Friday night

It was a Friday night like this that I have been longing to bring back. This Friday night is reminiscent of those many happy nights just before weekends back in college, back when I was young, gullible, and less cynical, back when I knew things would only get better, when I was often in love, when I was poor, hungry.

I’d sit at my table, get a book from a nearby shelf and read until two in the morning or until I felt sleepy. I’d go down to the kitchen, pour hot water from that rusty thermos of my landlady into a chipped mug and dissolve those cheap three-in-ones I have gone to detest. I don’t miss the coffee, the mug, my room, nor that thermos. But the experience, I do miss. It aches remembering how simple things were back then. How now they’re nothing but objects waiting to gain symbolic significance.

And while I am enjoying this Friday night, it pains me as much because it’s a reminder of that past that’s been dissolved into mere abstraction dependent on my writing, knowing for sure that I will never be able to fully capture and give justice using my prose those beautiful nights that are now rendered almost fictional on the page of this post, but still truly concrete and vivid in my imagination.

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End of the semester

Not that I expected it to end in a different way, but my first semester teaching at the Ateneo de Manila ended yesterday as garb-less as I have always wanted it. I gave my students their final writing activity before their final paper, and off I left, in a hurry as usual.

I was wearing my orange shirt, a collared plaid. It’s been a while since I wore a cotton long-sleeved shirt, a radical departure from the simple tees and well-worn pairs of Levi’s and Converse that I donned during regular class meetings this semester. But since yesterday was my last day of lectures, I thought of enduring the discomfort of wearing the orange long-sleeved top on a crammed train coach and doing a little bit extra (like how how marketing experts refer to it)  by appearing quite presentable for my students.

My transfer from UP to Ateneo was a major career move I didn’t have enough time to ponder upon as I needed to come up with a good decision by the last week of summer of this year. Not long after, I already found myself  teaching (a bit jittery at first) in a university I did not even consider going to when I was still a baffled high school senior. Firstly, I knew then it was an expensive school to study in; secondly, Manila was too far; and thirdly, my options were limited then.

Being a responsible young adult now and not wanting to anymore rely on my parents for food and rent, the choice for me were only between working and going hungry. The latter was very attractive and admittedly tempting, but my better judgment told me that to the former I must go.

I felt I did not give myself enough time to adjust to the new environment, the schedule, the people, and most especially the culture of Ateneo. But whoever was given the luxury of adjusting? I mustered all courage to transition as fast as I could during the past awkward five months. I saw myself clumsily climbing the platform every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, delivering lectures, moderating discussions, and hinting on the superiority of several schools of thoughts I passionately believe in. In my sometimes rapid speeches but most often constrained bombast, I  would often catch my mind introspecting and throwing, up until now, unanswered questions of whether I was doing enough, whether this really is the job I want to be doing until I would be too old to think it shameful to consider changing careers,  or whether I am good enough for this job.

I remember a German friend of mine who at 27 started teaching at a university in Germany. She told me how she sometimes felt unsure of herself and unsure her students understood the things she said in class. Teaching at a university halfway around the world, I didn’t know young teachers like us could share similar experience and opinions of ourselves and our job.

We both have very little experience in teaching, but we can only be better teachers through experience, but how do we gain experience? We teach. I guess, this is the dilemma of young people who chose to, or by circumstance, do teaching as a profession.

One of my very inquisitive students asked me several meetings ago why I require them to have all their activities so far written by hand. My reply was pragmatic: writing by hand minimizes the tendency of succumbing to the temptation of plagiarism, conscious or not. I kept myself from telling them that my reason is more romantic than practical. Two, three years from now, when they graduate and leave school, hardly will they have a chance to write with their hand using a pen. If only I could let them hold on to that beautiful feeling of holding a pen, immortalizing their thoughts on a piece of paper, and one day unearthing those pieces of paper from college stored in a forgotten box and rediscovering something they have long lost.

If it is a consolation, I truly love what I am doing. I remain a happy, young man.

In November, a new semester will commence. I shall continue teaching at the Ateneo while taking graduate degree in Journalism at UP. The idea scares me as I have two other jobs now aside from this one in Ateneo. And as it is, I barely am able to maintain all three of them in a state of homeostasis. But I’ll give it a try. I’ll get sick. I’ll be downtrodden. I’ll refuse believing and start doubting myself along the way. But people in their twenties find these things, these thoughts exciting. They love wallowing in their fears and endless self-doubt. I am a man in my twenties, and I find nothing wrong with these. I am living a full life.

I know I have not maxed out my potentials yet. I want to know where the limits lie.

The art of walking-out gracefully

Based on my extensive experience as a student way back in college, not so many professors can pull off a dramatic walk-out quite impeccably. Most of them either overdo the actual walk-out making it more comic than serious thereby missing the intent and losing the message, or nuance it too much (probably in the hopes of doing it ‘intellectually’) that students fail to perceive that their professor just did a walk-out.

A professor should neither exaggerate as most students nowadays are constantly exposed to things being blown out of their usual proportion, nor should he be too subtle as I have a lingering suspicion that most of students of our time have been wired by the contemporary world not to sense or feel sarcasm, irony, paradox, oxymoron, and other literary devices of similar category, a result of repeated non-use of their right parahippocampal gyrus, a part of the brain that is also absent among people suffering from Down’s Syndrome.

So walking-out must still be governed, as in life’s other aspects, by moderation because, trite as it may sound, treading in moderation still remains the order of the day.

But the question How is it properly done then? remains.

Last Friday, I orchestrated my first ever walkout from a class I teach in Ateneo.

A walk-out should first and foremost be triggered by a reasonable stimulus/i–it can be noise, high ambient temperature and high humidity, the students’ unruly behavior (to understate matters), an LCD projector that fails to show any image other than a mocking blue screen or a major technical malfunction, or a combination of several of these.

I must emphasize that redundant warnings should have also been issued, or that all possible means to manage the situation must have already been exhausted, only then can a walk-out be done or justified. If not, students will view this as the professor’s hubris, his arbitrariness, and a mere manifestation of his immaturity (something that he should have already outgrown upon being recruited to teach in a university, and a reputable one at that).

After repeated warnings, a few second of silence is needed to gain enough buffer time, but this is merely used to buy enough time or to establish a quiet but heavy atmosphere. Here, the professor makes a crucial decision whether to calmly gather his things and leave unceremoniously or to throw his ammunition of bloody expletives at the void before him that separates him from the rest of the class before he leaves unceremoniously. Although, expletives, are inelegant even if used sparingly in most of the instances, some teachers I know way back my student days in UP can exclaim vulgarities with precision, accuracy and undeniable class notwithstanding the drama.

Most, however, fell flat and flop. But whatever path the professor takes is bound to define him forever in his students’ minds.

Finally, the climax, the walking-out itself, should be done with surgical speed. Any delay is unforgivable; sauntering is a sign of indecisiveness. The professor should do it with a lightning speed without having to look like he’s in a hurry or running. It should have an effect like he’s never been there at all, that he was an apparition.

I’d suggest this be done not at all or only if very necessary. The effects of walking out are found in the extreme ends of the spectrum. Either he’ll get what he wants, if done with dignity, or he’ll lose everything, if done sloppily, to say the least.

Leaving the University of the Philippines

It was a decision that did not take me long to finalize; one day, while on a bus, as I am wont to do, I made up my mind. I am leaving the University of the Philippines this semester and there is no turning back, barring legal actions from UP. Although this seems hardly possible.

I dreamed of going UP to study when I was a starry-eyed, young boy in the province. I studied hard in high school to study in UP, nailed the UPCAT and became one of the top 50 male entrants. I went to college, proved myself, and realized I had to prove myself over and over again, so I did, and I did it in as many times as the challenges manifested themselves. I graduated with honors, and with no second thoughts, vowed to dedicate my life to this university, ignoring offers from multinationals. I love teaching and cannot imagine myself doing a job other than teaching.

UP is a big institution and like big institutions, its tortuous bureaucracy dehumanized and made it impersonal along the way, including the people that run it. I had to fight my every way. I sent letters of complaint after letters of complaint, whose tones ranged from pleading to mocking, to the administration. But I felt not listened to.

I felt alone and lonely.

If only there was enough reason for me to hold on and stay.

I am young. Too young to deserve UP. Probably someday, I’ll go back and serve again this prestigious institution. But for now, I have to move on and see what’s in store for a still-starry-eyed young man like me.

A dog bit her. One day she just died.

“Fev, nagralaway kag nagwaras tana.” (Fev, she salivated uncontrollably and ran amuck) It was my best friend describing in a text message our college batch mate who recently died because of acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) due to rabies. Her very colorful description how that batch mate of ours died seemed to be too poetic a description for a death as prosaic as dying from a bite of a deranged dog.

She was bitten by a stray dog in the neighborhood early January. It took three months for the virus of the Lyssa genus to travel from the bite wound and reach her central nervous system. By mid-March she was already experiencing malaise, headache and fever. According to my best friend this batch mate of ours showed uncontrolled excitement, depression, and in her last days, hydrophobia, mania, lethargy that finally led to coma. They were classmates in a public high school in Antique and eventually in all their Literature classes at UP Visayas, as they took the same major in college.

She was interred for a day in their house and was immediately buried, without being embalmed, for fear of the spread of the virus. My best friend and their high school classmates were discouraged from seeing her body to contain the contagion. Her entire family is placed on quarantine until this time.

She is survived by her seven-month old baby.

She was one of those very quiet people of generic appearance and personality one meets in college, becomes a classmate, spends a few times with, and as is always the case, forgotten easily after graduation.

My only recollection of her was how she ruined the afternoon of our professor when she read entirely from a book her report about the Babaylans of Panay in a History class we were both enrolled during our first year in college. Although I couldn’t remember her talking much, not even about literature, there were times I think I remember about her few moments of unconscious abandonment when she laughed in class at jokes I didn’t find funny or just did not comprehend.

She also had this unforgettably long her that reached down to her waist. Never did I see her long black hair unkempt; it’s always combed, shiny, freshly washed.

Because of poverty and inability to continue college, she applied for a leave of absence in our junior years, and I did not see her since then except for one time when I bumped into her at the office of the university registrar falling in line for her transcript. I was already teaching then. She only showered praises for me, which I did not take seriously. I wanted to ask question about her and her new life outside the university, but I held back and shelved the idea thinking we were never that close for me to ask sensitive personal queries.

Since then, I heard vignettes about her: she having a new boyfriend, being pregnant, breaking up with her boyfriend, finding a new one, and taking odd jobs in the city. But these stories were often shallow, almost always taken out of context. Simplistically unreal stories that I refused to believe about a former classmate whose life is as uniquely complex and interesting as anyone’s. I did not believe in their truth not because they were lies but because they were bare.

But probably I never really cared because they were insignificant stories related to me by my best friend about somebody who was ephemeral and insignificant a character that would never figure in my universe.

As a token, I wrote this post, and to remind me one day, in the event my memory fails, of a girl who was seated in the front row of our classroom in my History class who one drizzly July afternoon, to the consternation of our veteran professor, just read in front of the class while seated on the teacher’s table the whole report assigned to her verbatim from Renato Constantino’s book.

And her hair that reached down to her waist, only that on her last day, that long, black hair, might have been unwashed, disheveled, unkempt because she spent her last day on Earth fearing water.

How not to spend an afternoon with a whimsical baboon

I was riding a tricycle, the only viable transportation around UP Visayas, unless of course one has a car, which is not that rare these days among students of this state university, when I saw a baboon crossing the winding asphalt road to the dormitories. At first it looked like gorilla, then an orangutan, then a big chimpanzee, until I finally settled for a baboon. I suspected it was some sort of an apparition seen by somebody, and that’s me, who’s been deprived of a decent lunch. Or a dejavu since it was a sweltering mid-afternoon, the asphalt road almost liquefying because of heat, and I was deprived of a decent lunch. But I was sure it was a baboon I saw.

I asked the driver, I was riding behind him, to pull over right in the middle of the road under the unforgiving sun. He gave me a look similar to that of an SM Supermarket cashier’s disbelieving look after hearing ”keep the change” from a male customer who paid 20 pesos for a box of three condoms.

Boy, nga-a mapanaog ka rugya haw?” He asked.

Ti, kay I saw, manong, a walking baboon,” I said.

Ti mainit diya, bahala timo eh. Wara man baboon rugya sa Miagao,” he said almost sarcastically.

But I am sure I saw that baboon. The tricycle left me. I had to walk the rest of the way, under the deathly afternoon sun. My baboon was nowhere in sight

Why is everyone so obsessed with anything ‘Big’?

One can glean a lot of insights from random conversations heard from people unwary that they are subjects of one’s unscientific, though still valid, observations. It was one of those regular ‘umpukan’ (from ‘umpok’ a Tagalog word that roughly translates to bunch) that the personnel of the college do every morning after they have logged in their names in that sad-looking Bundy clock.

They drink coffee, eat boiled corn, or if any of them is thoughtful enough, they have pandesal. And with these simple foods they nibble just before the actual, heavier breakfast, they share events from the previous days and nights. Topics can range from their criticism of the indecisiveness of their bosses in the college, television program, the next loan they will apply for, the problem student who just broke a condenser that costs their month’s salary, or, in a very hush tone, theirs or their bosses’ sex life (or the lack thereof).

“Ti sin-o run ang ‘Big Four’?” (Who now will comprise the ‘Big Four’) Asked one of them who works for the College secretary.

“Aw, bati ko takun ‘Big Five’ run tana,” (Aw, I heard it’s going to be the ‘Big Five’ this time) said the laboratory technician in the Chem Department.

“Amu ja gani ang ‘Big Balita’ katong ‘Big Night’,” (And that’s the ‘Big News’ on the ‘Big Night’) added the administrative aide of the Soc Sci Division.

“Baw, may ara pa, sigurado takun, nga ‘Big Pasabog’ si Big Brother kar-un sa gab-I,” (I think, and I’m quite sure of it, that Big Brother will have a ‘Big Announcement’) quipped my favorite administrative aide in the Dean’s office.

“Basta para kanakun, si Melissa run tana ang ‘Big Winner’.” (As for me, Melissa is going to be the ‘Big Winner’) The discussion will end here either because they feel they are already over-extending their before-work break or they do not anymore agree as to who will be the ‘Big Winner’.

The preponderance of the word ‘Big’ peppered in almost all conceivable English and Tagalog words can get in one’s nerves after being exposed to it too much. There’s Big Brother, Big Utol, Big Day, Big Night, Big Task, Big Day, the Next Big Thing. Big Whatever.

Has our obsession for anything big slowly diffused to encroach language leaving it literally desecrated? When we misuse and overuse a word, we advertently render it dead, stretching it beyond the limit of its elasticity will cause breakage.

Any of these can take the place of the overexploited ‘Big’:

a whale of a, ample, awash, bulky, bull, burly, capacious, chock-full, colossal, commodious, considerable, copious, enormous, extensive, fat, full, gigantic, heavyweight, hefty, huge, hulking, humongous, immense, jumbo, mammoth, massive, mondo, monster, oversize, sizable, stuffed, substantial, super colossal, thundering, tremendous, vast, voluminous, walloping, whopper, whopping.

Why do they have to say ‘Big’ all the time?

Now, I am irritated Big Time.