National Book Store, The Philippine STAR and Globe are now receiving entries for 2011’s essay writing contest in the Sunday Lifestyle section.
My Favorite Book contest invites readers to write about their favorite book/s or author/s and why they have touched their lives. Books can be fiction or nonfiction. Make us laugh, make us cry, or just touch us, as your favorite books have touched you.
Ordinary but complicated By Emmalyn Mae P. Abedan (The Philippine Star) Updated September 04, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0)
Emmalyn Mae P. Abedan is a fresh graduate from UP Diliman and is nearing her first day at work. She took up sociology “because it is a rare course offered by universities in the Philippines and because it is a social science just like psychology, which is my first interest… I used to have a pet cat named Tamern but she got lost and never came back a couple of years ago. A young hermit crab also became a pet but it died a year ago. We are looking forward to having a pet again.”
We look for medicine to be an orderly field of knowledge and procedure. But it is not. It is an imperfect science, an enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line. There is science in what we do, yes, but also habit, intuition, and sometimes plain old guessing. The gap between what we know and what we aim for persists. And this gap complicates everything we do.
—Atul Gawande, Complications
Book bargains. How I was able to get hold of the book happened on an ordinary weekday while I was strolling in my favorite book bargain store and looking for nothing in particular. I was feeling gloomy that day and the thought of a new book would be an appropriate antidote to what seemed like a very stressful day at school. Thankfully, I was not wrong. From the moment I laid eyes on the cover and the title, I did not let go of it. That was two years ago.
It is ironic that I dream of becoming a doctor when I have just graduated with a degree in sociology. I guess it is a “late-bloomer dream,” if there is such a label. My maternal grandmother always wanted me to become a doctor someday. That was when I was in my elementary days, completely apathetic to universities, courses, degrees, and professions.
In short, I did not aspire to become a doctor and easily concluded that math and science subjects were too complicated for me to handle and excel in. I had other dreams back then. I remember that I wanted to be a cab driver, a subway driver, a pilot, a writer, a poet, a painter, and a journalist; anything but professions that sounded like a daily conversation with numbers and mathematical operations. The irony started back in my college days when I started watching the Grey’s Anatomy TV series and enjoyed the intense drama incorporated within it. I aspired to wear my own scrubs and take hold of surgical instruments. I aspired to be in the same position as the surgeons on the show. I wanted to do operations and help patients get better and cured. It was then that I realized I was becoming interested in the facets of medicine. I knew it was possible to pursue but I also vowed to finish my chosen degree in the social sciences. To pursue the interest by diverting to other outlets was my plan.
And since I am a self-confessed bookworm, I began reading whatever medicine-themed books that I could find. That included Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande, a real-life surgeon himself.
Informative. Powerful. Demystifying but glorifying at the same time. The book, woven from real and firsthand experiences, is simply amazing. Atul Gawande lets his readers view the real drama behind operating rooms. He is so keen on details that it made me think, “When exactly did he write those accounts, on or right after an operation that he joined?” Right after reading a chapter, it felt like I also experienced a surgery firsthand. “Have I just become a surgeon right there?”
The book is not only thick literally, but figuratively as well. It is thick with information and wit. And don’t forget the medical jargon, from hernia to stapling to episiotomy. It is full of juicy surgical details including the memories of surgeons who come and go in the operating rooms. Atul Gawande made mention not only of his own experiences but also of his colleagues and remarkable patients. Various dimensions and perspectives are shown making the stories well-rounded. Really, the 14 chapters may have wracked my mind with all the unfamiliar terms but it left me hanging and wanting more. I even wished that Atul Gawande would write another book.
The power element comes in when emotions overflow beyond the four walls of the hospital. What could be more intense than the rollercoaster ride of emotions evoked by surgical procedures and rehabilitations? Both the surgeon and the patient share joyous and sorrowful emotions: smiles and feelings of relief for successful operations, pain, hurt, or anger for mistakes and failures, pressure and discomfort in pre-operation moments.
Surgeons hold the lives of people in their hands. Who feels no pressure? Who feels no hint of nervousness? Who feels not even a slight ounce of fear? There is enough intensity and power in every story. Some chapters are short but the length itself does not speak for every story. Surely, there is something in every narration that gets your adrenaline going. I felt for every surgeon. I felt for every patient. I felt for family members. I felt their complications: complications brought by combinations of successes, celebrations, failures, and imperfections.
Even science is imperfect. This is implied by Gawande himself. Nothing and no one is perfect — not science, medicine, nor doctors. While we look at science as the answer to every circumstance inside the human body, it has its own share of mystery. While we look at medicine as the healer, it has its fair share of uncertainty. While we proclaim doctors as gods, they are, after all, still human beings like each and every one of us. They do not have the answers to everything. They are capable of making wrong decisions, wrong moves, and wrong cuts. They are not perfect. That is how Atul Gawande puts it.
He narrates several instances where he and his colleagues were unable to make sound decisions due to pressure and rarity of incident occurrence. On the operating table, science can become mysterious and answers can’t be grasped when time is significantly at risk. Surgeons take all the blame and gratitude. They take all the ups and the downs. They take the best of both worlds. Surgeons or doctors are facades of how imperfect science and medicine can be while the former are mere human beings who have their own mistakes, biases, aspirations, and even personal lives.
I thought what Gawande wanted to convey to readers is that for every right move of doctors, they learn; and for every wrong move, all the more that they learn and persevere. They are imperfect, but what can be more perfect than their imperfections made to improve by learning from their complicated experiences inside operating rooms? The author is able to demystify and glorify surgery and science at the same time.
Complications is as phenomenal as it is heart warming. It serves as an eye opener to the world of laboratory gowns, scissors, and anaesthesias. It uncovers medical and surgical drama in a surgeon’s ordinary day. While we dream of our own aspirations, surgeons dream of getting through the next operation and saving another life. While we review our school lessons, surgeons research on innovative surgical procedures potentially helpful for their patients. While we have problems, surgeons also have problems possibly lighter or generally heavier ones than what we have.
Finding company in solitude By Amalia Airiz Casta (The Philippine Star) Updated August 21, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0)
MANILA, Philippines - Amalia Airiz Casta, 19, is a graduate from the Lyceum of the Philippines University with a degree in AB Journalism. She was the literary editor of their school organ and the editor-in-chief of the school’s literary folio. The main triangulation of her everyday existence is books, chocolates, and good music. She blogs at cinderellaincombatboots.blogspot.com
In Plato’s The Symposium, it is said that humans originally consisted of four arms, four legs, and a two-faced head. Fearing their power, Zeus tore them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves. But what if they are destined never to meet? What if they are seeking the safe refuge of solitude instead of the missing piece that would complete them?
I usually don’t pick books about hackneyed tales of finding your soulmate or Prince Charming, so I’m grateful to Lady Luck or whoever is responsible for pre-programming this sweet serendipity: stumbling upon a copy of The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano. The idea that some people are similar to prime numbers — lonely things, only divisible by themselves or by one — struck a chord with me, and I started pondering how two “primes” can be soulmates. Even in mathematics, prime numbers cannot end up next to each other.
One quick tidbit about me: I like math the same way I may like a five-inch nail being driven into my skull. I passed my math subjects (not a fluke, trust me) but I never got around to really liking them. It’s hard to do that when during classes the helium in my thought balloons are composed of notions like “I bet my bottom peso that no one in my future job will fire me if I can’t recite the first 20 digits of the value of pi.” I often thought of the equations as recipes for culinary wizardry or formulas for potions to torture our brains with (and it didn’t help that most of our high school math teachers resemble witches).
It’s amazing that a book with two things that I’m not particularly fond of ended up being one of the few works I loved unreservedly. It’s a literary gem that toyed cleverly with my brain and at the same time sent my heart trip-hammering with ache.
Without treading on the Mary Sue grounds, the characters are fleshed out in convincingly damaged portraits. Misfits, Mattia rejects the world and Alice feels rejected by it. Their broken natures magnetized each other and in my mind they formed the image of the “cleaved” humans from The Symposium. They can fill out each other’s incompleteness. But what prevents them from joining is that they are like “twin primes,” or prime numbers that are separated only by an even number: 11 and 13, 17 and 19, 41 and 43… close but not close enough to touch.
I’m no pariah by any means, but my common denominator with the characters is how they find reassurance in solitude. Their own versions of isolation always made them whole.
Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. According to Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist from New York University, “There is something very liberating for people about being on their own.” Indeed, there is comfort in letting a shell of peace encase you and take you away from judging eyes, with nothing to hear while you’re inside it except for the echoes of your own heartbeats and thoughts. A steady diet of introspection done in peace is healthy. I understand that humans are social beings, but I also acknowledge the special kind of freedom that aloneness can bring. I’m sure that if I confide this concept to people I usually interact with, they’ll just look at me as if I just cracked the biggest joke they’ll never laugh at. Thoughts like that make me feel as if I’m stuck in the same boat as Mattia, especially in his childhood days.
As for Alice’s case, it’s all about fitting in. At one point or another, everyone wants to be a part of a circle — have a clique of friends that you can hang out with, laugh with, and even cry with. Alice is not a piece that fits in the jigsaw puzzle of her peers, and in trying so hard to squeeze herself in, she inscribes an indelible mark on herself that will forever remind her of her pathetic efforts to please others. I’m not the kind of person who tries to impress people by plastering my face with the mask of who they want me to be. I have my own set of quirks and insecurities, and like Alice, I want to fit in… except that I want to do it without sacrificing the real me.
I’m more fortunate than them because I have friends who, even if they sometimes make fun of me or simply cannot fathom my ruminations on certain things, still accept me for being oddball-ish. All that Mattia and Alice have is each other; the very forms of solitude that complete them ironically create a fissure in the middle of their relationship that both of them cannot cross. I bet Zeus will find it ridiculous that two halves have found each other in an ocean of billions of people, yet cannot produce the glue they need to become the very being that the Greek god fears.
The book has a patented tragedy; there is not much to say about the plot, but the chapters will leave you with a tingling feeling. The characters have suffered greatly apart so that you think they deserve a happy-ever-after. I remember trying to keep the tears at bay as I stayed up in the wee small hours of the morning to finish it, knowing that the characters would not be together because of one stupid decision. I remember the exact moment that elicited breaths from me slightly reminiscent of an asthma attack, when the characters made a stupid choice again and the remaining pages were not enough for them to give each other another chance. It’s… ineffable. With Giordano’s narration that is both cerebral and emotional, every word evokes a resonating blow. It goes through your chest and stays there, like a ghost haunting the chambers of your heart.
After finishing the book, I stayed awake, hugging it and willing the words to penetrate me more, as if by osmosis, because it’s the first time I deeply cherished something that broke my heart so badly. Let me reiterate that I’m not one of those girls who locate her Mr. Right with a compass of cheesiness and fairytales, but The Solitude of Prime Numbers found a chink in my hard heart’s armor, convincing me to open a door for a soulmate even if I didn’t believe in one before.
If I finally find my other half, I will not let us become prime numbers that never touch.
Finding 'Rebecca' By Aimee Lorraine Keh-Lee (The Philippine Star) Updated September 11, 2011 12:00 AMComments (0)
Aimee Lorraine Keh-Lee, was 10 when she found a yellowed packet of newspaper inserted between the pages of her old encyclopedia. Inside the packet was a lock of hair. “When I asked my mom about it she told me it was from my first haircut. She had put it there believing that someday I would grow up to love books.” Today, she is an avid reader and collector of books. She graduated magna cum laude in Business Administration and Accountancy from UP Diliman in 2000. She blogs at http://www.yellowlibrary.com.
What we do in life defines us...or doesn’t it?
If you have been calling yourself, say, a lawyer or a writer for years and suddenly lost your job, have you in effect lost your identity? As a new bride who just quit a 10-year career in marketing to start a family, I had been been asking myself this question for some time. And when I read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, I found a woman facing the same struggle that I did — one that many working women in the Philippines and around the world might be facing, too.
Rebecca starts off with a nameless narrator talking about her experience as a paid companion. While accompanying her employer on a vacation in the French Reviera, she meets a rich man, Max de Winter. After a brief courtship, Max offers her marriage and takes her to his estate in England. It seems like a fairy tale but that is just the beginning. In her new home, our narrator learns about her husband’s former wife Rebecca who died suddenly and whose spirit still lives on at Manderley.
Who was Rebecca? And what really happened to her? A woman of great beauty and conviction, Rebecca seemed to be adored by everyone who knew her — much to the disappointment of the new Mrs. de Winter. She tries in vain to find her place in the new household but the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, was deeply devoted to Rebecca and does her best to psychologically crush the new wife’s confidence. While reading, I found some similarities with the book Jane Eyre where the first Mrs. Rochester was hidden deep within the house alive. But unlike in Brontë’s novel, the Rebecca here is very much dead. Yet she still holds a vise-like grip on the living.
As a love story shrouded in mystery, the book is beautifully written and gripping. Du Maurier creates an atmosphere that is taut and bordering on Gothic. She describes the book herself as “psychological and rather macabre.” Rebecca is included on BBCs list of Top 100 Books. It also has one of the most famous opening lines in literature: “Last night I dreamt I was in Manderley again.”
Rebecca is also the story of Manderley, which was actually based on Du Maurier’s home, Menabilly. By making it the setting of the novel, Du Maurier was able to weave suspense into a great fiction novel while at the same time setting Max de Winter’s living standards in stark contrast with that of his new wife.
Aside from the bizarre characters and the writing style, what really struck me was the fact that our narrator stays nameless throughout the novel. Have you ever heard of a love story where the heroine doesn’t have a name?
So I did some research about Daphne du Maurier and discovered that she wrote Rebecca in 1938 while accompanying her husband on duty in Egypt. At the time, she was actually struggling between her two roles as a writer and as a wife. Because she was married to an army general, she was required to perform certain obligations. At the same time she also had her writing career. Rebecca, who was beautiful and free-spirited, was meant to portray Du Maurier’s writer persona, while the nameless Mrs. de Winter, complacent and insecure, was the army general’s wife. Du Maurier was torn between her career and her marriage, a struggle that is becoming common today as more women are joining the workforce. In this sense, I felt Rebecca was rather ahead of its time.
On my last day at work, my colleagues threw me a despedida party. It included a video of my achievements, which were things I had always been proud of and things that defined me. But after two unsuccessful pregnancies, I knew that nothing else mattered except starting a family. The decision to quit was by no means an easy one, and I couldn’t help but feel that somehow I had lost a part of myself.
That’s when I started thinking whether or not it is what we do in life that defines us. It was also then that I realized Rebecca’s deeper significance. I didn’t think Du Maurier had the answer at the time because she was not ready to give up her writing career. This was proven by the fact that the nameless Mrs. de Winter never found her identity except as the obedient wife of Max de Winter. It was Rebecca who possessed the true character and triumphed eventually. The solution did come to Du Maurier only after Rebecca became successful. In the end, she was able to keep both roles, as a world-renowned writer and a dutiful wife.
But for someone like me who had to choose only one, the answer required a bit more reflection. Nevertheless, I am thankful that Daphne du Maurier wrote about her struggle because it made me realize what I was worried about. With this awareness came acceptance and a decision to move forward.
For me, the answer to the question lay in our ability to accept the circumstances that come our way, learn to adapt, and move on with our lives. Yes, it is true that I can no longer call myself a marketer but I will always love marketing and believe in what it can do (when done responsibly) for business and for the public.
I will always be intense and meticulous in the way I do things. And I will always love books and enjoy reading. And so while trying for our next baby, and with my husband’s support, I decided to devote my energy to my love of books. I now blog about reading and started an online book club for Pinoy readers which, I am happy to say, is already active and growing. It may not be much, and just like my former job it may also come and go, but by running this book club I wake up every day with a newfound purpose: to kindle the Filipinos’ love for reading so that they may also discover, just as it happened to me, that by reading we are able to find ourselves.
The monster within By Angela Yusingco (The Philippine Star) Updated September 18, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0)
Angela Yusingco is a 17- year-old high school senior at Assumption College, San Lorenzo Makati. She enjoys watching NBA games, movies and the TV series, Chuck with her brother. She and her mom love discovering new hole-in-the-wall restaurants and telling random stories to each other. Her dad tells her funny stories about his childhood and high school days which drive her nuts.
She is a free spirit who laughs away problems. She tries to live by Doctor Seuss’ words, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
No, the book I am writing about is not focused on a gigantic, drooling, evil, green-eyed monster where an armed hero tries to slay it. In fact, I am writing about a book which taught me that such monster unknowingly lives within all of us. Whoever thought that a school required reading assignment would open my eyes to life’s reality? To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee was a book I had to read during my third year in high school. Honestly in the beginning, I was not thrilled to read it. Maybe I was just lazy or too preoccupied, but eventually I tried reading the first few pages of the book. I immediately thought it was just one of those ordinary long novels, and I thought to myself, I was right, until I found myself drawn to it.
To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel about a young girl named Scout, who discovers life through her father’s words of wisdom, adventures with her brother and through the gossip and rumors spread by the townfolk in her town — Maycomb, Alabama. Believe me that the rumors spread in this town are queer. One gossip which I find quite peculiar is about a malevolent phantom — a monster thought to be living within their town. This monster was even given the name Boo. To the curiosity of Scout, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill, together they embark on several escapades, which include sneaking out of their houses just to see for themselves the monster neighbor. Because of these, sometimes scary and exciting adventures, Scout realizes important lessons in life, lessons I believe everyone should learn and emulate.
If I were living in a tired old town like Maycomb where gossip is the favorite pastime, I think that I would eventually succumb to the eagerness and desperation of trying to see Boo for myself. I mean, who would not want to see a real life monster, a six-and-a half feet tall man with a scar face, rotten yellow jagged teeth, popping eyes, who eats cats and squirrels — giving him bloodstained hands? Maybe those afraid would not dare but as for me, I wish I could. However, I had a change of heart when I read through the words of Atticus, Scout’s father. His words inspired me and truly changed my perspective of people. I quote him verbatim, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” These words have been imprinted in my mind and heart, so much so that I even memorized it. It taught me that never should we assume or judge people by how they look or what is being said about them. This is probably the most important lesson in life this book has imparted to me.
This novel I could say is truly fantastic not only for its creative way of using a young child as the narrator, but also because of the interesting and worthy characters present in it. The characters teach me lessons in life and are all so different from one another, giving the story a more fascinating plot. For instance, there is Dill, a child who is trying to escape reality by telling lies; Aunt Alexandra, a one-track minded woman; The Ewells, a family the laws are bent for, and The Radleys, known for not socializing with the community and also happens to be the family which Boo belongs to. But of all the characters present, I really admire Atticus for the wisdom and courage he embodies and tries to impart to his children and the town.
Atticus Finch is a father of two and the town lawyer who is tasked to defend Tom Robinson, a Negro accused of rape. Atticus knew from the start that it was a lost case due to the fact that his client was a black man and he knew how people during their time looked down on colored folks. However, he never gives up on Tom. He tells his daughter who asks him if he was going to win it, “Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win”. His words of courage serve as my inspiration in life. Knowing fully well that life is not a piece of cake, I take his words within me and always remember to try and set aside fear before giving up.
This book helped me understand the paradigm of society. It showed me that there will always be a sector of people who will succeed in life, be average folks and those that will be looked down upon. To Kill A Mockingbird opened my eyes to life’s reality of how sometimes we subconsciously judge others based on how they look, speak, their choice of religion, social stature or even because of their preferences and interests. Because of these judgmental thoughts, a monster is born in us. And it continuously grows whenever we stereotype others. It feeds on discriminating thoughts that bring others down for the pleasure it gives to those who think they are more superior than the rest.
Through this book, I journeyed with Scout in her search for truth. Together with her, I learned that people, young or old, should never be victims of harsh rumors and criticism. Never should we fall into society’s ways of thinking that stereotype others. I realized once again through Atticus’s words that shooting mockingbirds is a sinful act, for these birds bring nothing but joyous melodies to people. They are merely innocent creatures created for people to enjoy. But most importantly, mockingbirds represent innocent people in society who like Boo were looked down upon one way or the other.
I know that today, the modern world is fast growing and changing. New technologies are being discovered, new ways and methods of doing things, basically everything new is the way to go. Maybe things do change but I know for certain that one thing should not. And that is character. Sometimes or oftentimes, we see ourselves talking about people in our conversations and we start belittling them. Well, this book has showed me, that it’s never too late to change and start again. It is difficult to turn away from our old ways but allowing change to happen is worth a try. Because I have been trying and now I think I am succeeding in becoming the hero that I am. I finally know how to slay the monster within me.
My 'one day' By Angelica G. Macatangay (The Philippine Star) Updated September 25, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0)
MANILA, Philippines - Angelica G. Macatangay, 22, graduated last April LPU-St. Cabrini College of Allied Medicine and passed the Nursing Licensure Examination last July. “I love Glee. I play tennis. I bleed purple and gold and I’m a die-hard Ginebra fan. I am an astronomer at heart. I watch meteor showers and gaze in wonder at the Milky Way for hours.” She is planning to take up medicine.
Is there one specific day that has changed your life forever?
David Nicholls’s One Day is a funny, moving, hopeful yet heartbreaking book that centers on the lives of two people: Emma Morley, a bookish and idealistic woman who wants to change the world and make a difference yet lacking confidence; and Dexter, an irresistible, very wealthy bad boy with an entirely different set of priorities and principles in life who “wanted to live in such a way that if a photograph was taken at random, it would be a cool photograph.” Though Em and Dex are two exact opposites, they form an unlikely friendship that begins on July 15, 1988 on the night of their graduation, where they first meet, where their lives are changed forever.
You may say it’s just a typical love story — boy meets girl, girl meets boy, become best of friends and fall in love with each other — but no, it’s not. What makes it so special? It starts on July 15 then stops on that same day of every succeeding year for two decades. For 20 July 15ths, the book reveals Em and Dex’s transformation, tells their stories and describes where they are through snapshots. Sometimes they are together. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are happy. Sometime they are not.
Okay, I think I should stop now. I’m not going to give the specifics of the storyline. I don’t want to give too much away because I, for one, really had a remarkable reading experience with this book and I think it’s for everyone to experience it for themselves too. Not that I have the same experience as the protagonists, not that I have been in love with one person for 20 or so years, not that I have a real “Dexter,” it’s just that it has something bigger than that and deeper than romance and drama. One Day has something that deeply affected me. Whenever I flipped through the pages of this book, it made me ponder life and made me look at my own life from a different perspective.
The book made me ask myself when was my “one day” or did I ever have that one day? Did Atlas ever shrug my life? I have a happy life, no doubt about that, but still I couldn’t answer myself. I couldn’t think of any day in my life that marked my transformation. For a fleeting moment, I thought my life was boring — a book without a climax, a song without a coda, a carousel with ups and downs but without a thrill, a hazy memory. But as I kept on reading the book and near its ending, I paused for a second and cried. I realized that I’m such a daft person for thinking my life isn’t exciting! That I don’t have my one day! Because the truth is I have lots! I have thousands even. I have 8,166 days to be exact (and counting). I can’t believe how blind I was. Every day is an adventure. Every day is a challenge. Every day is an opportunity to change things, to turn the ordinary into extraordinary. Every day is made to be the one day. Why did it take me so long to realize that?
And long before, we were told that life is short but I guess it is neither short, nor long. It just depends on how we choose to live it. Emma Morley died on July 15, 2004; it broke my heart. I hated David Nicholls for that but Emma lived her life to the fullest and gave all the love she could give and though it was depressing, I think that was enough. So I learned another valuable lesson. I learned to appreciate things more… to really look at the value of things and of people around me. I learned how to begin with the acceptance of what is, and then make a difference in my own little way.
As Emma always said, “Live each day as if it’s your last… Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately, and fully and well. Experience new things, love and be loved, if ever you get that chance.” Yes, it’s a cliché, I’ve heard it a million times but then again, I’ve ignored it a thousand times too but today and for the remaining days of my life, I will always remember that and keep that to my heart.
The day I stopped wondering what was my one day and started appreciating things, God gave me my one true day, a very life-changing moment, the climax, the coda, the turning point of my life… August 20, 2011. He added two letters after my name: RN.
THIS WEEK’S WINNER: Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism, by Muhammad Yunus
Thinking (social) business By Madelline Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated October 02, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0)
MANILA, Philippines - Madelline Romero holds a degree in Broadcast Communication from the University of the Philippines. She works for a development organization that operates in Mindanao.
Inspiration. It is what one feels is lacking when daily activities have become a grind, and life a routine, the motions of which one forces himself to trudge through.
Inspiration. It is what those in so-called crisis-riddled phases — quarter-life, midlife — cannot see through their depression-shrouded cocoons.
Inspiration. It is what is being sought — or rather re-discovered — by a development worker who has began to seriously question whether the articles that she writes or videos that she produces make a dent at all in the poverty incidence in the Philippines.
Inspiration. It is precisely what I found after reading the story of how Professor Muhammad Yunus, the “banker to the poor” who made microfinance a buzzword in the development world, and his team had endured countless rejections by big banks, and how, using personal resources, they started the micro-loan business with a few women in a rural village in Bangladesh as its first clients.
In Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism, Prof. Yunus, by citing the experience of Grameen (village) Bank, makes a case for social business as the new agent of capitalism which, unlike its current profit-maximizing form, he is convinced will finally lift millions of people out of poverty. Designed and operated as a regular business enterprise (with products, services, customers, markets, expenses and revenues), a social business differs from the traditional business in that rather than seeking to amass the highest possible level of financial profit to be enjoyed by the investors, the social business seeks to achieve a social objective.
For me and many other aid workers who work in Mindanao, a top favorite development aid destination, several of Yunus’ points are bound to resonate.
In a speech delivered upon his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his and the Grameen’s Bank work, Yunus remarked that while terrorism, something that his country Bangladesh has had many experiences on, must be condemned in the strongest language, he believes that “terrorism cannot be defeated by military action.” He believes that for conflict to be stamped out once and for all, its root — poverty —must be addressed. Putting resources into lifting people out of poverty is a more effective strategy than spending on guns, he maintains, because poverty is inextricably linked to peace, and is in fact the biggest threat to peace.
As I read those lines I keep thinking of the gun-toting bags of bones dressed in loose shabby rags that I’d come across in my travels to the mountains of Central Mindanao, and who, I’d been told, were members of the MILF. Do they really understand what they’re supposedly fighting for? Or is the petty banditry occasionally witnessed in the waters of Sulu and Basilan an indication of what their fight has degenerated into — a battle for mere survival? Would they not gladly exchange that gun for productive work, three square meals a day, education for their children, and health benefits for their ailing mother? I bet they would.
Yunus calls into question the ability of our current systems and institutions to end global poverty. He brings our attention to concepts that are “too narrow — our concept of business which makes profit the only viable human motive, our concept of credit-worthiness which automatically eliminates the poor, our concept of entrepreneurship which ignores the creativity of the majority of people, and our concept of employment which relegates humans to passive receptacles rather than active creators — and institutions that are “half-complete at best” like our banking and economic systems which ignore half the world. Poverty exists, he says, because of these intellectual failures rather than because of any lack of capability on the part of people.
The first and foremost task of development, according to Yunus, is to turn on the engine of creativity inside each person. Any program that merely meets the physical needs of a poor person is not a true development program unless it leads to the unfolding of his or her creative energy.
I have seen a lot of people in Mindanao and elsewhere in the country who, with a little assistance, have managed to turn their lives around. And it is true. All they need is a little push to nudge them into finally stepping across the poverty line. And it is their business ideas that have always carried them over that dreaded line. A community-based association in a mountain village in Sultan Kudarat, having successfully operated and maintained a micro-hydro power system installed in their village by an NGO seven years ago, has transformed itself into a micro-loan provider to many of the village members, who in turn use the money for their own development. Up in the mountains, this time in Zamboanga del Sur, a village association is being groomed by a regional multipurpose cooperative to be the middle man, the cooperative’s business partner that will enable the cooperative’s agriculture and solar photovoltaic business to reach more villages in the hinterland.
The challenge is not only for development organizations to implement programs that will lead to the unveiling of creativity of the intended beneficiaries. Nor is it only for assistance beneficiaries to use their creative energies to lift themselves out of poverty. Nor is it only for the current economic and capitalist system to accommodate a kind of business different from its current profit-maximizing model.
The challenge is for everyone (although I feel that the challenge is thrown specifically at me), and it begins with a question: How do you want to make use of your creative talent? Yunus goes on, “Do you want to focus exclusively on making money? If you must, go ahead; but when you develop profit-maximizing businesses, be sure that they also produce positive impacts in people’s lives and steadfastly avoid negative impacts. On the other hand, you may prefer to use some or all of your talent to change the world by harnessing it to address human and social needs. If so, you can devote yourself exclusively or partially to social business. There is certainly no conflict between the responsible pursuit of profit and the service of social goals, and I hope you’ll consider the possibility of combining both in your career. The choice is yours.”
Nick Hornby hits 'The Road' By Julie Ann Ensomo (The Philippine Star) Updated October 09, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0)
THIS WEEK’S WINNER
MANILA, Philippines - Julie Ann Ensomo, 26, of Bacoor, Cavite has been featured in the “My Favorite Book” contest before. She’s soon leaving for Singapore “to find a high-paying job as a graphic designer” which will hopefully encourage her “to have a new 2x2 ID picture taken.”
I usually buy books which I’ve read halfway through inside a bookstore or which have a 70-percent discount. The former is out of guilt and fear — bookstore employees including security guards snooping around my area, their intimidating presence contributing to my purchasing decision — and the latter is out of gluttony. Anything on sale is always better, a mantra I’ve always believed in. Occasionally though, I seek something that is widely recommended by a group of strangers or in a forum I usually visit online — where trusted authors share their opinions — in this case, it was Nick Hornby who compelled me to buy Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
I saw two versions of the book cover. One was simply done in black; the other had a weary, bearded picture of Viggo Mortensen with a tiny arm draped over his shoulder. I opted for the simple black cover, as I didn’t want to confuse The Road with the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring, which had an equally harassed Aragorn on its cover.
Now, there’s a sub-category of literature I’ll call “miserable-themed books.” Life is already miserable, why would I want to read about it? But there was something about Hornby’s article about The Road that made me want to read it so badly; I convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to live a fruitful life without satisfying my literary curiosity. I was dying to read it in silence, alone in my room.
Nick Horny mentioned: “Sometimes they find shriveled heads, or the remains of a baby on a barbecue.” I’ve watched too many gory and violent films, I can probably slurp spaghetti while watching an autopsy; but “the remains of a baby on a barbecue”? Was this a holocaust-inspired book? Would there be a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler in it? A crossover from the Lord of The Flies, maybe? I had never heard of such a thing. I just had to read it.
The first few pages quickly prepared me for its gloomy tone: the blinding light bulb inside my green-colored wall room kept getting dimmer and dimmer as I continued numbly with the pages. And it didn’t help that I was reading in the middle of the night — the deep silence and the dark aura made the story more believable and saddening.
I already knew the premise of the novel from Hornby’s book review: a father and a son set out on a journey in a post-apocalyptic world. Forever traveling and contemplating seem to be the main activities of the characters. Eating is a rare privilege, as well as having fresh clothes, a safe place to stay and freedom. Cannibalism is rampant and there are creatures who tend to round up captives and throw them in a dingy, small room filled with living, naked, frightened humans, all ready to be picked out and sautéed or fried or baked, whatever their captors fancy.
As casual as I wanted that last bit to sound, I still shiver a little just thinking about it. Imagine finding a roomful of dirty, scared human beings begging you to help them and when you’ve realized the situation they are in and you might be in next, you run as fast as you can, dragging your son away to hide from the monsters that have imprisoned those people. I started crying when I finished that scene and as much as I wanted to burn the book, I felt an obligation to finish it. Damn Nick Hornby and his compelling book reviews.
I finally came upon the dreaded barbecued infant scene and it was as harrowing as Nick Hornby made it sound. Apparently there’s a group of people traveling together and one of them is a pregnant woman. Or probably pregnant female heathen, I’m not sure, but when that group leaves, the father and the son see the remains of a headless baby burning on a stick. It wasn’t directly stated where the baby came from but the implications are sickening enough for the boy to look away and for his father to apologize for a situation he had no involvement in. I cannot remember if I started weeping again while reading that particularly disturbing scene or if I just stared dumbly at an empty space on my wall, imagining the whole scene in its entirety.
I already had an inkling of the ending but I would not have expected it to be that wretched and heartbreaking. My heart literally ached when I read the final scene. It was like being present at the saddest funeral of a very close family member. You want nothing to do with it but you need to attend it. The father wheezes and coughs through the night and when he already knows that he can’t go any further and that he will be leaving his son alone, it’s the saddest, most agonizing, mentally exhausting conversation I have ever read in my life. I thought I’d already dried up my tear ducts out but I could barely read the last dialogue between father and son, because the tears had blurred my vision and my snot was obscuring my breathing. I never realized one could become almost dehydrated from crying gallons of tears but I never stopped crying, even after finishing the book. I stayed awake until I heard our maid cooking an early breakfast. I looked at the clock and, damn it, it was already 5:30 a.m. Why did I even think of reading or even buying this book — am I masochist or what? This is all Nick Hornby’s fault, I swear.
The burnt, headless infant and the human-eating livelihood project were only a few of the most devastating scenes in The Road. This book is clearly not recommended for depressive, suicidal types. I bet even Mary Poppins would kill herself after reading this book.
Even now, when I see the novel, I can’t help but recall the awful scenarios that Cormac McCarthy created and embedded in my mind. I always reread a favorite book, especially when I have nothing better to read but for this one, I think I’ll pass; once is enough. Just seeing the cover makes me depressed and I think I’ll just read it again when I need a reminder of how blessed and fortunate I am.
Enjoying time in hell with Gordon Ramsay By Inez S. Reyes (The Philippine Star) Updated October 16, 2011 12:00 AMComments (0)
MANILA, Philippines - Inez S. Reyes, 50, was a corporate marketing executive at Jollibee Foods Corp., Coca-Cola Export Corp. and Ginebra San Miguel before retiring to run a food chain business with her husband. A mother, she studied economics at UP Diliman and took culinary courses at Culinary Institute of America in NYC, among others.
My discovery of the sublime enjoyment of food came late in my life — upon marriage, in fact, to a man who was born to a culinary heritage. In his family gatherings, there would be endless discussions of the best way to prepare this dish or that dish, where to source the best type of this ingredient or that, debates on how their Lola would cook the old family recipes. At first I found it amusing. Later, as I moved up the corporate ladder and was benefited with a representation allowance that allowed me to try all of the latest restaurants, I slowly discovered that, indeed, food could be marvelously cooked, and as such, could be an experience like no other.
So I began to collect cookbooks. While I certainly did not have the talent for actually cooking a meal, I loved the culture and history behind cuisines and dishes, and I had actually dreamed of becoming a food writer.
Then, lo and behold, cooking shows arrived! I first saw these in the United States, then to my great delight, they started airing on local cable television. Cooking shows became my addiction, my favorite stress-reliever.
One day, I saw our two young sons watching a DVD of a television series called Hell’s Kitchen starring a supposedly famous British chef, Gordon Ramsay. The kids were totally engaged in the plot — a group of hopeful contestants competing for Chef Ramsay’s approval in a pressure-filled restaurant kitchen. The kids simply loved Ramsay’s fiery temper, tantrum-like behavior, balanced with uplifting, sincere encouragement when a contestant would really deliver.
From then on, while I did not particularly enjoy the Hell’s Kitchen show, I did become a fan of Chef Ramsay. And if there was anything I admired in him, it was his constant passion for perfection.
Naturally, I started to seek out his cookbooks in stores, bought them, and encouraged our then 11-year-old budding chef son to try cooking his recipes. One summer, we discovered just what a genius Chef Ramsay was. Every Friday, for that entire summer, we would invite my siblings to our home, and our son would cook a three-course meal for them, all coming from the recipes of Chef Ramsay’s cookbook entitled Fast Food. They were all simple recipes, but nevertheless, special in their own way, and every single one of them — absolutely delicious.
Needless to say, we have a collection of all of Ramsay’s cookbooks available in Manila. Not only are the recipes great, but because the books are written in a masterful tone and with honest eloquence one cannot help but read them over again.
So you cannot imagine my happiness when, a few months ago, I came across Chef Ramsay’s autobiography, Roasting In Hell’s Kitchen. What a find!
I could not put it down. I was totally absorbed. Written in his engaging and straightforward style, you actually feel that you are watching the chef tell his story. And what a story it is — the stuff of films, really. From a practically poverty-stricken childhood with an abusive father; to that moment when he realized that, indeed, he could do this, he could cook; to the competitive, intense, sometimes cruel, but always fired-up experiences he went through as he trained and worked (at times for free), with the world’s greatest chefs; to his eventual success with one restaurant after another; to his breakthrough in the United States market; to his still being dragged down to this day by a drug addict brother whom, like his father, he could not seem to bring himself to shake from his life.
But what success he has had, and how valuable the lessons he shared about the road to becoming a consistent Michelin star chef (“No lies. No dirty chefs. No clock watchers. No mummy’s boys. No fat chefs.”). One appreciates even the business lessons (“Choose partners that share your attitude towards running a restaurant business. Put only your own trained chefs in your next restaurants. Check the market before you decide to take the lease.”). Today, my husband and I run a fast casual food chain, and our son is clearly chef-CEO material, having reached a finalist position in a local kiddie reality cooking show. We sat down and talked about Chef Ramsay’s lessons about work and success. Whatever background you come from, success is there for your taking. But you must want it. And work hard for it. If I could turn back the hands of time, it would have been great to be a chef working with Gordon Ramsay. But since that is not possible, I will content myself with being an expert on his cooking (at least theoretically), with thinking about the life lessons he shared, with planning and saving for a trip to visit all his restaurants around the world, and most of all, with being inspired by his life, which was really all about being passionate about perfection.
And by the way, he was simply great in the Master Chef series.
Figurines of fiction & Ian McEwan By Ivan Jim Saguibal Layugan (The Philippine Star) Updated October 23, 2011 12:00 AMComments (0)
Ivan Jim Saguibal Layugan, 20, is an incoming senior at the University of Baguio where he majors in English language and literature. He is the editor of the university publication and a past president of the Luzonwide Association of College Editors (LACE). He is one of 2011’s 35 Mga Makabagong Rizal: Pag-asa ng Bayan (Modern Rizals: Hope of the Fatherland) awardees.
It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy. It was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. That was the only moral a story need have. — Atonement by Ian McEwan
The writers who affect us most deeply are usually the ones we discover early — often in adolescence. We read differently then, with more passionate curiosity, because we are caught in the process of discovering who we are and what we might become.
My teenage book list (I never kept a reading list because I never wanted reading to be onerous — items to be checked off a list as if it was a chore like laundry or an essay-homework.) is composed of detective, science fictions, and mystery novels. Every night, I would be drenched in thick, cold sweat as I raced to determine who the killer was before the author revealed it through the denouement.
I was Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie’s works, and died with him in Curtain. I read all Sidney Sheldon books before college, and was discovering both prophetic and pragmatic haunts by H.G. Wells, Don DeLillo, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, James Patterson, and the shelf-long bounty of horrors and chills by Stephen King in the school library. Always discerning and rereading, I always step upon new thresholds among book sales and shelves, or classmates’ collections and donations.
In my college freshman year, a friend told me that she stumbled upon an Ian McEwan in a bookstore. I first read Ian McEwan at 16 and have loved him since. His works, although not exclusively like the others I enjoyed because I can name-guess killers and culprits, are much in the same wavelength. Critics and readers dubbed him as Ian Macabre, and why not? His plots, equally chilling but quintessentially surprising, always left me hanging on my seat and unsettled.
His characters, all interesting and intersected in various and wretched ways, are always treated with careful descriptions and plausible backgrounds. Their lives, including their passions and professions, are always well described and relayed to create a flamboyant portrait to make the reader understand the character’s judgments, decisions, and motives.
It is in his The Child in Time that a writer of children’s books succumbs to the deep abyss of grief after his child is abducted. I watched how the parents’ relationship crumbled away, and witnessed the inimitable love for one’s child. I found no calm in The Comfort of Strangers, as a couple’s diminishing love sped away with their trip as they relied upon a stranger who twisted their lives. A millionaire and his mistress, a gullible pornographer, a guilt-ridden father and other fascinating personalities are focal points in McEwan’s short story collection, In Between the Sheets. And how can I forget his Booker Prize-winning Amsterdam and the best friends who kill each other after their ex-lover dies and leaves them in a daze of insecurity?
I rushed to the bookstore to find out which book was my friend referring to. In the middle of a long queue of classics and familiar authors and favorites like Mary Shelley, Saul Bellow, and even William Shakespeare, I saw him. His name never fails to startle me. I wonder at how two simple words can emit an air of menace and mystery, both decisive in the cover’s constitution and the contents’ solidity and power.
So I read Atonement one afternoon in the confines of my bedroom, after I paid with almost a week-long’s worth of allowance. It was a paperback edition, and I had never before allowed myself the luxury of purchasing a book with a week’s expense. But leafing through the first pages of the book, I experienced almost immediately that clarifying moment of recognition that a reader has only a few times in life. Here was a book that summoned and spoke to all of me.
At this distance of time, I cannot pretend to understand the full nature of my younger self’s response, but at least three things drew me to McEwan’s prose: its honesty, its characters that drew the world for me, and its intelligence.
His fiction seldom defies time; it cooperates. And the characters are simple people with disparate capabilities pitted against seemingly insurmountable tests. Another writer might well talk about a newlywed’s dilemma in their honeymoon in one chapter, but only Ian McEwan can make it the universe for one novel, as with his On Chesil Beach.
In Atonement, he preserves emotion with an ample supply of intellect. Most works today fail to interweave these contradictory impulses. McEwan, however, writes with unwavering certainty and compassion, so that his characters are left in the drama while the reader is engrossed in a mental debate. In reading Atonement, I would review parts and write in the margins if I were to keep up accurately with the actions of the characters — Briony Tallis, the budding writer; her sister Cecilia and lover Robbie Turner (suitably portrayed by the ubiquitous Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in Joe Wright’s movie version).
But what do you know? I am also a starting writer myself, and it is through these books that I tried to acquire an unyielding point of view. My life is not a perfect one, and there are a lot of people whom, like Briony herself, I have tried to decipher but misinterpreted. I am not sure if the secrets which I am privy to also deserve the brittle pages of a manuscript to give impartiality to their existence and evasiveness, but I personally hold in myself the belief that my hands are the instruments in giving others’ stories justice.
The verisimilitude in Atonement can never be missed, for the characters step off the pages in rational and respective ways. Everyone plays a vital role in provoking the conflicts, and their qualities and anxieties are all contributory to the tragic but sugar-coated conclusion.
No one is required to love McEwan’s characters (his latest book Solar has a pompous, disagreeable protagonist, in my opinion). I myself cursed Briony with every passing page, and would have happily rewritten the ending, that portion aptly classified as “London, 1999.” No one cares if she lived long enough to transcend the war and walk the halls of London in modern times. Her choices are predominantly unforgivable, and her ability to atone through fiction is not a beautiful reality, although it has an appropriate fairness. It is just as fiction has always been — unreal, unwritten, but undermined.
My relationship with McEwan was not only urgent and intense. It also proved permanent. As I grew up, with his books piled on my bedside already dog-eared and the spines creased, I have never encountered a time when rereading his works was tiresome or bland. There are moments when I still feel a tear drop on my chin by revisiting the chapters of his works, as if the mere act would change the endings.
I am glad we crossed paths in my younger years. His fiction laid out for me the purpose and importance of creating what is not only real but essential. I have and will always imbibe other writers and a million works more. I am enjoying other writers but no one will replace what Ian McEwan has left in my heart and soul as a young reader. His characters are in my league now, and we are in one order. I will be graduating college soon and we will write, Briony and I and the rest. Soon, when I realize my own voice in writing, I will also attempt to find ways to refine what this reality hinders in us — our own world, our own time.