Which Pill? By the way…

Posted: September 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

Belatedly my college best friend asked me, by the way why “Which Pill” and which pill? I just took the third pill. It was not me who asked for it but, after thorough reflection, I also took it anyway. It was Slavoj Zizek, the ‘pop’ Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic who asked for it in his critical documentary film The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. He was, in fact, responding to the options being offered by Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) to Neo (Keanu Reeves) whether to take the blue pill or the red pill in the Wachowski Brothers film The Matrix. Torn between choosing the red pill which, according to Morpheus, lets Neo stay in wonderland the blue pill which takes him back to reality as if nothing ever happened. It is a choice between the imaginary and the real.

Well, not really argues Zizek. Thus, he asks for a third pill which will let him see the reality of the imaginary and not the reality behind what is fictitious. Zizek says that we, most especially when life becomes unbearably traumatic or ecstatic, fictionalize in order to cope. Fictionalism, he pointed out, regulates our real life. Of course, he is simply saying that this is the function of cinema—fictionalizing our real life.

It is what I intend to do with this blog. To make it a tool to show the reality of our coping with daily life through our not self-conscious symbolic acts—going to work, facing the mirror in the morning, recalling our past and planning our future, meeting with the dentist, watching a UAAP game, staring at the rosary dangling from the rearview mirror of a jeepney or a cab, riding the MRT and LRT, collecting stuff, arguing with an MMDA traffic enforcer, etc. I hope this will be my only constant guide all throughout. Heaven forbid that, like most, deadlines become my inspiration. Which pill? The third pill. (Randolph Joseph H. de Jesus)


Japanese kokeshi dolls are made of wood

It must have been foreboding when she was married to a police officer from Negros with a Japanese sounding surname but with no known Japanese ancestry. Mrs. Aida Kitane, a Mindanaoan, started collecting her first kokeshi dolls which later on transformed into a love affair with a lot of things Japanese five years ago. Like most, she began with Barbie. Wanting to share her passion, Mrs. Kitane finally decided, just a little over a year ago, to open a store called Genshiken Anime in Cubao Shoe Expo which became the refuge of collectors of things Japanese from the smallest kokeshi dolls to a complete fifteen set hina dolls.

She started with selling her own collection which would probably be surprising to most. Mrs. Kitane admits that parting with some of her collections was not the easiest thing to do. At first, separation anxiety set in when she sold her precious collection. Fortunately, that feeling of loss was gradually overcome by this warm and hospitable lady. She said that a collector, to be able to share the collection, must not be too attached to those or else he or she will just end up acquiring merely for the sake of owning. In fact, sharing and friendship are the cornerstones of her vision for her business.

When asked what particularly made the kokeshi dolls attractive to her, she simply replied that she is partial to a lot of things wooden and, alas, the dolls are made of wood. Kokeshi dolls which are characterized by their large round head attached to a long and narrow cylindrical and usually limbless body are the traditional toys of Japanese kids who are, mostly, sons and daughters of farmers.

Her clients whom she endearingly calls the ‘big boys’ and ‘big girls’ buy all sorts of Japanese stuff from the traditional kimono, lanterns and parasols to the pop Voltes V and Trolls and Marvel Superheroes encased in elegant glass which, unsurprisingly, are also manufactured in Japan. Ironically, what fulfills her most about her business is not at all the business side of it but, rather, the human side of it. Shares Mrs. Kitane, “it is the friendship that I build with my clients that gives me satisfaction”. In fact, never will a visitor feel obligated to buy anything from her shop in return for the cordial assistance given by Cris and Lerma who have been assisting Mrs. Kitane in the daily operations of the shop.

Affinity with not only things Japanese but with Japan herself was strongest during the latter part of the 19th century up to the middle of the 20th century in the Philippines prior to the period of the terror de amarillo (yellow scare) which culminated bitterly in the Second World War.

Although José Rizal was critical of humans used like horses in pulling the rickshaws in Tokyo he had, in general, a very favorable assessment of Japan and the Japanese. Wrote José Rizal in his diary, “Japan has pleased me. The beautiful scenery, the flowers, the trees, and the inhabitants—so peaceful, so courteous and so pleasant.” Most probably, the peak of his personal affinity was falling in love with O-Sei-San whom he described as a woman unlike no other with respect to the manner she cared and sacrificed for him.

To the reformists and the revolutionists of the 19th century Philippines Japan stood out as a model to be emulated. While the whole of Southeast Asia, South Asia and parts of East Asia and even West Asia became the chess board of various western colonial powers, Japan proved herself to be the paragon of a nation where native tradition exists alongside western modernity. It is no surprise therefore that Andres Bonifacio sought the military protection of Japan in the revolution against Spain.

An eclectic tower of a pagoda which curiously juts out in Quaipo—the very heart of Manila— is, literally, a concrete monument to this affinity. Built for Jose Mariano Ocampo in the mid 1930’s to the eve of the war, it was intended to serve as the office of Don Jose whose mansion is located just in front of the “Japanese” pagoda . Fortunately for the animé generation and those who have cultural or merely sentimental affinity to things Japanese they can go to that nook in Cubao Shoe Expo.

Mrs. Kitane definitely, consciously or unconsciously, follows on the trail of these antecedents of Japanophilia. Originally, her family was into selling plants and orchids way back in Mindanao. She was married to a widower, General Patrocinio ‘Pat’ Kitane of the Philippine National Police, who succumbed to cancer of the prostate in 2006. Oshin, her unica hija named after a Japanese teleserye on IBC shown right after the Judy Ann Santos series Ula shares her passion for collecting dolls.

However, as Mrs. Kitane shares her ultimate dream is, together with her daughter, to establish a foundation that would take care of the elderly. Oshin, now twenty, studies Mass Communications at the University of the Philippines where she could graduate magna cum laude. Although Oshin has plans to pursue a career in law after obtaining her baccalaureate, the proud mom hopes she will eventually take on the business.

Having worked for the Asian Development Bank and auditor for Del Monte Philippines and having taught at Perpetual Help College along Dapitan Street, she never planned that she will be doing what she is doing now—sharing her collection through her business.

When she was looking for a place where to set up shop she decided to open one in Cubao Shoe Expo which, since its beginnings in the 1970’s as a row of shops exclusive for mostly sturdy Marikina made shoes, has evolved into a vibrant and thriving hub for artists and collectors of various curios both antique and novel. Interestingly, there are more male clients who visit her shop than females. She attributes the sudden but still growing interest into things Japanese to animé which has an increasing fandom both amongst the young and the old. Recognizing the different demands and tastes or her clients she has introduced some other items like miniature figures and glass and porcelain carvings.

Only a year into its operation, Mrs. Kitane’s business continues to thrive and to evolve. Most importantly her vision of sharing her passion for collecting has been successful as more and more friendships are formed in the process. (RANDOLPH JOSEPH H. DE JESUS)


Posted: September 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

(an article published in The Daily Tribune on June 26, 2005)

“Tingi”, for most Filipinos, is the most basic unit of buying small scale—piece by piece and pinch by pinch. It is the measurement for the miniscule, for the mini-quantity trade. National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin said, “And commerce for the Filipino is the very smallest degree of retail: the tingi…To foreigners used to buying things by the carton of the dozen or the pound, and in large economy sizes, the exquisite transactions of Philippine tingi cannot but seem Lilliputian. So much effort by so many for so little!” It is the manifestation of our heritage of smallness, argues the national Artist. But is it really a mentality, a structure of thought of the un-enterprising and economically lethargic Filipino, as Nick Joaquin suggested?

“Tingi” is an ethics.

“Tingi” as word appears only in Tagalog dictionaries. As idea, however, we cannot be sure that it is exclusively Tagalog. But the word plus the idea reflects an aspect of the Tagalog society.

In the 1613 Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala of Franciscan Pedro de San Buenaventura, “tingi”, is defined as moderado (moderate). It means El acto de comprar y vender (the act of buying and selling) in the dictionary of Francisco de San Antonio. Jesuits Pedro de San Lucar and Juan de Noceda, who improved on the San Buenaventura vocabulario define it as comprar con moderacion (the act of buying in moderation). From these lexical evidences, we can almost be sure that both the word and the concept exist in the Tagalog mentality. Its absence in other Philippine language dictionaries does not suggest, however, that the concept is non-existent in other Philippine societies.

We usually think of “tingi” as measurement—measurement for the miniscule. Hence, even my favorite Nick Joaquin equated it with sticks of cigarettes, with the mini-quantity commerce, with the “Lilliputian.”

In reality, the common theme among the Tagalog lexicons about “tingi” is moderation—the buying or selling in moderation. Definition of “tingi” in relation to moderation reverberates the most fundamental principle of the ethical life—from the Buddha’s doctrine of the Middle Path, Aristotle and the Golden Mean, Confucius and his Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong Yong) to Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount—doctrines that emphasize moderation. So, too, does the Tagalog “tingi”.

What we all thought as an ordinary business cultural practice, in fact, means more than what we realize. It is an invitation to experience the ethical, an exhortation to respect merchandise by appropriating only what is enough for oneself, by ensuring stability of resources and supply, negating greed because of concern for fellow consumer. Miniscule, therefore, in the context of the ethics of “tingi” means neither small nor a heritage of smallness, but moderation.

“Tingi” in relation to money or to profit is a new invention. Perhaps, in this milieu of the monetary, Nick Joaquin composed his thoughts. Smallness, as he conceived of it, has acquired not a small degree of transformation and redefinition. In the modern world, where money and not abundance of undefiled natural resources is the source of immediate power, “tingi” acquired a new definition even for the “market philosopher.”

In Divisoria (the agora of all Philippine agoras and the heartland of the “tingi”) stall owners and buyers were unanimous on the obvious observation that “ito lang ang kaya kasi ng Pinoy” when asked why Filipinos prefer to buy in small quantities. Small scale buying and vending in industrialist societies have a direct relationship with material capital. The ethics of the “tingi” would be more pronounced in pre-modern, simple societies or even with pastoralist societies. Afterwards, quantitative value was attached to resources. Sacred personal relationship between consumer and the resources around him was, after the birth of the idea of commodity, mediated by money. Power did not reside anymore with the capacity to respect resources nor with the resource “as itself in its sacred status” but with money. “Tingi”, from then on, lost its ethical dimension such that with the domination of the money economy, it came to signify powerlessness.

Buying in “tingi” tells of one’s financial status. We buy not anymore in moderation, not because of concern for the “other” (fellow consumers), or because of respect for resources “as itself in its sacred status”; but because we are short of money. We buy small not because we think small, but because, with our total dependence on money as the medium of acquisition, “ito lang kasi and kaya ng Pinoy.” Buying small is not reflective of a general trait, or habit, or a structure of thought, but reflective of monetary constraints. Junking the idea of “smallness” is easier said than done. It actually means going back to moderation, back to respect for resources. Establishing, once again, a direct personal relationship with resources. (RANDOLPH JOSEPH H. DE JESUS)


Posted: September 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

(an article published in Since 1854: Tanduay, The Filipino Rhum (Manila: Tanduay Distillers, Inc., 2005) pp. 62-73 edited Alfred Yuson)

Credit goes to owner of the photo

“Banzai!, Banzai Nippon!” Benjamin Agaloos vividly recalls that salutation to what became the enemy when the Japanese Imperial Forces marched into Manila on the second day of the dark year of 1942.

Over weeks earlier, on December 8, 1941 Manila folks had fallen silent, including the Agaloos family of Abreu Street in San Miguel district, as they heard the explosions from distant Clark Field in Pampanga. It was a day of faith and fate. The 1941 feast of La Inmaculada Concepcion also became the day of defilement of the pueblo amante de Maria (Mary’s beloved country).

The explosions on that day seemingly embodied both he sacred and the profane. There was no holding back on the traditional outburst of celebration at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (Manila Cathedral) in honor of the Feast of the Virgin Mother.

Two days later, on December 10, 1941, horrific blasts rent the Noble and Ever Loyal City of Manila. Both banks of the Pasig River and the docks at Port Area were soon littered with the burning steel carcasses of transport freighters, commercial ships and other naval vessels destroyed by Japanese bombers.

In the genteel district of San Miguel, where Malacañang Palace was situated, Japanese Christians who had immigrated to Manila to escape the anti-Christian policies of the Tokugawa Shogunate had taken refuge centuries earlier. It became their home and haven as early as 1615, according to the Jesuit chronicler Francisco Colin, who wrote then, “A number of Japanese, comprising influential men and women who were exiled from their country or the faith, have gathered in this village.”

The Japanese Christians had anchored on the shores of Manila in 1614, and eventually settled in San Miguel, which district welcomed them in brotherly embrace. They included two gentlemen who had been influential in the Shogunate court—daimyo Takayama and daimyo Nayto. With them were former bhikunnis or Buddhist nuns, who would comprise the first order of Catholic nuns in the Philippines, later to be known as he Beatas of Miyako after their place of origin in Japan, and who would establish the Colegio de Señores Recogidas.

They all settled in the district named after the warrior archangel, so that Nick Joaquin would refer to it as “San Miguel of the Nipponese.”

The area known as the original San Miguel, which became San Miguel Viejo, lay south of the Pasig River, beside the area called Dilao where another Japanese community took root. San Miguel district as it is known today—north of the river—came about only after the British occupation of Manila in 1762.

The transfer of the district resolved a conflict between the Jesuits and Franciscans who had been at loggerheads over the care of the Japanese Christians By virtue of a papal bull, they fell within the Jesuit mission, but the Japanese of both Dilao (Paco) and san Miguel were under the jurisdiction of the Franciscans.

In a 1603 royal decree, Philip III instructed the insular authorities to give San Miguel exclusively to the Jesuits. A separation was effected. However, not until after the British occupation would the present site of San Miguel, opposite the banks of the Arroceros, come into existence.

1942 thus marked the return of the sons of those early Christian refugees to their Philippine ghetto, only this time they were coming a conquerors, even while claiming o be brothers in the spirit of cooperation under the Greater East Asia Sphere.

Every household in Manila had been instructed to construct shelters, bunkers and foxholes as places of retreat in the event of a Japanese blitz, despite the declaration of Manila as an Open City on December 26, 1941. In contrast to the festive landing of the Japanese in 1614, the mood in the city became somber.

Benjamin Agaloos was then only six years old. But he remembers how “Banzai! Banzai Nippon!” was laced with no small amount of derision when the populace was made to hail the enemy. The cries were uttered with an undertone of protest.

Nobody among the current employees of Tanduay Distillery is more familiar with its location an premises than Benjamin Agaloos. As a young boy, he used to play with his friends on the same street where the distillery still stands to this day.

Credit goes to owner of the photo

All the other distilleries and breweries in Manila had eventually relocated outside the district. These included La Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel, founded by Enrique Maria Baretto de Ycaza; La Tondeña Incorporada, formerly of the Palanca clan, Distilerias Ayala Incorporada, which originally manufactured Ginebra San Miguel; and Distileria Limtuaco of Binondo founded by Bonifacio Limtuaco. Only Tanduay Distillery remains in its original site that used to be called Isla de Tanduay—the place that lent the company its name. What became Tanduay Street runs from Plaza del Carmen to Aviles St. where Malacañang stands.

Mang Ben recalls: “Oo. Alam na alam ko itong kalyeng ito. Dito kasi kami naglalaro ng mga kaibigan ko, tapos maliligo kami sa Estero de San Miguel. (Yes, I know this street only too well. Here was where we used to play before we would swim at the Estero de San Miguel.)”

It was “pistaym” (peacetime) still, when according to Mang Ben, Tanduay products were still transported on cascos from Isla de Tanduay to Muelle de la Industria downriver, where the head office of the Elizalde y Cia was located. But even then water lilies teemed in the waters of the Pasig. When the war came, those lowly water lilies became a vital staple at every dining table. A respectable menu for wartime residents consisted of castaniyog—fried stale coconut meat ingenuously converted to food—and “sisid” rice that was harvested by diving off the North Harbor for the sacks of rice in sunken transport ships.

“Kahit gawin mong palitaw, puto o kahit anong kakanin talagang hindi mo matitiis ang amoy. Pero kinakain ‘yan ng mga tao,” recalls Mang Ben. (“Even when it was made into rice cakes, it still smelled bad. But it was edible.”)

All throughout the Japanese Occupation, Tanduay stood for resistance.

Anticipating the Japanese need for alcohol fuel, General Douglas McArthur had made a preemptive decision and ordered the closure of all alcohol distilleries in Manila. True enough, the Japanese Imperial Forces occupied the Tanduay Distillery compound with the intention of converting it into an alcohol fuel factory.

The company had to occupy the Adamson University compound after its eviction from Tanduay Street, says chief chemist Faustino Munarriz, who was then a chemistry student at Adamson. Tanduay Distillery continued to employ Filipino workers and operate despite the Japanese presence.

In 1943, Juan Miguel Elizalde was arrested by the Kempei Tai in his head office at 345 Muelle de la Industria in Binondo, on charges of collaboration with the guerilla forces. His brother Manuel (Manolo) Elizalde was, at the time of Juan Miguel’s arrest, already languishing in Fort Santiago, together with Jovito Salonga, Tomas Morato, Sr., Raul Manglapus, Eulogio Rodriguez, Sr. and Elpidio Quirino, among others. Both Juan Miguel and Manolo were tortured in the Fort Santiago dungeons.

Recalled Don Manolo: “When the nation was at war, and it became necessary to risk life and limb for the country, we responded to the call, as did one of the founders of our organization, the late Don Juan Miguel Elizalde, who died a hero’s death at the hands of the Japanese for his underground activities.”

In the United States, their brother Joaquin, resident commissioner of the Philippines from September 29, 1938 to August 9, 1944, as part of the exiled government of Manuel Luis Quezon, continued to lobby for the immediate liberation of the Philippines.

The other brothers Angel and the symphony orchestra conductor Federico were also guerrilleros. To save Manolo from the Japanese, Juan Miguel admitted to all of the charges against him while affirming the innocence of his brother. Juan Miguel died in captivity, while Manolo was released owing to his tuberculosis and through the intervention of a friend who was to become a congressman, Pio Duran. Upon his release from prison, Manolo quickly rejoined the resistance forces.

When he was conferred the Legion of Honor Award on November 24, 1979, Manolo affectionately remembered his martyred brother with these words: “he knew fully well that he was going to die, but he came forward and offered his life so that we shall live and continue with the work.”

Upon Manila’s liberation in 1945, American servicemen queued up from the expendio of the original Tanduay compound, in front of what is now Ramon Avanceña High School, up to Plaza del Carmen in the vicinity of San Sebastian Church. The first cases of rum bought during Liberation were procured by U.S. military personnel, according to Mang Ben.

Two years after Liberation, in 1947, all of the Elizalde business went back to normal operations. Since 1953 up to the present, Mang Ben has been at work with Tanduay Distillery.

That Philippine Liberation was celebrated with Tanduay can only be deemed appropriate, for Tanduay continues to embody the Filipino and his history—from slump to recovery, from war to peace, from hardships to festivities.

At present, Tanduay Distilerias Incorporada is still firmly rooted in its place of birth in San Miguel district. In form and spirit, Tanduay upholds the “Tradition that Endures.” (RANDOLPH JOSEPH H. DE JESUS)