A Rare Book-reading Event at the Philippine Embassy

My daily existence these days is far from my university days from more than twenty years ago where intellectual exercises of reading and writing and talking dominate the atmosphere that is, I’d like to believe, typical of a University of the Philippines (UP) environment. So, when an acclaimed writer is available to share his time, the trying-hard writer in me yearns to be around such a brilliant mind so I could suck all the creative juices he brings hoping that I could at least be inspired to patiently sit down and work on that eternally elusive piece of great writing.

When Philippine Embassy’s Vice Consul Ella Karina Mitra organized a book-reading event for Palanca Awards Hall of Famer, Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay Jr., I asked my husband for a Sunday afternoon off from family last Sunday, the 5th of June.

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With Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay Jr.

The book reading was done at the Rizal Hall of the Philippine Embassy Chancery at 3pm. I got to chat with Sir Butch’s wife before the book reading started. Ms. Beng is an Ilongga like me so it was enough for me to engage with her in our own Hiligaynon language the whole time. The Korea trip was actually a private trip and a birthday treat for her. It was nice talking to Ms. Beng as we can both relate to Iloilo’s progress these days. She has just recently visited Iloilo and I am going back there for a summer vacation this end of June. And look at how many Hiligaynon speakers we have that Sunday afternoon!

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With Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay, Jr., Philippine Ambassador to Korea H.E. Raul Hernandez, Social Welfare Attache Ms. Lucita Villanueva, Miss June “Beng” Dalisay

Ms. Lucita Villanueva, the Philippine Embassy-Seoul’s Social Welfare Attache is an Ilongga, too.

Dr. Butch Dalisay considers himself a “Swiss-knife writer”. He writes novels, plays, movies, and is a regular columnist of the Philippine Star. His column “Penman” appears every Sunday. “Penman” is devoted to arts and culture, his travels, and contains self-deprecating humour when he writes about himself. We all had a good laugh at his readings. He started with an excerpt of his 1992 novel, “Killing Time in a Warm Place” about growing up during the Marcos years. The 3 other readings were articles from his column “Penman”. The funniest piece was his 1996’s “Goodwill to Filipinos“. It’s about OFW Pinoys living and working in the US and our penchant for beauty pageants. Today, 20 years after that piece was written, beauty pageants still play a major part of our “culture”… in every place where there is a congregation of Filipinos. And we all know how amusing it gets when beauty pageants are taken too seriously.

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Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay, Jr. reading some of his work at the Philippine Embassy- Seoul

My favorite part of that afternoon was during the Q&A that followed. We got to see the “Swiss-knife writer” that he says he is. I had been witness to Nick Joaquin’s known eccentricity: drinking ice-cold San Miguel beer before he gets into the mood of writing or working. And we all hear stories about other writers’ writing ritual. Dr. Butch honestly admitted not to have this luxury of a ritual. He writes everywhere because writing is also his profession.

“How can we ensure that the Filipino heritage be known to Filipino children not living in the Philippines?”, was one of the questions raised. This is closest to my circumstances, as well as of every mom in that room that afternoon. Dr. Butch advised that we have a good number of Filipino Children’s books these days and it would be good to expose kids to these. I am encouraged to expose my sons to Filipino works this coming vacation. When I asked my older son (who loves to write) to go with me for the book reading, he asked “Will Rick Riordan be there?”. I can’t blame the kid. I haven’t done any good effort to introduce him to Filipino writings. And yeah, even I stand guilty on this.

And there’s the never-ending issue on what defines us as Filipinos. This is one of the 3 main themes of Filipino writers. As Dr. Butch said, our identity (or lack of) is  grounded on 350 years in a convent (Spanish rule as source of our Catholicism) and 50 years in Hollywood (Hello, strong American influence). Another dominant theme is class division. We only have to watch teleseryes and movies and we all know what this means.

So, what keeps Filipino writers from getting international recognition? Our medium (English) is a big factor. Though we are great English speakers and writers, using the English medium to show our culture through written works give it a less authentic impact. So, what we need is a professionally-trained pool of translators who can do justice to translate great pieces from several Philippine languages. We have rich culture from Waray, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Iloko, Akeanon and other regional languages. I know some people from UP who are driven to preserve these written culture through their writings. Kudos to them!

Wouldn’t it be great to next hear of a Filipino writer with an internationally-recognized masterpiece?

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10 thoughts on “A Rare Book-reading Event at the Philippine Embassy

  1. It was interesting to read that: “Though we are great English speakers and writers, using the English medium to show our culture through written works give it a less authentic impact.” That sounds unfortunate and I hope translators do justice to the Filipino works they come across.

  2. Wow what a wonderful way to spend the day! I’ve never been to a book reading before (as I haven’t ever been in the same city as my favourite writers before).
    Thank you for sharing Wendy!

  3. Oh my gosh Butch Dalisay!!! I love his blog! I used to follow it religiously before getting married!
    I wish I were in Korea and had known about this book reading. About exposing our children to Filipino literature, Butch Dalisay is right. There are so many good books written by Filipinos nowadays! The quality is getting better and better and I highly recommend visiting your nearest National Bookstore or the Adarna bookstore to get your fill of Filipino books. I’ve written a few posts sharing a few of them. I recommend this site for more Pinoy books: Also for your kids (if they’re old enough)I highly recommend this comic book series, Trese. The kid in me just loves it so much! If you want more recommendations let me know, I have a few in mind! 🙂

    1. Hi Jackie, thank you very much. Sir Butch had sime of his former students among the attendees that afternoon. It was nice to see. And like you, he did mention about children’s books that are getting better these days. Will definitely go and check these on our vacay this summer.

  4. My dear! Have you not heard of ‘In The Country by Mia Alvar?!’ It is the internationally recognized, literary masterpiece that you have asked for! Her novel was on every summer reading list of 2015 and she won a number of accolades for her debut writing effort. The book It is something we can all relate to as Filipinos in diaspora. The read actually brought meaning to my identity especially one that has been confused in the process of diaspora. I have a review of it on my blog here under ‘December 2015:’
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    1. Oh my! This is the first time I have heard of Mia Malvar. And I’ve got to have her book. Thank you, Izzy! This is a treasure!

      We have many good writers. Mia Malvar’s is a collection of stories. We are yet to produce an acclaimed timeless classic in the league of Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filipibusterismo” or even just novels in the league of India’s Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” and Afghanistan’s Khaled Hosseini’ “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. These are internationally and critically acclaimed pieces. We’ll get there:-).

  5. This author sounds like he writes some interesting stuff! I think I might enjoy his column the most. That’s a great idea to get your children reading Filipino books so they can be more exposed to their Filipino heritage. I’m glad you had this opportunity and enjoyed it Wendy!
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