Saturday, January 31, 2004

went to yet another lecture. well, it was more of a talk really. apparently, the first public one by the cuban foreign affairs minister, felipe perez roque, rumored to be next-in-line to castro.

well anyway...i found the discussion most..informative. i went because:
1. i know almost nothing about cuba or fidel castro. as a student of international politics, latin america is a huge oversight in my studies so far.
2. ive got nothing better to do.
3. i wanted to hear what the rumored next-in-line to castro would say.
3. i heard the foreign affairs minister was a major hottie. he is. charismatic more than good looking really. *wipes drool*

ok, heres some important things i found out:
1. the US continues with the economic embargo against this tiny island nation of 11 million. they re-stated the blockade through an act signed in march 1996.

this means: it cannot trade with the united states, arguably one of the largest and nearest markets for cuban goods (other than smuggled cigars of course), it cannot receive investments from the US obviously, from other latin american countries and from the EU, it cannot use the US dollar in commerce, it loses millions in having to exchange their currency either into yen or euros especially now that the dollar is weak.

it cannot import medicines and other industrial tools/technology from the US, EU and other countries participating in the embargo, it cannot receive tourism from the US (although they have welcomed clandestine tourists an their dollars anyway).

2. this embargo has been in place since 1959. one wonders how in the world cuba managed to stay afloat. granted they received support from the soviet union, which could be interpreted as plain pragmatism given castro's pride.

3. they could sell sugar to the american market for 24 cents/lb, but due to the embargo, cuban sugar goes for 6 cents in the world market.

4. cuba cannot borrow money from the IMF or other international financial institutions, it cannot borrow from other countries as well.

the big puzzle is, the US now has less strained relations with russia and has approved chinese entry into the wto. it does business even with north korea. why in the world is it still singling out this tiny nation in the carribean?

its startling how similar our histories are, theirs was a complete revolution, from the moment they took up arms and almost won the war for independence against spain. they also came under the orbit of american empire for about 50 years. but they were succesful in exorcising themselves of the american demon. while we...we have become the demon. from the roots of our hair to every thought that passes our neurons. from the way we dress, behave and speak. every aspiration formed, every dream.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

I attended a curious lecture at the Claro M. Recto hall in UP yesterday which left me puzzled, a bit infuriated, curious and wanting to re-read Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. The lecturer, Prof. Benedict Andersen from Cornell entitled his paper "The French Connection: Rizal, Decadence and Revolutionary Anarchism." I got word of this talk from the graduate studies e-group of the college of social sciences and philosophy and the first words that grabbed me were the words french, anarchism and rizal, three terms and ideas I would not have said in one breath at any time until today.

You see, UP has this long and hollowed tradition of tearing Rizal into bits and pieces. The main beef against this American-chosen national hero was the ultimate failure of the revolutionary cause he writes in his two seminal works and the fact that he comes from the ilustrado class, not quite as "masa" as Bonifacio was (although this is arguable, some say Bonifacio wasn't quite of the great unwashed as some may claim). They argue Rizal was not pushing for true indepenence from Mother Spain, and what other evidence is needed other than Simon's foiled attempt at causing anarchy in San Diego? The typical elitist in him could not have born the true suffering of the Filipino peasantry and is thus undeserving of the title national hero. The fact that it was the American colonialists who conferred such a title on him seemed to seal the fate of anti-Rizalism.

Prof. Andersen spoke mainly on the literary merits of Rizal and the curious "coincidences" he found in the writings that bespoke of Lolo Jose having been heavily influenced by European thought. I was surprised by the fact that in the list of 19th century books Rizal owned, half were written by French intellectuals and writers. He spent 7 months in Paris writing Noli. According to Andersen, 7 months of soaking the intellectual ferment of the "world's literary capital" at the time.

The talk lingered on the sleuthing of the Professor in making "inter-textual matches" and parallels between Noli/Fili and Baudelaire, Zola (among others) and a Dutch writer whose name I didn't catch. Some inside homosexual connotations were also mentioned, to the great delight of the packed conference hall. Was Rizal gay? Its possible, but owing to the number of women he was linked to, I would say he was rather versatile and swung both ways.

I expected to hear a bit more on political interpretations and comparisons since the lecture title implied such. Sadly I was disappointed. Luckily, the hour and half long lecture was greatly enhanced by the open forum that followed. The discussion led to questions on Rizal's state of being and mind. Some reactions were rather hostile to the idea that all of Rizal's genius did not originate from his mind alone. Quite inappropriate opinions one may think. After all, the man did not live in a vacuum. He was bound to borrow from other's ideas and represent them in such a way that was new.

I found it quite interesting that in the list given us (books/writers Rizal owned or mentioned), Marx was noticeably missing. And I've always had this notion (maybe it was my PI 100 class) that Rizal was also influenced by Marxist thought as it showed in his writing. And so after having gathered my thoughts and formed a somewhat coherent comment and question in my head i raised my hand to speak.

I find it incredible that Rizal did not own a copy of Marx's writings or mentioned him in his works/letters. He spent a considerable time of his life in the heart of Europe in the latter half of the 19th century, arguably the height of imperialism. If I'm not mistaken, in the first chapter of Fili entitled "Bapor Tabo" Philippine society was visually rendered in a division between the upper half and lower half of the boat. It has been quite some time since I've read these books, but I remember this part clearly. Did Rizal ever write or comment about imperialism? He could not have been unconcious of this, living in that part of the world and being born and raised in a colony himself.

I suppose I delivered my comment and question in a rather combative tone, that was why the Professor pointed out imperialism was not yet in discourse at the time Rizal was alive so he could be excused for not having said anything on the matter. Apparently the word imperialism wasn't in commone use until Lenin wrote about it. Yeah well, just because it hasn't come out in mainstream discourse yet didn't mean Rizal couldn't have had thoughts about it. I think he missed my point entirely.

People criticize Rizal for not having a "truly" revolutionary goal. But I believe he was heavily critquing the colonial presence directly and the class divisions in Philippine society indirectly. He was insistent on the importance of education and enlightening the people. It was a different kind of revolution he was after, something that would not be temporary. But history has taken over in any case. The weak Spanish empire has finally collapsed and Filipinos found themselves serving a new master.

The director/moderator/leader of Kontra Gapi (I forget his name, but he's a cool dude) then stood up and asked that Andersen compare the works of Rizal to that of his contemporaries. The Prof then said it was impossible to make comparisons since Rizal was really only one of the two writers from the colonies writing strongly anti-colonial sentiments during the colonial period. Most of the literature would come after. Amazing.

After said lecture I went by Books-4-Less and got me english editions of the books. I still have my old high school ones, but they're in tagalog, and lord knows it will take a decade for me to finish if I read that.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Dead Things, Dead People

Over the Christmas break I made my students visit the National Museum in Manila. This was a departmental requirement and neither I nor my students had much of a choice regarding the matter. I confess to never having stepped foot in the museum, content with the knowledge that all I needed to know about Filipino culture is stored in between my ears. But I went nonetheless, so I could think of questions to ask my students and at the very least to be able to say I myself paid visit.

I teach a foreign language far-removed from the Philippine experience other than at one point French ships were anchored in Manila bay (along with the British, German and American fleets) awaiting the results of the Spanish-Philippine war, and there were French diplomats/spies “surveying” the islands in the late 19th century. So one would ask what in the hell our chairperson was thinking making a visit to the National Museum a must. There was a list of questions that needed to be answered to make sure people actually went and looked for the answers but I scratched out this part and instead asked my students to write a 500 word essay on something, anything NEW they learned in this little exercise.

My own little discovery was finding out about the Butuan Boat, a vessel about 2 meters across and 10 meters long (my own estimation) dated back to 300 AD. I was impressed. It looked like a Viking ship. I’ve always had this notion that for an archipelago our ship-making capacities were strangely retarded. I thought, here is a concrete proof of indigenous technology comparable to any other sea-faring people.

Last Tuesday I got the papers. What this activity meant to do was stimulate some reflections about culture. Our own culture. The answers I got were mostly bullshit, but here are some interesting “insights” from 17-20 year-olds.

Rachel: In the world, the past is past. We can never relive it…True, it helps that physical manifestations such as paintings, letters, and don’t ever forget the jars, and other antiquities are preserved for later generations. But this new generation can only breed a shallow regard for the past, never capturing its true substance…Even if historians examine and re-examine the past to its minutest detail, we would always be outsiders.

Here is a distressing statement, this ambivalent regard for history. We can never truly cut off the events of the centuries ago and create a divide from the events of today. But what she says is true, to an extent we are outsiders, disjointed from our own roots. Our very own roots are alien, “the other.”

Kat: Early Filipinos lived prosperous lives before the western colonizers came. Social classes existed but they are probably unlike the ones that are in the present, no masses of people below poverty level. Even after the colonizers left, the lifestyle has been changed and the old one could not easily be brought back. It makes me wonder what the big change was, and what really happened during that time.

Jong: As time passes by, the Philippines keeps on moving backwards instead of forward. Most of our ancestors progressed financially though bartering with foreigners, and Manila was the envy of other port communities. Now, eighty percent of Pinoys are below the poverty line, and Manila is the Philippines’ shameful capital.

This is an instance of the missing events that would bridge Manila being a “rich port” to Manila being the “shameful capital.” Unfortunately Jong didn’t attempt to make any kind of reflections on how this came to pass. Again distressing is the use of the word shameful.

JR: The thing I learned through this experience is valuing your own culture. You are born a Filipino and you should be proud of it. By being proud, you should nurture and develop the capacities of the country, not neglecting and giving up and choose to stay somewhere else.

It is not a given that just because we are born Filipino we are obliged to remain so. Millions would undoubtedly get rid of their citizenship without so much as a blink. The French are proud of their heritage because they are successful in inculcating pride in their nation’s accomplishments. This “socialization” exercise is apparent from cradle to grave.

Theresa:Filipinos of old had their own culture. No particular culture is superior, no matter what anyone says.

The problem is, this anyone is often Filipinos themselves.

Carlo: My recent visit to the National Museum was a great opportunity for me to rekindle the somewhat lost pride I was supposed to have for our rich cultural heritage.

Joseph: I’m not particularly knowledgeable about my country but a trip to the National Museum encouraged me to have a few insights about my mother land.

Sheryl: …makes me wonder what would have happened to us if we were not colonized but were instead allowed to develop without outside influence.

Grip: As I went around the museum, I couldn’t help but realize that it was unfair for the Spanish colonizers to say that colonized states were uncivilized before they came. They called themselves the “savior” of the people. What these colonizers failed to admit was that the colonized people had a civilization before they came…We already had the barangay and sultanate systems, a system of trade and various technological advances.

What these thoughts reflect is a schizoid self-image Filipinos have. It is a picture of contradictory elements without knowing why it is so. It is disturbing how young educated Filipinos (doubtlessly belonging to a class who will become one day leaders of government and industry) are totally clueless about the culture and people they were born into.

There are more than 7,000 museums in France. Paris alone boasts of 177, the highest density of museums per square foot. The entire Philippine archipelago only has 290 museums. I say, why don’t we build more?

Saturday, January 10, 2004

when homoeroticism is no fun

return of the king should've been the crowning glory of the lord of the rings trilogy. it should've been magnificent, gripping, romp of an adventure. it should've seemlessly tied up the wondrous story-line written by a european dead white male. it was all those and more. but its the more that pissed me off goddamit. oh boy does peter jackson know how to ruin a movie.

the latent homoerotic undertones (maybe i should say overtones) stuck out like a sore thumb it made me (and quite a number of other viewers) roll my eyes and snicker every so often. it broke the "spell" cast by the trilogy that i've been so eager to believe. the magic, the quest of vanquishing evil forces through a 'fellowship' of beings.

fellowship delivered a promise, most of which have been fulfilled by the sequels. i thought it was an amazing premise that a littleman would be given the task of saving the world. the idea is a powerful one. the idea of power corrupting absolutely is a reflection of the human condition. the film was most effective in showing this most of all. how seductive, how easily humans are prey to our own dark desires. these little nuggets made enough of a believer in me to eagerly follow the next two installments of the trilogy. i loved two towers.

it didn't matter that all the good characters in the film were blindingly caucasian and that the evil forces were simplistically dark. it didn't matter that in two towers the bad guys with the giant elephants (i forget the name) looked
suspiciously arab (december 2002 was the height of the US bid to invade iraq). it didn't matter that only one female character kicked ass (and fuckit she didnt get the man--why can't women kick ass and get the man too???) it sort of didn't matter that midway through two towers the homoerotic ventures of sam and frodo began.

but really, the long gazes, all the touchy-feely moments, the uber-corny lines between frodo-sam and merry-pippin in rotk was the last straw. i should've left the moviehouse in awe, like the first two times. i should've raved about the values the movie taught. i should've left satisfied. i was not. the overlong ending spoiled it. surprisingly this time, man-on-man action was no fun.

Monday, January 05, 2004

in a tizzy. in a confused mess. world upside-down. wanting to smoke packs of cigarettes. feeling languid and sick. feeling sick. lovesick. what hell kind of mess have i gotten myself into? i keep telling myself i'll survive anything. will i survive this with my sanity intact i wonder? i just want to be happy. and at this moment, it seems miles beyond my reach.