20 June 2015


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Twenty-One!

Another June tradition for me--or for those who want to be precise about things, a June coincidence--is reading one of the six preselected new titles for the June Giveaway, and deciding that it isn't the good candidate I thought it was. This year, there have already been two. And one of them gives us another coincidence: it is not just the second Philippine novel that gets to be featured on Locus Focus without going in the giveaway pool, but like the first, it also has the same unusual word in its title.

Miyajima Island
Confessions of a Volcano
by Eric Gamalinda

Seiji had warned him about Miyajima. Summer was the worst time to visit. The park was overrun by backpackers from Europe and the States. You could smell the sacred deer from a mile away, and the sun beat down with such ferocity as to stun all things animate or not.

. . . Daniel was relieved that there weren't too many people on the ferry. Maybe it was a slow day at the island. But when they stepped out a few minutes later he was aghast to find the place teeming with boisterous tourists. Luisa seemed the least disconcerted. She ran straight to the deer park, holding her hat down with her hand. "Look, Daniel!" she exclaimed, pointing breathlessly at the languid creatures loitering under the pines. "Let's get something to feed them!" She bought a pack of biscuits from a kiosk and emptied the contents in her hand. A herd of deer and began nuzzling against her hand . . .

If I had known that I'd just be taking you all back to Japan again this weekend, I would have picked one of the European settings in F. Sionil Jose's Viajero (Option #33) for Locus Focus #120 last week. But never mind. Let's be carefree and touristy today, and enjoy the smell of those sacred deer!

It's easy to see why all the tourists in Japan want to see Miyajima. Not only is it a beautiful nature preserve, an island whose mountains are lush with a natural forest and teeming with tame deer and mischievous monkeys ("We will not be responsible for your cameras and money; please protect them from the monkeys"), but it also boasts a lovely Shinto temple whose bright tangerine beams provide a contrast (but never a clash!) to all those earthy greens, blues, and browns. The tourism developers who added the multi-level gardens spotted with koi ponds were surely inspired by that colour scheme . . . only to restrain themselves when it was time to choose the colours for the cable cars, which are mostly white.

Can a tourist really complain that other tourists are ruining his sightseeing experience? Probably not, but Filipino tourist Daniel isn't too happy with his first experience of Miyajima anyway. On the other hand, his new friend Luisa, a Filipina worker he met on the train in Tokyo, seems quite at home in the anonymous crowd. Instead, it is two Japanese men who get to ruin her day, when they corner her on the island's "Monkey Mountain" (Oh, Lord, is this significant?) and ask to see her passport. As the humiliated young woman explains to Daniel, plainclothes policemen often approach foreign women and ask to see proof that the latter are in Japan legally and not working as "entertainers" in clubs for men. It is not the first time it has happened to Luisa and it won't be the last. Yet she can't really complain, either: she may be legally employed, but it is at one of those clubs, with about a dozen other Filipinas who aren't.

It can't be fun to have your experience of another country's beauty and culture interrupted by locals who think the worst of you--not because of anything about you personally, but because of arguably valid stereotypes about your country. Even if those things are not true about you and you have proof that can win you an apology, you'll know that it takes more than a single person to shatter a prejudice that exists because of thousands. But please enjoy the rest of your vacation!

A final note . . . You're not supposed to feed the deer on Miyajima!!! Luisa's buying them a whole back of processed junk food is not a bit of touristy seasoning for the story, but a comment on her character. For the deer's sake, I hope we're all clear on that! =)

Question of the Day: Do you like visiting so-called "tourist traps"?

No Rafflecopter here because Confessions of a Volcano doesn't get to be a giveaway novel, but I have something more exciting for you. Brandon of Siris has written his own Locus Focus post on the Opera House from Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera!!! Let's all go over and give him some comment love!

Image Source: Confessions of a Volcano by Eric Gamalinda


Jenny said...

Do I hate all the other tourists crowding up the place? Yes, but I put up with it to see the place that is amazing enough to warrant becoming a tourist trap.

Enbrethiliel said...


Me, too! I don't care for crowds in general, but it would be silly to let them put me off seeing something truly great. (Besides, even more annoying than the stereotypical tourist, I find, is the snobby traveler who insists on an "authentic" off-the-beaten path experience of a country. I want to throw E.M. Forster's Passage to India at these sorts!)

Sheila said...

I don't like touring. My dream is to go to another country for long enough to get the real sense of what the place is like when the tourists go home -- a few months or a year. I got to do that in Rome and it was great. We looked down our noses at American tourists fulfilling all the stereotypes -- sloppy clothes, giant cameras, standing around in lines. Most of us couldn't pass ourselves off as Italian, so we pretended to be Canadian. Everyone likes Canadians visiting their country. Americans .... not so much. They have a reputation for being loud, rude, inconsiderate, and clueless.

My favorite tourists, though, were the Japanese. They traveled in tight little flocks and never got in the way.

Enbrethiliel said...


That would be the ideal scenario for me, too! I got a great sense of Wellington, New Zealand because I lived there for two years--though I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I was so unadventurous as to see nothing else of the country while I was there. And my last visit to my cousins in California was as fun and relaxing as it was because I got to hang out for two months instead of the usual two weeks. (When you don't have to pay for accommodation and have hosts who insist on subsidising your food, you can stay heaps longer anywhere!)

Believe it or not, because of my accent, I get my share of "Are you American?" questions when I'm abroad. Never mind that no actual American would ever hear my voice and think I am American, too! (At least I think it's my accent: it would be terrible for real Americans if I got asked that for being loud, rude, inconsiderate and clueless! LOL!)

I've never felt that I had to hide where I'm from, but I've felt pressure to play up my nationality. In uni, I had a Filipino friend who was very passionate about raising "our status" abroad. Since I got excellent marks, he wanted me to make sure that all my professors and classmates knew I was Filipina. All the impressions I could give them of Filipinos, he argued, would help to neutralise the bad PR that usually precedes us. But I didn't like doing that because I thought it was a bit much to imply that everything great about me was due to my nationality . . . and because I wasn't there to play ambassador. (On the other hand, I was happy to wear my religion on my sleeve. I'm sure that all my professors and classmates knew that I was Catholic . . . because I wanted them to know! =P) If my friend were American, he'd be the guy telling you and your friends not to pretend you're Canadian, because it's your only chance to show the world that Americans are not all the touristy sort.