Life Transitions

There are just those decisions we make that are absolutely transformative, and for me, that would be moving to the Philippines last year to study. It was a move I never anticipated for myself, but I made it nonetheless, because of so many personal reasons of my own, as well as things I needed to figure out for myself.

Growing up as a migrant Filipino child in Hong Kong initially, and then Macau, I never had the real Philippine experience. And by that, I mean that I never really knew first-hand what life was truly like in the Philippines at all. Sure, I got to see a variety of people in melting pot cities in both Special Administrative Regions of China, as well as having seen a few different cultures up close while growing up in an international school, but it left me feeling disconnected with my Filipino heritage.

It is true that in almost all countries there are ample amounts of Filipinos who form communities away from their home country for the sake of still connecting with their Filipino roots, but I only ever experienced that as a child growing up in Hong Kong for the first 8 years of my life, and I didn’t really bother too much about that side of life when I was younger – I was more engrossed with games and having fun with my childhood playmates. After briefly moving to the Philippines for a few months when SARS hit Hong Kong, we moved to Macau. Here we stayed for around a decade and it became my main playground, seeing as it was the place where I became conscious of more things than what a mere child is aware of. In other words, I spent my adolescent years here and was where I was formulated to be the person I am now.

And while we were in Macau, we weren’t exposed to the Filipino community as much as we were in Hong Kong. What happened was more the opposite, and me and my brother grew up in isolation away from Filipino culture. And that’s when we both started to resent being who we were.

On my end, there were times I didn’t exactly like being Filipino, but there were also times I felt indifferent about it. However, I do remember intense episodes of hatred towards being Filipino and I’d try my hardest to hide my Filipino-ness, blending in as much as I could with the locals.

Some may assume that life abroad is easier and much better, but there are also challenges unique to living overseas. I find such an assumption highly erroneous. Loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, and that inner fear that the locals might one day turn on you and force you out – it really builds constant anxiety and paranoia. Maybe that’s just me though.

When the Filipino name is synonymous to being a helper or a maid, which aren’t always looked upon with high regard or respect, the generalization can become very difficult to deal with. Respect can become very hard to find at times, even from within the community.

One specific memory I have when I was still young, and which has never left me, was when my mom was taking me to my kindergarten school. I was still 3 years old at the time, but what was said to her still haunts me to this day.

Alaga mo ba yan?”, another Filipina says to my mom, while indicating towards me. Understand that my mom graduated from university with a degree as a nutritionist dietician and has had over ten years of working experience by then. She’d also worked in Saudi Arabia for many years before giving birth to me. But all my mom did was to confirm the Filipina’s assumption. Years later, when I’d already grown up, she told me how much it actually pained her, as a mother, to be thought as just a maid to me. Since then, she’s done her very best to dress better no matter the circumstance just to avoid being assumed as such to both me and, later, my younger brother. And in a way, I’ve also inherited her way of thinking and added onto it another layer of my own – I just didn’t want to be Filipino.

I know everyone deserves respect and that being a maid or helper doesn’t refute their right to it, but the way those two terms have been used as a word is nearly akin to any derogatory word out there, if not fully used a derogatory term even. It hurts knowing our nation is generalised by quite a number of people as the country for which maids and helpers come from, but it’s the reality and seeing that as I was growing up has probably scarred me into believing very little of myself. I could have focused on the more positive side of things, sure. But then, I tend to be a pessimist, as well as a sensitive one. I’ve grown a thick skin over the years, but I can’t deny that it still hurts sometimes.

And that’s exactly why I could never come to terms with me being Filipino. But if I cannot accept myself for who I really am, where would that get me?

Despite the initial culture shock and personal struggles I’ve faced adjusting, moving to the Philippines helped me see the brighter side of being Filipino. I no longer see the Philippines in such a negative light as before. I always knew Filipinos weren’t just maids or helpers, but fully seeing this extent by actually living in the Philippines for a year, I can safely say I’ve changed my perspective on the matter of my Filipino-ness.

We are a nation more than just maids and helpers. We are a nation filled with intellects and very competent professionals. We are a nation abounding in creativity and talent. We are a nation filled with amazing people. We are a nation that has the ability to offer more than what the world thinks we are capable of. We are a nation that also deserves respect.

Poverty limits us as a nation and corruption ruins our country’s name, but having lived in the Philippines showed me how vibrant it really is – our nation is multifaceted.

“Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit sa hayop at malansang isda.” A stranger told me this once, merely because I could not speak Tagalog fluently and was speaking English to a Chinese friend of mine. And while I felt insulted, it hit me and made me realise how I really didn’t love who I was as a Filipino back then. It challenged me to change my perspective and years after hearing it, I made my decision to reconcile myself with my Filipino heritage.

Moving to the Philippines quite literally changed me and gave me a totally new outlook. It really has been a transformative move. The one concrete thing for me right now is to get that sablay and my Mass Communication degree from UP Cebu. And although I don’t really know where I will be heading in the future, one thing is certain. I truly wish to serve the Filipino people, be it within the nation or abroad.

To close this, here’s another Tagalog quote that now resonates with me:“Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggagalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.”

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Quick Biking

In my pursuit of fitness, I’ve been pushing myself a lot more in terms of what I usually do physically. Not in the sexual sense, might I add.

More along the lines of swimming, biking, jogging, and yoga. And strength training once in a blue moon.

That territory mixes in quite well with my yearning for adventure as well, so it’s a perfect blend, if anything can be said.

Today, of all days, was the day I decided I wanted to get back into jogging again. Right after taking quite a break from fitness related things due to the tiring first semester I just completed in my second year as a Mass Communication student at UP Cebu. Oh, and Christmas food fiesta bonanzas happened as well.

Anyhow, I wanted to go biking a little earlier than 4, but we had a guest so we couldn’t leave just quite yet. And because I was leaving our home grounds, I needed company (Mom) who was entertaining the guest. Do we waited a little longer until she left. Once she did, the bikes came out.

Now, funny thing was the only bike available for me to use was this tiny one I used to ride when I was still 6-7. So it’s pretty tiny. I’m 21 now…So yeah…

It didn’t deter us though, and we went out full force (my younger brother — who is taller than me now — decided he wanted to come along and Dad arrived from his day’s work then accompanied us as well). It was a funny image though.

Me on a small bike, my brother and Dad on these huge mountain bikes (or I think that’s what they are), and Mom on her electric scooter.

I was pretty slow…Plus, I hadn’t ridden a bike in quite a while. Also, I was very shaky. And since we were Biking right on the main road, I kind of got hit by anxiety once in a while, especially with those drivers who don’t stick to their side of the road.

Once we got to our destination, which was a place called the Oval, I ran one round. That was it though since it rained soon after.

On the way back home though, I did get kind of soaking wet since I couldn’t go as fast as my parents and brother. But all in all, it was a great experience.

Composing an Inspiring Tale: Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Its Relations with Magic Realism

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, first published in Portuguese in 1988 and then translated into English in 1993, follows the travels of a lone shepherd boy, simply named Santiago, in search of his treasure, which is recurringly mentioned in his dreams. With the help of a gypsy woman, his dream is deciphered and he is given a destination. Along the way, he meets King Melchizedek of Salem, the Englishman, the Alchemist, and many other characters, each of whom play a role in in his journey to reach his Personal Legend. The tale itself is also filled with many fantastical and magical elements that have been integrated into the characters’ reality in believable ways, qualifying The Alchemist to belong under magic realism, despite the fact that it is commonly associated with fantasy, adventure, and, dubiously, even science fiction. With the great utilization of the magic realism genre, the novel succeeds in making readers reflect on their own personal journey through life.

The fantastic. The eccentric. The marvelous. These are just a few words used to describe the genre of ‘magic realism’, which is also known as ‘magical realism’ (the usage of the term, as well as its history, has been debated from the beginning, but shall be bypassed as it is an entirely different topic from what is to be discussed in this commentary). Although Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “a literary or artistic genre in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique are combined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy”, others have also interpreted the genre in various other ways. However, the genre itself has a consistent set of elements and characteristics that make them its own, which helps differentiate it from fantasy, as written pieces in magic realism are sometimes mistaken to be.

Most often the case, what occurs in the pieces of literary works enclosed in this genre is the usage of “magical” or unrealistic elements to draw attention to social dilemmas that may be prevalent within the real world’s own scope in an attempt to call these out for readers to reflect on and, in some cases, act upon, for the betterment of society. Another case is that the genre is merely used just for the purpose of bringing inspiration through outlandish premises via the representation of characterization, setting, and plot by allowing one to simply reflect on and reimagine one’s current life state.

Within The Alchemist itself, there are many instances in which the unconventional occur that do not break away from the flow and reality that the main character, Santiago, lives in. This is demonstrated when he meets Melchizedek, who displays his capacity to know about him, his personal history, and his thoughts without ever asking Santiago anything at all, and leads one to think that he might be an omniscient supernatural being with telepathy. This can be seen in the following extract from the book when the Salem king writes on the sand all he knows about Santiago:

There, in the sand of the plaza of that small city, the boy read the names of his father and his mother and the name of the seminary he had attended. He read the name of the merchant’s daughter, which he hadn’t even known, and he read things he had never told anyone. (Coelho 21)

In turn, Santiago accepts the king of Salem as he is, reflecting not too long on where he came from, but the message that Melchizedek bestowed on him instead; lessons on Personal Legends, the Soul of the World, and the Principle of Favorability — also known as Beginner’s Luck. Even the ability of the mystical stones, named Urim and Thummim, given to him by the king to help make decisions does Santiago not question. Bringing in fantastical elements into a real world setting, all the while authorial reticence is exhibited to heighten a sense of mystery, are all characteristics of magic realism.

Santiago’s reaction to his dreams is indicative of his view that they are guiding him towards a task that must be undertaken. His dream repeating twice ignites his curiosity to know more about it and what it means, leading him to discover that his Personal Legend is to find his treasure, just as the Soul of the World has communicated to him in his dreams, testing him along the way at the same time. His dream of the hawk, along with the tribal chief’s insight, averts an attack on the oasis he is staying at — supposedly neutral ground in a warring area — signifying how interconnected his dreams are with the Soul of the World.

Santiago’s interpretation and understanding of his dreams, as well as his understanding of his own heart and lessons he’s learnt along the way, gives him the willpower to stay his course, instead of deviating from what is meant for him. Only then will he be deserving of his reward. This is an idea of which is supported by the following extract from the book:

…before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that we learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one “dies of thirst just when the palm tree have appeared on the horizon.” (Coelho 132)

This indicates that the Soul of the World knows what is set out for each individual’s life and has dreams sent their way, while testing said individuals regarding what they’ve learned in order to evaluate and make certain that they have ascended a higher plane in terms of growth and are worthy to receive their “treasure”. Omens, nearly identical in their purpose with dreams within the novel, provides Santiago with guidance, as they are a part of the Universal Language of the World. All of this connects a supernatural entity with Santiago’s reality, while drawing inspiration to follow dreams and omens.

Both dreams and omens serve supernatural purposes in guiding Santiago towards his treasure. “Maktub”, an arabic term for “it is written” that is repeated a number of times throughout the novel, supports this idea. So long as Santiago goes after his Personal Legend, the concept of “maktub” relieves his fears and worries with the idea that his destiny has already been written in the world’s metaphysical history, with dreams and omens outlined throughout his journey to help him achieve his Personal Legend. As the Alchemist says, “Everything is written in the Soul of the World, and there it will stay forever.” (Coelho 123)

Santiago serves as the vessel with which readers journey through his life to learn the purpose of dreams and achieving Personal Legends. He stands for each person curious enough to find his Personal Legend, experiencing the struggles that undoubtedly fall their way. In the very end, he learns that experiencing the new is more worthwhile, compared to playing on the safer side of life; it is to be open to the new and magical.

All the other characters that enter the tale, regardless of the amount of time they are present, represent general archetypes of the people journeying through life. With regards to King Melchizedek of Salem, he is drawn from biblical references. Not much is known about him in the Bible, save for the fact that he is both a king and a priest, whose name means “King of Righteousness” and who rules a land with a name that means “Peace”. Within The Alchemist, not much is known about him either. However, he does play the role of the mystical wise man who imparts knowledge to the main character, while pushing him towards his destiny, delivering the message that if one is going after one’s Personal Legend and on the “right path”, hidden forces will help one attain it, just as Melchizedek tells Santiago: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (Coelho 22)

The Englishman represents the people who are too focused on learning from books, disregarding experiencing the present, here and now, while the Crystal Merchant represents the people who are aware of their dreams, but are already complacent with life and are too afraid to pursue said dreams due to the belief that once it is achieved, there will be nothing else to look forward to. These two characters serve as cautionary cases to readers regarding what they both separately represent, as these traits could potentially inhibit one from reaching their real life goals — and using the novel’s equivalent, their Personal Legends.

While the Englishman and the Crystal Merchant serve to warn readers of what could occur if they didn’t try to chase after their Personal Legends, the Alchemist and Fatima represent the people who bring more positive influence into one’s life, just as they brought it to Santiago’s life, with the Alchemist serving as the teacher or mentor of the boy, while Fatima serves as the romantic interest who encourages him to go for his dream first and foremost. The Coptic Monk, despite appearing very briefly, represents the people who, in passing, helps one to get where one wants to go.

Among the aforementioned characters, save for Melchizedek and the Alchemist, the rest have no relation to magic. However, their serendipitous presence in the right places within the story helps Santiago advance towards his goal in such fortuitous ways that it makes it seem unrealistic and almost supernatural that they enter the tale during those very tough times that Santiago would most definitely need help. In a way, they represent silver linings usually found in life, wherever they are rightly placed, which is already quite mystical in its own way.

The Alchemist exhibits many characteristics of magic realism, which help in strengthening the message of the novel, wherein it gives some distance to reality while also still being quite grounded, as the supernatural occur in the real world. Probably one of the strongest examples of magic realism would be when Santiago speaks with the desert, wind, and sun to help him prove to the tribal leaders that he is an alchemist. It is done in such a way that it seems completely normal for Santiago to converse with these disembodied entities in reality.

Despite how well The Alchemist utilizes magic realism to create a supernatural atmosphere throughout the book that aids in inspiring, some may find it too bland since, in its essence, it reads just like a simple fable or a folktale. Some may even argue that the storyline is not very original. In fact, its general synopsis is identical to a couple of old pieces of writings, such as in the  “Tale of the Two Dreamers” E. W. Lane translation of the Arabian Nights, which was also retold by the Argentine short story writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

This piece of literature’s use of magic realism provides an alternate perception of reality that allows readers to reinvent their view on their life journey and life purpose, through the concept of the Personal Legend. Following the life of a simple character as he transforms his life is symbolic in itself as it is what Latin American magic realism is all about, which is the self definition of one’s own culture and one’s view on the impact culture has on one’s life. The Alchemist, in its core, really serves as an inspiring metaphor of life, because, just like Santiago learns that his treasure was already there in the beginning and is rewarded for his perseverance at the end, we too shall get where we want to go if we remained patient and imitated Santiago’s journey.

References:

Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006. Print.

“Magic Realism.” Oxford Dictionary (British & World English). Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2014. <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/magic-realism&gt;.

Solidarity Message on behalf of UPJA – September 23, 2016

September 23, 2016 - Oble Square Solidarity Message

Good evening, everyone. I’m speaking on behalf of the University of the Philippines Justice Advocates, an organisation on campus dedicated to fighting human trafficking.

In the Philippines — specifically Cebu City — IJM has been focusing on child pornography due to its alarming rate. There is a need to adjust this situation , most especially because it is right here.

Webcam Child Sex Tourism, the exploitation of children by selling them online for pornographic intent. This, in itself, is already a horrible crime. Children are malleable and impressionable, and putting them through something as vile as child prostitution will damage them and will put their well-being in general harm, both physically and psychologically.

Trauma. That’s something they will always struggle with. Feelings of low self-worth and helplessness and worthlessness. Is it not our responsibility to keep them from harm? To protect them? What happened to keeping our children safe? Are they not our future?

There should never be an instance when using children for pornographic purposes is made acceptable. I’ll quote Sarah Norton-Staal, Chief of Child Protection at Unicef Philippines here.

“‘Child pornography’ is a misnomer – the phrase implies that the sexual exploitation of children is subset of a (mostly) legal industry. Any children under the age of 18 who are used for pornographic performances or materials are victims.”
As she has said, they are victims. And they need to be saved. And those who could end up in the same situation because of marginalisation as well. Before that happens, it should be prevented.

And as Sarah Norton-Staal has also said, “Any image or video of child abuse is documented evidence of a crime in process. The production and distribution of these child sexual abuse and exploitation materials – whether in print, online, or live-streamed – represent a violation of fundamental human rights, and these children need to be protected.”

Just like EJK and Martial Law, there has been injustice done to our society.

Injustice. The wrong never righted. Trauma from things past and present.

A broken society. That’s what we will get if this continues. That’s what the future will inherit.

So we encourage all of you to fight against these issues, especially Webcam Child Sex Tourism.