№ 18. The August Wrap-Up — In Which the Writer Painstakingly Relearns How to Read Print Books

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☞ Properly, intentionally watched the following movies on Netflix: Serendipity (with Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack), and The Mummy (with Brendan Fraser). I may have romanticized what little I remembered seeing of Serendipity when I was littler; but the rewatch easily disabused me of those hazy memories. As for The Mummy, which I watched with a friend from the Sunnybook Farm server, many people have been known to say that this was their bisexual awakening, and now I know why.

☞ Binged the first part of Masters of the Universe: Revelation on Netflix. I had been calling it “the He-Man reboot” in my head, but after speeding through all five episodes so far, it was made clear that the show is not about He-Man after all. It includes him, but the show very much tries to be bigger than him. So far it’s lacking in this respect, so here’s hoping that part two will be an improvement of the first.

☞ Started on a new Webtoon called Reunion by stephattyy, and the twice-monthly updates really cannot come fast enough. It follows Rhea, who returns to the city after some time away and reunites with a childhood friend — only to realize that her friend may be harboring a secret. I would describe the color palette of this Webtoon as muted and rustic, which is probably what drew me to it in the first place. Now I stay because every character is just so good-looking. :3 11 August 2021

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☞ Swooned through two adaptations of Jane Austen’s Persuasion: the 1995 BBC film with Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds, and the 2007 version starring Sally Hawkins, Rupert Penry-Jones, and extremely shaky camerawork. I’ve also started rereading the book, as one is always wont to do in these situations. I’d only read it once before, when I was fourteen. The letter scene made me cry then, but for the longest time I thought it was a minor scene and that I was a ninny for feeling so much over a single correspondence. Now I know better — about the scene’s importance, that is; not its ability to induce tears. One must always shed a tear or two when Captain Wentworth writes, “I am half agony, half hope.”

☞ Giggled over the 2008 TV series Sense and Sensibility, also a BBC adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jane Austen. While Ang Lee’s 1995 theatrical adaptation clearly has its lively screenplay (from Emma Thompson) and strong cast (also including Emma Thompson) going for it, the later version feels much more organic. Dan Stevens was downright adorable as the bumbling Edward Ferrars, which I found preferable to Hugh Grant who almost always just plays himself in films. That firewood-chopping scene was a masterpiece, a study in pining. Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield’s sisterhood is less intense here, but no less compelling.

☞ Read my first Sierra Simone series, and it has been quite an eye-opening, unexpectedly thought-provoking experience. Yes — uh, amen to that.

☞ Devoured the first season of Ted Lasso in one night and two mornings. The show is like a plate of Keebler Soft Batch chocolate chip cookies: so delightful that it makes you go, “How does it even do that?” and so scrumptious that there will be palpable hurt when it finally runs out. While other shows taking over pop culture these days run the gamut from epic showdowns to mind-boggling storylines, the more convoluted the better, Ted Lasso — man and show — operates on two far simpler things: optimism and kindness.

N.B. Ted Lasso — the man — originated as a character in a series of NBC Sports ads in 2013, to mark the network acquiring US broadcast rights to the English Premier League. Shown above is the very first of those ads, featuring some quips that may be familiar to those who have seen the newer show.

☞ Watched the 2007 adaptation of Jane Austen’s — yes! her! again! — Northanger Abbey, which is vastly different from any of the other Austen shows and films because of its Gothic aesthetic. Beta male Henry Tilney played by JJ Feild was a joy to behold, as was a certain scheming character’s bosom constantly spilling out of her dresses. My only real complaint is with Catherine Morland’s being played by Felicity Jones, who fits into period pieces well enough, just not in the Regency era or anything earlier than the 20th century. Anyway, this is by far the most Jane Austen content I’ve consumed in a seven-day period, but I couldn’t be more pleased about it. 17 August 2021

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☞ Binged the first three seasons of Downton Abbey on Netflix. No other word captures the rate with which I consumed it: the episodes just kept playing one after another with little to no resistance from me. Somewhere in the middle of the fourth season was a very jarring plot point whose consequences I found I cannot bear to see unfolding in the succeeding episodes, so I will no longer be finishing the show all the way to the end. Still, the seasons I did get to watch were engrossing, if in many ways historically inaccurate.

☞ Read Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman’s Dry. It’s nowhere near as brilliant as the Arc of a Scythe books, but what makes this standalone good is that it’s visceral and completely realistic. My thirst grew as the characters’ thirst grew. As they grew more desperate, I was praying for their ordeal to end. But most importantly, I like to think that catastrophe content is not so much about the catastrophe as it is about the way it forces us to think more carefully about our humanity; and Alyssa and Kelton’s story duly forces us onto that line of thinking.

N.B. An old film review of mine from this blog’s earlier days talks about catastrophe content and “the worst of all human fears.”

☞ Finally finished the webtoon Nevertheless, as well as the Netflix adaptation of the same title starring Song Kang and Han So Hee. It was, to put it plainly, an excruciatingly frustrating experience.

☞ Breezed through The Chair, starring the incomparable Sandra Oh, also on Netflix. It was easily a three-hour binge, since the six episodes are only about half an hour each. While it was a tad difficult as a Filipino academic to relate to American-college troubles like student loans and gender disproportions among faculty, I definitely know how it feels to want what’s best for the program one belongs to, despite opposition, sometimes detrimental opposition, from the bastions of old. 23 August 2021

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☞ Started watching The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf while I waited in line for a very important errand, then finished up when I got home. I found the animated film a decent addition to the lore of the main Witcher show, though only insofar as it explains why there are very few Witchers left.

☞ Got started on Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Last Wish: Introducing the Witcher, one of two short story collections that take place before the main Witcher Saga. Two stories in, I felt an urge to rewatch The Witcher series on Netflix, so I also did that. The fact that the books are translated is very interesting: I’m curious how much of the nuances of the Polish language are captured and can be captured in English, and how much of the writing style of The Last Wish can be attributed to the translator Danusia Stok. But there really is no knowing for myself unless I actually learn Polish — and “Jak się masz?” is all I currently remember how to say, thanks to a random foreign language seminar I’d attended in college.

☞ Finished Ava Reid’s debut novel The Wolf and the Woodsman. The author captures the plot of this Hungarian-Jewish fantasy story best in her own words: it is basically about “eating things you shouldn’t eat.” The hype surrounding this book is well-deserved, truly: it read like a dream, and I would weep to be given the gift of writing anything half as dazzling or as eloquent.

☞ Discovered free books on the Kindle Store on Amazon, so I’ve embarked on a spree of low-profile, mostly self-published contemporary romances. Whee! 30 August 2021

I N   O T H E R   N E W S . . .

◇ In the 2020 Summer Olympics that concluded in the early days of August in Tokyo, Japan, the Philippine Olympic team finished its campaign with one gold medal from weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz (women’s 55kg division), two silver medals from boxers Nesthy Petecio (women’s featherweight class) and Carlos Paalam (men’s flyweight), and one bronze medal courtesy of boxer Eumir Marcial (men’s middleweight). For the first time since 1932, the country’s athletes came home with multiple medals — owing to, but also in spite of, consistently next to no support from the national government. Even now, the sentiment remains: Imagine how much more Filipino athletes could achieve if they actually received proper funding and zero red-tagging from the powers-that-be.

◇ Around the same time that the last Olympics concluded, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Sixth Assessment Report, which discusses the most up-to-date evidence on the physical science of climate change. The results disclosed in the 3,900-page report are, to put it delicately, not good. Some of the more ghastly findings: the planet’s surface temperature has risen faster since 1970, faster than any other 50-year period in the last 2,000 years; changes such as sea-level rise and glacier melt are now irreversible; and there is no region on earth anymore that has not felt the effects of manmade climate change. For those who may want an easier time of understanding the IPCC report, here is an explainer of the report from Australian climate scholars. For those who may be starting to feel all sorts of feelings from this news, here is a Twitter thread on climate despair from science writer Jessica Law.

◇ Lastly, to my Filipino readers, I am reminding you once more that voter registration for the 2022 national elections closes on September 30, 2021. There are currently calls for the registration to be extended in light of our unsystematic and unscientific pandemic lockdowns, but until an extension is confirmed, here are the Philippine Commission on Elections’ procedures for registration. Let’s go and make our votes count!

Thank you for reading!

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Let’s talk!

☞ Have you tried any of the books, films, shows, and webtoons mentioned in my weekly digests? How did August go in your corner of the world? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

A Request for Change of Address

We moved houses more than once when I was a kid. When I was much younger and far more clever, I learned to talk about experiences in relation to the home address I wrote on school forms at the time.

Examples: When we still lived in Barangay Carmen, I once got to school by hitching a ride with the principal, because she happened to be driving by as my father and I waited at the curb for a taxi that morning. Back when we were still renting a corner house in the Xavier Heights subdivision, I once embarrassed myself by dressing up as a man for an inter-section elocution contest, only to chicken out of my newly memorized Lyndon B. Johnson piece at the last minute and recite Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain! instead, which I was slightly surer I would not forget.

My favorite home address of all, unfortunately, was the one I always used to be ashamed of.

Km 6 Roa Sawmill does not appear by name on Google Maps, and has never done so. Nor, if memory serves, has it ever been listed on analog phone books and maps of Cagayan de Oro City. The address harks to a time when places were identified by their distance from a reference point, a “Kilometer Zero”: Km 6 meant that our place was six kilometers away from an arbitrarily decided city center. And though there were no more sawmills in the time we lived there, Roa Sawmill was so called because it was owned by the affluent Roa family, one of whose more notable patriarchs had even served as city mayor in the late 1970s. The Roas went into timber and logging in the second half of the 20th century — and on their mostly forested lands in the Km 6 part of Cagayan de Oro, stood their mansion, a grand behemoth I was told I had visited as a child but have no recollection of seeing.

My maternal grandfather was one of the Roas’ head engineers, and he was permitted the use of a two-story house and adjacent land on the Roa property, only a little distance from the mansion. As the stories went, the building had been an office in the World War II era before it was converted into a house. Once, I dared to open this small cupboard under the stairs, and I could swear it was an unexploded wartime bomb I saw there, covered in layers of dust. After my aunt and grandmother told me there was a sigbin [a supernatural creature] inside that same cupboard, I never opened it again.

On the ground floor was a very long front hall that served as a living room, two dining areas, two indoor kitchens, and the large, high-ceilinged master bedroom where my grandparents stayed. In the years we lived there, no small number of bookshelves, staircase banisters, and hardwood dish cabinets were sequestered and converted into apartments for my sister’s and my Barbie dolls. And in providing homes for our dolls, I learned to make miniature birth certificates, miniature magazines, miniature illuminated manuscripts sporting gem-encrusted covers, and miniature ancient texts. (At least one of my dolls was a scholar of ancient history.) Once, we spent a few nights wary of neighbors because there had been strange noises around the house after dark; my father even claimed he had seen a very hairy man running away from the house. For a long time, I was afraid to play in the front hall by myself.

Once, my grandfather caught me staring at my reflection in the full-length mirror that stood by the front door. I had been fussing over my complexion for the good part of an hour when he passed by. He scolded me for nitpicking my appearance, then told me I was beautiful.

Upstairs were two bedrooms — one for my parents; the other for my aunt, my sister, and myself — and a storeroom that sometimes served as a guest bedroom. Once, my mother claimed she saw me looking out the kitchen window but that I would not turn when called; when she went upstairs, she found the real me had been playing in my room the entire time.

Directly left of the house was a roofed space where my grandfather kept his tools and engineer’s paraphernalia, which would be cleared away for special occasions. I would always catch my grandparents there early in the morning, sitting with their cups of coffee and looking out at the sky, waiting for the sunrise. Once, when a python was found and slain near the house, its skin was stretched out on a plank, then displayed against the wall; its head lopped off and hung from the ceiling beams.

On the grounds behind the house was a line of veritable old trees — guava, sampalok [tamarind], mango — closed off from the other Roa employees’ considerably smaller houses using fences of barbed wire. Once, when I was obstinate about eating malunggay [moringa] soup, my mother threatened to hang me in a sack from one of the trees there until I conceded.

In front of the house, by the front staircase, were more mango trees, santan and San Francisco shrubs, my grandmother’s lovely purple orchids. Once, my younger sister and I begged for a treehouse to be built up on the mango tree in that garden. Our grandfather repeatedly refused — looking back, the mango’s dense foliage may have been too dangerous to build anything in — but he commissioned some of the men working under him to build a shed in the garden, amidst my grandmother’s plants. My sister and I called our shed the Stella, after the movie theater in Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord, and we officially made the Stella our headquarters by moving most of our toys in there. The first night after it was finished, it was broken into and some of our most expensive dolls disappeared. But even after the toys were recovered from our neighbors’ children, the Stella still felt like such a safe space for us that we would have given anything to be permitted to spend a night there.

On a small hill a little further beyond the garden, my grandfather would park his shiny black Toyota Corolla amidst the wooden planks owned by Roawood Incorporated. I no longer recall the number of times my sister and I ventured out there to make maps of the territory and to reenact scenes from Encantadia in our colorful cardboard regalia, but they were happy, albeit antbite-prone, times. Occasionally there would be a neighbor’s goat hanging about around the lumber. And every once in a while we would try to fly a kite by running downhill, but our area was too nestled amid forests and mountains for any kite-worthy winds to pass through.

Opposite that hill were my grandfather’s chickens: a few dozen egg-laying hens, and a few dozen more roosters raised for sabong [cockfighting]. On afternoons during summer break, I would help my grandfather feed the hens — though I was always warned to stay away from the roosters, since they were bred to fight to the death. At the peak of my wizarding boarding school dress-up phase, though, I dared to approach the roosters’ tentlike houses a few times and collect their tail feathers from the ground, to make quills. (The quills didn’t work.)

I have a story for every room and nook and cranny of that region of my childhood. Sais, we called the house, even though the address Km 6 Roa Sawmill also encompassed the other Roa employees’ houses and the two massive repair shops nearby that housed the company’s heavy equipment. “Six,” for its six-kilometer distance from an arbitrarily decided city center. 

I loved Sais, and the many adventures I had there in our quiet, verdant corner of the city. But it was also the rural, isolated nature of this place that made me so ashamed of it as a child. The six-kilometer distance from the city center never felt longer than when my elementary school classmates asked me why I never invited anyone over. I dreaded people finding out that our house seemed so far away from any semblance of civilization; that the building I went home to every day was more 50-year-old wood than concrete; that the road from the main highway all the way to our front porch was unpaved; that we lived with so, so many chickens. When peers pried, I used to answer that our house was only a little past Xavier Heights, which was Kilometer Five and had decidedly more concrete.

The year I turned twelve, my grandfather died. It was to be our last year in Sais as well, for we were only allowed to live there when the Roas had in their employ the only engineer in our family. On the morning that we drove to our next house in San Agustin Valley Homes, I excitedly boarded our car with my things, thinking we would still return to Sais the next day to haul the last few items I didn’t know my parents were actually planning to leave behind.

Sometime last year, my sister and 25-year-old me drove through the highway that passes through Sais; and for the first time in years, I found myself on a route I had travelled hundreds upon hundreds of times before. I was not prepared for what I found: the Roa mansion intact but sold to another affluent family. The forests on one side of the highway vanished, three new upscale subdivisions in their place. And on the other side of that highway, at the mouth of the unpaved road leading to the verdant corner I once called home — corrugated steel walls, and the signs “Wake up to a beautiful and serene sight” and “Videre” and “Johndorf Ventures Corporation.”

Is it possible to mourn the loss of a space the same way one mourns the loss of a loved one? My mourning only began in the last few months, but I don’t even know when I began to lose this region of my childhood. Was it when the Roa family sold these few remaining hectares of their property to land developers; when Km 6 Roa Sawmill became Videre Subdivision, Orchard District? (The latter now appears by name on Google Maps.) Was it when my grandfather died; when, at the start of the next school year, it was a different address I entered in school forms?

Or perhaps, though merely considering the thought makes my insides hollow, the process of losing Sais began even as I first refused to acknowledge living there to my peers. The place was never even ours to begin with, I now profess ruefully. We had lived on borrowed land, in a borrowed house. What little I had owned of a colorful past and then squandered away out of childish pride, I can now only conjure back with the words, “I wish you could have seen it.”

I wish you all could have seen Sais as I saw it — but oh, how poorly this phrasing conveys the amorphous grief I feel. A place separated from us in terms of distance can at least be visited, one way or another. A place separated from us in terms of time can no longer be returned to, save through rare photographs and half-written memories.

This is the sixth in my samtang wala nalimtan series, and perhaps the most important one so far. Of all the memories from the first half of my life, it is the memories of Sais that I fear forgetting the most. With the construction of Xavier University’s Masterson Campus slated to begin in 2022, Videre Subdivision will only be one of many real estate projects that will bulldoze over the lush green sprawls of uptown Cagayan de Oro, one of many enterprises to cater to the upper- and middle-class markets expected to expand along with the university’s expansion.

When news of the Masterson Campus first broke out, I conflated my renewed grief over the uptown forests with my dormant grief over my childhood home, to disastrous results. My friend Eleennae’s post was one of the first things I read that helped calm me down enough to get started on this post. Nae, I am truly grateful.