Saturday, November 21, 2015

The lost art of paper

I BRING paper to my classes. After three years of studies, I am glad to put to use all these discarded but still useful sheets.

I bring these sheets for reuse also because I’ve noticed that Millennials don’t have much use for paper. Rather than copy the lectures or assignments I scribble on the board, my students take a shot with their phone. They record thesis consultations. They present with PowerPoint.

When I announce an “exercise,” the one or two students with paper often end up sharing the pad with classmates. Perhaps like one awaiting word from someone on a journey, I push this pile of paper on my students because I would like to catch sight of their penmanship or read thoughts that haven’t first been Googled.

A Sept. 4 report from the International New York Times (INYT) confirmed what I always knew. Makers of backpacks—a $2.7 billion industry led by JanSport producer VF Corporation—are redesigning this student staple because Millennials bring fewer textbooks and more electronics.

A team from VF Corporation interviewed two groups of “extreme” backpack users: mountaineers and the homeless in San Francisco. The first group packs gear that must instantly be reachable. Because their life, too, hinges on this packing principle, the second stores disposables in shopping carts but also keeps money and food in backpacks.

All this industrial brainstorming is creating a new crop of backpacks that responds to the digital lifestyle, from designs that can fit solar panels for survival to so-called “Digital Burritos” that ensure cords and chargers will not emerge tangled from a bag.

And paper? The INYT article only mentioned water-resistant materials, which may be regular features that are in place to primarily protect electronic gear. More than three decades ago, I closely examined the straps of a backpack before buying to make sure the bag could hold all my notebooks, novels AND the books I would still be borrowing from the library.

In a coffee shop, where I take an occasional cup of hot choco to chase away midweek blues, I noticed that I seemed to be the first to shake open the shop’s newspapers, whether I came early in the day or just before closing. Even when they don’t come alone, the other patrons are often “in a relationship” with their gadgets.

So when I once saw a fellow writing in a notebook, I stared long and hard just to verify the pencil wasn’t a stylus pen and the platform, a touchscreen gadget in retro disguise, made to look like a notebook in the “classic” style.

As all letter writers, paper book readers, and other pre-digital dinosaurs know, a sheet of paper means communion. Blank or covered in script or text, paper invites indwelling, an emptying and a refilling that I’ve never been able to do in front of a screen.

St. Augustine traced the word’s origin to “com” and “unus,” meaning “with oneness”. His definition embraces every possibility paper can conjure, from a reader’s escape into a world spun by language and imagination to the daily acts of resuscitation that bring together a psyche sundered by timetables and minutiae.

While industries move on and embrace the digital as the future, I think I’ll stay with paper. I agree with mountaineers and the homeless: Keep your lifesavers close to you.

( / 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 22, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, November 14, 2015


KEEPING appearances is as challenging as guessing at appearances.

After a spate of spoiled checks issued to misspelled or misnamed recipients, the accounting office issued a policy that those responsible would be fined P50 for the slip.

The risk of paying for a mistake was more effective than any reprimand. Our office requested two journalists/academics we were tapping as resource persons to email their scanned identification cards.

Revelation. Known by their nicknames, both journalists emailed IDs that showed “Maria” is the first of their baptized names.

Yet, the realization that long-time colleagues are “Maria Lourdes” and “Maria Diosa” on paper was not half as bizarre as the guessing game our family played whenever we met for novena prayers at a chapel in the city.

On the right side of the altar is a man carrying a wooden box of implements. While waiting, relations would whisper, “Who is that saint?”

St. Peter was a popular wild guess until an altar boy made the correction: St. Joseph the Worker.

Years of participating in and covering Labor Day marches left me with the irreverent impression that St. Joseph is the Catholic Church’s unofficial union-buster.

In 1955, Pope Pius XII declared May 1 as the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The papal move was intended to counter the Marxists’ Labor Day celebration.

Last Thursday, in his homily, Fr. Ramon Echica praised St. Joseph as the patron of a good death. Although scripture does not mention his death, the traditional belief is that he died before Jesus began his ministry.

Fr. Echica said that from this belief stems the assumption that Joseph spent his last days in the company of Mary and Jesus, teaching the latter carpentry.

The image of life easing into the next phase comforts.

Yet the diversity, not to mention contradictions, of narratives niggles: which version is true? The parents who name an infant after the mother of Christ to invoke Her blessings or the renaming by the daughter who grows up to reject all except the material and verifiable as superstition?

Discourse is the way we organize information and represent the world to fit our views. For the French postmodernist Michel Foucault, all discourse, specially language, reveals the “regimes of truth” or the power governing human relations.

“Susmaryosep” was not only invoked when we had to redo a pile of papers required to issue checks to the two Marias.

For weeks, we have been on tenterhooks, monitoring if one of the Marias, who is traveling from Manila, would have her flight cancelled in the ongoing preparations for the Asia-Pacific Economic (Apec) summit.

A total of 1,125 domestic and 239 international flights were cancelled to give way before and after the APEC meetings. Two lanes of Edsa, connecting Shaw Boulevard and a megamall, one of the thorniest stretches, are “dedicated” to Apec vehicles.

Work and school will be suspended in the capital. Even its street dwellers will be sent off on government-sponsored vacations.

All these to ensure the heads of Apec member-economies are spared the harsh realities of the Third World. To ensure the messengers get the message right, 4,000 foreign and local journalists covering Apec await “free-flowing coffee, buffet meals and even free massage”.

Foucauldian discourse has a fancy name for “Apec security” and “Filipino hospitality”. Mine is “Susmaryosep”.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 15, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Pinoy magic

SHOULD amulets now be included in airport prohibitions?

As the controversy over the “tanim-bala (bullet planting)” racket is peaking, Sun.Star Cebu reported last Nov. 5 that the Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) confiscated 1,040 amulets from travelers since January this year.

That’s a rate of four discovered every day, reported Elias O. Baquero and Rebelander S. Basilan.

Amulets serve as talismans, which are ordinary objects believed to have the power to protect its owner. Not only thought to be imbued with powerful “white magic,” the amulet is also decorative and worn for embellishment.

Not mine. A friend packed incense powder in a small red pouch she sewed herself when I left for Manila. She knew my anxieties about that interlude. Because of its associations with my friend and the protection it promised, I wore the red pouch beneath my clothes until I lost it in Bohol.

So the next red pouch my friend gave me I secured inside a leather purse I kept in my pocket. Flying back to Cebu, I was asked to turn over the leather purse for inspection to a security worker at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The lady pulled out the red pouch and turned it over several times before asking me.

“Anting-anting,” I blurted. She shrugged and returned the red pouch and purse to me. Later, I emptied the leather purse and found other items: a two-colored jade bi, two wooden crosses on a string, a woven bracelet, a wooden heart with a cross-stake and a glass core, a whistle, and a marble deformed into a lozenge.

Only the whistle was carried for a logical reason: for protection, women are advised to carry and use a whistle to summon help.

All the other items were carried for sentiment. Or a tricky memory: coming upon the marble while weeding in Silang, I wondered how much time had passed to change the buried marble from sphere to lozenge. Pocketing the marble, I forgot about it until the NAIA inspection.

Gauging from the inspector’s phlegmatic acceptance of the red pouch, I gathered many Filipinos accept, if not practice, the wearing or bringing of talismans.

Not all these objects are fanciful. While I now keep the leather pouch in my backpack at the airport, I’ve still been asked, after a body check, to explain other contents of my pockets: a small canister of eucalyptus balm, tinfoil-wrapped ginger root, which I said I take to soothe a sore throat.

To each his belief. Dud bullets are common in souvenir stalls in Baguio and Vigan, where I got my kamagong heart with the cross-stake. According to Sun.Star Cebu, MCIAA personnel confiscated the most number of bullet amulets in May.

Is it because more people travel during this merry month of fiestas? There is a whole slew of beliefs covering all possible emergencies during fiestas, from rituals to ensure the food doesn’t run out to protection from schemes to trap you into marriage (by local damsels dying to escape the barrio) or poison you (by jilted swains).

On the other hand, while others are still exploiting the anting-anting practice to stage an extortion racket or discredit the administration, it may be wiser to keep the talismans at home. Or wear something innocuous, such as the local version of the bulletproof vest, an undershirt printed with magical incantations.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's November 8, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, "Matamata"