Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Review (and some reflections): Cloud of Sparrows - Takashi Matsuoka

Samurais = check
Ninjas = Check
Geisha = Check
Zen monks = check
Cowboy gunslingers? =check

Zen allusions, sword duels, sword vs gun duels, gun vs shuriken, ancient Japanese culture = check!

What more can I, who grew up watching anime, ask for?

I was so used with the grand number of characters any long novel has (like that of Game of Thrones) that I was unimpressed with the humble number of characters listed in the 400 page book's cast of characters.

That, however, did not matter. Matsuoka offers a league of extraordinary heroes: An enigmatic lord whose plans surprise and baffles those around him(and the reader-myself), a legendary but lunatic swordsman, a gunslinger with an equal reputation and a motley crew of geishas, ninjas, monks who may or may not be what they seem to be.

And this is perhaps the only book that features a unique style in shifting point of views. Time and again, Matsuoka would get into the head of any of the characters. He does this really often, but he does so instantly, without signals, but gracefully without confusion on who was thinking or talking. 

Divided into three books, divided into chapters divided into short sub chapters, the novel is about Lord Genji's rumored prophecies and his clan's struggle to survive despite inner turmoil and battle against outside attacks from century old enemies. This is staged at a turning point in Japanese history where foreigners and their ways of thinking threaten the samurai and their code. Thus differences and similarities are magnified e.g. those between Zen and Christianity or between unequivocal words.

Ending this with some spoilers: quotable quotes and reading comparisons.

"What does 'banzai' mean?

It is an ancient way of saying 'ten thousand years.' The true meaning is more difficult to explain. I suppose you could say it is an expression of deepest sincerity, deepest commitment. The speaker is expressing his willingness to trade eternity for this single moment"

"Kawakami went into the cottage alone. It was not much more than a simple shed in one of the smaller gardens of the vast castle. Yet it provided him with the greatest pleasure in life.


Extended Reading:
The novel is often compared to James Clavell's shogun novels. Having read Shogun, I would say, that while Clavell's offers political intrigue, Matsuoka takes on philosophy, art and religion.

Not to take anything away from Shogun, it still is one of the best and most action packed reads despite bordering on 1300 pages, but I found that Matsuoka offers more details into individual encounters like scenes and dialogues. 

Fast, fun, facts and fallacies?

(bought this book from: Bookends Baguio)

1. Just how am I a junkie into Zen thought/philosophy? If I would be forced to choose any religion, then I would choose Zen(if it can be considered one).

2. What is with the samurai? That many (most men) find the warrior and the code so enticing?
Is it the artful tension between what is barbaric and what is civilized? - the blade and the killing it follows, the patriarchal status quo set against a supposed art of anything, or the supposed minimalism of movement/emotion that what could be beneath is actually an even greater emotion - the emotion to subdue, or an art that is too wasteful or a costly ceremony?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: Desire Provoked

Cliched as it is, remember never to judge a book by its cover.

I found this book from my dad's "To sell" pile as we were cleaning my grandma's workshop. I did not know the author and the book had one of the back covers that usually turn me off- a large picture of the author.

Old, to be sold(rejected), with a bad cover, with low goodreads ratings/readers, and written by an unfamiliar author, this book surprisingly turned out to be one of my best reads this month reminding me never ever to judge a book by its cover or its reviews. 

If you are into literary theory, you will mine this book for its "post"ness - rife with what is postcolonial(seen through his friend Than), postfeminist(through his wife), postmodern( through his neighbor Rosa). 

And through its main character Addams, we get to see how intelligent people do and think weird things, deal with their increasingly fragmented existence and still emerge victorious.

The story is masterfully told through a cycle of dreams, real life, maps, seances, and memories. 

Fast and fun facts:
Got it from: My dad's "To sell" pile of books
Finished: at a beach somewhere in La Union
Quotes: Saussere, Hegel and a whole lot more

ending this review with a quotable quote: 
"Attending one cause to the neglect of others inevitably foreshortens knowledge of the overall effect...the right breast is just as marvelous as the left..."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: The Seven Fires of Mademoiselle

By Aby Weygan

"The man must make the first move" so declares the unbelievably beautiful nanny Mademoiselle who finally falls in love not among with her many admirers but with a disinterested, balding fireman. Why with him when there are more handsome, and well off others? More importantly, how do you make a man make the first move?

Written by Buenos Aires born playwright Esther Vilar, The Seven Fires of Mademoiselle is a warm, funny, and instructive tale of a series of fires around Washington D.C and set against the backdrop of figures like JFK and Martin Luther King. Narrated by Carlota whose unique intellectual scrutiny misses nothing like: The hypocrisy of friendship, the hypocrisy of people who call themselves pro-poor or leftist-like her parents, the logic of crime, and the euphoria of arson. 

She is twelve years old. And has much to learn. With her diplomat parent always away, she spends most of her time with her French nanny, who in turn instructs her not only in French, as was commissioned, but also on love, courtship, manliness, and on a topic the Mademoiselle knows best, the arithmetic of beauty.

Fast and Fun Facts:
Got it from: Bookends Baguio
Relate much? I Think I too am balding :)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Book Review: Embers by Sándor Márai

From Hungarian author Sándor Márai comes a meditation on many topics: friendship, betrayal and revenge; old age, with its solitude; music and hunting; and an excursus on love and fidelity.

Two men, friends since their youth, meet again after 42 years of their own self-imposed exiles from each other and from the world. Their last meeting was with a woman, now dead.  So what happened during the last meeting that proved so detrimental it shattered all the lives of those three? why did it happen? and why after 42 years must these two friends, a General and an "Artist", meet again?

These questions were enough to keep me glued with the novel but I was exasperated since (1) while the event should be about two friends who are meeting again for one last talk, we instead get to hear almost all the supposed "talk/dialogue" from only one of them. (2) This is magnified by the fact that no other character is explored save from those mentioned by the one character who does all the talking and reminiscing-often with a matter of-factly tone.

I was not approaching the story properly.

Often, however, novels like these need be read like poems. So instead of looking at poor word choice like how in a segment, the character had to referred to time and again as "the son of the officer of the guards said.. the son of the officer of the guards, the officer of the guards", or why "Embers" in the first place? all of which becomes becomes clearer towards the end. Instead of expecting characters, , scenes, events, descriptions, and resolutions of conflicts, I was now looking at expressions, insights, and be contended with the few but cryptic scenes-especially the one at the end.

Witty, unexpected observations on the human drama, and enough questions on truth makes this 240 page novel interesting enough to finish in almost a day

Fast and Fun Facts:
Got it from: Bookends Baguio
paraphrased quote and unwarranted reflection:
Only men, never women, know true friendship. Which brings to mind the fact of fickle reasons women fight each other, and how long those grudges last. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014


By Invictus

Digital painting by rondeevb posted on

Due to an unexpected turn of events, I am sitting with a middle-aged woman in a cab.
In a language my heart knows so well but my tongue alienates, she asks, “Nalpas mu mo’y ihkul mu?”
With ease, I reply, “Ohm. Mun-ngunowa’ mo, anti.”
Swiftly, I comb through my memory for a name, but I find none.
Embarrassed, I ask, “ngane eh bo’y ngadan mu, anti?”
She mentions her name, and every syllable discharges a hundred memories.
A distant relative, a childhood playmate’s mother, I remember now.
From petty topics, the conversation goes complex, and I find myself drifting away from the discourse.
My tongue, unable to merge meaning with words, resorts to code-switching to make up for my failure to speak my mother tongue fluently.
Ifugao and Ilocano seesaw inside my mouth, and for the first time, I feel ashamed of knowing more than one language.
Along with two official languages and two more regional languages, I have spent twenty-six years using bits and pieces of my mother tongue but have never actually cared to fully master it.
Years of usage has allowed me to wield every consonant and vowel so that I sound “native”.
But perfect articulation alone is never sharp enough to pierce through the natural flow of discourse.
For years, I have equated language learning with survival. But I know I’m not the only one.
Frustrating how the tongue never makes it to adulthood before it gets molested by some foreign language.
We treat our native tongue as if it was a snake’s skin we could carelessly shed after perfectly dressing ourselves with a language that is never ours.
We split our tongue and hiss words that preach self-loathing.
When inferiority complex coils itself around one’s identity, it is convenient to grab the sandpaper and rub the roughness away. And that is why we decide to learn how to speak the English language impeccably.
See, we, humans, tend to stitch pretty wool to our skin to fit in this sad world of commercialism.
But this lion of a body, this tongue so fierce it could summon the spirits of the dead, these feet that have walked mountains and fields, should never serve as a sacrificial animal to appease the pocket.
As I speak my native tongue, every word feels like gravel in my mouth. I taste my own blood, but I’ll never spit it out.
There are no grand metaphors to romanticize the hardship of life, no euphemisms to sugar-coat the gross.
What it has is simplicity, authenticity, and the mysteries of life passed down to us by the gods.
Words are harsh-sounding, and some get stuck in your throat, yet every slur in between syllables resembles the curves of the rice terraces.
A friend, whose first language is Arabic, has once said he feels like a warrior when he tries to speak Kankanaey, his mother’s mother tongue. And I praise him for saying that.
Another friend, whose mother tongue is Ilocano, has just said that Ifugao, and all other local mother tongues, is the language of the gods. And I praise him for saying that.
And so when the cab stops, I look at her and say, “hitu tau mo, anti.”

Saturday, November 8, 2014


By Patrick Puguon

It has been a year since.

I heard the news from her brother when it happened, and it haunted me the days after. It was a cold November evening as I took it all in. My phone fell from my fingertips when I heard his electronic voice speak out those unfortunate words. That day, I felt a stiffness overwhelm my body. I was in disbelief; a large piece of my life has been chipped away from me in an instant.

I have known her since we were younglings. When my parents first drove out to the countryside I met her. Hair like black gold fell lusciously down her shoulders. Those eyes bright with innocence stared thoughtfully when mine caught hers. Lips that always curved to a smile arched upwards as I strode closer to her. She spoke with a tiny timid voice, but it was heavenly for me. She was just as wonderful to behold even when we were children. That first meeting—that first talk, first touch—convinced me that she must be mine. Mine alone.

But she was taken away from me.

I listened to no one. Their words were vague and blurry, but I seemed to recall phrases of apologies, condolences; remarks of enthusiasm, hands clasping my shoulders—as if any of these would make me forget the undeniable fact. I will never be whole again.

So I began to dream of her. It was a recurring trance of sorts every time I see her when I fall asleep. I always try to reach out to her with my arms outstretched, failing to pull her closer to my chest and simply give in to her warmth. I ran after her as the image dims in each and every instance, but I would never reach her or even touch her. All I see is her back turned against me, only the slim silhouette of a lifeless body burned into my head. She looks back at where I was, but she gazes blankly—like the emptiness of the dark.

Then she stops looking back.

As I continued to dream about her, she no longer attempted to look back at where I was—only appeared farther and farther away from me. It pained me that this made it more difficult to remember her face. I could only describe it but I can never see it again.

I forget when the din of the outside world became a shallow whisper. Each day I go to work, I succumb to a screeching chair and a vacant screen. For hours I would look at it, wondering if this was what she saw when she looked back at me. My boss told me I have been laid off from work a week after; the reasons were gibberish to me. I was only scrutinizing the carpeted floor of his office as he spoke. I began to deprive myself of sleep. I did not want to see her leaving me again.

So she visited me while I lay awake.

I began keeping all her things I have in my apartment into a box—remnants of my fondest memories. I stored them in an unused closet never to be reopened for my sake. But they seem to have a life of their own.

On one occasion I find her necklace on my bed. I was startled and terrified, then angered by such a cruel joke played on me. Who would have the nerve to do this to me? On another I pick up torn pieces of her picture on the floor. I cried as I took each one of them from where they rested. Why would anyone wish to tear the only photo I have of her?

Finally, in the middle of the night I see her face on the bathroom mirror—all the hair at my nape rose in horror. A familiar chill ran down my spine. It was only for a second or two, but that same blank stare crept into my very soul. She was sending me a message.

Thus she came closer to me as I lay on my bed. I was petrified and paralyzed. I was screaming in my head, but my voice failed me. She inched even nearer, her hand outward towards my face. Her fingers were cold, but they stroked my cheeks—then my neck. She leaned closer to look at me in the eye. But her face…I saw no face. No eyes, no nose, no lips—only the pale colour of her skin. Mouth-less, she spoke to me the very way she spoke to me when we were young—that tiny timid voice.

She told me I must be whole again.

She visited me again a month before our anniversary. On that same bed I could not bear look at her. She caressed by bare chest, my arms, as I tried to edge away. I felt her begin to lie beside me. As her skin touched mine, my breathing halted—I was disoriented and only panic surfaced. She placed her arms over me and clasped tight. That voice that I once found to love as a child now slithered into my ears like a shrill chorus of dread.

She whispered to me that I must be whole again…with her.

I now see the truth of her words as I stand by the edge of a concrete precipice. I peek below and gape at the dark chasm beneath me. It is the same dark oblivion that she saw as she looks back at me. There is emptiness inside of her that only I can fill. We must both become whole again—and only our bond will make it so.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Deconstruct This! (Diary of the Frustrated Literature Teacher Entry 2)

Ten slow minutes and the bell would ring. But I saw from my students no eagerness for freedom like fixing their bags in advance- Readying to be dismissed and from this prison called the classroom.

No, none of those. Not even when the chatter of other convicts along the corridors was invading my classroom. It was almost a miracle considering that what was making them and their brains stay was a poem. Almost. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


By Aby Weygan

Getting to know a stranger starts with one look. Just one.

Usually followed by some knuckle crunching, the usual pushing  and shoving, the occasional name calling "Duwag! Duwag!" and then the celebration! Fight! Fight! Exchange of spits, exchange of fists, attempts to grab, fails, attempts to punch, hits, more fists, one boot, one empty  beer bottle(Red Horse 500 ml) to the back of the head, hits, more fists, one boot to the face. A foul!  Now others join, get ready to rummble!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Some Dragons are Just Bigger

By Beth

One fight fought
One dragon slain,
Everyone has a battlefield
Everyone has something to exterminate.

But sometimes,

One man’s arena
Is just another man’s ground for play
And one man’s big fight
Is just another man’s sparring game.

Throughout all the wars we find ourselves in
And all the enemies we have to face…
Be it known that all battles big or small,
Are lost or won… inside your brain.

I LOVE YOU! (the poetry of our lives)

Photography and Poetry by Karlo Weygan Kokoi Ravanera

the Poetry of Our Lives,
just like the Poet--
would persist and continue to live on...
For the Days, we count not--
but stead
the moments, we cherish,
for THAT is what's vital and of utmost importance

YOU are;
to ME, LIFE...
YOU, to me, IS JOY...
You is YOU
YOU are ME...



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Monica grabbed Bill

By Kurt Bagayao

Snoring your way to your much-anticipated REM.
Hoping you could catch on your dreams with the sun as your emblem.
Numbers and letters on the glass, scribbled and decoded for your viewing pleasure.
Leaving "Aha!" moments leaving a wide grin on your face like a caricature.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


By Invictus

How do you murder a butterfly in its metamorphosis?  
Squash the egg?
Splatter the caterpillar’s blood on the ground?
Crack the cocoon open?
Rip the wings off of a butterfly?
Monstrosity will never run out of ways!

This is not fiction. There are unborn babies whose future parents have unapologetically declared on Twitter they’d kill their children at the first sign of gay buoyancy.
Two years ago, Zachary Dutro, age 4, was murdered by his own mother believing he was queer. 
In this picture, his intestines hadn’t been torn open yet.
And it would be months before liquid leaked out from his damaged bowels.
A few months ago, Billy Lucas, age 15, was bullied to death.
Frenetic in his attempt to escape from his tormentors, he hanged himself in their barn.
Two years ago, Elvin Gonzalvo, age 21, was led by his father’s homophobic words to believe he was better off dead, so his body was found dangling in that dungeon of a home.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

SAID THE FOX (as inspired by my favorite story, The Little Prince)

By Beth

The Little Prince and the Fox (c) Harcourt, Brace, & Co.
The Little Prince and the Fox (c) Harcourt, Brace, & Co.

I am not like the Little Prince’s Flower

Protected in her glass globe which she demanded.

She pretends to cough and sneeze so that she will be pitied

Somehow, I find that  irritating.

I run away from anything that comes close.

I am often feared but nonetheless hunted

And I can be as contradictory as the man who fears me yet hunts me.

Do I want to be killed by my seeker?

Of course not. I do not think I run toward my death.

I run toward a home…

So… maybe I can be tamed?

Yes I may cower as a hand stretches out to me

And I cringe at the slightest touch

But I am tired of running…

And you… you calm me down…

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dear Girl

By Invictus

Photo by:

Girl, you have been drinking dew from leaves
believing it would quench your thirst for morning cuddles.
Convinced that the world is a wide winter bed,
you hike the wilderness alone seeking for a campfire.

Girl, why have you tied your worth to a dying tree?
But that doesn’t matter now, does it? The question
 you should be more concerned with is which one
is better off cut, the tree or your wrists?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Once Upon a Someday

By Beth

I was going over a pile of my stories
And I chanced upon a fairy tale
But the final chapter was missing
Not written yet… maybe someday.

Visited the playground for some release
But there were too many who joined the game
Wondered when will there be room for me
No vacancy yet… maybe someday.

Checked the box for some letters
But nothing was in the mail
Nothing that I was searching for.
Unconstructed yet…maybe someday.

Walked into a room of music
But all your songs were in play
They still stab at my fragile heart
Not callous yet… maybe someday.

All I have now are questions
When everyone said “leave”, I stayed
And when I said I’d stay, I moved
No explanations yet…maybe someday

That’s all I possess…
Now that all convictions are astray
Now that there is nothing definite
All I have …are so many somedays