Sunday, March 22, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
I just returned from an afternoon at the cock pit, or bulangan, for a cock fight, bulang. Cock fights are a Sunday afternoon ritual here in the Philippines, cock fighting being the most popular sport in the country. I have read that the Spanish at first tried to the illegalize the pastime but they quickly found that to be about as easy as holding one's breath for an hour. Fortunes are made and lost, a lucky winner quickly losing not only that day's winnings, but also the clothes off his own back. I say his because this is a male-dominated pastime. I only saw two women in or around the pit and they were selling cigarettes. Having told some teachers I intended to go with Sir Erwin, they replied "watch some of the audience's feet, they will have no sandals since they sold them" and "they will sell their own family's clothes and assets for an afternoon at the pit." I didn't see any bare feet, this must have been a lucrative Sunday.
So I went with Sir Erwin as my chaperon to the local bulangan, which was made of wood, bamboo and corrugated metal for a roof.
We arrived at two o'clock, the official starting time, though such a leisurely activity started, well, leisurely. We stayed for nearly three hours, seeing about 24 pairs slash it out in the pit.
The cock on the left side of the pit is known as the biya or underdog, judged the least likely to win, the cock on the right is known as the inilog or projected winner. While the cock handlers pet their cocks, pat them, jostle them and provoke them otherwise (get your minds out of the gutter!), the crowd makes their bets. At this point, the cocks have a sheathed spur, looking like a miniature scythe, attached to their left leg typically. Before the fight, spurs still sheathed, the handlers lift them up to let the cocks take turns pecking at each other's necks, one handler holding the cock's head still while the other lets the other one peck. The cocks get furious and ready to rumble.
While the handlers enrage the cocks, the crowd furiously bets, yelling at the tops of their collective lungs. The sound and fury is maddening, further driving the cocks deeper into fits of passion. Yelling with all their might, those who bet use complicated combination of hand gestures and facial expressions to place their bets. Betting on the biya is more risky though it brings a larger return if it wins and vice verse for the inilog. I did not bet anything though Sir Erwin and I made verbal acknowledgments as to what cock we thought would be victorious. As far as I can tell there is no way of knowing. As it turned out, the biya roster was far more victorious than that of the inilog.
Watching the bets taking place is much like watching the stock market; in fact, standing above the crowd, seeing money literally fly in crumpled wads across and around the arena is like watching a real-live market in action. I'm certain that the nature of betting on cocks could be a comprehensive thesis on microeconomics if one chose to closely study it. Don't believe me that it's like the stock market?
Hell could break lose the world over but those inside the bulangan would be entirely oblivious. Once the bets are in the cocks are let loose on each other. The fights are lightening quick (God willing) and often, after an explosion of feathers and the occasional splashes of blood that stain the dirt floor, the fights are over, the victor getting his spur re sheathed. Every once in a while, the cocks are too lame or maimed to attack each other, ending in a stalemate. At this point, the referee picks them up by their back feathers and, while in mid air, the first one to stop pecking at the other (typically because of a loss of both consciousness and blood) loses. The losers are turned into that evenings sumsuman, or beer food including pritong manok or fried wings, chicheron, literally fried chicken skins (DELICIOUS!), and tin-a-i, or BBQ intestines. If the winning cock is too lame to fight again, which seems to be the case more often than not, the same tasty fate awaits him later for the beer, rum and recounts of that afternoon's exploits by the winning and losing handler's alike.
As always, watching the people at these kinds of events is far more rewarding than watching the actual main attraction. I must admit I did enjoy the spectacle, both in the pit and surrounding it. I realize that the average American would bristle at this kind of "cruelty towards animals." At first I did too. But I thought this was an important cultural experience, much like when Aaron and I went to the bull fights in Pamplona, Spain during the Running of the Bulls. All I could do is go with an open mind and I must say I wouldn't mind going again in the future. I know many of you must be thinking "this isn't the Sean I know." Well, Peace Corps told us that we would adapt to cultural practices in ways that would confuse our friends and families back home. This is one grim example I suppose.
To see more pictures from the fight, please visit my Picasa Web Album.
Monday, March 9, 2009
First of all, I wanted to thank everyone for their kind words on my last blog. I got some really excellent feedback and many compliments and it was so flattering; the positive responses made following up the bike trip a bit intimidating.
Last week there was a poisonous snake in the office. Now the office smells like nokost, or squid. You can never tell what surprises lie waiting in the office every morning after the national anthem.
I have been collecting some statistics on my blog readers (no personal information, just location of access, etc) and wanted to share some of my statistics with all of you! I use Google's free service, Analytics. Basically, I installed a little invisible application inside my web page that collects the anonymous data and sends it back to a easy-to-use portal for me to look at. So, here's looking at you! Since I installed the app, I have had 300 hits, 168 unique visitors from twelve different countries, including readers in Saudi Arabia, Australia, Northern Mariana Islands, China, Singapore, Senegal and France. From the U.S., I have readers from 26 states! I get the most hits from California from 18 different cities from throughout the state.
I am beginning to realize I have a lot of readers whom I do not know. I would like to sincerely thank everyone of them for reading my blog. Aside from The Echo, this is the first time I have had a public voice and, to tell the truth, it's quite addictive.
I also have been playing a lot of guitar here. I bought a guitar during training and named it Temba, meaning hope in Zulu, the name given to me by my first homestay family in Johannesburg, South Africa. Here is a video of a song I have been working on, on and off, for a few months, since September.
So that's my guitar. It was 3000 pesos, about $60, and is the cheapest friend I have ever bought. I bring it to school every once in a while. Here is a video of me and my co-teacher, Sir Erwin, rocking out to Freddie Aguilar's "Anak." The song is in Tagalog so I have no idea what the words mean, but it's a good time. It was recorded by my fourth year web design class.
I also have some pretty thrilling news; I just bought tickets for Thailand! I will be going with about seven other friends in April after our In-Service Training for 10 days. We scored round-trip tickets from Manila to Bangkok for $140. Why not go? Anyway, look forward to that blog post come April.
Just to prove that I actually do work out here, here is a project I have been working on for the past 2 weeks or so. A couple days after Christmas and then that following Saturday, a handful of students volunteered their time to collect information from 368 titles from our library, almost all of the books in our possession. Here is the report for those who are interested. I designed to to submit to potential book donors so they can see what needs to address with their donations.
The following details the titles of books currently held by the San Juan National High School (SJNHS) library, San Juan, Southern Leyte. The statistics were gathered by student volunteers of the fourth year on two separate occasions: December 28th and January 10th. Under the supervision of Ma’am Alma Montañez, head of the English department, and Sean Stanhill, U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, a rotation of fourth year students sacrificed a holiday and Saturday to collect the following information from books in the library. The data is not all-inclusive and is meant to serve as a survey, though should be considered close to accurate as nearly all books were inspected (we collected data from 368 titles). The numbers also do not reflect the true quantity of books in our possession; each unit in the following measurements represents one title, not one physical book. For example, volumes included in an Encyclopedia set, 24 in total for example, are counted as one unit, not 24.
The following graphs, “Titles of Books by Year,” in which the quantity of titles are organized to show a trend in the recency of our titles, “Number of Titles in Three Genres,” in which the library catalogue is artificially divided into three genres, fiction, non-fiction and textbook, “Titles by Country of Publication,” in which texts are categorized by place of publication, and “Quantity of Titles Issued by Philippines Government,” in which the titles are categorized as either being issued by the Philippines government or not, should provide reasonable insights into what titles are available to students here at SJNHS.
“Titles of Books by Year”
Upon inspection, titles from 1997 through 2005 represent the largest chunk of our library’s collection. There are a few legacy titles from the 1950’s on, yet we were surprised to find that our collection, on the whole, was quite modern, having been published within the last 20 years or so. Looking at publication dates gives us a great idea as to how updated the information available to students is and whether the information accessible to them keeps them competitive as far as contemporary ideas and theories are concerned.
“Number of Titles in Three Genres”
In order to get a rough idea of what kinds of titles are available to our students, the student volunteers were told to categorize the titles into three general categories or genres: fiction, non-fiction and text. As hypothesized, textbooks made up the vast majority while fiction represented the minority. SJNHS, at the time of this report finding, is working with partners in the U.S. to sponsor a book-drive, which will ideally supplement the fiction available to students. With more fiction available, students will be able to browse for pleasure reading and teachers will be able to implement fiction reading in the classroom, providing each student with his/her own book. Creating a culture of reading is central to school programs outside of the classroom as well. November is English Month and to facilitate programs such as “sustaining the Love of Reading,” last year’s English Month theme, the school must have a ready supply of fiction. At 10%, fiction only represents 37 tiles (with non-fiction representing 89 titles and text 242).
“Titles by Country of Publication”
USA – 65%
Philippines – 25%
Singapore – 3%
Unknown – 3%
United Kingdom – 2%
Canada – 1%
Hong Kong – 1%
Australia, India, Italy, Spain, Venezuela – less than 1%
The breakdown of country of publication indicates a large quantity of titles as imported, donated or otherwise somehow obtained from the United States. Only one quarter of the titles were published here in the Philippines with a smattering of titles from Singapore, the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong and elsewhere. While many of the titles published in the Philippines, much of those titles were published by Western publishers, such as Prentice-Hall, Inc. and McGraw-Hill and Companies, Inc., under the auspices of places like Metro Manila and Quezon City.
“Quantity of Titles Issued By the Government of the Philippines”
In DepEd’s commitment to provide “education for all,” the government of the Philippines has provided students and teachers with government issued textbooks. Many of the standardized textbooks used by students are issued by the government under Secondary Education Development Improvement Project (SEDIP) loan agreements. This chart represents a generalization in that upon compiling this report, aspects of each title were considered, including author name, title, publisher and place of publication, and used to designate a title as being more than likely to have been issued by the Philippines Government. While 28% may seem low, the library serves as a book depository, housing extras that were not issued to students. This number only represents books in the library, not those that have already been issued to students. Another factor that must be considered is that, again, these data only represents titles and not quantity of books. If individual books were to be considered in this report, they would by far outnumber non-government issued titles by sheer quantity of duplicates.
Phew! So there is the report. See, I do actually do work here. I actually just finished guest-teaching an economics class on the credit crises. It was really cool and I think some of the kids are really getting it!
So now a few words on post-colonial identity. Post-colonial identity is by far the most interesting topic I encountered during my history studies. In essence, it addresses how peoples of previously colonized countries build their own narrative, often times diverging from that of the colonizer. The Philippines is a really special place for the very reason that it is still constructing its own narrative from Spanish and American colonial periods; the Philippines has influences from America and Spain for sure, but also China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Arabia and India. Their influences are exemplified in the language, for example, "hey older brother, put your umbrella on the table" is "Hey kuya, butang imong payon sa taas sa ang la mesa." This sentence contains borrowed words from English, Spanish, Chinese and Ancient Austronesian (Malay). Philosophers, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, say that language is the means by which we interpret our reality. In what ways does the potpourri of language here define the reality of Filipinos? Obviously they do not think about metalinguistics when they are telling their brother to put the umbrella on the table, this is just something I have been thinking about.
But aside from language, after almost 400 years of being a colony, Filipinos, just like any other budding nationality, musk ask themselves, who are we really? Many Filipinos I have spoken with refer to their "colonial mentality," that which values imported goods from America as inherently better than anything produced domestically. As an example, they will buy second hand American clothes before they ever buy anything new domestically. The great irony of course is that it all comes from China and Vietnam anyway.
It would be unfair for me to reflect on answering that question, who are Filipinos really, as it is not a question for a person of the imperialist nationality to ask, so I will reflect on America's "colonial mentality." Remember that the States were a colony of Britain?
Hypothetically, if I were to ask you, an American, if you would prefer Hershey's or Godiva, which would you pick? Or what if I asked you, would you like Hershey's or this chocolate, it comes from Europe, which would be your pleasure? Like my leather shoes? Their Italian, my clock? Swiss. I always set my watch to GMT, (Greenwich Mean Time). My point is, if it's European in origin or standard, Americans tend to think it's inherently better than anything we have ourselves. Many Americans are of European stock and consider the products of the "Old World" more sophisticated. Europe is the symbol of high culture, class, art, sophistication. This, I am certain, is what drives our own colonial mentality.
Americans also, generally speaking, have a very violent bent to them. This is where post-colonial identity comes into play. The U.S. has been involved in wars in seemingly every decade since the Civil War. But was is the means by which we were founded, right? The United States is the only former British colony, to my knowledge, that staged an all-out violent revolution against our oppressor and won by those means. Places like Canada, Australia and New Zealand were all forced into independence; they still have pictures of the queen on their money and their government supposedly reports directly to the British monarchy (they are not federal governments). Melissa, the Australian volunteer, told me that Australia had a chance back in the 70's to vote for a federal government and to cut ties with the U.K. and the voting measure failed! Why does the idea of monarchy bother so many Americans? We fought against it; we are unique in that way. India sought her own independence as well, but not by the same violent means as the U.S. Consider their national independence hero, Gandhi. Ours? Revolutionary war heroes.
Ever since our genesis, America has solved its problems through violence and it should come as no surprise that we are in the midst of two wars being fought concurrently. This is a living narrative based on our post-colonial identity.
We value that which we fought violently for against European powers but are still Europhiles when it comes to goods: the interplay between colonial mentality and post-colonial identity. It is a very complicated subject but it is important to realize that developing countries are not the only countries having to deal with self-determination and constructing their own narrative, the U.S. just had a head start. It also does not mean that The U.S. narrative is inherently better, it just suits the cultural needs of its people. Every nationality tells its own story, its own narrative. Listening intently and openly reveals the beauty, the uniqueness and the delicacy of culture, narrative and post-colonial identity.
Friends, that concludes this blog post. Thanks for getting through it and I really hope this last section made at least some sense. It's important to question our own heritage, just as it's important to delve into understanding of other peoples and places we visit. For as much as I am learning about Filipinos and the Philippines, I am learning equally as much about my own heritage, cultural narrative and nationality.
*Update*: I have been prompted by a professor I greatly respect and admire for his honesty concerning my writing to give due consideration and clarification to some of the content above. When I implied that the U.S. had the only violent revolution, I certainly am not forgetting the Sepoy Rebellion of India nor the bloody struggle for independence of most if not all Latin American countries, our neighbors to the south whom we inspired and aided in independence along the way (although that is absolutely contestable). My point was simply a generalization that, of all of the specifically British colonies, the U.S. was the only one to successfully obtain independence solely through militaristic means and declared warfare. That is simply my overarching point yet I am glad to be corrected if I am wrong.
Secondly, he pointed out the irony of a meta-colonial power, of sorts. Again, to my knowledge, we are the only former colony that has evolved into an imperial power in and of itself. The irony and historical implications of this truth are things I feel entirely inadequate to speculate upon.
Speaking of identity, I am currently reading the book In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines and there is a passage I have just read that I would love to share; the author, Stanely Karnow is comparing the war in the Philippines, having ended in 1902, to Vietnam 70 years later. This is why I stated above that Filipinos are now charged to ask the question, "who are we really?" Karnow writes, "The Filipinos lacked a recorded history and common identity. Their chain of islands had been a geographical accident rather than a society before the arrival of the Spanish, who had deliberatly perpetuated the disunity of the archipelago to maintain their rule" (pg. 185, publish date 1990).