back from the Philippines!
And terribly ill, yeesh. I’ve spent maybe 14 of the last 48 hours awake. Maybe.
I primarily stayed and traveled with Emily, a UCSF classmate who is now working at SIBAT in Manila. She was an awesome host/guide, and I was impressed by how much she’s immersed herself in the culture. I’m referring you guys to Emily’s blog post about our travels through Luzon, because I’ll probably just focus on little parts of the culture I found interesting.
- being included in the Dadap family reunion
- exploring ethnic tensions from multiple PoVs
- toploading on jeepneys
- chatting with the family at our guesthouse in Batad (where the elderly father uses a spear to hunt wild boar in the mountains ftw)
- holding a baby hedgehog after our near-death experience*
- selfie sticks and other things you only find in Asia
- 1am spa treatments
- milking a coconut
*I think Emily understates how convinced I was that we were going to die in the woods in Sagada. We were boosting each other over thorny ledges all reaching dead ends, and I could picture the headlines: “Two American Backpackers Missing in the Philippines.” I’d acquired a miniature rice god early in our travels through the rice terraces, and I am now bringing him with me every time I do anything remotely risky now.
But look, a baby hedgehog!
"The Chinese are the Jews of Asia"—paraphrasing my cousin in Manila, a pamphlet from the Bahay Tsinoy Museum of Chinese in Philippine Life in the walled city of Intramuros, and others
As a US citizen of Chinese descent, I had been warned by my family ad nauseum about anti-Chinese sentiment in the Philippines and the increased likelihood that I would be mugged because of my face. According to my Chinese cousin in Makati, the wealthy suburbs of Manila, your socioeconomic status in the Philippines largely corresponds to your ethnicity, as follows:
Based on this stratification, the Chinese are wealthy enough to incur resentment but not enough to be above violence, and they have too strong of a cultural identity to fully assimilate. Obviously, there are exceptions to this, as the Tsinoy (Chinese-Filipino) Museum points out, but my cousin’s generalization is not based on nothing. Throughout history, there have been and continue to be a number of wealthy Chinese businessmen (and Western expats for that matter) in the Philippines who live in mansions with multiple Filipino servants and look down on Filipino culture as lesser than their own.
Anyway, I figured my cousin might be biased. He’s only lived in Manila for a few years, he’s been robbed once, and he lives in Makati, which is basically not the Philippines. (SF folks, Makati is to Manila what the Marina is to SF.) Plus, I’m a brash 20-something American who (clearly) identifies more as American than Chinese, and I was going to be cautious but open.
To get a slightly better-rounded view of this ethnic tension, I asked one of Nathan’s cousins, Jascha, if he thought there was widespread anti-Chinese sentiment. Jascha is in his first year of university, and he reported little experience with this. In fact, he said that Chinese women were considered to be very pretty (and based on the billboards throughout Manila, I can believe this).
If I’d been interested in pursuing this further, I would have asked a lot of other people from different social classes and age groups. But I didn’t personally experience racism for being Chinese. I was traveling with my very obviously Western friend Emily, and I sound American. Some people asked about my ethnicity, guessing Chinese (~50%), Korean (~45%), and Filipino (~5%). I’m light-skinned, so some people told me I was pretty.
I totally believe that there is some ethnic tension, especially among older generations. But I also think if you are nice to people and open to other cultures and new experiences, you’re more often fine than not. (Says my overconfident Western upbringing.)
Last read: Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn, a compelling, colorful saga of the PI during martial law. Borrowed from Emily.
Currently reading: Monstress by Lysley Tenorio, a collection of short stories by a contemporary Filipino-American writer.
More later, maybe. *Real* life is hitting me full force, and I feel terribly anxious.
alternate names for black boys
by Danez Smith
1. smoke above the burning bush
2. archnemesis of summer night
3. first son of soil
4. coal awaiting spark & wind
5. guilty until proven dead
6. oil heavy starlight
7. monster until proven ghost
9. phoenix who forgets to un-ash
10. going, going, gone
11. gods of shovels & black veils
12. what once passed for kindling
13. fireworks at dawn
14. brilliant, shadow hued coral
15. (I thought to leave this blank
but who am I to name us nothing?)
16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint
17. a mother’s joy & clutched breath
As the world watched the tumultuous events in Ferguson, Mo., over the last week, a new hashtag was born: #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. The meme was photographic: what images would the media use if I died? But the question, at its heart, was one of naming.
Kid or criminal? Victim or threat? Brother, son, friend — or thug? One of us, or other?
Danez Smith grapples with the power of naming, and the powerlessness of being named, in this poem. Poetry Magazine tweeted it out earlier today, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
progress is learning to live with ghosts
San Francisco’s housing crisis has been plastered all over the news this year. You’ll remember the stories about skyrocketing housing costs displacing longtime locals (and poor students) from their homes, Mission dwellers lambasting Google bus drivers and protesting the presence of all those arrogant young techies, those arrogant young techies insensitive to the plight of longtime locals who are just barely scraping by and don’t have the luxury of striving for the same kind of progress.
I’ve heard the argument from a lot of people that the problem with housing in San Francisco is that people are too unwilling, too afraid to build up. There is so much history here that no one wants to demolish. Look at all these beautiful, unique, ornate Victorians. They’ve been here for years and years, and their quirky charm is a part of what makes San Francisco so great, so progressive. And this greatness and progressiveness are what make people want to come here in hoards to drive up the cost of living in these ornate Victorians.
What a catch-22, this desire to keep thriving as a beautiful, progressive city without losing its beautiful, progressive history.
When it comes down to it, it’s a balancing act. A complete lack of nostalgia risks the cold dystopian world predicted by sci-fi novels. In The Giver or in Brave New World, for instance, an erasure of memories and emotion makes the society really efficient, but readers generally agree that it seems like a rather empty existence. An excess of nostalgia, on the other hand, risks holding people back and ultimately leads to elimination in a perpetually evolving world. Think of natural selection. Organisms (or businesses or societies) must adapt to altered environmental pressures, and those that fail will eventually die. But even adaptation builds on what came before.
We need progress and history both, and we just need to figure how much of each is necessary. “Just”—as if it’s that easy.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, in several contexts. For one, I’ve been caught up in a grand effort to transform Synapse, the UCSF newspaper, into a more respectable and useful platform for student communication that students and administrators alike will want to read and keep around. It is a historical record in itself, but it must adapt as the ways in which people record history and communicate information change. That’s something all newspapers deal with. As a business model, it must be enough of the same to keep existing readers and be enough of something new to hook everyone else.
On a more personal level, I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic this week, and I can’t quite shake it. I am reading Torch by Cheryl Strayed, and there are moments in this book when she so accurately describes the grief I felt three years ago that it’s as if I’m back there in that time and in that place. Last week, I dreamt I was in high school, and we were together in the old house where another family now lives. The paper-white walls, the tall ceiling in the entry that led all the way up to the roof, the ugly low-hanging chandelier that never quite fit—of all the places I’ve lived, that’s the one I see when I close my eyes and think the word “home.” That’s the place I missed when it was pouring freezing rain in the Nashville winter at 1am, and I felt so alone I could have screamed into the trees.
Out and about, I’ve been seeing things that remind me of my mother. I was in the grocery store, wandering through the aisles trying to remember what it was that I’d meant to go in there to buy, and I saw a row of chicharrones, fried pork skins. I remembered how my mom used to shop a lot in the Mexican grocery stores in Vegas. She’d buy bags and bags of chicharrones when they were on sale and put them in giant pots of soup, and after a few moments, they softened into a deliciously glutinous, chewy texture.
In another aisle, they had those cans of Pillsbury biscuit dough that you just roll open and separate and stick in the oven with a pat of butter. At least, that’s how I imagine you’re supposed to use them to make dinner rolls. But we rolled them out into a small flat circle, patted flour on each side, filled them with ground pork and vegetables, and pinched them into the beginnings of steamed buns. (Lucky reader, you’re getting all these great recipes for free.) It is finally almost not painful to think about making these things again. (Challenge: how many qualifiers can I use in one sentence?)
It slows you down, these memories. You’re rushing through the grocery store, trying to get what you need and get out, and then you see these simple little things—inconspicuous ghosts—that catch you off guard and have you walking around in a daze. How must more efficient we would be without these ghosts. But also, how lost, how empty.
The longer you are in the world, the more ghosts you will have—memories of what you did badly, memories of what was once good and is no longer, things you want to hold onto but can’t if you are to push on. This is true for people, for businesses, for cities. But progress isn’t about getting rid of the ghosts. Progress is learning to accept that everything you love and everything you are will eventually die; you will accumulate ghosts and be someone else’s ghost. And that’s okay. They hold you back a little, but they also remind you of why you push on.