How Ode to My Father Gained my Respect for Koreans

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I’ve been teaching  English to Koreans  for 8 years. So, getting along with them has given me the opportunity to understand their rich culture, custom, and history. I’ve been trying to learn how to speak,  read , and write  basic Hangul. I’ve even loved  their food ,and…allow me to cite the ones I always crave such as ssamkyupsal ( 삼겹살), ttakbeoki (떡볶이), panjeon (파전), jjajangmyeon ( 자장면) , ramen (그리고 라멘), and to name a few. Hmmm… My mouth is now watering. ..And I am even now trying to be a pale imitation of their fashion. Jeez whiz, I still haven’t  let myself be eaten by their system completely.

There is one thing that makes  Koreans  differ from us Filipinos: Their deep history that has molded their consciousness. That’s why it has been hard  for me to understand them in terms of their socio-cultural and economical policies. Koreans place too much value on familial hierarchy. Young people address the elderly with respect, patently obvious in their language- the custom  which is somehow no longer a big deal in the Philippines. Also, almost all Koreans are under pressure to conform to the standards of their educational system. Students go to academy ( 학원: Hag won)  to equip themselves with more skills. They even take part in more extra-curricular activities as another credentials once they look for lucrative jobs because hunting a job  is suicidal. Their  (close) friends can be even their frenemy in all aspects of  life should the need arise that they have to  consider their own interest. So, time is not more than gold, something I was not even used to when I started working for them. The long and the short of it, Koreans have been taught how to hit the ground running by this kind of  dog-eat-dog culture.

Right after watching the movie,  Ode to My Father, I sent a message to my beloved Korean students that I cried over it, and because of this movie, I respect their country, especially their history more. I explained further that this is a blinding revelation to me; I learned from this movie  how Koreans transformed themselves into new blood after the long period of extreme poverty during the Korean war.  It shows how the  war shaped Koreans’ philosophies in life  beyond their powers of endurance and resiliency. For instance, due to extreme poverty, they had to work hard to make their ends meet. They had to sacrifice by living away from their families while working abroad. They had to consider their families’ future no matter how life-threatening the available jobs were. They were  all determined to pull out the load weighing them down –the fighting spirit that has been observably inherent in their characters even up to this day. Perhaps, after this horrible chapter of  their history, it’s now their cultural “meme” that they should never let something like this pass again.

People must learn many moral lessons from the movie. The one that etched on my mind is that we can come up with alternative solutions to our problems. In the movie, Hwang Jung-min, the main character, found ways of how he could help alleviate his family’s miserable  life condition. I believe that  he can as well be the representation of all Koreans who did the same way. 🙂

The movie even made me break into tears as though the hem of my cloth was not enough to dampen my eyes. So, make sure that when you watch it, a hankie is not enough , but a diaper will do. It shows how the first Korean families were separated from one another after the 38th parallel, demarcating North and South Korea.  I could not stop blinking  my tears away some lachrymose scenes such as  when Hwang Jung-min  looked for his younger sister who had been missing for many years, and eventually found her on TV and when he  stayed in his room and  had an apparition talk with his father. They were heart-breaking. T_T

Would that  the movie were novelized, it would be more compelling and deeper, and I would surely wet its pages because of the emotional scenes conveyed in  beautiful sentences.

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)

 

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We have to Smash our Silent Voice

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This movie intrigued me when I saw it feasted on by Japanese manga lovers’ eyes on Facebook. It turned out to be the most-awaited manga-series movie adaptation this year, which was initially released last year. Supposedly, it was to be shown in the Philippines last March , but the showing was postponed without any clear reason.

On its first showing day, it was a block-buster. When  I gave its trailer a try on You Tube, its concept stirred me: A deaf girl wants to befriend a bully boy.

The first thing that I liked about the movie is its  characters:  Shōko Nishimiya and Shōya Ishida. I could relate to Shoko, for I also have problem with my ears. Despite her handicap, she tries to be optimistic  and genial. She wants to live as ordinarily as what her classmates do. On the other hand, Shoya is a bully who has no interest in others. All he wants to do is to make fun of his classmates. He feels a certain amount of animosity toward Shoya, especially whenever she is so friendly to him. It’s a kind of yin-yang scenario.

But what gave me a significant impact is Shoya’s existential crisis. After Shoko transferred to other school in light of his persistent bullying, he became the butt of others’ bullying. He became an outcast. He lost his friends , especially the ones he usually spent time together with. Then,he would look at the people he was no longer close to with an X over their faces. In addition, he began to question himself about the real meaning of being a “friend” and life. He found his life meaningless. Or he may be bothered by the specter of his conscience after what he did to Shoko. Consequently, he attempted to take his life by jumping over a bridge, but realized that there is life he needs to attend to: his mother.

In a deeper context, the title itself is not only about Shoko’s being a hearing-impaired, unable to give voice to her personal hopes, fears, and dreams, but also about all the characters  who are inextricably intertwined with the story. All of them are interrelated to their hidden, deep-seated acrimony.  For instance, Shoya had never been apologetic about his being a bully causing his classmates to have been stuck in a past they could never let go of. Miyoko Sahara, the only student who befriended Shoko for a short time, had to confront the fact that she ran away from Shoko in fear of her classmates’ bully. Miki Kawai  whom Shoya referred to as a hypocrite for not doing anything when Shoko was being bullied, for the only thing she would love to do is to be praised for her beauty. Naoka Ueno, who secretly loves Shoya,  hates and blames Shoko for making  Shoya sad. But , in truth, she  also abhors her for  being weak , unable to protect herself. Those major characters , aside from the others, contributed to the deafening silence, to the broken past leading them to not move on in their  life. To lead a happy, normal life, all they had to do is to smash their silent voice to smithereens  by sharing  their life with one another again, shattering the illusions of fears, egotism, hopelessness . In the end, Shoya mustered up enough courage to face the people he would always look at with an X over their faces. The ending was redemption.

It’s  my first time to review an animation adaptation movie  despite that  I haven’t read its manga series yet. Personally speaking, it is not as gripping and exhilarating as the other Japanese anime I have watched such as Your Name by Makoto Shinkai and Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki. It is a bit boring since  the title itself  has major  relevance to the totality of the movie. Nevertheless, its characters and the story replete with  deeper moral values  highlight the movie. Therefore, it  is still  worth watching. 🙂

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

 

 

My Family’s Slave by Alex Tizon: A Memoir Review

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It’s been a month, I guess,  since the late Pulitzer-prize winner Alex Tizon’s article about Lola went  viral on social media . His article was posthumously published as the cover story of the June 2017 issue of The Atlantic .

I showed interest in reading his article when it had a ground swell of opinions that he had been complicit with his parents’ crime in a sense that he did not do anything to help her out. Rather, he did so right after his  parents kicked  the bucket. Besides, his article bears hypocrisy  inasmuch as he simultaneously  did hide her existence from his friends. Thus, his article suggests that his family, especially his parents, deprived Lola of her humanity.

After reading the article. I  found out that the “bashers” could be right that Lola had a miserable life with Alex’s family. She served them for 56 years , taking care of him and his siblings without pay,  having no  good opportunity to return to the Philippines as what his parents had promised her. The revealing and revolting   fact is that she was not even allowed to  pay respect to her parents’ death – a heart-rending situation whoever will experience  doesn’t want to miss in her/ his life.  So, who can’t be furious about this unimaginably cruel  truth?

However, the problem with the bashers is that they incriminate Alex in a crime he had been innocent of. Bear in mind that he was too young to understand the situation he found bizarre. Besides, he was too obedient to stand up to his parents who were both overweeningly ambitious.  His father was a busy business man hobnobbing with the elitists whereas his mother an inspiring doctor , striving to get a better streak. He only mustered up  enough courage to defend Lola when they both berated her for not feeding his younger sister. Therefore, pin the blame on his parents who are now somewhere in heaven.

There’s been even a speculation that Alex wrote Lola’s story  for his own interest since he was an award-winning journalist. Those bashers must be deluded into the notion that he must have wanted to put himself on the literary pedestal. Whatever it is that makes them delusional and irrational, in my book, what I see is that he must have wanted to imply that Lola could be the apotheosis of a caring “yaya” or ” kasambahay“. He must have wanted us to deeply understand the sacrifices our “katulong‘, “yaya” , and “kasambahay” does for us. Besides,  I’m pretty sure that Alex  was aware of  that what his parents’ treatment toward Lola was cruel  and inhuman. Thus, I’m pretty sure that what he wanted us to do is to  consider her  as part of the family as to what he did to Lola contrary to the ideal value his  parents  unconsciously  inculcated in him.

Given that Lola had a miserable life with the Tizon family, I do believe that Lola came to the point that she accepted her fate, for she was borne upon the idea that she was a “slave”. She learned to love the family she had served for many years. She had almost stood as the biological parents to Alex and his siblings when his parents were up to their ears in work. Also, I do believe that she was even considered part of the family based on the pictures Alex shared on the social media. Lola had sweet and wide smiles showing how she did not look like a slave but a loving and understanding grandma to them. Plus, remember, her world turned upside down when Alex’s mother was in great distress. Lola was the only one whom she could turn to for comfort. It was like a scene in a movie when the antagonist turned into a lamb, moved by the oppressed’s magnanimity.  In other words, bashers must be  grossly literally exaggerated.

Alex Tizon’s memoir is deeply moving and well-written. It even incites bittersweet memories of  childhood; I was impressed by his scrupulous use of vivid descriptions. Also, since it is a short memoir, he made sure that he was able to write it well-balanced, bearing his award-winning journalistic skills. No wonder the bashers are  irrationally taking it for granted. However, I’m almost familiar with how he circulated the story by blending the past and the present time.

My family and I have never had any nanny, helper, or maid since only rich and well-to-do family can afford to pay their service. However, I grew out of the stereotype that the last resort a woman who is desperate for  working  herself through university or an old woman who lives with a poor family and is expected to be the “bread winner of her family”  is to be employed as “ katulong ”  “ kasambahay” or “ yaya” . So, I never thought of that having this kind of job was a form of slavery. I was just  taught that this symbolizes your economic status in society. In short, you’re poor.  After reading Pulitzer-prize winner, Alex Tizon’s memoir on his family’s big secret, a simplistic and laughable realization came to me that we must,  indeed,  take their case seriously. The word slavery itself has a wider scope we must muse over in the context of  social sciences.

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it. )

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: A Book Review

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Along with her The Blind Assassin, this is one of the most convoluted and elaborate novels I have ever read. The story is too cloudy to understand that it requires your powers of concentration, especially if you are not analytical enough to grasp its complexity, the style I have proven Atwood bears the hallmark of.

Instead of analyzing it in a broader literary context with intellectual bravado since everyone can turn to Wikipedia, I’d rather review it in a manner of  what I found out in her writing styles: I’m envious of her skilled mastery for turning into beautiful prose her train of thoughts or whatsoever plays  in the figment of her imagination. Furthermore, she is an unfathomable female writer who can be as genius as any writers mostly celebrated in world literature.

This novel from the first pages to the last is strewn with vivid, beautiful, elegant, graceful, sumptuous sentences which I enjoyed reading rather than   gripping its main idea. The sentences are so lyrical that I chanted them again and again. They melt in my tongue like sweet, dark chocolate, or smell good like a garden,  full of a variety of colorful flowers hovered  above by a swarm of butterflies.

Under an unlikely scenario, if there were still such a world that men were superior to women over skills in writing stories or any literacy pieces, and Atwood were into such a literary show-off ,surrounded by supercilious writers looking down on her feminism, I bet my life that Atwood could dominate or catch up with them at any cost of literary bouts. Don’t dare her write one because this her The Handmaid’s Tale has proved me   wrong that there is something Atwood could make her rather genius. Her novels may appear complex, much more if she writes a simpler or more intricate one. In other words, there is nothing to find fault with her more; it’s crystal clear that she is an extraordinary writer. Roll down the red carpet and pay homage to Her Majesty.

Now, I freely  acknowledge that reading another Atwood’s books could be challenging since I have now the clearest idea of her writing style. Sometime in the future, if I have a great deal of time, perhaps when I reach my mid-life , no longer preoccupied with how to embellish my life with youthful experiences, hers would be one of those books I want to read again and again.As American musician and filmmaker, Frank Zappa put it , so many books, so little time to read.There are still thousands of  books in the world I haven’t read yet.

Also, the best course of technique I should use when I happen to read Atwood’s other books  and others books which have little resemblance to her style  would be a matter of full concentration ( regardless of  how poor my reading comprehension skill is .) Then, I will seat myself at a coffee table with a voluminous dictionary and colorful highlighters scattered around , par for the course in my reading repose. Ho-ho!

P.S . It is now being adapted for a TV series  broadcast live on  Hulu.

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it. )

Going Solo (Roald Dahl’s Autobiography #2) by Roald Dahl: A Book Review

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“I was already beginning to realize that the only way to conduct oneself in a situation where bombs rained down and bullets whizzed past, was to accept the dangers and all the consequences as calmly as possible. Fretting and sweating about it all was not going to help.”

I liken Roald Dahl to ‘Lola Basyang “  (literally  Grandmother Basyang) in Philippine literature, a legendary grandma who has become a symbol for someone who has many short stories to tell, and the nom de plume of  Severino Reyes, the “Father of Tagalog Plays”.

His books are interesting and engrossing to read, so I never get sick and tired of them. They even make me feel like going back to my childhood when I was totally absorbed in children stories. Of course, he can also bear a striking resemblance to Hans Christian Andersen, best remembered for his fairy tales. However, a childish-adult-like reader like me can still prefer stories which can no longer sound superannuated, old-fashioned, or ancient. I am now in a modern era when literature is no longer what you see is what you believe.

Going Solo is another one I felt that how I was listening to a story teller or, formally speaking, a raconteur. I enjoyed most of the stories, notably his African adventures, despite that I could not relate to what a war freak is blabbering about.

Going Solo is said to be the sequel to Dahl’s autobiography, Boy: Tales of Childhood. The latter one is far funnier but more heat-breaking than the former one, something a reader should be sympathetic to. The former one is more on his adventurous and breath-gasping blow-by-blow account. It tells his perilous adventures in Africa where he survived the wild animals especially leopards and mambas. The account is new to me since I have read a great deal of wild African life. However, some of his stories seem to be hyperbolic and exaggerated. His anecdotes seem to be fictitious. I don’t know if Dahl intended to twist his real stories to not lose his readers’ interest. Probably, it could be a half-fiction and half-autobiography the same with his Boy: Tales of Childhood.

When I was drawn into his flying and war experience, at that moment, I lost my interest because most of the words are technical which I did not want to grasp any longer.  Perhaps, I was not interested in stories related to military service. Had I not read it deeply, I would have put it aside aligned with the other unread books. Nevertheless, Dahl has the talent to turn stories others may find irrelevant, inappropriate into interesting ones. His telegraphs to his mother, meeting with a beautiful nurse, and encounter with the Germans and bandits caught my attention. I told you so, he is a raconteur, indeed.

Finally, what I liked most of the parts of the book is the ending. I felt how a soldier misses his family so badly. In other words, I was not left clinging. I was very satisfied with it. It may be simple but this is one of the best endings I really finished in awe. Sooooo, I want another Dahl’s books!!!!

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan: A Book Review

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“We are all powerless in the face of evil. No, no, that’s not true. We are powerless when we wait for other people to act on our behalf. Yes, that’s it. The truly powerful man is the man who stands alone.”

I had never yet read such a mystery/ crime novel in Filipino, so I  must join my fellow  Filipino readers celebrating and heralding  this book  as the first ever Filipino crime novel.

I am even drawing a theoretical conclusion  that its being the first crime novel  could have been  one of the reasons leading the panelists of the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize ,  National Book Award , and Madrigal-Gonzalez Award  to give the award . Nevertheless, I would have mulled over the two reasons if I had been one of those respected panelists: It is well-written and timely and relevant to the present state of the country.

In my book, crime novels are blood-curdling and nerve-racking in my imagination. I can’t stand pages scattered with horrendous, horrible, hideous, and heinous scenes. They are so intense that I could collapse with cardiac arrests as though I were a witness to a crime committed by a killer, trembled with fear that I might be the killer’s next victim. I would say that one of the best examples of such novels   is Native Son by Richard Wright. Read it! I promise you. At the same time, crime novels are   unpredictable, puzzling, and brain-bashing to the extent that they would tax my stamina, and I would be at the end of my wits. But, in the end, you would let go of the breath you would have been holding for a long time. Therefore, Smaller and Smaller Circles, however, did not meet those characteristics or elements I have been borne upon. It is not that extremely arresting in that a faint-hearted would die of it. I would just remember the cliché that curiosity kills the cat. In fact, I did not even give a fig about who the criminal is, nor did I feel that there is a case the sleuths have to resolve. Rather, what I felt were the deeper and compassionate   friendship between Father Saenz and Father Lucero – Could I assume it a bromance if I were malicious? – the dog-eat-dog atmosphere in the National Bureau of Investigation, and  the powerful hierarchy of Catholicism in the Philippines. The crime case is finally emphasized in the climax, but not that revealing as what I had expected. My reaction was just that I nodded in agreement with both Father Lucero’s and Saenz’ final whodunit conclusion. In fact, anyone could guess the identity of the criminal.

Like the other writers in general, it took the author many years to finalize it. The first time she wrote it was in 1996 when she was still in her mid-twenties; the second one was in 2013 when she was in her forties. As a matter of fact, her desire to continue writing it was inspired by her deep-seated anger toward the miserable state of the Philippines due to callousness, complacency, and corruption as she put it in her acknowledgments. Consequently, the book is steeped in simply beautiful   sentences with a profound impact. They are not jaw-breakers to assimilate. There is no such feeling as “stuck in between the lines”. Rather, reading the next lines is unruffled. However, the author may have come to the point that she was at loss for any ideas. I guess it is somewhere in her first book. So, it could be obvious that she may have patched this part with her second part. Nevertheless, it’s neither here nor there since such situation happens to all writers. It is just a matter of creativity.

The most important thing that would lead me, as a panelist, to consider it deserving of those literary prestigious awards above is how the author thought about the characters. The characters represent each unit in society such as the two Jesuits who happened to be liberal and crusader against   hypocrite priests in the Philippine Catholicism, the incorrigible   director of the NBI surrounded by sharks in the institution, the reporter who is hungry for factual information, the poor families of the criminal’s victims: All simply paint the real political, economic, and social state of the Philippines as what the author must want to convey to her readers. Therefore, the recurring themes are pivotal rather than its whodunit concept.

This novel was published in 2002.It has been reprinted four times since the book was, needless to say,  hyped up by the  literary award-giving  bodies, not to mention some  book club sites like Goodreads. No wonder it has still been one of the best-sellers in some prime book stores in the country.

 It occurred to me that:

*Another interesting thing about this novel is that both protagonists are priests and forensic experts by trade. It’s a common perception in the Philippines that priests only say homilies and prayers.

*I didn’t like the ending. I have read and watched it many times.

* Could anyone tell me where in the world psychopaths don’t exist? Hahaha

Rate: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.) 

LAKOMPAKE! by Senyora: A Book Review

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You are found  ” OA” as in overacting if you grumble that you were loveless  last Valentine’s Day. You are not far different from people who are likely to experience seasonal  depression  during holiday seasons, especially  on Christmas holiday. We tend to feel blues and idealistic when we   find that others luckier in life  we think of than us have  a good time with their loved ones. So, many   loveless people are bitter. Here are  their common lines:

“When it is the last day of January , some  wish it were March when they woke up. “

Hahahahahah

They seem to be allergic to February.

” Happy Single’s Awareness Day.”

Ouch! I was!

“Some turn sour and grape  saying  that although they are single on that day, they will get a salary the following day. “

Hahahahahah … Money is  love.

But, the most common bitter line is :

” Walang Forever “

Hahahahha

In short, we are  all “ ampalaya” ( bitter gourd).  Oops-a-daisy… in effect, we should be sensible. Let us not teach  ourselves to be   off our rocker. Otherwise, we will be labeled stupid love. Surround ourselves with rational friends, or someone who will knock the living daylights out of us . Also, read self-help books to understand our selves.

Senyora Santibanez‘s posts on her Facebook fan page are highly-recommended and timely. But be ready to  be  culpably insinuated. I am pretty sure you would be guilty for her head-bashing  reality-checks.

Senyora Santibanez  or  known now as Senyora is an anonymous Facebook fan page which has now  approximately 2 million followers. In effect, it is just for fun because the admin intends to  publish derogatory posts  about  everything  under the sun  which followers and  readers might find witty and jocular. In light of its sensational popularity on social  media, it successfully published a book LAKOMPAKE  and has been  sold  like a cake.

The title of the Facebook fan page was inspired by the villainous character of Angélica de Santibañez  ( Chantal Andere )  in Marimar,  a Mexican telanovela which became sensational among televiewers around the world. The character  is known for her pouring scorn on the main character.

LAKOMPAKE is short for Wala Akong Pake.( I don’t care.) ,  a  colloquial, vulgar in effect , Filipino  expression to  retort  something what a person says. It is synonymous with the English expression ” I don’t mind.” in a rude way.

Since Senyora is known for her insulting and disapproving remarks , I should be upset about the book. In fact,  most of its contents could be  found cringing and annoying such as that the book, according  to her , is dedicated to  all those tramps whom she has fooled into agreeing with her  megalomaniac and pulchritudinous  hubris. However, rather than be upset about her  narcissism, I found the book hilarious. Yes, I was so convulsed with laughter by her eye-opening thoughts that I fell off my chair and wanted to  hit my student  with it. Therefore, her book adds up: It makes sense. Don’t underestimate it if you are not much fond of this kind of read. I was exhilarated by her effort to rectify us about dealing with love and social status.

Senyora’s famous derogatory   word  is “ Pwe!” It is an onomatopoeic  word to figuratively describe the sound of spitting  at a person you look down on.

Pwe , if you are stupid at love.

Pwe,  if you are a kind of a lover bitching around with someone you like.

Pwe, if you pretend to be rich.

And …Pwe, if you still pretend to be a ” paminta” ( peppermint). (laughs)

In short, be yourself and sensible. That’s what Senyora wants  us to  learn from her book. There is a method to her madness. (laughs)

To do justice to her delusional beauty, with no offense, Senyora made sure that her pieces of advice are scholarly, factual , and empirical as what the book suggests. So, readers can not just refute her derogatory tirades. Laban? (Fight?)

For the past four  months LAKOMPAKE  has still remained  one of National Book Store’s best-sellers for  Philippine Non-Fiction . In short,  Senyora’s beauty is still  “kabog”  (ostentatious) .  Her too much pride in her beauty  has something fierce.  (laughs)

For Senyora, I rate it 3/ 5 stars. I liked it.  Is it fair? 🙂