Alex Maskara


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Manila in the Dark



Darkness in Manila was always my safety. I had so many things to hide during my youth. My poverty-ridden clothes and sunken face due to irregular meals, my constant failures in exams because I could not learn anything on an empty stomach and a parade of distractions in the sardine-can like the boarding house where I stayed because I could not afford a decent dorm. I still can’t believe I graduated from the top university of Manila despite all that. I can only attribute whatever I gained in life through the full blessings of God because my life is nothing short of miraculous.

The only difference between today and nearly 40 years ago was that I am much older and the old spot I used to occupy is now barricaded by fences installed by construction companies reclaiming parts of the bay to build casinos and hotels and theme parks. This saddens me because in due time, the landscape of Manila Bay will totally be transformed and any reminder of the old version will be thrown to oblivion with no one recalling how it was.

The Bay is similar to my life. Blessed but cursed at the same time. Manila Bay had been coveted by many superpowers in the world - it had been ‘discovered’ by Spain, nearly occupied by Britain, taken over by the US, flattened by the Japanese-American war, and now, China is rearing its dragon head, setting its sights upon this beautiful city. The bay remained isolated, waiting for another catastrophe to happen. Now it is being transformed into something that it is not.

I am similarly designed like Manila Bay. I was born, raised, fought my way to a better life but to succeed I had to be single-minded, solitary, because everything else in the world is a distraction that I can’t afford to give in to. When I was young I was so scared of failure because to fail would spell disaster for the people I promised to help. I didn’t venture much outside of work for fear I might get sick or meet with an accident. I did not form close relationships. I was basically transformed by the dictates of my time’s economy. I lived and worked to serve and I always hoped for the day when all the responsibilities will finally be over. Or at least I was financially secure. I am blessed to have both outcomes in my life.

Just like Manila Bay, I served a purpose when I was needed, and the way I see it now, Manila Bay’s purpose in history was to serve as a backdrop for superpowers to project their might - whether through the Spanish-American War or the Japanese Occupation, the city and its bay was the perfect stage to announce to the world their victory or ascendency. And China is probably dying to show its own power. It started claiming islands that belonged to the Philippines geographically and historically.

I found a tiny opening in the fence and furtively eased my body through it so I could sit on the seawall. It was dark and nobody would see me here. I raised my head to stare at the moon which luckily was full tonight. This solitude allowed me to invoke my past and as I said, without the stories I have written beside this bay when I was young, I would have nothing to talk about. That is the good thing about writing, it provides that important tool to resurrect what has long been dead in one’s memory. Regrettably, I hardly see anyone like me who enjoys the beauty of solitude here nowadays. Solitude is not always romantic or melodramatic or a vessel to float in nostalgia. Sometimes solitude is the best way to access the clarity of one’s brain. Sitting alone here, I am able to recall the many sights and sounds and images I saw and conjured a long time ago.

I carry with me the Filipino narrative, it is a narrative that is exclusively mine and every Filipino’s. It is embedded in the fibers and axons of my brain. I started as a Filipino when I was not even known as Filipino. I could have been a maharlika or aliping saguiguilid or namamahay. I could have been a warrior or babaylan. I could have been an Aeta. I was also known as Indio, a term imposed on me by the Spanish as opposed to the original Filipinos who were Spanish natives living in this Asian country or as opposed to the Peninsulares and the mestizos or as opposed to Sangleys or the Chinos.

Eventually I claimed the name Filipino, a consolidation of everyone (Indio and otherwise) under one description. Everyone is Filipino now, no matter what their blood mixture or social class or state of mind is. So long as they have been a part of the soil and culture. It makes everybody equal and nobody is surprised by that. There are still a few who maintain their separateness - some tribes of remote islands, some Muslims and other regional ethnic groups. But they are mostly a fraction of the whole.

That is the reason I came back here to this part of Manila. I have switched my nationality to American keeping my one foot on the birth country while planting the other on the adopted. That makes me incomplete. I am nourished through many umbilical cords. One is attached to Spain, the other to America. I dream of visiting Latin countries in search of the culture that once thrived in my native land, before it got canceled by the US. Some local Filipinos also try to drink from their umbilical cords attached to America.

It is hard to erase in one’s cultural memory the relationship I had with Spain and America, especially when that memory has been as long as 350 years. Even now, I always dream of traveling in Mexico, celebrating the celebrations I shared with them. From the Day of the Dead to Christmas to Spanish cenaculo, to the Catholic traditions. The best part is our familiarity with each other, the Latinos and I. I live in an enclave surrounded by Latino immigrants and for some reason, I feel at home just by listening to their music, the way they gather and laugh at the end of the day. They are the closest I can find to my home outside of home. The saddest thing is my alienation with my Asian neighbors Japan and China. There are still remnants of old stories embedded in my brain about Japanese atrocities in World War 2 despite their total change and my distant love for their culture of which I can never be at home to. And now the Chinese, instead of building their friendship around Asia, are relying heavily on bullying tactics to subjugate and claim what is not theirs. They seem to look at their neighbors with disdain, and when I see how they water-cannon Filipino fishermen on the fishermen’s fishing turf for centuries, only because they can, it makes my blood boil. For a Christian, that is the last thing you want to do to your neighbor. They can do whatever they want, but love and neighborliness, they cannot have from me. It is probably their Confucian teachings that make them do that.

I look at the images of Spain and I see their wide poblaciones and plazas which reminds me constantly of the towns and Manila I grew up in. In the same manner I encounter old buildings in the US that have uncanny resemblance to the old buildings of Manila. Of course they were designed by the sane people. And then there were the Filipino oral traditions of Spanish times and the Commonwealth era. The colonization of the Philippines created both positive and negative impacts. And I would be lying, mainly to myself, if I would deny the feeling of superiority by ex-colonizer against my inferiority as a colony. I wouldn't be surprised if I meet discrimination in the land of the master now and then. The Filipinos themselves are full of discrimination against each other albeit using different criteria.

But the sadness of my being Filipino stems from my inability to mentally consider that I am equal to them who colonized me. Even now, I seem to appeal to their acceptance, their generosity, that I can never match their intelligence and accomplishments. I still feel the joy of having them around because it triggers that old Filipino feeling of having a superior being making all things good for me. I sing and dance and parade in beauty pageants to entertain them. I have this curse that I cannot outsmart them, or beat them in sports, I am their perennial consumer to what they create thinking I cannot create like they do. I am the top user of social media and Internet and before that I was the top texter. I create every digital content possible and feel smart being the user, not the provider of their platforms. I am their zombie.

Zombies Of Heroics and Histrionics(undated)

Sometimes I get so dramatic with my articles only because (I'd like to think) only a few read me. That's why I prefer not to 'link' or join any grouping of bloggers on the internet (not that I belong to any particular mindset, mind you)- my isolation frees me from censoring my writing. I also base my writing on the countries that read me. And I always draw from my life as a Pinoy in composing my sentences here and there. I am still surprised at the number of hits on my site but then, I don't know, I'd like to think no one reads me except myself. Which means, why shouldn't I just confine my writing in notebooks inside my drawers? But then, at the same time, I'd like to imagine people reading me, because we as humans are actors on a stage, always imagining an audience. Oh well, as long as nobody writes me back and tells me I'm breaking the law by writing what I write I'd continue. Besides, blogging is self-publishing without censorship and editing. I find it very pure and liberating. So Beatnik. And I love that.

I've been writing lately about the recent crisis in the Philippines.

Ramon and I had lunch today and he said, "The country is so surreal it becomes a zombie movie." He said this as he raised his eyes from reading Morikami's Wind Up Bird Chronicle. He's now half-way through the novel, reading it steadfastly and fast while sucking the straw from his chilled chocolate mocha. He continued:



There was a time when a barrio existed in the Pacific populated by people who used to be so alive until one day, multitudes of fish swarmed the coast to their delight. The fish themselves jumped into their fishing nets and bit their hooks even without the baits. The people concluded the fish were a gift of God and they feasted right there and then, eating fish left and right, day and night, and many many more days after that. And then, they all turned into zombies. Well, not all of them really.

Many from foreign lands have focused their eyes on these barrio people whose peculiarity was so puzzling. How can people so easily be turned brain-dead when they were so alive and so intelligent before?

It turned out it was not the fish that turned them into zombies, it was themselves. The fish were just a decoy. Later on, the foreign observers discovered how they turned into zombies: The first ruler of the land removed their freedoms and they were forced to learn only things the ruler wanted them to learn. No one could question the ruler's decisions lest he wanted to die. For twenty years the people moved according to prescribed and programmed movements, like robots. They were fed with lies and grand ideals emanating from the ruler. These people became blind followers, marching wherever they were told to go. They had to always be quiet and not bad-mouth the ruling class. Until one day, a zombie accidentally woke up and started to question the ruler. The ruler hastily shot him. But it was a wrong shot, it was the flick that unzombied the zombies. In one particular year their hypnotist ruler vanished and they were back into being alive and intelligent again.

But it was short-lived because it was their misfortune not to know how to act with independent, functioning minds. For twenty years their minds were locked-up. For the past twenty years they looked up to one ruler.

For the next twenty years they kept on searching for a single ruler.

The poor zombies claimed independence but deep inside they were looking for someone to tell them what to do, how to act, what to think, what not to think. This unfortunately, is a trait of zombies that was easily manipulated. They lost perspective. They did not know how to distinguish heroism from heroics, they could not tell the difference between real sense and histrionics. So that, when the zombies heard a screaming sound: Fight! Let's all gather together! Lets kill the Devil, they all gathered thinking that by reliving their first release from zombie-ness they could be unzombied again. True they were unzombied but they had to go through it again and again, like some form of therapy (everytime there is a new ruler) to unzombie themselves. And so many zombies of heroics and histrionics took advantage of this: Even the college drop-outs who could not pass Trigonometry became philosophers in newspapers so long as they re-kindled the fire of the "First Unzombie-ness". So they went on and on, thinking because they were ready they must truly be heroes in Zombieland. The other zombies gathered together in the name of different things, like Zombies of Morality (You fuck you're a sinner- I fuck I'm a Saint); Zombies of the Prayer (I pray for you asshole because You cannot pray for yourself); Zombies of the Senate and Congress (You don't give us what we want, we investigate you); Zombies of Business ( You protect my ass I give you money); Zombies of Jueteng (You protect my ass, I give you Balato); Zombies of Literature(You give me Award, I give you Award); Zombies of Mutual Admiration Society (You do good...and so do you...oh no you do good really...but you do good too...really...etcetera for eternity); Zombies of Entertainment Industry(Ha?); Zombies OFW (How much is the dollar rate now? When I go home, I'll show 'em...); Zombies of Youth (When I grow up I want to be an American Idol, otherwise, I want to be a member of the Zombies of -----); and so on and so forth.

But on the 20th anniversary of "The First Unzombie”, the most powerful of the Zombies gathered together to plot a coup. They invited all the Zombies of whatever persuasion they could gather and discussed how to topple the new ruler. All of them need to be unzombied again, they said, they just can feel it. Their power as The Heroes of Zombie-ness is wavering, fracturing, and all the Zombies no longer see 'the light'. These powerful Zombies are no longer capable of appointing the new ruler and the ruler they got now doesn't want to give them what they want. They gathered as a prelude to Unzombie-ness. And this time, they'd do it with such force.

But, the ruler they want to topple is a Zombie who is smarter than them. And the other Zombies in this Zombie-land are now awakening. And the other Zombies who went abroad to work saw the true light. And the many Zombies of lowland and hinterlands are just becoming humans again, alive and thinking. It took them twenty years but by golly - how smart they became. How intelligent.

On the day the Zombies of Power and Ruling Class called on all the Zombies to protect the Spirit of Unzombie-ness, some zombies shrugged them off, others went on playing sports, others went on business as usual, others made fun of them, others looked at them and found them unattractive, others played mah-jong, others went shopping, others went blogging, others watched the world wrestling championship match.

The Zombies are about to write volumes and volumes of explanation for this, volumes and volumes of threats and counter-threats, volumes and volumes of analysis of what happened to the Zombieland ....

But they too, are slowly waking up.


-- the zombie does what everybody's doing. In a stampede, everybody kicks and shoves at the same time to the deaths of the weak --
2024-05-11 07:54:23
shortstories

Lazaro Sembrano

Manila in the Dark

Boy Luneta

A Night at the Luneta Grandstand

Migratory Bird (circa 2005)

Manila Travel 2022

On Bad Blood (Part 1)

Understanding my unique Self on my way to Retirement

Intramuros 1

Pasig River

Proenneke

A Visit to Quiapo with El Fili2

Visiting Quiapo with El Fili

The Very Thought of You

THE DIARY OF ANTONIO PIGAFETTA

Visions of St Lazarus 1

Popong 9

Diary of A Masquerade

Acacia

Brother, My Brother (Ben Santos)

Popong 8

F Sionil Jose

Four Students - 2

Popong 7 - Meditation

Popong 6 - Meditation

Friday Night Thoughts

Current Interests

Bulosan Syndrome

Maid of Cotton

Popong 5

Popong 4

Current Readings 2

Popong 3

Reading: Name of the Rose

Current Readings

Popong 2

Web Projects

Getting Back in the Game – Technology

Four Students

Selya

Last of the Balugas

Introduction To Popong