Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Social Scientist @ The 33rd Manila International Book Fair

It was that time of the year once more when wages are set aside and daily allowances saved up for the much awaited event among Filipino bibliophiles: the Manila International Book Fair!

In its 33rd run, the longest running book fair in Asia aims to attract more Filipinos to the event and encourage the love of reading to everyone, but most especially to males (Hence, the all-male book ambassador line-up). But the MIBF need not to entice me with bibliophile geeks, gays, and nerds just to go and visit. Having attended my 1st MIBF in 2009, I’ve made it a point to religiously attend since then and now I’m in my fourth year. Each year, the book fair always had something special in store for enthusiasts like me which made us come back for more. But what makes this year’s MIBF special is that I got to spend it with a fellow bibliophile and writer, Clarrise, whose blog “Orchestroscopy” I’m a huge fan of.

Fans line up for Ramon Bautista's book signing. (Photo by Clarrise E.)
We went on a Saturday, on the 2nd to the last day of fair, which, when combined with a 3-day weekend sale, a CosPlay event, the collegiate basketball games, and a few rainshowers, made the SM Mall of Asia the smallest and most cramped mall in the world. Upon entering the Main Hall of the SMX Convention Center, the quintessential red and white arch of the country’s National Bookstore would greet visitors. Over to the right is book fair newbie, Fully Booked, the country’s fastest growing upscale bookstore. As my new buddy and I (it was the first time we met in person) strolled to the aisles and sections of the fair, we found more stalls selling religious books, big publishing companies (Rex, Diwa, Edcrish, Scholastic, and more), and companies selling educational tools and materials. I can’t help but have a sarcastic grin: this is just what we need every year in a book fair—big bookstores and publishers and tons of religious crap!

Gone are the rare stalls that offer one-of-a-kind books in prices that range from reasonable to dirt cheap. Back in 2009, I was able to buy a lot of stuff for a budget of Php 1000, including a Reader’s Digest atlas for my Geography students. Back then, Diwa Learning Systems still sold books and back issues of their classic Bato Balani and Damayan magazines. Now, their booth’s look and feel somehow gives you the feeling of being in a Consumer and Electronics Show rather than a book fair. And anywhere in the fair, you won’t find a unique and artsy bookmark which made my buddy a bit disappointed.

I don’t know if Pasay City has already banned plastics, but it doesn’t help the environment to know that the MIBF still uses plastics to package the merchandise they're selling. I hope this issue will be addressed in next year’s fair by encouraging readers to bring their own shopping bags.

The fair is not without its share of good traits as well. Amazingly, there are still a lot left for the kids as the major children’s book publishers are still around and going strong. Passing by Precious Hearts Publications, we saw the Tagalized version of contemporary bestselling novels such as Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight”, and Suzanne Collin’s “The Hunger Games”. While it was only after the fair that I found out that these versions had a lot of language flaws, at least someone is setting a trend in the publishing industry by making foreign works more appealing to locals. However, let’s not bring up the issue of local works being translated and marketed to foreigners, as it is another issue that would take more than a blog post to tackle.  

UP and Ateneo de Manila Press have also offered a lot of great works from less-known but equally talented writers. For my MIBF haul, I was able to snag:

My MIBF haul from UP Press and Ayala Museum (Photo by the author)
“100” by UP Writer’s Club
A collection of bittersweet literary works by UP students

“And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth” by Carljoe Javier
The first published work of a self-confessed geek and contains hilarious but amazingly realistic anecdotes of his daily experiences as a geek.

“The Filipino is Worth Blogging For” by Angela Stuart Santiago and Katrina Stuart-Santiago
An indie publication by a mother-daughter tandem and contains their positions and considerations of some of the country’s most crucial political and social issues to date.

“Pogi Points” by Stanley Chi
The not-so gentleman’s guide to looking good [for girls], as the sub-headline says.

While there were some disappointments on our part (my buddy didn’t get her bookmarks and wasn’t able to have her picture taken with Ramon Bautista), for me, this year’s book fair experience made quite a memorable impression me. It was the first time I’ve attended the book fair with a person who shares my passion for books and writing. All throughout our time together, we’ve exchanged ideas about our favorite authors and books, our writing styles and experiences, and got to learn more about each other on a personal level. What started as two mere online acquaintances turned out to be kindred spirits now embarking on a expedition to a great friendship!

“It was the most refreshing time I’ve had in months”, Clarrise said right after we parted and called it a night. I couldn't agree more. TSS

You can also read Clarrise's thoughts about the 33rd MIBF in her blog.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Photo courtesy of The Philippine Star

I've been wanting to write a piece of Buwan ng Wika (National Language Month). However, my views on language differ heavily from nationalist linguists that publishing it in August might be very insensitive to them and their followers. Hence, this September piece.

The thing with nationalist linguists is their fanaticism over the pure use of Filipino as a means of instruction and business. While I understand their fanaticism (being a purist myself back in college), going gaga over Filipino just isn't gonna work in the 21st century, let alone for a country with over 150 dialects and a least two major religions, Christianity and Islam.

We all know the fact that Filipino is superseded by English and the local dialects as medium of instruction and business in Visayas and Mindanao. In Madrasah schools, Arabic, the language of the Quran is taught to learners. This complex variety in language use is what makes proficiency in Filipino even more difficult for the rest of Filipinos and irks nationalist linguists even more. The problem is even more complicated by the rise of text lingo, gay lingo, jejemon, and other sub-culture languages.

The Department of Education is hopeful that the Mother Tongue Program would address these problems once and for all. The program decrees that the medium of instruction should differ based on the vernacular of each region. Hence, beginning school year 2012-2013, lessons and educational materials for subjects other than Filipino and English will now be offered in Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, and 12 other dialects. The DepEd believes this will increase students retention of learning since lessons are taught in a language they can relate with, as research has proven.

Honestly, I welcome Mother Tongue. I hope it paves the way for the preservation of local dialects especially those nearing extinction. But if Mother Tongue was given the opportunity, the same should be the case for sub-culture languages, in particular, the use of Taglish. In classrooms nationwide, the reality is that teachers code switch between English and Filipino (or English and vernacular for other regions). And the students have picked up their teachers' practice without the decrease in learning, as is the case in Roger M. Thompson's book "Filipino English and Taglish".

Students acceptance of Taglish as a medium of instruction only shows that choosing a language as a medium of instruction or business is not just an issue of national pride or location but also an issue of utility. And by utility, I mean, the ability of the learner to relate to the medium of instruction. Nationalist linguists should accept the fact that not all English words can be translated to Filipino. Hence words like lakas-kabayo (horsepower), sinupan (archive), and pahatid-kawad (telegraph), should not take prominence over their English counterparts if students cannot relate with them. Nationalist linguists should know better that language is not about national pride but understanding and culture.

However, I don't prescribe standardizing Taglish as a medium of instruction. Why standardize something that's already a prevailing practice? The thing with Taglish it gives users the freedom to code switch and thus, standardizing its use will limit such freedom. The key to its appeal is its informality and educators must keep it that way. What should remain (or should be) standardized is the learning of English, Filipino, and at least a dialect for a specific region--English being the language of profession, Filipino being the national language, and the dialect being the native language of individuals.

Our thrust towards language should be the preservation of balance between languages. All languages must be allowed to flourish and evolve without superseding each other. People must adapt to changes in language by learning new ones rather than imposing a language over others. Just take our national hero, Jose Rizal, who spoke in a multitude of foreign language and local dialects. His ability to communicate with different people is what made the entire nation, relate to his works and deeds.

In the Bible, God promised the apostles the gift of speaking in tongues so that they may spread the Gospel to the world. If God did not desire to give us such gift, then he wouldn't confuse our language in the first place. TSS

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