations (or My Personal Timba List)

When one reaches middle age, priorities become clearer (and urgent!) and if one is fortunate enough, the wisdom is already in place to serve as guidepost along the way. And so this is my personal timba (bucket) list:

I have already set in place my plan to retire early from full-time teaching (why wait for the mandatory retirement age, indeed!), use my retirement/pension to put up a research/reading center at home, pursue my other ambitions (join the Palanca, write a book or two), travel abroad, enjoy life as I never did before.

So right now, I am writing my MBA thesis proposal (Plan B: teach at local grad schools after retirement). I am compiling my favorite songs on a CD that I plan to play in the places mentioned in them or associated with them (New York, New York, Weekend in New England, Theme from Schindler's List, you get the picture?). I also have to update the drafts for the Palanca entry and book(s) on my hard drive. Since high school, I have been buying books and these books will serve as the centerpiece of my research/reading center at home which will be open to the public (for a fee, of course!). The center will also have a viewing room for classic films on DVD which I have been collecting.

When the inevitable happens, I know I will die peacefully surrounded by my books, films, CDs and the company of fellow bookworms.

The Moleskine Notebook is courtesy of Avalon.PH

For the Viloria.net contest rules, please see

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Gensan in the eyes of Senator Mar Roxas

In 2002, a national magazine called flip was launched. Its second issue featured an article written by Jessica Zafra on Senator (then DTI Secretary) Mar Roxas. The article was entitled Stalking Mar (24 hours on the trail of the politician slash trade secretary slash most eligible bachelor). This was included in the compilation the flip reader, published this year.

Some excerpts:

* Upon learning that I'd never been to Gensan before, Mar delivers a short lecture on the history and topography of the place. The man certainly does his homework -- I get the impression he can rattle off the economic indicators and population figures of the major cities. "The Gensan airport is fantastic," he says. "The roads leading to it are way better than those in Manila." (page 122)

* Mar Roxas is in Gensan airport. He is welcomed by the representatives of the local DTI office and ushered to an SUV that will take him to Koronadal, an hour's drive away. "How's Gensan?" he asks.. "What's the livelihood situation? Any adverse effects from the bombing?" The answers are neatly filed away in his brain, cross-indexed for easy retrieval along with the current retail prices for chicken, pork, fish, and rice. (page 122)

* He gestures at the view. "Look at these roads!" he enthuses. "Excellent roads, wide open spaces. Fruit trees everywhere! The people of Gensan have it good!..." (page 122)

* Mar Roxas is at the large, well-appointed Gensan fishport, examining tuna. It is 7:30 in the blazing sunshine. . . He looks like he knows his way around a fish market: he walks with a sure step while the rest of us worry about slipping on the wet concrete. He talks to stall owners and remarks on the weight and freshness of the fish. (page 125)

* Fish four or five feet long dangle from metal hooks -- they don't look dead, they look like movie props. Mar steps up to the biggest one and poses for photographs. (page 125)

* Small fishing boats disgorge a steady stream of fishermen lugging enormous fish. They jump into the waters; rip off the fins -- oww -- with their bare hands, then drag the fish through the water to the dock. The fishermen are all compact and wiry, and have tans the exact shade of shoe leather. The Trade Secretary's staff has a collective heart attack as Mar steps onto one of the boats and greets the fishermen. "How long have you been at sea?" (pages 125-126)

* "One month," they reply. . . He asks them what they eat when they're out there, what dangers they face, how they survive the boredom. "One month at sea," he says, in a tone of wonder, "What do you do for sex?" (page 126)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What I would Write on my Moleskine (assuming I have one :))

Assuming I have a moleskine notebook, it will be the repository of the story ideas teeming in my mind which is no longer the reliable instrument it once was (hello, memory gap!). A moleskine will make a very fine storage for my story ideas - no viruses/bugs/worms/malwares to worry
about, no stml (short-term memory loss), no power interruption, no blue screen of death, - just add one finepoint pen. :)

Thanks Wifely Steps for the chance to join the Bloghopping Moleskine Giveaway!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My fave library scenes in films/books

As a bookworm, I have always considered the school library as my sanctuary and haven. It is at the library that I learned about the birds and the bees (notwithstanding that the references were scanty and withheld from general circulation) - starting with looking up the definitions of sexual terms in the gargantuan Webster's Dictionary up to finding (to my raging hormones' delight) sexy passages in R-rated books by Harold Robbins, et al.Not surprisingly while reading Atonement by Ian McEwan, the scene that got my pulse racing was the pivotal library encounter between the two lovers which was misinterpreted by the young Briony. I still have to see the movie version of this novel to find out how this scene was interpreted by the director. At the UP Main Library, one of my pet peeves was finding lovers making a lovenest in between library shelves where I needed to find a book for my research. I'm sure that if these lovers ever saw the film, they might have ended up necking and petting inside the cinema! The good ole days indeed! :D
While other movie viewers noticed clothes and shoes among other things, I salivated at the sight of the extensive (wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling) library in Lex Luthor's yacht in Superman Returns. Never mind if someone told me it was just a SFX. How Luthor can have that library and still be a villain is beyond me! One of my favorite Ray Bradbury books, Something Wicked This Way Comes, has a library scene where Mr. Dark confronts Mr. Halloway. I just couldn't put this book down and I revisit it like an old friend. My teenaged imagination was fired up by this book.
Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, finds herself in bookworm heaven in the Beast's library. Never mind if this library is just a product of animation!I l-o-v-e both Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Yentl, the movie starred in and directed by Barbra Streisand! Orphaned, Yentl had to disguise herself as a boy to enter a school where/when women were not allowed to study the Torah. Yentl spends her time with tomes until love comes her way.
The library scene in The Mummy with Rachel Weisz as the librarian amidst the mayhem and the harassment of her boss made me remember all the school librarians I have met and befriended who served as my guides in the labyrinth of books under their care.
While others were turned off by a suspense thriller set in a medieval library in a monastery, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco presented itself as a challenging read to me because of the pidgin English, Latin and French sentences in it. I had my Latin and French dictionaries on hand while reading it. In the end, it was a satisfying read. So satisfying that, when I finally saved up enough to buy a DVD player, the film version was one of the first three videos I bought and watched.

What Scene in "Day After Tomorrow" Frightens Me

No, it is not the global warming/ice age plot of The Day After Tomorrow that frightens me the most. It is this scene:

Snow/icebound with others (including some whiz kids) in the New York Public Library, the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal suggests that they burn library books to keep them warm. Never mind that they are in a room with wooden walls and wooden bookshelves (and wood gives off more warmth than books when burned!). Then some whiz kids engage in a debate on which works by whose authors to burn!

The horror! The terror I felt as I watched those precious being burned! Up to now, I still remind myself - It's ONLY a movie!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Too Many Saviors on My Cross: Rediscovering Richard Harris' Poetry (Blog Action Day 08: Poverty)

In support of Blog Action Day 08 with its theme on Poverty, I am posting this Youtube video of a Powerpoint of Richard Harris' Too Many Saviors and the poem below which I first heard on his long playing album His Greatest Performances in the 70s. I think this poem was composed by Harris with Ireland as its context; however, the words resonate with relevance to the present conditions here in the Philippines:

There Are Too Many Saviors on My Cross

There are too many saviors on my cross,
lending their blood to flood out my ballot box with needs of their own.
Who put you there?
Who told you that that was your place?

You carry me secretly naked in your heart
and clothe me publicly in armor crying “God is on our side,”yet I openly cry
Who is on mine?
Tell me, who?
You who bury your sons and cripple your fathers
whilst you buried my father in crippling his son.

The antiquated Saxon sword,
rusty in its scabbard of time now rises—
you gave it cause in my name,
bringing shame to the thorned head
that once bled for your salvation.

I hear your daily cries
in the far-off byways in your mouth
pointing north and south
and my Calvary looms again,
desperate in rebirth.
Your earth is partitioned,
but in contrition
it is the partition
in your hearts that you must abolish.

You nightly watchers of Gethsemane
who sat through my nightly trial delivering me from evil—
now deserted, I watch you share your silver.
Your purse, rich in hate,
bleeds my veins of love,
shattering my bone in the dust of the bogside and the Shankhill road.

There is no issue stronger than the tissue of love,
no need as holy as the palm outstretched in the run of generosity,
no monstrosity greater than the acre you inflict.
Who gave you the right to increase your fold
and decrease the pastures of my flock?
Who gave you the right?
Who gave it to you?
And in whose name do you fight?

I am not in heaven,
I am here,
hear me.
I am in you,
feel me.
I am of you,
be me.
I am with you,
see me.
I am for you,
need me.
I am all mankind;
only through kindness will you reach me.

What masked and bannered men can rock the ark
and navigate a course to their annointed kingdom come?
Who sailed their captain to waters that they troubled in my font,
sinking in the ignorant seas of prejudice?

There is no virgin willing to conceive in the heat of any bloody Sunday.
You crippled children lying in cries on Derry’s streets,
pushing your innocence to the full flush face of Christian guns,
battling the blame on each other,
do not grow tongues in your dying dumb wounds speaking my name.
I am not your prize in your death.
You have exorcized me in your game of politics.

Go home to your knees and worship me in any cloth,
for I was never tailor-made.
Who told you I was?
Who gave you the right to think it?
Take your beads in your crippled hands,
can you count my decades?
Take my love in your crippled hearts,
can you count the loss?

I am not orange.
I am not green.
I am a half-ripe fruit needing both colors to grow into ripeness,
and shame on you to have withered my orchard.
I in my poverty,
alone without trust,
cry shame on you
and shame on you again and again
for converting me into a bullet and shooting me into men’s hearts.

The ageless legend of my trial grows old
in the youth of your pulse staggering shamelessly from barricade to grave,
filing in the book of history my needless death one April.
Let me, in my betrayal, lie low in my grave,
and you, in your bitterness, lie low in yours,
for our measurements grow strangely dissimilar.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
sullied be thy name.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Finding 3 Lynne Truss books in less than 30 days

The local branch of National Bookstore displayed Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves in August so I decided to wait for a few more weeks so I could buy it at a marked down price during the September price-cut anniversary. And sure enough I was able to buy it at less-20% price. Its subtitle says: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. This is one book I wish some bloggers would buy because their blogposts give my headaches - Its my blogpost! It's grammer n punctuation is no business of your's!

The following week, I found Truss's Talk to the Hand (The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door) while browsing through the newly-arrived stocks at the Booksale branch here. This book I wish the younger people (and some older people too!) would buy since their rudeness and meanness is sooooo appalling these days you'd think they are worshipping at the altar of the Justice Secretary who is the epitome of an unrepenting Scrooge undaunted by hauntings of Christmases past, present, and future!

Finding The Lynne Truss Treasury on ebayph last week was serendipitous as I was looking for another book. It contains three comic novels and compiles the published column items of Ms. Truss. And so this book should occupy my time for the rest of this month.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

St. Francis Feast Day

All around the world today, Catholic churches celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi by blessing animals and their owners.

St. Francis, born Giovanni Francesco Bernardone in Assisi, Italy, is the patron saint of animals and the environment.

After spending his early years as a wayward youth, St. Francis became a soldier and was a prisoner of war. After his release, he became sick for a long time. He began having visions and heard God's voice in a church in San Damiano telling him to go and repair His house which going to ruins. He also rebelled against the riches that surrounded him and refused to join his friends' carousing ways.

At Mass, he listened to Matthew's gospel (10:7-10): And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. It was then that he decided to live a life of poverty.

Leading a life of penance and prayer, he began to preach about peace with God, peace with others and peace with oneself. He treated God's creations as his brothers and sisters. In 1210, he was given permission to start a new religious order named Friars Minor by Pope Innocent III.

The life of St. Francis was filled with hardships and challenges. He had to turn his back to his parents and family members. In 1219, he and his band of brothers went on a pilgrimage of peace to Egypt where he was allowed by the sultan (after much debate) to preach his message of peace.

One of his first recruits was St. Clare who would later found the Poor Clares and be declared by Pope Pius XII as the patron saint of television.

Two years before his death in 1226, he received the stigmata (five wounds of Jesus Christ).

His life has been written about in several books; the latest two were written by Donald Spoto and Robert Kennedy Jr. Also several films were made: Brother Sun, Sister Moon directed by Franco Zeffirelli and the TV film version of Spoto's book.

With the world in the grip of global warming and terrorism, St. Francis' intercession and examples are much needed to help us get through these times.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

One Year of Ebay.ph Buying!

October 2 this year marked my first year of buying at Ebay.ph. It was quite a learning experience for me. I learned how some ebay buyers "snipe" at an item on bid in the last few minutes (and thereby winning it instead of me who bid for it earlier and waited for the bid to end in a week's time) and this is considered "legal" at ebay. A Smart subscriber, I also learned to pay through Globe's gcash (aside from making bank deposits to pay other ebay sellers). I have saved myself quite a bundle of cash because of the l-o-o-o-w prices at ebay.ph.As a buyer, I learned to start small. Since ebay transactions are based on trust between the buyer and the seller, I had to establish that with the sellers because I began with a 0 (zero) feedback. At first, I bought a book (The Global Soul by Pico Iyer) whose price was less than the shipment cost. Then a comic book (Superman). Coincidentally, I also bought Wisdom of St. Francis (of Assisi) on his birthmonth.

Slowly, I built up my feedback positive rating. The first 10 sellers who gave me their trust are the following:


A toast to the above sellers, many of whom have become my good friends. Alana trusted me enough to sell me Oprah Winfrey Show DVDs and books Oprah endorsed. Rolf would tip me off whenever he has interesting books and Shakespeareana for sale. Cthulhu has the most stimulating books (and heaviest too, if I may add :) ) Shoshoink is one bookseller friend who went out of her way to buy the Star Wars Vault book for me. The others had books for which I had been looking for years and promptly bought from them to add to my collections. They are most accommodating and understanding. Whenever payment had to be done before payday (in ebay, payment has to be made 3 days after the bid is awarded to you), I would ask them if I could make the payment on payday or the next day and invariably, they would allow me.

As a buyer, I am surprised (delightfully) when a buyer encloses a freebie (bookmark, another book, etc) with my ebay purchase. I have read though that one pet peeve of ebay sellers is buyers who are in the habit of asking for freebies. I did ask once my suki-ebay sellers for freebies when I made some purchases last December and they did play Santa Claus to me.

I did have some skirmishes with anally-retentive and Alzheimer's diseased sellers. This one seller had some books I really coveted to have. After several purchases from her, I had to ask her if I could make a late payment (since it had to be made a week before payday) to which she agreed. But after 3 days, she reported me to ebay.ph for non-payment of the item. When I asked her why, inspite of the agreement, she just said it was in the ebay rules and had no bearing on my feedback rating. Why she would subject me to this hassle, only she knew. Needless to say, I deleted her from my list of favorite sellers and hasn't bought any book from her since.

Since I am based in Gensan, I have to include the shipment cost in my payments to ebay sellers based elsewhere in the country. Of the couriers here, Air21 is the most prompt and accessible to me. Well, there is one nearest to my place of work, but it takes its sweet time to deliver packages (48 hrs after they receive them). Another courier delivered a package addressed in Makati to me! It took them more than a week to find my package and retrieve the misdelivered package.

In one of my recent purchases, the item description of the seller specified shipment through Air21. After paying her through gcash 2 days after (still within the 3-days allowed by ebay), I texted her about it and reminded her to ship the books through Air21. In the next hour, she texted me that she shipped the books through another courier (which charges lower rates). When I asked why she did so inspite the specified courier and told her my bad experiences with the courier she used, she crankily sent me a barrage of texts that I paid late (!) and she shipped promptly (!). She also added that I had no respect for her despite her age (I didn't even know how old she is!). She also said she did me a favor because of the savings I had from her courier's low rates. Anyway, she said she would follow up her shipment and got the courier to promise to deliver it within 24 hours. Even if the package was delivered promptly, I couldn't give her an honest-to-goodness positive rating, so I decided to give her a neutral one instead of a negative one. And she went postal! This from a self-confessed 60+ year-old grandma! Whew! Such unpleasantness! Luckily for me, her rants were published by ebay in HER ratings page only.

And here I am, with 111 positive feedbacks and an enriched library (I added two bookshelves to house my burgeoning collection). But I feel richer knowing and having friends who also love books and reading. My one year in ebay.ph, I am sure, has been mutually beneficial to me and my seller-friends. So here's a toast to another year!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rizal's novels for free (Reprint)

Looking Back
Rizal’s novels for free
By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:34:00 09/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines—It is unfortunate that the novels of Jose Rizal are read in the confines of a classroom rather than the comfort of an easy chair or a hammock on a beach. Nobody brings “Noli me tangere” or “El Filibusterismo” to read on holiday except students cramming for an exam. Studying Rizal should conclude in an appreciation of his life and works, but all this has turned into a boring chore.

The vicious cycle begins in high school when the novels are first taken up in Filipino class. Naturally, nobody reads Rizal in the original Spanish, so students are introduced to the novels in Filipino and in abridged form. In college, the novels are supposed to be read whole and in the fine translations by Soledad Lacson Locsin (English) and Virgilio S. Almario (Filipino), but students return to their high school textbooks, turn to chapter summaries from the Internet or the “komiks” [comic book] versions to comply with minimum course requirements.

I remember my own experience with Rizal’s novels. We first read these in high school Filipino literature class under a teacher who was named, believe it or not, Pedro San Pedro. I liked both the class and the teacher. I remember the story of both novels. I recall the symbolism of the crocodile in the fish pen, which was said to be rapacious Spain and Spaniards feeding on the Philippines and the Filipinos. Today, Kim Atienza and National Geographic will tell you that crocodiles are not on a murderous feeding frenzy all the time. As a matter of fact they eat intelligently. Next time you use buwaya or crocodile to describe someone in government, think twice and be kind to animals who get branded negatively.

Now that I’m much older and I have read the novels a number of times, I wonder whether there is a hidden or symbolic meaning in the crocodile in the fish pen. If Rizal were alive he might even scold us for over-reading and tell us that it is just a crocodile, nothing more.

In college, I liked my Rizal course lectures but hated the exams that required us to memorize all the data in the novels and the teacher’s lectures. Sometimes I wondered if tests were meant to scare us into reading the novels. I ended up reading the komiks version and supplemented this with the guide questions from my high school textbook.

Today, as a teacher, I feel so bad that my students are now cramming for their Noli-Fili test and will probably have bad memories of these wonderful novels. Maybe the Rizal course is counter-productive. I reflected on my lectures during my last two decades of teaching after I received this e-mail from a student:

“I was in the middle of finishing El Fili, which I think is 10 times better than Noli, and felt like expressing my thoughts. First, I wanted to tell you that I COMPLETELY agree with you! Reading Noli and Fili is SO much better the second time around. Given that we studied it in Filipino in high school, I barely understood the story. The English version by Soledad something is SO much better!

“Second, I am sort of scared, well, truthfully, REALLY scared, of your Noli-Fili test tomorrow. I feel like I’m unprepared or something. Do we need to know about Rizal’s life? Or is the test restricted to the novels? I read the novels, but it seemed like it was for pleasure more than anything else, so I am not too keen on the details. Can you give me some tips?”

I replied that if you read the novels as is required by law and by the course, then that had value in itself, and the test was secondary. If the student started being bored with the novels but ended up enjoying them, that was the intent of the law. Republic Act 1425 is quite specific about providing copies of Rizal’s novels, but this has not been complied with. Section 2 of the law states:

“It shall be obligatory on all schools, colleges and universities to keep in their libraries an adequate number of copies of the original and expurgated editions of ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and ‘El Filibusterismo,’ as well as Rizal’s other works and biography. The said unexpurgated editions of ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and ‘El Filibusterismo’ or their translations in English as well as other writings of Rizal shall be included in the list of approved books for required reading in all public or private schools, colleges and universities.

“The Board of National Education shall determine the adequacy of the number of books, depending upon the enrollment of the school, college or university.”

If you go to school libraries today, will you find enough copies on the shelves to serve the school population? What was the intent of the law? To make copies available for free for every student? Just enough for reference? Section 3 provides a clear answer:

“The Board of National education shall cause the translation of ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and ‘El Filibusterismo,’ as well as other writings of Jose Rizal into English, Tagalog and the principal Philippine dialects; cause them to be printed in cheap, popular editions; and cause them to be distributed, free of charge, to persons desiring to read them, through the Purok organizations and the Barrio Councils throughout the country.”

During the centennial of Rizal’s birth in 1961, the novels were translated into all the major Philippine languages. If the books are available for free, where and how do you get them? Can I go to a “barangay” [village council] hall and get copies? Will making the novels available make people read them? That is another story.

Rizal's Noli (Penguin edition)

During the price-cut sale of the local National Bookstore branch here this September, I chanced upon the new English translation of Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) Penguin Classics Edition. At 20% off, I bought one of two copies on the shelf.

Being the first Filipino novel published in the Penguin Classics edition, it was launched in Australia in 2007 (Don't ask me why there). I was surprised to find my google search for this edition turning up with only a handful of mentions in the national dailies and blogs. Hmmm . . .

The new translation was done by Harold Augenbraum, an American writer, editor, and translator. He is currently Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, member of the Board of Trustees of the Asian American Writers Workshop, and former vice chair of the New York Council for the Humanities.

I've read Noli and Fili in Filipino in high school and college. And now for my third reading of it, I am taking it in slowly, savoring the words and story of our National Hero.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nanay Socorro of National Bookstore (reprint)

Business Life

Socorro Ramos: Nanay, Super Tindera, and everyone’s minister of education
Philippine Star Monday, September 22, 2008

Everybody calls her Nanay. Educators, writers, leaders of industry, the employees, suppliers, and clients of National Book Store, the readers of this paper, in which her column appears every week, and several generations of schoolchildren — the “laking-National” (raised on National). In seven decades of business, Socorro Cancio Ramos, founder and general manager of National Book Store, has won many awards and titles, but “Nanay” (Mother) is the one she likes best. In our matriarchal Filipino society it’s a term of endearment; in the highly competitive business environment it’s an honorific, or even an expression of surrender (Nanay!). It just fits.

At the NBS head office, I only have to say “Nanay” and I am immediately ushered into a small conference room lined with bookshelves. One of the managers asks me what I’d like to drink. It’s a large, bustling office with stacks of books everywhere, but it lacks the air of formal efficiency that most corporate headquarters aspire to. This one has a friendly, homey feel, kind of like a faculty lounge at a grade school: you half-expect small children to come running down the hallways. Books are crammed willy-nilly into the shelves — classics, best sellers, coloring books, art books, coffee-table books.

Five minutes later, Nanay slowly walks into the room with her arm in a sling. “Andito na pala siya, bakit hindi ako tinawag?” (Why didn’t someone call me earlier?) she gently admonishes her staff. Her granddaughter Trina Alindogan hands her a cup of hydrite — Nanay’s stomach has been acting up all day. Most people with a broken arm and a bum stomach would probably take the day off. Here we have a demonstration of one not-so-secret secret of her success: Nothing can stop her from going to work.

“It happened during the typhoon,” she sighs. “I was inspecting the warehouse when I slipped and fell.” Her arm was broken in two places. Doctors said they could surgically repair the bone, but it would take a maximum of two hours to operate, and require nine screws in her arm. She declined; she has better things to do, and the arm will heal in time. For now she signs documents with her other hand. “Pakialamera kasi!” (That’s what happens to busybodies!) she laughs. “Habit na, eh. Pag hindi ko nakita ang bodega, para akong nawawala.” (When I don’t visit the warehouse, I feel lost.)

She nods at her assistant, who presents me with three books the size of coffee tables: a thesaurus, a 2008 almanac, and a Bible Atlas. I am silently skipping with glee. “Ano ba yan?” She indicates the Bible Atlas. “Hindi ko maintindihan, tiningnan ko lang yung pictures.” (I don’t understand it; I only looked at the pictures.) Either Nanay is psychic or somebody did her research, because how could she know that at age 10, my hobbies were reading the Old Testament for accounts of wars and apocalypses, and memorizing the capitals of countries?

Which brings us to another of Nanay’s winning secrets: She makes you feel important. She’s down-to-earth and genuinely curious about people and their interests. And anyone who assumes from her ingenuous air that she’s a softie is in for a tough time. Socorro Ramos is legendary for her skills as a negotiator; she has made captains of industry squeal like little girls. Let’s not forget that the woman built National Book Store from scratch, beginning just before World War II. Today National is the undisputed market leader, with 103 branches all over the country.

Put it another way: There were other bookstores while I was growing up, but today National is the one left standing. By default, we are all “laking-National.” A former competitor, Lory Tan of Bookmark, notes: “Mrs. Ramos is a master of loss-leader pricing, and knew that if you have the scale, you should use it in every way possible — whether it meant obtaining better discounts from publishing houses, more favorable terms of payment, or pricing down (even at a loss) to neutralize competition and eventually gain market dominance for a new book line.”

Or, as Nanay herself puts it: “Magaling lang akong tumawad.” (I’m just good at haggling.) Incidentally, she has been to every one of their 103 branches. Recently she visited the newest store in Marikina, and spoke to the manager about displaying books on tables to make them more appetizing.

I ask her if she’d ever imagined that the five-square-meter stall she opened in Escolta in 1939 would become this retail giant. She shakes her head. “Mapaaral ko lang ang mga anak ko, at kumain kami ng tatlong beses isang araw, tama na. Noong Japanese time, mabuhay ka lang, okay na.” (It was enough that I could send my children to school and we could have three meals a day. During the war, it was enough to just survive.)

Two years after she opened her little bookshop, World War II broke out in the Pacific and the Japanese invaded the Philippines. All books had to be submitted to Japanese censors, who cut out any mention of America. All their stocks were mutilated. “What will we sell?”

Socorro asked her husband, Jose. The answer: Anything and everything the customers needed. They sold candy, school supplies, cigarettes. She found a maker of tsinelas (rubber slippers), bought six pairs, discovered that the Japanese wanted tsinelas, and was soon selling hundreds of pairs. National Book Store might very well have been National Tsinelas.

She found a supplier of Easterbrook fountain pens and went from door to door in the Japanese bazaars to sell them. She got yelled at a couple of times and burst into tears, but eventually made a sale. “Tell me what you need,” she told her client. He ordered 3,000 reams of typewriting paper for the Japanese military. “Hindi ako nagpahalatang di ko kaya!” (I didn’t let on that I couldn’t handle the order!) she gleefully recalls. Somehow, in the middle of a war and all its restrictions, she found the 3,000 reams of paper. Gas was strictly rationed, so she delivered the stock by karetela (horse-drawn cart).

So we have another cornerstone of Nanay’s business philosophy: Find out exactly what your customers need, and sell it to them. Know your market inside and out. Do your research.

In 1944, the young businesswoman gave birth prematurely to her twin sons, Alfredo and Benjamin. Socorro and Jose were riding home in a karetela when the horse backed up into a creek. The other passengers jumped out, but the pregnant Socorro couldn’t. Jose held on to her, letting go of the basket of “Mickey Mouse” money (hyper-inflated Japanese Occupation currency) they had earned that day. Fortunately neither of them was hurt, and the basket of money was recovered from under the horse’s belly. Soon afterwards Socorro went into labor and was taken to the Philippine General Hospital. “The hospital was full, but they found room for me in the eclampsia room,” Nanay remembers.

The twins, born at seven months, weighed 3.2 pounds each and their chances of survival were slight. She breastfed them and they gradually achieved normal weight. “We had six chickens that we raised in our window box, and the eggs that they laid fed the boys,” Nanay says.

When the Liberation began, she kept a bag of emergency supplies ready in case they had to evacuate. The bag contained baby clothes, a mosquito net, some expired antibiotics, and three cans of expired baby formula.

Just before the Americans returned to the Philippines, one of her clients unloaded an entire warehouse of whiskey. “I knew that when the Americans arrived, they would want whiskey,” she says. She couldn’t afford her client’s asking price, but he didn’t want to lose his stocks to looters. So Nanay ended up with a whole lot of whiskey, which she stored in her mother’s house. During the Liberation, Escolta was destroyed by bombs and fire. Her little bookshop and its stocks were razed to the ground, but her mother’s house was safe.

Jose and Socorro sold the whiskey in a barong-barong (shack) on the corner of Soler and Avenida. The merchandise was laid out on a ping-pong table that also served as a door every night. The American soldiers paid in dollars.That whiskey kept the Ramoses’ business going until the couple could rebuild their bookstore.

The Nanay book of business says: Be alert to opportunity, and grab it.

After the war, National Book Store reopened in a small rented space in Avenue Theatre. In Super Salesgirl, Nick Joaquin’s short biography of Socorro Ramos, he writes that “National opened in time for the first postwar school year: one of the few places in ruined Manila where you could get textbooks, notebooks, pad paper, pencils, and so forth.”

“Then Typhoon Gene struck in 1948, ripped off the roof of our store, and ruined all our stocks,” Nanay says. “We were back to zero.” The Ramoses had to start all over again. Their stratagem for dealing with adversity: Work harder. They slept just three hours a day, and spent all their waking hours at the store.

Nanay’s business rulebook says: Don’t let anything get you down. Work, work, work.

In 1955 they acquired a prime piece of property on Soler Street, the future site of their nine-story building. The bookstore was doing well, thanks to Nanay’s brilliant idea: they started producing greeting cards and postcards with Philippine views. By then, their youngest child, Cecilia, had been born and the twins were enrolled at the Ateneo. “As I tutored my boys, they would often correct my pronunciation and were eventually teaching me many things I did not know. So I felt we were all attending the Ateneo together,” Nanay said when she accepted her honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from the Ateneo de Manila in 2006.

National Book Store expanded steadily from the 1970s onwards. We all know the rest — who doesn’t have that red-and-white plastic bag in the house? (Incidentally, National now encourages shoppers to carry their reusable cloth bags instead of plastic.)

“Mrs. Ramos is the perfect entrepreneur — hands-on, steadily focused on the business, always alert for opportunities, unfailingly sensitive to market needs,” writes banker, former Minister of Education, and former chair of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, Jaime Laya. “She is conservative, opting for slow and steady expansion financed by earnings reinvestment. This allowed her to manage the company personally while her children were growing up. As soon as the children were able to play a greater role, then National began opening more branches, adding to its product line.”

Nanay’s achievements as an entrepreneur have been recognized by institutions such as the Ateneo and SGV & Co, which named her Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005. The award is “bestowed to an individual that best embodies entrepreneurial spirit, financial performance, strategic direction, community/global impact, innovation, and personal integrity/influence.” The honorary degree was given by the Ateneo “in recognition of her outstanding contribution to building literacy among the Filipinos and her total commitment to helping make education affordable, especially to those who have little in life.”

“I was born to a poor family and only completed high school,” Nanay said in her brief acceptance speech. “Unable to attend college, I only had one dream in my life, an impossible dream, to finish school and get my degree.” Although she succeeded in business without the benefit of a college degree, she always stresses the importance of education. “I want Filipinos to remember that National Book Store has always been there and will always be there to provide them books and supplies at low prices,” she told Laya. “I understand their plight and know how difficult it can be because once upon a time, I was in their shoes. Books are sources of wisdom, knowledge and truth and should be priced so that persons with average and below-average income s can afford to buy.

“Gusto kong makasilbi sa mga estudyante (I want to serve the students),” she says. She remembers attending Soler Elementary School, then Arellano High School, with no baon, no money for snacks or school supplies. To save up for notebooks, she would work in a factory every summer, where she earned 50 centavos a day. “At the time, a kilo of pork cost 45 centavos, so you could actually feed a small family on that.” There isn’t a smidgen of bitterness or regret when she talks about the difficult times she and her husband (he died in 1992) went through — the scrimping, saving, and hard labor. On the contrary, she looks back with fondness on those tough times.

“The advantage of starting small,” she declares, “is that you know all the problems that can arise. You can deal with them one by one.”

I suspect that she looks forward to facing the little day-to-day crises and solving them. Beneath the child-like curiosity and sense of wonder is a steely businesswoman, a tough negotiator, a survivor. Nanay has worked every day of her life since she was five. You think she’ll let up just because the going is great?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Off I go to MBS2!

This is going to be a first for me - getting to meet Mindanaoan bloggers in person.

The MBS2 is supported by the following:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mindanao Bloggers Summit 2 in Gensan!

From Avel Manansala, here's an invitation and some info about MBS2:

2nd Mindanao Bloggers Summit slated on October 25, 2008 in General Santos City.

Theme: MINDANAWAN, PAMINAWON INTAWON: Blogging the Mindanao Consciousness.

Here are the other updates:

* Our co-presentors for the MBS2 are the City Mayor’s Office of Gen. Santos (under Mayor Pedro B. Acharon, Jr.)and the Congressional Office of the First District of South Cotabato (under Representative Darlene Antonino-Custodio).
* AMA-Computer Learning Center and STI-Gensan have also agreed to sponsor but will still have to decide on which capacity (Co-Presentor, Gold, Silver or Bronze Sponsor).
* Ronald Velasquez’s Prints and You who sponsored the mugs together with my Bariles Republic for WORDCAMP Philippines in Manila also agreed to sponsor the tokens for our speakers and some prizes for our raffles.
* Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines has agreed in principle to be our Beverage Sponsor. Expect Coke Zero to flood the event.
* Pacific Seas Seafood Market, Sta. Cruz Processors, Damalerio Fishing Corporation are only three of the local tuna companies to have agreed to sponsor the SASHIMI Night on the evening of October 25. More are coming.
* For the venue, it’s still a toss-up between East Asia Royale Hotel and Family Country Hotel and Convention Center. We will be finalizing on this very, very soon.
* We have also initiated talks with a local bus company to ferry interested blogger-participants who want to go on a DAY TOUR to the GenSan Fishport Complex (where all the giant tuna are unloaded) and the world-famous Lake Sebu on October 26, 2008. A quick trip to the controversial Pacquiao Building can also be fitted in the itinerary. Who knows? The Champ himself might show up? ;)
* Nokia Philippines thru the Nokia Store at KCC Mall of Gensan.

Are you still there? Here’s more….

* The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters ng Pilipinas- Socsargen will be our media partner, meaning, practically all the radio stations and tv stations in this locality.
* We are finalizing talks with Sunstar to be our major print media partner.
* The featured resource speakers who have agreed to share with us their brilliance are: Manuel Luis Quezon III, Aileen Apollo, Bobby Timonera, Hector MiƱoza, Walter Balane and Ria Jose.
* The poster you see above was designed by Zamboanga-based multi-media artist Ryann Elumba who also teaches at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University. We are printing a few copies of that to distribute to our blogger contacts all throughout the island. Ryann is part of the Convenors Collective for Zambo Peninsula. :)

For the next update, we will be posting the REQUIREMENTS for PARTICIPATION. Just like the first MBS in Davao, this is FREE-OF-CHARGE but requires a certain amount of SWEAT EQUITY (ala Gawad Kalinga). :)

We will also be posting pertinent info on GenSan like hotel/pension house rates for those staying overnight to enjoy the Sashimi Night and join the Fishport/Lake Sebu Tour the following day.

Other than that, we are soliciting information from all Mindanao Bloggers on the possible Transport Expense from any point in the island to the Tuna Capital which we can post here. Backpackers, speak up!

As for now, General Santos City beckons and waits for you.