Literary Readings on a Chilly Wednesday Eve

Literary Readings on a Chilly Wednesday Eve 
By Walter Ang
February 10, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer


On a chilly Wednesday evening last week, a friend and I trundled over to Cafe Caribana in Malate to catch a poetry reading session. After climbing up a winding staircase, we settled ourselves in a table near the performance area. (We knew it was the performance area because there was a large radio casette player sitting ceremoniously on top of a stool.)

We got there a tad early so we passed some time by drinking in the mustard yellow walls, warmly cast in the glow of several bamboo lighting fixtures. We proceeded to trace out the map design on the floor. I spied the names Cuba and Haiti and wondered what country our table was situated on top of.

Short Poems
When the second floor finally seemed to settle in with its fill of people, the session kicked off with lifestyle columnist and television personality Karen Kunawicz. Striding up to the stool in an all black outfit, she promptly shared several short poems she'd composed. I especially liked one very short poem that went, "Oh Jimmy Hendrix/Let me be your guitar."

She went on to read a poem which I thought very apt since Valentine's Day was coming up. The poem she read was included in her book "On the Verge" and it listed down answers to the question: What is the sound of one heart breaking? I found myself wanting to find out the answer to that question much the same way I wanted to find out the answer to a question I gleaned from the Disney movie Pocahontas: What is the color of the wind?

In the open forum that followed, she discussed, among other things, her background as a writer and what inspires her to write (a list that included the tombs found in the San Agustin Church). She acknowledged that her passion for writing is ultimately what drives her to keep at it.

Required Reading
When the next reader was introduced, the host referred to him as "Frankie". Who would've thought that the Frankie who stood up from his unassuming corner turned out to be the F. Sionil Jose most students know, if not for anything else, because of required reading in school. Students are also probably taught that he's the most internationally known and translated Filipino author, with a series of novels and short fiction collections.

He proceeded to relate an incident where he witnessed another author read his own works, but unfortunately, not with successful results. He's vowed since then never to read his works in public and so passed the job on to the host.

After a spirited reading of an excerpt from his book, "Three Filipino Women," questions from the audience were gamely answered. He shared his past, recounting many events that were serious, like cheating death during the second World War, and some that were downright funny like his futile search for an opium pipe in Chinatown. Finally, he challenged the audience, especially aspiring writers, to amass for themselves a wealth of experiences as he had done.

More Sessions
Before the event wrapped up, we found out that there would be more poetry reading sessions in the coming weeks. Succeeding sessions would also pair a poet with a fictionist. This particular session was part of a series sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in cooperation with the Philippine Literary Arts Council.

The setting was intimate enough to keep everyone focused on the reading but relaxed enough so that no one would have traumatic flashbacks of horribly boring classroom discussions about dead poets. One of the good (or bad) things about the whole event was that if it had gotten boring at anytime, you could've ordered something to inebriate yourself, then the evening wouldn't have been a total waste.

The two authors who were featured for the evening were held in very high esteem. When they were introduced, flashbulbs popped all over the place. Some people were even lining up to have their photo ops with them. It felt like watching teenyboppers drool over a hot rock band, only this time, the rock stars wielded pens instead of guitars.


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How to be Chinoy Without Really Being Good in Math

How to be Chinoy Without Really Being Good in Math 
By Walter Ang
February 5, 2000
Philippine Star

As the Chinese New Year approaches in the year 2000, Chinoys across the country gear up for another celebration of new beginnings. We'll be bringing out the red outfits, haggling for round fruits in Divisoria, buying the ubiquitous tikoy in bulk, and filling up the reservation books of Chinese restaurants to usher in the year of the Dragon.

For scores of Fil-Chi who traditionally celebrate the Chinese New Year, this is something to look forward to. A renewing of ties, a chance to meet up with family. Welcoming the new?new hopes, new lives, new loves, and chucking out the old?old grievances, old hates, old hurts. Speaking of chucking out the old, this is an excellent time to purge old misconceptions of the Chinese community here in the Philippines. After all, this is already the 00's (how do we call this first decade of this millennium?). It would be a good thing to start off in a more enlightened state.

I've lived in Manila all my life and I still come across the occasional curious query about the Chinoy and the Chinoy way of life. It's sometimes amusing to note the common fallacies about the Chinoys. So for everyone's benefit, let's debunk a few of those myths and all learn, say it with me now, how to be Chinoy without really being good in Math.

1. All Chinoys have excellent Math skills. 
There is a college anecdote where if you discover there are Chinoys in your math class, you should drop out because they'll pull up the curve so high you won't stand a chance of passing. This is a blatant falsehood. If I could only put into words the anguish I had to endure during all my math classes! While I may not speak for all Chinoys (less the mathematically gifted ones raise a fuss), I do know that almost every Chinoy classmate I knew in high school would rather eat nails than learn how to solve for the square root of 9.

2. All Chinoys are fair skinned and have chinky eyes. 
My skin is tan and my eyes are sort of slanty but not really chinky. There are certain times when you should see the surprised look on some people's faces when they find out I'm Chinoy. Then they'll follow it up with, "Why are you so dark?" While I sometimes want to counter with, "Why are you so rude?" I usually just flash a smile and use the alibi that I commute a lot.

This simple alibi saves me the time and effort of having to give a long scientific explanation. Who has the time to listen to a lengthy discussion of Punnett squares, genotypes, and the effects of UV rays on the skin? Seriously though, I once read in a Newsweek article that people in the southeast region of Asia all share a common gene pool. So to say that we're all brothers and sisters isn't really just a figurative statement.

3. All Chinoys are filthy rich. 
I would be the most overjoyed person on the face of the earth if this were true. (Imagine all the neat stuff I could buy!). Unfortunately, I must accept the bitter truth that not all Chinoys are filthy rich. Most Chinoys are very middle class. On the other hand, I know a couple of Chinoys who are filthy, but that's another story. Lucio Tan, Henry Sy and the other taipans are the exceptions rather than the rule.

4. All Chinoys are prudes and conservative. 
While there is a tendency to have a more conservative outlook in raising children, there are a lot of Chinoy families who have an more global perspective with regards to their kids' upbringing. Families who are not afraid to integrate different cultural norms into their lifestyle.

The present Chinoy community is basically split up into two groups. Those who have grown up here are more assimilated to the Pinoy way of life. (We are capable of eating balut together with our sioapo.) The second group are the wave of fresh immigrants who are still trying to find their pacing in this new tropical home. They would be wont to more familiar habits, and this could be a reason why they're perceived as more conservative. (They'll probably skip the balut for now.)

Perception is a powerful thing. Sometimes we see what we want to, instead of what really is. Hopefully, as we go through the journey of this millennium, we can all learn to discern the better image. Kung Hei Fat Choy!

A Moment With the Gods in Binondo's Sheng Guan Temple

A Moment With the Gods 
By Walter Ang
February 5, 2000
Philippine Star

With a grocery bag filled with fruits, I ramble over to the Chinese temple along Narra street. As I step over the threshold, I come face to face with a towering golden goddess. I recognize her as the Goddess of Mercy. Her eyes are closed in quiet repose as she holds out her hands to the mortals below her.

Inside the temple is a smorgasbord of sights, sounds and smells that tickles the senses. The serene interior is always a welcome respite from the intense heat outside. The first thing I see are the massive stone pillars that punctuate the tiled floor. Towards the end of the main hall is an entire wall filled with various statuettes of gods, goddesses, deities, and spirits. There are a few that are as high as the ceiling. Some are no bigger than my hand. I glance at the thick glass panes that isolate these gods from the humans.

I turn my gaze to the Buddha statue that I glimpsed at when I came in. It sits cross-legged in the center of the display. It gleams in the light with its gilded skin. Its ear lobes reach almost to the base of its neck. I was once told that having long earlobes is a sign of prosperity and goodwill. I touch my own ears as I recall the cheap, plastic, one foot imitation of the Buddha statue that we have in our living room.

There are so many figurines that I cannot begin to name them one by one. Back when I was in kindergarten, my grandmother would try to teach me the names of some of the deities. Now that I'm considerably older, I can probably, at best, list down only three to five familiar names.

I shift my attention to the worshippers scattered across the hall. Most are wearing the de rigueur red for the Chinese New Year celebration. Their excitement palpable in the air. Some are kneeling on the floor, with both hands clasped together by their chests. Some stand in rigid concentration, with crimson incense sticks raised to their foreheads. I walk past little grandmothers with their white hair tucked into neat chignons. Young couples in fervent prayer. I step out of the way of little pre-schoolers who tug at their mothers' skirts as they walk along.

I'm surrounded by all these different people with their low voices meshing into a single droning intonation. At one point, I am unable to make any sense out of it, making me feel as if I were an intruding stranger.

I count several urns in front of the figurine display. These chest- high, copper containers are all filled to the bursting point with lighted incense sticks. I think of coins in fountains and candles in churches?these incense sticks are people's intentions and hopes, their wishes rising to the sky with the ethereal smoke. The musky scent of incense permeates the atmosphere, giving an otherworldly character to the temple.

I approach the long table just in front of the display case. On it is an array of gifts and offerings for the gods. There are baskets filled with different fruits. I see pongkams, the small sweet variety of oranges. Plastic bowls filled with peaches and apples line the edge of the table. Dozens of beautiful flower arrangements adorn the table. I look for a vacant spot where I can unload the fruits that I've brought over.

There are even bottles of Remy Martin and Johnny Walker on the greasy surface. Perhaps the logic being that if we can get the gods a little tipsy, they might become more amenable to granting us additional requests.

As I prepare to leave. I turn my head to take another look at the Buddha. The golden god is still sitting in its glass casement smiling with glee, as if wishing me good fortune for the coming year.