The Filipino Undergraduate Thesis Experience, in Eleven Tweets

Good times; good times.


Year of Firsts; or, A Much-Needed Reminder for A Weary Teacher from Her Past Self


There is something relaxing — therapeutic, even — about teaching.

To the rational, no-nonsense reader, this may sound contradictory: my first-ever semester as an instructor in college history means I have to make every quiz and lecture from scratch, sometimes relying on old notes from my own college days and even calling up former teachers in the most desperate times.

My students are mostly rowdy, restless freshmen, who are in their first year in the university as much as I am. I get bumped in the hallways, get stopped at the school gate by the guards, and all too often get called ‘ate’ or ‘sis’ by unknowing students who visit the department.

On the other side of things, making lectures challenges me to be creative, if only to compensate for the ‘face palm’ moments students sometimes cannot fail to provide. (Quiz item: True or False – Rizal used a quill pen or feather pen. Student’s answer: Quill pen.) My fresh-grad status allows me to pass for a student but still also have keys to the faculty restroom.

My rowdy, restless freshmen are blessedly patient. They stay put when I grumble and fumble for my notes, and they listen even when the discussion on the Rizal law or on the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade segues into an anecdote on pop culture references or a rant on local politics.

On good days, the abundance of opinions and insights is perhaps the best perk of all. In this age of social media enslavement, revisionist history, and alleged apathy, the generation that a lot of older people put down as disinterested actually still have a lot to say. Sadly, sometimes it is just that the students believe their answers are less brilliant when given in Filipino or Bisaya lang.

Twenty-one units worth of classes — the most I have ever studied or taught — are a surprisingly effective cure for the loneliness of being, well, an adult. While graduation from college meant freedom from academic requirements, it also meant inevitable entry into adult responsibilities, like job-hunting and eventually taxes. Post-grad realities of med school, law school, and first jobs meant separation from college friends indefinitely. No matter how jittery I was on my first day in front of the kids, then, there was some familiarity to be felt from standing in a classroom once again, albeit in a different location from before.

If only life always allowed do-overs, the first few post-grad years in a non-teaching career would have been more in order. (Or if life allowed loops, I could have stayed in college forever to avoid adulthood completely.)

People often ask why I chose to work in Cagayan de Oro instead of in Manila. My most honest answer is that while I am sure my beloved Ateneo de Manila will never run out of excellent teachers, other schools do not have as good or as many teachers. If I am to be an adult now, let that be my first adult judgment.

In any case, this year of firsts has begun, and begun well. I am honored; I consider it a privilege to learn from the students as much as they will learn from me, to teach them to give their opinion in the language with which they are most comfortable.

The original version of this write-up first appeared in Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro on 4 July 2015.

№ 9. Agatha Christie, Yin Xin, and Intentions in Imitation

(On weekends, a smorgasbord of discoveries made both offline and online will be featured here, to celebrate how the Internet is full of oddities and ideas from the real world.)

1. Murder on the Orient Express

Since its release in 1934, Agatha Christie’s best-selling novel about a murder on the Calais Coach has repeatedly been hailed one of the greatest pieces in her collection, if not one of the best whodunits of all time. Her story’s confined set-up and most shocking plot twist — as well as its eccentric but much-loved protagonist, Monsieur Hercule Poirot — altogether make for a compelling inquiry into the ambiguous limits of human morality.

The novel’s acclaimed film adaptation from 1974 did not fail to touch on the many faces of this morality. It did not hurt to be aided in this endeavor by a cast of the most notable names in their day: Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, and Sean Connery, to name a few. Acclaimed thespian and director Kenneth Branagh seeks to recreate this feat later in 2017, although strangely there are no trailers for the movie yet. Here’s hoping that the remake will not be a disappointment to both new and old fans of this curious case.

2. After Old Masters

The French term chinoiserie pertains to an artistic style that incorporates East Asian motifs into European art; an early, acceptable sort of cultural appropriation, it may be said. The Chinese artist Yin Xin subverts this in a collection called After Old Masters | another perspective, where he takes some of the most recognizable European paintings of old and gives their subjects Asian features. The point of such a vision, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London claims, is “to stress how the observer’s perception of artistic value is determined by his or her cultural context.”

To be sure, the collection alludes to the universality of the likes of Manet, Vermeer, Botticelli — but it also hints at the literal lack of non-European faces in what is perceived as mainstream art.

3. Google Fortunetelling

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 7.10.30 PM

“Of course we can’t predict your future!” the user is later chastised in the results page of Google Fortunetelling, an awareness project initiated by the world’s largest search engine. With the Syrian refugee crisis continuing to grow every day with no signs of abating, unaffected people elsewhere someday might just come to reduce the victims’ numbers to a mere statistic and cease caring altogether. After all, continued exposure to an issue tends to desensitize a person, and many of us are prone to not caring about problems abroad until the same thing happens in our own neighborhood.

The faux-fortunetelling site is then but one of a few creative means to keep netizens engaged in, even sympathetic to, the plight of the refugees. Only time may tell if the website will continue to circulate, to make others stop and think, but with luck and humane structural solutions, the site need not operate for very long.

4. “Beauty and the Beast” Karaoke [Philippines politics edition]

Not for the first time, Filipinos turn to humor to alleviate the feeling of civilian helplessness over our turbulent political scene. In this case, humor comes in the form of a lyrical breakdown of Celine Dion’s iconic “Beauty and the Beast” — the theme song of the Disney classic whose 2017 remake became the sixth all-time highest-grossing movie in the Philippines less than two weeks after its local release.

Twitter user Stewart O‘s thread is neither a parody nor a translation, but a visualization of the lyrics that just happens to correspond with the more frustrating episodes of our national government’s drama. Read it and weep, laugh, or sing along.

5. Commonwealth x ASICS GEL-Lyte V “Kultura”

Tributes and homages to old traditions abound in all modern industries, and not least in the world of fashion. When said homage is paid by way of a product, however, a very fine line exists between honoring and profiteering. Such is the problem with locally unknown brand Commonwealth, whose collaboration with the equivalently popular name ASICS has spawned the “Kultura” footwear, “a sneaker that pays homage to one of the [Philippines’] preserved traditions.”

This tradition is none other than batok, a form of hand-tap body art originating from the Kalinga ethnic group in the Cordillera region of Luzon. Its oldest and most notable practitioner is century-old Apo Whang Od, whose bucketlist-level fame among tourists and international backpackers is doubtlessly what brought said art into the radar of Commonwealth in the first place; and the part that does not merit enough indignation as it ought to is that no matter how well-intentioned the tribute, it only betrays how poorly the tradition is understood.

At the end of the day, batok is ideally administered only to persons having physically and mentally proven themselves to their tribe, but the sneaker user — almost reminiscently of the Philippine colonial experience — has bypassed that rite of earning the tattoo for an easy US$ 160.

Of course, not all patrons of this product will be uninformed; the issue nonetheless remains that the price to pay for convenient access to an art is actually the cheapening and misunderstanding of said art. This may conjure up the long-standing debate between exclusivity and accessibility in art, but that had best be elaborated on another time. For now, let it be said that imitation might only be the sincerest form of flattery when it is not done for the mere sake of imitating.


Poems from/for An Infrequent Friendship

Gustav Klimt, Apfelbaum I (1912, oil on canvas)
You Have to Be Careful

Naomi Shihab Nye (reprint. 1995)

You have to be careful telling things.
Some ears are tunnels.
Your words will go in and get lost in the dark.
Some ears are flat pans like the miners used
looking for gold.
What you say will be washed out with the stones.

You look a long time till you find the right ears.
Till then, there are birds and lamps to be spoken to,
a patient cloth rubbing shine in circles,
and the slow, gradually growing possibility
that when you find such ears,
they already know.

F. Delamotte, Ornamental alphabet (c. 16th century)

— Robert Pinsky (1999)

Any body can die, evidently. Few
Go happily, irradiating joy,

Knowledge, love. Many
Need oblivion, painkillers,
Quickest respite.

Sweet time unafflicted,
Various world:

X=your zenith.

Egon Schiele, Häuser mit bunter Wäsche (Vorstadt II) (1914, oil on canvas)

— Ben Aguilar (2016)

You are looking for errors,
—–and this is what you find: our names
———-are the basis of nothing. Even the streets here
call themselves something else—

like myths or trees. The other side of the lake
—–has been lost to the fire,
———-and all you can do
is ask for directions. Which way to the ground

—–where the priests stood.
—–Which way to the god of
—–your village.

Which way to your god. Show them
—–the picture of what we are looking for then
———-show me why we must look for it.
The lightless windows tell us that

here they do not allow idle speculation;
—–they have had too much of it.
The people have already gone to get their torches.
—–Tell me the name of

———-this street is familiar to you, too.
—–You are looking for errors:
———-that is all you will find.

Here, on the map, should not be in red.
—–There’s nothing there.

you were right, except for the water.
—–Beside it, a tower with something inside, something
against all the stones in the walls. A myth or a tree

begging to be let out.

—–There is no front door.
Go ahead, ask it for directions.