September 30, 2012

Keepsakes and the MIBF

Books fall open, you fall in
Delighted where you’ve never been
Hear voices not once heard before
Reach world on world through door on door
Find unexpected keys to things
Locked up beyond imaginings
-David McCord

If there is something the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) has given me in the past two years besides cheaper books to read, it is the affirmation of an affinity towards the Philippine’s history and culture well-tucked in the recesses of my being. While I love reading books by foreign authors, those by Filipinos leave a compelling sense of belonging. And while foreign books bring me to worlds I haven’t grown up with, the local books connect me to a Philippines that has sadly been buried and forgotten.

Last year’s non-fiction finds, specifically “The Manila We Knew,” brought me around a different Metro Manila, where elegance was still apt to describe Escolta and Quiapo; where families spread linens for weekend afternoon picnics at the park; where art deco houses were at its glory; where neighbors knew each other and fences in elite subdivisions were built low; where Makati still had no skyscrapers to speak of; where horses roamed today’s Bonifacio Global City; where dragonflies and crickets still thrived in Quezon City; and where Sampaloc trees, not restaurants, bars, and cars, lined the stretch of Tomas Morato. I was horrified by “The Malate I knew” of Henrie Santos where she retold their family’s story during the war while Ambeth Ocampo’s “Looking Back” series made me think of going to the National Library and find out how my family got our surnames. His essays, although some I am hesitant to completely believe, and the essays and other stories of Filipino authors have constantly been creating sparks, making me more interested to know about untold stories of the past, not only that of Manila, but especially of provinces rarely heard of.

Back in Palo, Leyte, where I grew up, I remember enjoying myself with stories of my aunts and uncles, cousins of my mother, while we gathered in a corner after the procession of the Santo Entierro passed by. From stories from way back their childhood to the “current events” in the lives of family friends, everything delighted me. Even if some of them were same old stories told during parties and wakes, I still listen intently and get amused at how all of us still laugh so hard like we haven’t heard of them before.

This is  possibly the reason why I enjoyed lectures of Sir Lito Zulueta, Ma’am Alice Villadolid (despite the fact that it was an ordeal both to stay awake in her three-hour class and not to think that she was infatuated with Ninoy Aquino), and other professors who randomly and casually talked about history and the historical significance of people. This may also be the reason why I love reading non-fiction books like those by Nick Joaquin. When they— my relatives, professors and writers— speak of history, they tell stories of real people who give color to the lifeless dates and summaries of history textbooks.

Before I came to Metro Manila to study, I was in love with its big malls and the variety of shops and restaurants in it. But when I came to semi-permanently reside here to study, Manila was nothing but a filthy city, far from the neat, air-conditioned malls I have come to love during vacations. It was not until later that I have learned that part of the dingy City of Manila are structures of architectural value like the National Museum. It was not until I learned of efforts to restore the Metropolitan Theater that I learned what the old building, where street dwellers take refuge and exudes the smell of urine, was called.

Just like how important people in our history become nothing else but names of streets, I assume that people look at these buildings as mere landmarks and not as national treasures. I think that we lack knowledge and understanding of our heritage. These tangible components of our culture are important to serve as anchors that would keep us aground amid the “progress” of our country while the intangible ones like values and tradition will help us understand not only the recurring problems of our country, but also our triumphs as a nation. From here, we can sift and leave behind those that keep us from getting better and imbibe those that make us successful. From here, we can plan on how we can preserve the old, blend in the new, and avoid cluttered (future) cities.

It is saddening that for a people who takes pride in our culture, we give our heritage little value. Other Asian countries preserve their ruins and attract tourists, including Filipinos, to see them. In the Philippines, we ruin our ruins. Unless we understand what we have and unless we strive to make the younger generations appreciate and commit to protect our heritage, I am keeping with me these books (and the books I will buy) as my keepsakes for the future because it may only be through these that we will be able to know of a Philippines we have never seen.

This year, I planned to hoard more of these books. Unfortunately, being the average earner that I am, I had very little budget compared to last year’s MIBF. I settled for a book and two back issues of a food magazine.

"Connecting Flights: Filipinos Write From Elsewhere" edited by Ruel S. de Vera survived the eliminations because of a few reasons. First, it has always been a dream to travel the Philippines and the world and for now, I satisfy myself with travel stories. In fact, I find stories equally interesting as pasalubongs. Second, the book is an anthology by some of the best Filipino writers. Third, I was interested to know what these writers have to say about other places. I had a feeling that they did not plainly talk about these places but have connected it to the Philippines and our culture. They compared it, maybe, or talked about the lives of OFW's. As De Vera said in his introduction, "But I believe that we Filipinos bring our true selves along with us on every leg of every journey. We leave with it-- and we treasure it enough to take it home, changed perhaps, but always overjoyed to have returned."

I was supposed to buy "Pacific Rims," a book on Philippine basketball written by New Yorker, Rafe Bartholomew. I discovered this book while killing time in FullyBooked High Street and after being an "accidental sports writer" back in college, my intuition told me to read it. It got me hooked when I found out that it is not purely on basketball but a mishmash of history, politics, culture and a lot more. And these coming from a foreigner made it more interesting. Call me vain, but I am interested on how foreigners perceive us. Unfortunately, it was not available on the day my friend Dane and I went. The staff promised to bring a copy to their MIBF booth but I got no message whether it was already available. 

Dane and I passed by the stall of Summit Media which sold back issues of its magazine for only P50. Since I also love cooking, I bought two back issues of "Yummy." I am so lucky that my celebrity chef crush, Sharwin Tee, is featured in one of the issues. <3 

The 33rd MIBF was not as much fun as last year maybe because we went on the first day, a weekday, and only a few people were there. Though Chef Bruce Lim was there for book signing, we hoped it was "Monkey" who was there instead. Or maybe Chef Sharwin. It could also be because I had very little money and there were a lot to buy! [HAHA] But of course, I was happy with my few purchases.

I promise to save up for next year's MIBF so I could buy more keepsakes. ;) 

Here are photos of Dane and me and some of the things I found interesting.

This reminded me of my TSUBA friends who call KFC "Kepsi" :)

Gorgeous books

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