29 June 2016


Option #40: My Brother, My Executioner by F. Sionil Jose
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"You know, of course, that I will always help you, that I will do what you want me to do, because we are brothers."

"I am glad to hear that," Vic said. "I have been thinking a lot about us . . . I can trust you. Let me make one thing clear, however--the old days are now over. Your father--all his property--must go back to the people whom he had robbed."

Luis could not believe what he was hearing and for a minute, Vic droned on about social justice and democracy and the future. What would all this mean now? He would lose the house in Rosales and all the land that would be his inheritance. For a while this blank reality numbed his heart, and for all his protestations, for all that he had written and said, he had grown to like this ease, this surfeit of leisure, all that marked him for perdition. He was, after all, his father's son. Maybe, if he tried to dissuade his brother, there would be other ways, feasible means by which he could remain what he was and yet be totally in agreement with him, support him, and sacrifice for him.

So far, all the books I have read for this year's Marcos Pa Rin challenge have been retrospectives: historical novels or memoirs that depict the Marcos years in the light of how they finally ended. It's not a bad way to learn about history: when the authors are first-hand witnesses, it's like interviewing your grandparents. But a book actually written in the past is on a whole other level--like going back in time and meeting your grandparents' younger selves. They will be able to tell you things their older selves might have forgotten, remembered wrongly, or simply decided to keep from you. And this is exactly the case with F. Sionil Jose's My Brother, My Executioner, published in the 1970s and banned by the Marcos regime.

The central figure of the novel is Luis Asperri, the illegitimate son but only heir of the wealthy (ethnic Spanish) landowner Don Vicente Asperri. His (native) mother worked as a maid in Don Vicente's house because it was the only way her peasant father could pay off his debts. And his (half-)brother Victor is the son his mother has after Don Vicente sends her away and she finds a local man to marry. Luis and Victor are close in childhood, although the former's mestizo looks and the latter's peasant features make the neighbourhood children call them "milk and coffee." But who, in adulthood, is to execute whom? And for what capital crime?

26 June 2016


Eurovision Song Contest Country Smackdown, Round 2!
(Revisit Round 1)

As you can see, I have finally accepted, as unthinkable as it was, that my Eurovision smackdown will simply not get the numbers that my Westlife smackdown did. This is what happens when normal reader attrition over time is matched by a lethargic attitude toward making new friends. I thank everyone who did vote from the bottom of my ambivalently eremitic heart, and I hope we can keep together for the rest of the smackdown.

Switzerland vs. Ukraine --> Winner: Switzerland

Sweden vs. United Kingdom --> Winner: United Kingdom

France vs. Luxembourg --> Winner: Luxembourg

Netherlands vs. Spain --> Winner: Spain

Denmark vs. Germany --> Winner: Germany

Ireland vs. Norway --> Winner: Norway

Italy vs. Yugoslavia --> Winner: Italy

Austria vs. Belgium --> Winner: Austria

Since people seem to like discussing Eurovision results more than Eurovision songs, I am optimistic that there will be more comments this time around. I mean, we did lose the two biggest ESC winners, Sweden and Ireland, in the very first round. The UK beat Sweden fair and square, I think; but I feel that Ireland's huge loss to Norway happened because I didn't choose the right Irish entry. When I put The "Insieme" Sixteen together, I picked a possible Round 2, Round 3 and Round 4 song for each country; and there were two really good Irish songs I wanted to save for later. But Rock and Roll Kids, for all its polish, should probably have given way to the fluffy, easily-underrated All Kinds of Everything. Ah, Eurovision regrets . . .

They're almost as bad as the regrets you have when you don't vote in a Shredded Cheddar smackdown when you have the chance. (Just saying . . .)

The "Eres Tu" Eight

25 June 2016


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred Thirty-Two!

. . . And of course today's setting turns out to be a better blend of Conspiratorial Corners and Marcos Pa Rin than the previous one. No demographic engaged in more underground conspiracy during the Marcos era than the Marxists. Secretive regimes deserve secretive subversives.

Someone else having fun with the first theme is Brandon of Siris, who writes a Locus Focus post for the second year in a row with a setting from Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose. If you'd like to join in, check the Locus Focus page for more details. Remember that in June and July, linking up to Locus Focus gets you extra points in the Philippine Literature Giveaway. (Rafflecopter below!)

24 June 2016


Sinantol na Hipon and Laing at Abe
(Sin-an-TOLL nah HEEH-pon; LAH-ing)

The second friend I met for lunch this month, another fellow language learner whom we may call Choupinette (Guess what she's studying?), was very supportive about my plan to blog about Filipino restaurants while I'm doing my Philippine Literature Giveaway. She has been all over the country and is more familiar with national and regional cuisines than I am. She also loves hosting foreign friends--though I forgot to ask her what she feeds them when they are here. Perhaps she takes some of them to Abe, the urbane, upscale choice she suggested when I told her of my project.

23 June 2016


Option #39: Endless Journey by Jose T. Almonte, as told to Marites Danguilan Vitug
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"Sir, my recommendation is we execute Plan B."

"What is Plan B?"

I just thought of something audacious to do to save the mission . . . "I will call the office of Chou En-lai and I'll convey to them . . . Given the situation in the Asia-Pacific, Marcos is considering the possibility that the Soviet armed forces may dominate the region. And before that happens, he would like to preempt the situation, and replace the US in the Clark and Subic military bases with the Russians. Before he makes that decision, he would like to ask Chairman Mao and Premier Chou En-lai what their thoughts are."

Romualdez was in disbelief, as if an alien had crossed his path. "Colonel, I have been in diplomatic service for so long and this is the first time I've ever heard of such a plan! Does the president know this?"

"No, sir."

Not only did this book almost not make the Giveaway Pool, it almost didn't make my personal collection. If you are a regular visitor to Shredded Cheddar (in which case I'd like to hug you!), then you are well aware that political memoirs are not the type of book I normally read. I got my copy of Endless Journey through my grandfather, who had known General Jose T. Almonte and was able to get it personally autographed for me. Lolo didn't get one for himself, because his eyesight had grown too weak for him to read anything; but he said he hoped I would read it and then have a long chat with him to tell him everything. And though I did get started on it, Lolo died before we could ever have that chat.

While what I'd tell my grandfather about a book is quite different from what I'd tell my blog readers, this time there is going to be some overlap. Endless Journey is, in many ways, a Marcos Pa Rin book (as defined by me) and I'd give almost anything now for Lolo's take on General Almonte's impressions of former President Ferdinand Marcos. Take Almonte's confidence that he could tell the Chinese premiere a blatant lie about the president's plans and that the latter would be perfectly okay with it . . .

21 June 2016


Teaser of the Year

Read other two-sentence teasers this week
@Books And A Beat

At the rate I'm going, I link up to MizB's meme . . . once a year. =P And my archives show that I usually do so when I'm having my annual giveaway. Well, it is a good way to promote a book in the Giveaway Pool!

This year, the Giveaway theme is Marcos Pa Rin and its focus is on the influence of president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Translated as "Still Marcos," it is most often understood as the catchphrase of loyalists and apologists; here, I use to point out that even among those who most oppose and loathe him, his legacy remains strong.

17 June 2016


Option #38: Killing Time in a Warm Place by Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr.
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I was the last to be called in a batch of "detainees" that formed a queue at the processing centre, outside a special room called the "Exclusion Area," and the shorter the line got the more desperate it became, because of all the thuds and screams that spilled out into the already-ugly air. No one came out the way he came in, because they had another exit into another hallway or, for all we knew that first time, a hospital, a morgue, or a crematorium for the swift disposal of exhausted tissues. By the time they got to me my nerves were mashed, but they were pooped, "they" being a smallish, balding intelligence officer who sat behind a desk, a stack of folders at his feet, a clerk, a soldier in a T-shirt and fatigues, and an orderly or janitor, who was mopping the floor; they were all sweating despite the late December pall, and the officer was tipping a cigarette out of a pack into the soldier's hand when I stepped in, having been called by name. The orderly left the room and returned with a bottle of Coke for the chief, a bottle so fresh that the gas was still wisping at the mouth when the orderly stood it beside the table, beside my file.

After the wild imaginative sweeps of Option #37: Empire of Memory by Eric Gamalinda, I thought we should ground ourselves in some Marcos Pa Rin realism with our next book. And I almost went with some non-fiction until I remembered Killing Time in a Warm Place, a novel based on journalist Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr.'s memories of his own student activism and illegal detention during the Marcos Era. The story is told in flashback, with an older, possibly sadder protagonist thinking back to his heady years of fighting for a cause . . . and the subsequent sober years of having "sold out."

Boy, do I hate that phrase. Just a few weeks ago, on Twitter, a former colleague, who had quit the corporate world three years ago to focus on her art, announced she, too, would be "selling out" by getting another job. It was a saddening decision for her, made even worse by her belief that she was letting down a lot of other people; but the fact was that she simply couldn't afford to pay rent and buy food on an artist's income any longer. I replied to say that sometimes what we think of as "selling out" is really growing up, and that this could still be a positive move for her. In any case, I argued, we should be careful about whose labels determine how we feel about our lives. Now I wonder if I would have said the same to Noel Bulaong, a young Filipino with a history of Marxist reading, violent protests, family estrangement, and military torture, if after his release he considered getting a job with . . . the government.

14 June 2016


Binagoongan at Mesa

Over the years, I've had the pleasure of showing friends from other countries a bit of the Philippines. We usually visit historical sites and eat at Filipino restaurants . . . but since I don't force them to try the more "exotic" stuff on the menu, I wonder how much of a "Filipino experience" the latter is to them. The next time I host someone, I'll just invite them eat everything my family is used to at home.

On the other hand, it has been a blast eating at Filipino restaurants with fellow Filipinos, as I learned when I brought fellow language learner La Traidora (Guess what language she is learning!) to Mesa.

11 June 2016


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred Thirty-One!

Miss these meme, anyone? I never did wrap up last year's Conspiratorial Corners challenge . . . a miss that is working its way to another mark this month. Today's setting may not be a place where a conspiracy was plotted out, but it is a notorious emblem of one of the most conspiracy-driven governments in the history of the world. Few other places in the Philippines fit the Marcos Pa Rin theme as well as this one.

06 June 2016


Option #37: Empire of Memory by Eric Gamalinda
(See the Giveaways page for more details or scroll down for the Rafflecopter)

"Oye, you lucky bastards are going to write a book . . . The [president] wants you to finish volume one of his encyclopedia for the New Society. Leatherbound, gilt-edged, a national heirloom. He wants it by September. A martial law tenth year commemorative project . . ."

. . . "What's the first volume going to be about?" Jun asked.

"Philippine prehistory."

"That's going to be a short subject," Jun said. "A Brief History of Philippine Civilisation, in ten pages."

Tarantado, the [president] isn't joking . . . You've been here long enough to know that."

To know, that is, that the president had been planning an ambitious book project to 'reinterpret' the history of the Philippines leading to the declaration of martial law and the founding of his New Society.

You'd think that a historical novel whose two protagonists have to dig through all sorts of historical sources in order to write a historical encyclopedia would be historically accurate, but Eric Gamalinda's Empire of Memory includes the disclaimer: "Although portions of this novel were based on actual sources, no attempt at historical accuracy was made." Wow, right?

Then again--and this may be Gamalinda's greater point--why does anyone need to care about the facts of history in the Philippines, where no one ever remembers anything anyway? There's something fitting about a book set during the Marcos era playing fast and loose with history, given what Ferdinand Marcos himself did with the same. (And just now, I have decided that the official theme of this Philippine Literature Month is Marcos Pa Rin. Usually meaning, "I'm still for Marcos," here I use it to say, "Marcos is still with us." For he is totally still with us.) Take the tribe Gamalinda makes up for his story, the Isneg . . .

05 June 2016


Eurovision Song Contest Country Smackdown!!!

It's smackdown month again, friends!!! =D And surely you all saw the theme coming . . .

If you're not a Eurovision fan and don't really have a favourite winning country, that's excellent. Then you can actually vote for the song in each face-off--which is how it's still supposed to work. (Yeah, really!) I arranged sixteen of the top countries in a bracket and tried to find a good mix from the contest's six decades. I hope you enjoy listening to them and casting your votes!

And if you are a Eurovision fan and can't believe which sixteen countries made my official cut, well, it is in the spirit of ESC fandom to leave really angry comments on social media. I welcome them all! =D

The "Insieme" Sixteen

Switzerland vs. Ukraine

Let's begin with the first winner and the latest winner: the oldest of the old school and the way of the future. For all its political neutrality, Switzerland was eager to help its neighbours heal the wounds of WWII with song and became the very first Eurovision Song Competition host. And apparently good deeds still went rewarded, for it won with the nostalgic chanson Refrain! Sixty years later, it was all about politics: Ukraine entered the ethnically-influenced 1944, inspired by the deportation of Crimean Tartars by the Soviet Union. While I personally think countries should keep their squabbles out of Eurovision, I also see the advantages of settling national disputes on cultural stages rather than literal battlefields. Which country would you rather see in the next round?

01 June 2016


And Giveaway Month Begins Anew . . .

The more things change, the more they stay the same--not just on Shredded Cheddar, but also in the Philippines. At least it has been true for the past thirty years, as we see in this year's special theme.

Earlier this year, the Philippines commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the EDSA Revolution, which ousted a dictator, raised a housewife to the highest office in the land, and made everyone believe in democracy again. (Bwahahahahahahahahaha! Oh, my aching sides . . .) You'd think that something so momentous would have left a mark on the national character beyond powerful nostalgia, aye?

Family and friends know that I've kind of been obsessed with this topic for years. Why does the national memory turn into such a sieve where this event is concerned? Compare and contrast now. We all have a good sense of what went on during the Spanish era--and if our memories of its terrible last years overwhelm its true golden legacy, it still makes sense that later happenings would stand out better than older ones. We're also pretty clear on the politics of the American era, if not as clear as we are about the bright side of this national humiliation that we have chosen to focus on. And nobody argues about what really happened during World War II and Japanese rule, even though you might also argue that nobody really cares. So shouldn't something that happened a mere thirty years ago, and the dragged-out, decade-long build-up to it, be fresh enough in living memory for those born after the fact to be able to retell the story from, well, memory?