Monday, November 18, 2013

Coke, my sister Leilani, and 50 shades of cray

Two Belgian professors tested the 10 most borrowed books in the Atwerp public library, and found traces of the herpes virus on a copy of erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.

Just goes to prove real women don't write trashy porn novels, they ride 'em.

And get this: all 10 books tested positive for traces of cocaine. Significant enough for anyone handling the books to test positive for the drug, but not enough to get high on.

A link to the news story from Time.

It is November 18, 2013, exactly six years from the day (and time: 10:35 pm) that my sister Leilani died. "Bing will have to get along without me," she said, a day or two before. She didn't want me slopping around in grief, but I did, living in a repeating reel of her final hours, 24/7, for the next few years. This year, I want to celebrate her funny, irreverent, off-beat spirit. Hence, the post above.

I can imagine she would have found the link first, then showed it to me. Then she would have roared with laughter at my quip: "Real men don't write trashy novels, they wear them." Soon after, one of us would have come up with the clincher: "Real women don't write trashy erotic novels, they ride 'em."

We were like that. Cray-cray. In a good way. We made each other laugh. I got my sense of comedy from her. I was the fast-talking stand-up, she the appreciative audience of one.

My sister Leilani posing with entertainer Sam Milby at the PSBank Christmas party, 2006.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan remains a top story in Danish press

Danish newspaper Politiken continues to give major space to typhoon Haiyan and its victims, devoting a full-page spread in its Saturday, September 17 issue. The title says, simply: "What now?"

Top story in Danmarks Radio(DR)'s noon broadcast was how foreign aid is helping -- but also hurting -- victims on the ground.

Raising funds for typhoon Haiyan victims in City Hall Square, Copenhagen, Nov 16

Young Filipina au pair receives a donation from a passerby at a fundraiser event for the victims of typhoon Haiyan, City Hall Square (Rådhuspladsen) in Copenhagen, November 17, 2013. The event was organized almost entirely through Facebook and brought together several generations of Filipino migrants to Denmark.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Letter from Merlie Alunan, poet, critic, academic, and typhoon Haiyan survivor

MERLIE ALUNAN, acclaimed poet, critic and academic, lived in Tacloban, Leyte for 20 years. She and her family survived typhoon Haiyan, their house, a relative distance from the seaside, losing its roof. I was among her many friends - colleagues, former students - who constantly monitored their Facebook news feeds for word about her. Four days ago, a message that she was safe; today, she posted the letter below on her Facebook wall, writing out of Cebu City.

Photo from Tim Tomlinson, grabbed off Merlie's Facebook wall.


Dear Friends,

For three days after the storm at least, we puttered around the house and out in what was left of the garden, trying to get dry, put things back, fix what we can of the roof. The pipes have dried up, people around us were beginning to worry about what to drink. The day after the storm, Jang and Eb and Dax and Anya took a car to go around the city and came back with stories--the looting had seriously gotten started in whatever places they could get to-- Robinson's Mall, Natasha, Godsend.

On this second day, not a sign of government presence, though we had already heard about the deaths in Astrodome, a major evacuation center, the total desolation of San Jose and the downtown area. We heard rumors of the mayor's own encounter with calamity, probably the reason why the response from the local government had not been forthcoming. We also considered how the storm had affected everyone, each one was now preoccupied with his own household to mind anything else. The black out of communication was worst of all, the city was stranded in that limbo for all the two days. We kept looking up to the skies and it was only on the third day that we heard the welcome roar of a plane, and soon after that, helicopters. We were living in the suburban area, far from the more populous downtown area. My children made occasional forays into the downtown area to check on things. They brought home eyewitness stories of the looting that was happening all over the city.

Some stories began floating around about a "group" from Samar who masterminded the looting, the Taclobanons did not start it, so the stories go, some outsiders were the ones who started it, or the prisoners released from jail. The looters brought trucks, jeeps, even cars, to cart away whatever they could--refrigerators, tv sets, washing machines, clothes, shoes, bags, computers--whatever they could find inside a warehouse or depatment store. It was like sharks in a feeding frenzy, and occasionally, we hear it told, the looters would kill each other inside a warehouse as they vie to get as much as they can of the coveted items, whatever that may be. The looters were not only the poor and the homeless, the middle class were visibly involved in it, with impunity and gloating at unprecedented opportunity to acquire for free what they had coveted for a long time. In the face of this, Taclobanons have their share in pushing their own city deeper into the mud.

Sunzibar Cafe and Canto Fresco's two units have all been invaded. Very small gleanings there. Ayo Cafe cannot be opened. All told, these little stores are down. So we only have our life--unharmed and for that we are grateful, praise God. Ayo, Sunzibar and Canto Fresco are in the respective brains of the owners and they can be transformed with a lot of will power and hard work into material reality. We are on our way to Dumaguete now where my son, Babbu and his family live. You will hear from us again. Thank you for your concern.

We would like to return to Tacloban. It had been our home more than twenty years. We have many friends in Tacloban. The most significant works of my life I may have done for Tacloban and the people of Leyte. We pray that they city finds its heart again and it will once again be a haven for its people.


Day 6 in Tacloban, Leyte; a Danish news program tells a now-familiar story of scarce aid and desperate evacuation!/

Segment on the Philippines at 06:45 - 11:50.

ABOVE, a link to DR's (Danish television) news show at 9:30 pm Thursday night. We are no longer the top story. The clip about the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines starts at 06:45. Steffen Kretz, the reporter, begins his reportage with footage of his arrival two days ago, and what greeted him; I wonder if he may be reassigned soon, leaving the other two, Søren Bendixsen and Philip Khakhar, to continue the coverage. Tacloban is being called the epicenter, the worst hit; this corresponds with many news reports forwarded by my friends on Facebook referring to the capital of Leyte as “ground zero.”
The images are the same, the stories the same, as over the past six days, themes and images also found on CNN and the BBC. “There are no emergency workers in some parts of the city, odd given the global media focus on the disaster,” Kretz says. “Food and clean water” are still what people are in dire need of.  There is no way to buy anything, and people are dependent on aid from outside. “Help comes in small parcels, and comes slowly.”

There is a welcome sight: Red Cross workers filling giant containers with clean water that has been trucked in from Manila.
To the anchor’s question of how people are surviving in city so ruined, Kretz replies that it is difficult to comprehend. People have been leaving – flown out on cargo planes or packed into a naval ship bound for another city. Children stand by the roadside, reaching out as the media vehicle passes, their eyes desperate.

The UN estimates the death toll at 4,500, the anchor says. The clip ends at 11:50.
Day Six, and this is how it looks.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Guiuan town's plight in the headlines in Denmark

Danish newspaper Politiken has the Philippines in its headlines today – not Tacloban, Leyte, which has gained a lot of media coverage the last six days, but Guiuan, a fishing town in the neighboring province of Eastern Samar.  
My translation of the front page article:

Guiuan waits desperately for help (Politiken, November 14, 2013, Denmark)
Kim Rathcke Jensen, correspondent, Guiuan
Peter Hove Olesen, photo
IT LOOKS like a tropical paradise on a perfect day. The sky is blue. So is the ocean. And down below in the rolling water lies Guiuan, with white beaches and palm trees.
But it is not paradise.
"Can you smell that," the pilot asks, as he swings the little propeller plane in over the landing strip.
Already, at several hundred meters above the ground, the sweet reek of dead bodies. People and animals.
Guiuan is a town of 50,000 inhabitants on the Philippine island Samar. It was the first to get hit when typhoon Haiyan made landfall on Friday. But it is the last to get emergency aid.
The situation is the same as in hard-hit Tacloban, but maybe worse. Everything is ruined. The town, neighboring towns, the entire surrounding area are flattened. People in the hundreds are dead.
"All attention is on Tacloban," says Henry M. Afable, mayor of Guiuan's neighboring municipality Maydolong.

Therefore only a few deliveries of government aid have arrived, and international organizations such as the Red Cross have yet to come forward.

"We need food. Medicine. Shelter. We have too little. Our supplies are nearly depleted," says Henry M. Afable.
Politiken is one of the first Western media outfits to reach the town. Everywhere, inhabitants are desperate. Many have lost everything.

37-year-old Raquel Husun lived by the seashore in Guiuan with her husband and five children. Today the house is gone. Just the floor and a wall remain. They have stretched a tarpaulin overhead, and here she sits and cradles her three-year-old Jiff.
"The water rose to our necks," she says, of that fateful day. She looks away.
The mayor in Guiuan, Sheen Gonzales, is not in doubt: "You must help us."  
Translation: Lakambini Sitoy
Below is page 4: again a full page, with a shot of Guiuan taken by Politiken's own photographer. I can count five Danish journalists in the Philippines right now (there might be more), plus the head of the Danish Red Cross who is in Manila.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In the central Philippines, a humanitarian crisis, on Facebook, TROLLS!


NOW the Danish news is focused on the humanitarian crisis in Tacloban, Leyte, and the rest of the Philippines: the delay in receipt of food, water and medicine on the ground, despite the loads of aid arriving from foreign countries. DR (Denmark's state television) has three reporters as of today in my country.

Philip Khakhar, normally assigned to Afghanistan, filed his report from Cebu, the afternoon of November 13. The death of eight people in a panicked stampede at a store or warehouse came up, Khakhar quoting a witness who said the looters were not criminals nor professionals, just ordinary citizens who were starving.

He mentions President Aquino's statement that the actual death toll was closer to 2,000 - 2,5000 instead of 10,000, adding that it sounded like an attempt to downplay the extent of the damage in the face of a storm of criticism of the government.

In the second part of the report, Danish Red Cross director Anders Laderkarl is interviewed via Skype from Manila, speaking of the logistical challenge of getting help out to those who need it.

I don't have a direct link to this report but here's a link to DR's news menu as of today, November 13:

(Sorry, it's in Danish: my loose summary is the best I can do at the moment).



For the first time in five days I've gotten away from my computer, to which I'd been glued relentlessly reading through the updates on Facebook. Today the anger and frustration have escalated into full-scale arguments among my roster of friends and connections, most of whom have ties with the Philippines if not actually living there.
There are the usual conspiracy theorists, alternating criticism and defense of the Philippine government (especially those involved in getting aid to the victims of typhoon Haiyan), and, perhaps not surprisingly, a return to the cutesy forwarded bull --- blah invited you to play blah, blah likes a page, blah has uploaded a food-porn shot as she was wont to do pre-typhoon -- that makes me want to throw the portable phone at my computer screen (not advisable, not advisable at all).

And of course, there are the trolls, the many-striped Philippine and the common North American variety, slinking around to feed with ever-growing confidence and to spread their foul leavings over the internet. Whether it's disgruntlement at the defeat of a political patron, or righteous confidence in the proximity of the Rapture, or a just-plain-racist conviction that Filipinos ought to be sterilized out of existence, trolls take pleasure in rudeness and playing on the emotions of their victims. Fortunately, their grunts and howls are easily detectable, and solved with a simple click on the cursor.

In short, things on Facebook are getting back to normal. People who, like me, were glued to their computers over the weekend up until Tuesday, are now numbed by what had once been gruesomely riveting: ships' bows rearing up over the splinters of a house, cars stacked on top of each other like mating wildlife, a vista of what had once been middle class neighborhoods lying like a heap of matches, pretty facades standing alone like faces in a war zone, faces with everything else in back of them blown away.

Grotesquely, only the dead bodies have really changed in the now well-documented wasteland of Tacloban, lying bloated and black on sidewalks.

But I'm still sitting in front of my monitor, waiting for word from the rest of the afflicted provinces. Guiuan, Ormoc, Bantayan, Capiz, Antique ... what is the news?







Areas in Central Visayas, Philippines struggle for survival after Haiyan

Last night, I saw images of the damage on Bantayan island, Cebu, Philippines for the first time since the storm struck. This was on DR's (Danish television) nightly news program, where the Philippines remains the top international story. DR flew in two reporters to Cebu province.

Heartbreaking ... children and adults lined up by the roadside, reaching out with bare hands to the vehicle bearing the camera, a girl of about six supporting a hand-lettered HELP sign. No electricity. No refrigeration, no sewer service, and no mobile phones nor internet to let the outside world know.

The attention of the world has been on Tacloban, a thriving city of some 120,000 inhabitants and the capital of Leyte, because Tacloban was one of the first areas reached by disaster teams. But there are so many other parts of the central Visayas that need help. These images need to get out, be shared, too.

Here is a link to the news story (in Danish). Above photo is a screen grab from the same story.

Tacloban - before and after typhoon Haiyan

Australia's ABC net has posted a series of satellite photos showing the once-thriving town of Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines, almost entirely devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Roll your mouse over each image to see neighborhoods in Tacloban before, and after.

Screen shot is from

Friday, November 08, 2013

A quick look at books for children in the Philippines today

by Lakambini A. Sitoy

This article was translated into Swedish and published in Opsis, a magazine devoted to children's literature, from of the Swedish Board on Books for Young People.
THE stereotypical view of Philippine life is of a hand-to-mouth existence, where people have neither the resources to buy books, nor the mental space to read. This is untrue: the country has a flourishing book industry, with a dynamic children’s book industry.

There are over 10 publishing houses specializing in, or with a branch dedicated to, children’s books. These include Adarna House, which put out Naku naku nakuuu! (published in Swedish by Förlaget Trasten, 2013, and winner of the 2013 SBBY Peter Pan Prize), Tahanan Books, Lampara, Anvil, the University of the Philippines Press, and Giraffe. On certain occasions, private organizations, of commercial, religious or charitable orientation, may publish children’s books as well. Their collective output encompasses picture books in full color, storybooks with illustrations in either full color or black and white, novels and chapter-books for young adults, anthologies, and even stationery featuring the artwork/illustrations.

Myths, legends and fables remain a popular subject, as do personified animal stories and myth-like tales written by contemporary authors. Ever popular are series featuring national heroes and statements, most connected with the independence movement of 1898. At least one publishing house, Lampara, puts out abridged versions of British classics, in English, with new illustrations. Yet many titles deal with everyday life and its conundrums and rites of passage, and a few address difficult topics like death, child abuse, bullying, parents who must work abroad, and indigenous peoples.

The books range in price from about P 70 for storybooks, to P600 and even more. P70 will buy a meal and soft drink at a fast-food franchise, or a flimsy t-shirt, or some 5 minutes talk time on a prepaid mobile phone card. The minimum wage for office workers in the Metro Manila area is about P450 per day; however, Philippine children’s books are usually purchased by professionals who earn much more than this, i.e. with dual middle-class to upper-middle class incomes.

Incentives for writers come in the form of contests, such as the annual Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, which has a “story for children” category in both English and Filipino, and the Philippine Board on Books for Young People’s Salanga Prize. Universities with creative writing programs frequently offer a course on writing for children. Fine Arts or design students at university may specialize in children’s book illustration, submitting a mock-up of a book as thesis. The PBBY also awards an annual Alcala Illustrator’s Prize, and the National Children’s Book Awards (with the National Book Development Board). Ang INK is an organization of illustrators for children that puts up local exhibits and is active on-line. Illustrators nowadays tend to be young, well-trained and happy to experiment with new media and styles.

The Philippine government has also offered publishers incentives, such as the Library Hub, which has purchased hundreds of thousands of books from local publishers, for the use of children all over the country, including those residing in remote barrios(villages).

Language issues

In a country with two official languages – English and Filipino – as well as several regional languages, bilingualism (and tri- and multi-lingualism) is the rule rather than the exception.

It is not unusual to find picture books and storybooks with the text in both languages, printed next to each other, as with Adarna House’s titles – whatever the language of the original text, it appears with a translation.

Otherwise, the text may be in English or Filipino. Most mysteries or chapter books are written and published in English, as are storybooks with longer text. Rare is the trilingual picture book, or for that matter, text in the regional languages such as Cebuano or Hiligaynon.

There is a sense that Filipino, and the Tagalog language on which it is based, is a language under threat and must be nurtured by providing literary models of the best possible sort. It is also viewed as the first language of many Filipinos and thus, the best way to reach them at a young age. Yet English is privileged in the country, owing to its associations with cosmopolitanism and better job opportunities abroad as well as at home.

Reni Roxas, publisher of Tahanan Books, explains why the house began, some five years ago, to introduce Filipino or bilingual titles into what had been an all-English inventory: “First, the demand for vernacular books is fueled by the quest of a developing country still in search of itself. Second, Filipino families living abroad are enjoying renewed interest in the Filipino language. … Filipino-Americans who grew up in households where learning the mother tongue was de-prioritized in favor of cultural assimilation into the host country, now regret not having learned the language of their parents. They now want to teach Filipino to their children.”


The greater challenge, however, is how to grab a share of a market dominated by foreign books, which are readily available brand new all over the country, as well as from secondhand bookstores/ shops. In the latter, stocked mostly with rapidly-replenished inventory from the United States, books for children can be had for as little as 10 pesos. The ready availability of material at every price point is good for Filipino children’s reading habits, but puts local publishers at a disadvantage, with parents preferring to put their money on international super-sellers like the Harry Potter series, or Disney.

As with the rest of the world, Filipino children devote considerable attention to television, computers, mobile phones and, among higher income families, newer digital devices such as iPads or smart phones. These are valued for the entertainment they provide and as learning tools that augment what goes on in the classroom.

Even without the competition from electronic devices, the children’s book industry must reckon with the priority given to textbooks in a family’s budget. This is not surprising, in a culture that puts a premium on education, and where enrollment at the better schools is neither free, nor even subsidized. ***