Monday, 22 May 2017

"My Family's Slave" by Alex Tizon

Read it on The Atlantic.

I've never been so moved by a journalism piece in my life. I read it to Mike last night. We never had maids or nannies so we could not relate to this, and it was very apparent when I paused whilst reading or Mike made a sound, that something in the essay was very strange, unbelievable, or unfamiliar to us. But house helps are very common in the Philippines. I remember watching Filipino films when the very rich have uniformed maids and they call their masters "señor/señora," or "señorito/señorita" for the younger members of the family. The maid in this essay (I couldn't bring myself to call her a slave, but she was, sadly) was originally from Tarlac, which is the province next to my home province, Pampanga. Majority of those living in Tarlac speak kapampangan like me.

I think one of the reasons why some well-to-do people choose to come back to the Philippines. is they find it so hard living without their servants, and also very expensive to hire them abroad. And it seems, sadly, that like Alex Tizon's family, there might have been others who brought [slaves] with them when they emigrated.

There are mixed reactions about this piece, most are heartbroken by the story of Eudocia Tomas Pulido ("Lola" or grandmother) and some are defending the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alex Tizon. Whatever his intention was in writing this piece, and whilst I feel he could have done more for Lola, his words (and I emphasise Words, as sometimes merely words could make us find excuses; I might have a different opinion had I known them personally) made me feel that he really cared about her and that he wanted to tell her side of the story. What's sad is that he died not knowing that his story had been told and had reached out to so many people. For Lola and the life she had, I could only have tears.

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Monday, 15 May 2017

Oh the things we do in England Shaftesbury Cheese Race 2017
Shaftesbury Cheese Race 2017
On Sunday we headed to Shaftesbury in Dorset for the Food and Drink Festival and the Cheese Run! The festival was from 10am to 4pm and seeing that there was more effort to advertise this event this year, we expected the town to be packed. In the end, it wasn’t that bad. There were lots of interesting stalls, but of course we were drawn, predictably, to the cheese, cider, homemade ice cream and chocolate stalls. Shaftesbury Cheese Race 2017
M is one hardy beast, though not quite!
The cheese races were scheduled at 1-2pm, with the finals from 3-4. The run is a tribute to a millennia of cheese making in the Blackmore Vale. According to the website, organiser Charlie Turnbull got the idea from local lore about medieval cheesemakers, brewers, millers, and butchers racing to get their goods to the Abbey gates first so that they would be chosen by the Abbess for her High Table, thereby fetching the best price. Basically, there were different categories participated in by the slightly mad, with the men tasked to carry 25 kg cheese, the women – 13 kg, and the children – polystyrene. Now this is not cheese rolling, neither running on a flat boring path. We’re talking about scrambling up Gold Hill, more popularly known as Hovis Hill after the 1973 Hovis bread ad voted as Britain’s favourite ad of all time and directed by Ridley Scott. My photo here can’t justify how steep this hill is, add that those ancient cobbles won’t be of much help. Participants were literally dumping the cheeses upon reaching the finish line (the first rule of the race is not to drop the cheese as a 25 kg of cheese will disappear really quickly when it reaches the bottom of the hill). A 25-kg cheese takes 500 pints of milk to make. I can only guess what joining the races is like, all I know for sure is looking across that magnificent view – those houses down the hill and the Dorset countryside – can hypnotise anyone to do anything. First aiders were at the ready, with the host quipping that this race was a stupid thing to do. I didn’t see what the contract looks like but it must contain a clause about signing your life away when you take part. I urged my daughter to join the kids’ race but never the competitive type, she declined, even after I had told her she didn’t really have to run. There were a few who just carefully climbed up the hill, carrying the cheese; “that would be me,” the husband said about the last guy who barely made it to the finish line. It was a whole lot of fun, though, and it seemed a good time was had by all. I programmed my camera to do continuous shots of the race so I have hundreds of pictures that I might add here or post on Instagram later.

*** Shaftesbury Food and Drink Festival 2017
Gold Hill, Shaftesbury Food and Drink
Festival 2017
Not directly related but I kind of felt nostalgic being back in Dorset, remembering that when I was 23, I was accepted into a Master’s Programme at Bournemouth University, some 28 miles from the spot where I’m sitting (see photo on the right). I painted a watercolour of the Dorset coastline, a belief that my drawings come true (some of them did). I did some research and even contacted the British Ambassador to the Philippines that time to seek advice about studying in the UK. I had met him twice before, at my first job, with Shell Philippines.  He rang me one morning about the options (it was pretty cool that he had called me, especially that this very person is now a knight – years later he also helped me when I had difficulty getting a UK tourist visa from Helsinki during a semester in Finland, but that is another story). I did some research at the British Council in Manila. Long story short, the scholarships were very competitive and there was no way I could pursue the degree without one. It took five years and I got a scholarship somewhere else in Europe, and eventually, a university job in England. Patience is indeed a virtue, and sometimes our wishes are granted in other, usually better, forms. And always, no matter how numerous frustrations are, they’re forgotten when that one big dream comes true.

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Monday, 8 May 2017

Baguio City Memories village well
Our village well.
I finally remembered to take a picture of this well in our village. I don't know if it's still in use but it does look pretty. I've always said that our little village reminds me of Baguio City on the mountains of my home country or at least how I knew the city from many years ago, little and pretty. I had lived there from age 17-21, to take up my Bachelor's Degree at the University of the Philippines. Memories come flooding back, especially when I'm pushing H and I feel how hilly our village is, a lot like Baguio. I've learned not to layer up even when it's very cold, as I would certainly break out in a sweat by the time I got home. I've always loved cold weather and so even in secondary school I had plenty of coats and accessories to keep me warm should I move to a colder place. In the Philippines where a cold Christmas morning on the lowlands would mean 27 degrees C, living in Baguio and experiencing 11 degrees C (the coldest I had experienced at that point) was really something. (Of course there was that winter semester of graduate studies in Finland where I experienced a record-breaking minus 22 C that changed everything I had believed about being cold).

Another similarity is our village here in England is part of a bigger town that is the home of a world-class Military Academy attended by leaders and royalty, such as Princes William and Harry (think Philippine Military Academy in Baguio). Walder Baguio City University of the Philippines

This day out was in celebration of my 18th birthday (me
in lavender jacket). I love this photo with the girls from the
dorm at The Mansion House (official summer palace of the
President of the Philippines). I remember Hazel, the girl with
her arms raised, noting how happy she looked in this photo like
she didn't have a care in the world. We probably thought we
knew what it was to know about life that time but man,
we were just kids. Oh, to be young again.
This "wishing well" pointed out the similarities to me again. Back at university, since I'd go home only two times every three months, I had to do my laundry every week, manually.  It was all right if only we had a laundry area but we were not allowed to do the washing inside the dorm.  There was this well down outside and the path was pretty steep.  Going down wasn't that hard but going up with your bucket of wet clothes afterwards was a torture! You could see traffic from the well but it was so far down from the dorm that it was only safe to go there in pairs, i.e., don't go washing your clothes alone. Strangers might have a wander or you could fall in and at least someone else could call for help. The well didn't have a pulley so, yes, water was fetched by just throwing a bucket attached to a rope and scooping up as much water as you could and pulling the bucket back up.  On a number of occasions, we just had to get on with our washing even when it was raining. Once, I wore a coat which I thought was waterproof. As we went on I felt I was becoming colder. I realised that I was soaked through and my red T-shirt smeared all over my white shorts. As soon as I got back to the dorm, I just soaked the shirt and the shorts in a basin together, practically dyeing the shorts pink (hear that Peppa Pig, your idea wasn't original). After two and a half years of my stay there, a water pump connected to the well was built, and washing our clothes became significantly more bearable. Walder Baguio City University of the Philippines

I could count the number of times I had been to Mines View
Park (me in a Lee jumper), a popular tourist spot in the city.
It's one of those things that you don't pay much attention to,
just because you live there. I don't remember the month or
year this picture was taken.
Before the start of my first term there, my late father scoured the city for possible accommodation. I was bent on living on campus, at UP Breha, but that time, it was full. A lady there recommended St. Francis Ladies' Dormitory to him, which was a good walking distance from campus (though the truth was the distance usually depended on where your classroom was that day, as you need to climb hundreds of steps to get to some classrooms). I wasn't keen on the idea of living somewhere else at first but after checking out St. Francis, my father felt that a dorm run by Franciscan nuns was better than the UP dorm. The building was literally a part of the convent. When the time to live there had come, I learned to love St. Francis Dorm and was grateful that I ended up there after hearing negative feedback about Breha. I had lived there from first year till I got my degree. I could pull up as much self-discipline as I would like to, but sometimes you do need other people to keep an eye on you, and that was what it was like with the nuns, though there were times in my four years there that the discipline became over-the-top that some of my friends were forced to leave. Walder Baguio City University of the Philippines
Me on campus with the Oblation (the iconic symbol of the
University of the Philippines). Funny how I'm almost
back to wearing this loose get-up lately.
Overall, I liked the balance. I was attending a "free" university, arguably the best in the country where students were sometimes viewed as tough and wild and living in a convent always kept me in check. It was lovely to meet like-minded people, but I also liked my individuality. I was one of those they called the "barbaric" students, meaning, aside from the dorm organisation where I was automatically a member because I lived there, I wasn't a member of any organisation.  Sometimes I ate alone and if I had my way, I'd even eat on the stairs. Somehow we lived like nuns, too, with the curfew, praying time and all.  We were 60 or so girls and we took turns cleaning the whole dorm.  That was all right with me.  I even preferred being assigned to clean the bathroom than to wake up at five in the morning to take the rubbish down the loooonnngg, winding driveway.  Most of the time I had the urge to just push the bags and let them roll on their own.

My four years in Baguio would always rank as ones of the best years of my life, going to a great university located in a fantastic city, and I am most grateful to be in a place right now that reminds me of those times. I was a recipient of the Scholarship and Youth Development Program but I am most grateful to my parents for making that dream education happen. Lots of happy memories with friends, the endless chats about crushes, the sense of community in a small college, our amazing professors and instructors, the canteens - upper, lower and lowest, the Pasiklaban before Christmas and witnessing the very first Panagbenga (Flower Festival, was it 1995 or 1996? Help me with this one guys!). I also wouldn't forget our very own Oblation Run which was a more interesting event than anywhere else when you have young, naked men running on a December night. In cold Baguio. I had gone back to Baguio in 2001 with two friends, three years after graduation, to finally get my college diploma. I hadn't been back since. I hear it has changed immensely. It makes me sad but in a way it's also special that the Baguio I once knew is neatly tucked away and preserved along with the memories of my youth.

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Sunday, 16 April 2017

Oxford Literary Festival 2017 Oxford Literary Festival 2017 Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel, Booker Prize winning author of "Wolf Hall"
and "Bring up the Bodies" signing books at the Oxford
Literary Festival.
A bit late but would just like to link up to an article that I wrote over at Fine Books and Collections: "The event with Dame Hilary Mantel and renowned historian and broadcaster, Professor Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch, at the Oxford Literary Festival on April 1 was probably one of the most enriching conversations I’ve heard in my nine years of attending the festival. The pair discussed their different perspectives on the sixteenth-century lawyer and statesman Thomas Cromwell. Mantel is working on volume III of her Cromwell trilogy. MacCulloch is writing an historical biography on Cromwell--he said he admires the man: “my book covers up to 1532 when he hasn’t killed anybody yet.” There is a huge archive on the controversial historical figure and to have these two experts give us a glimpse of their research and writing processes was like listening to a private chat that wasn’t short of a steady flow of ideas." Continue reading here. Oxford Literary Festival 2017 Fairytale Hairdresser
Miss Longstaff graciously signed all of M's books, though
based on experience, it is not easy to require a six-year-old
to be careful about signed books!

On the last day of the festival, my daughter and I went to the Story Museum to listen to Abie Longstaff, author of The Fairytale Hairdresser Series. Before becoming an author, Miss Longstaff was apparently a lawyer that's why somehow there's a baddie who goes to prison at the end of almost every story. Miss Longstaff's twists on some of our well-loved fairy tale characters are a delight to read. The pictures of illustrator Lauren Beard are lovely. 

I could call these books the ultimate fanfiction, and the take on each character is always funny and engaging. My daughter has always been interested in writing stories about her favourite book characters, and I think this is the reason why the Fairytale Hairdresser Series appeals to her.

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