(This poem, with the translation, was performed in SAG Taunggyi’s Christmas party by the Cardoner Volunteers)
The restlessness of silence
In this foreign land
my first Christmas
far from my home.
The room is quiet
save for the soliloquy
of the news on the television
broadcasted from the Philippines
The table is quiet,
not bearing the weight
for the Noche Buena
The house is quiet,
as if waiting
for my husband, and our only child
Even the small
near the door
is dozing off by the threshold
But my own thoughts
are ringing noisily
from the restlessness
of these memories
Kalangas sa Kahilom
Maria Victoria Beltran
Dinhi sa langyaw nga lugar
ang primerong pasko
nga layo sa akong banay
Hilom ang lawak
gawas sa tagawtaw
sa tulomanon sa telebisyon
gikan sa Pilipinas
Hilom ang lamesa
nga walay gilukdo
nga mga pagkaon
alang sa Noche Buena
Hilom ang panimalay
nga daw naghulat
sa pag-abot sa akong
bana ug bugtong anak
Bisan ang gamay
nga Christmas Tree
sa daplin sa pultahan
naghinuktok sa taman
Apan ang akong dalilang
sa kalangas ning
Awit ng Kahinog
Hinog na ang butong
parang utong sa lubi.
(Dalawa lang ang utong ng babae
maraming buhay-babae sa lubi.)
katagalan magniyog ang butong, mabigat at puno:
mahulog sa puno, at magpulot ako isa… marami…
parang bata, sipsipin ko yang kanilang gata,
sipsipin ko sa mga niyog ang kanilang mga kinayod na awit:
makaalala ako ng maraming babae.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Maghalik ako ng butong kay utong siya ng babae
Song of Ripeness
by Jose Garcia Villa
The coconuts have ripened,
They are like nipples to the tree.
(A woman has only two nipples,
There are many women-lives in a coconut tree.)
Soon the coconuts will grow heavy and full:
I shall pick up one…many…
Like a child I shall suck their milk,
I shall suck out of coconuts little white songs:
I shall be reminded of many women.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I shall kiss a coconut because it is the nipple of a
(I translate into English a lovely Cebuano poem from Kabisdak, and I have one of my best students here in Myanmar, Nu Nu Pan, translate it from there to Burmese!)
In your little paper boat
translated by Karlo Antonio Galay David
My child let me ride
on your little paper boat.
I’ll be with you
that high surge
as I stagger
with the turbulence
When you unfurl
let me hold on
to the ropes.
My child, teach me
to close my eyes
And with this
of the depths
into which you dive
Let me hear
the murmuring of the tales
of each river,
Whisper to me
where you will find
of this rainbow
which you tell me
from your depths.
Where, my child, where
is the navel
of your ocean?
မ – နူးနူးပန် မှ ဘာသာပျန် ဆို သည်။
သင့် စဣူလှေငယ်လေး ပေါမှ
မိုးကြီးလေပြင် ကြာင့် လေ
အေရာင် များရဲ့ အနက်အရှိုင်းကိုလေ
သင့်အရောင် နက်ရှိုင် မှုတွေ
သင် ငါ့အားပြောပြ နိုင်မယ် အရာ
Sa imong barutong papel
ni Gina Mantua Panes
Pasakya ko, anak
Sa imong barutong papel.
Sa akong pagbarag
Inig sukarap na unya
Sa imong pagtugot
Pasagdi kong mogunit
Tudloi ko, anak
Sa mga bulok
Nga way puas
Sa uraray sa mga sugilanon
Sa matag suba,
Nga matod mo,
Duna’y mga bulok
Sa imong kinahiladman.
Hain, anak, hain,
Sa imong dagat?
(The Philippines has never had a more cunning politician for president than Rodrigo Duterte. The former mayor of Davao has displayed and continues to display political wit I’ve never seen in National Politics before. Breaking them down in the tradition of the Classical Chinese war treaties, I present some of them here. I will continue to develop this post as I observe more tactical moves from Digong!)
- Play the game as transparently as you can, no matter how ruthless. It projects a realpolitik prudence, sending the message that you mean business. Pretending to be principled is overrated.
- Do not come into a race as a main force. Let the main forces battle each other out first and destroy each other. When both sides are politically bruised, storm in suddenly like thunder as an outsider and offer a fresh, vigorous alternative.
- Delay filing your candidacy, then use an obscure electoral rule to file it after the deadline. The mass media, brainlessly hungry for a sensational story, will lap up the novelty and give you free publicity.
- Do not start a fight, most Filipino politicians have been stupid enough to mistake Western confrontational politics as a superior political tactic. Let your opponents commit this mistake, that way you can present yourself as the provoked peace lover. Remember how the Ming Emperor Yongle gained legitimacy to oust his nephew.
- When fighting a presently powerful force beyond your own strength, boost your own standing by siding with its enemies, present and past. Unchain enthralled dragons if you think you can control them, reopen old wounds and offer opportunities for vindication.
- Side with politically wounded forces. They will lend all their remaining strength to you. If they turn against you, they won’t be difficult to destroy. Do not side with a force who can overpower you.
- Steal your political opponents’ ideas. When playing the game in a disillusioned politics, capitalize on executive will rather than on grand visions and plans. Plus it will be hard for your opponents to contradict their own ideology.
- Drop the moral ascendancy. It is more difficult to criticize someone who admits his own faults.
- Nothing destroys a saint more than exposing a hidden sin: If an opponent’s credibility is founded on moral ascendancy, unravel it by releasing a sex scandal or anything that will reveal immorality.
- Magnanimity is also an offensive tactic. When you know you have International backing in a dispute, don’t pick a fight with the other side. The International backing can serve as a trump card in case you need to go on diplomatic offensive.
- Exploit the rivalry of two bullies for your own gain. Let them vie for your approval in spite of your weakness compared to them.
- Let the pot leak to see the cracks: To establish a connection between an opponent and a suspected violator of the law, give confidential information to the said suspect. Wait for your opponent to reveal her links with him with a vanity press conference.
- Use opportunity as a weapon: If you are in position to give a post to your opponent, give her something either incredibly demanding, or something beyond her field of expertise, preferably both. Put pressure on her by tying her success up with peoples’ hopes – if she fails she will be hated. Capitalize on her failure by replacing her with an ally who can handle the task.
- To silence a consistently and vocally critical minority, offer them power for the first time. They will be staging rallies for you in gratitude. If they succeed you take the credit, if they fail you can blame them for it.
- Belittle an opponent’s importance by only dealing with her in informal terms, such as text messaging. Make such informal dealings publicly visible for maximum humiliation on her part.
- Discredit the media. They will not be reliable allies anyway, you might as well de-fang them. Exploit the growing irrelevance of mainstream media outlets to your benefit. Use informal spokespersons to let out information you cannot release officially.
- If you can’t unseat a position-holder, hold her agency in hostage by isolating her or dangling the sword of budgets cuts over her head. Fight with the purse. But be careful not to alienate the whole agency, make them blame her and not you.
- Do something controversial. Let the populace stage protests against it. Manage these protests efficiently to demonstrate tolerance and good governance.
- Steal the opponent’s arrows and use to fight, or at least as firewood: Let the mass media portray you as a psychopathic monster with a machinery for extrajudicial killings, then use that image to scare local government officials into getting their acts right.
(I and fellow Cardoner Volunteers Abdula Uka and Darl Undag went to Hanoi for three days for our regular visa renewal.Here are some thoughts on the City of the Ascending Dragon)
- Vietnam – which has been invaded by at least three different superpowers throughout its long history – shows what effect winning has on postcolonial culture. The country has lost almost all vestiges of its pre-Chinese identity, but what was imposed on it by the Chinese and the French it has owned with a vengeance.
- Although using the Roman alphabet, written Vietnamese might as well be written in a different writing system. If you don’t know the constellation of diacritics you will have a hard time pronouncing what you read.
- English in Vietnam is difficult, but the locals will struggle to help you.
- Hanoi is ridiculously cheap. Entrance fees to most tourist attractions are at 30,000 Vietnamese Dong (around 67 Philippine Pesos). The money is dizzyingly small, so I have a million or two in my wallet at all times.
- It’s a headache to hold the bills though, as the 10,000s are confusing with the 1000’s and the 100,000s.
- The Somerset Grand Hanoi, located smack dab between the French Quarter and the Hoan Kiem environs, is a lovely hotel. The pick-up service from and to the airport has wifi, the hotel itself has a convenience store and several restaurants, the buffet is great for exploring Vietnamese food, and you even get to use the pool!
- First thing I ever ate in Hanoi is Phở . On its own. this noodle soup is light and simple, but made beautifully complex by the wild combination of greens you put: two kinds of basil, coriander, peppermint, lettuce.
- Second thing I had in Hanoi: Trà sen (Vietnamese lotus tea). It is an extraordinary tea, I’ve never had anything like it before. Undag describes it as ‘pretty smelling tea.’ I expected having a hard time looking for it, but I found it just a few hours after I arrived in the city, cheap and readily available in the convenience store.
- The next day for breakfast I had trà sen with some Bánh khảo, short cake made with glutinous rice flour. There seems to be many variations of bánh khảo, but the one I had was plain white, flavoured with grapefruit blossom juice, and was slightly chewy while being powdery. It had a distinct aroma, similar to a candy sold in my elementary days in Kidapawan’s NDKC. It was beautifully nostalgic, but with trà sen that nostalgia played out as a sub-note to a distinct symphony of aroma I will forever associate with Hanoi.
- It is a horrible thing to have achalasia. You’re right in the middle of enjoying something exotic, but then the food gets stuck in your food pipe. When you have no toilet available nearby you have to choose between drowning in your own spit or puking in public. I should write a book about this.
- No achalasia can spoil Bún chả, though. This national favourite originated in Hanoi, and even Obama knew it was good. Vermicelli served with grilled pork in a soup of vinegar, sugar, and fish sauce and eaten with Vietnam’s glorious herbs, bún chả is the most delicious thing I ever ate in Hanoi.
- Hanoi’s historical and cultural heart is the Hoan Kiem district, the area surrounding the Hoan Kiem lake. Just south of the lake is the French Quarter, where the French colonial government built many administrative buildings. The distinct European architecture extended to the lake’s West, where the Cathedral of St Joseph was.
- The Church is a gorgeous Gothic monolith jutting out of old-world townhouses and greenery. The adjacent plaza and road intersection are amusingly reminiscent of Davao’s San Pedro area.
- Two little-known tourist spots in the French quarter: the former Vatican embassy hall (now an open garden), and the National Library.
- The National Library of Vietnam has gorgeous neoclassical architecture. When we went there the books were scarce, perhaps due to ongoing renovations.
- Egg coffee, as the descriptions suggest, is like liquid tiramisu. What online articles rarely mention is that it’s usually served with a portable blow torch, so the top can be caramelized ala creme brûlée.
- The Vietnamese have a way of serving balut (here called hột vịt lộn) that Filipinos should copy: served in noodles with a tomato and fish-based broth.Balut Udong anyone?
- I finally got to see Buddha’s Hand citruses in person.
- The Vietnamese mastery of paper cutout pop-ups is amazing. This should be listed as a cultural heritage.
- when in Vietnam you must try Bánh Đậu Xanh. Mung bean cakes often flavoured with lotus seed, this simple treat can be so classy, smooth and sweet in a way that is at once mellow and intense. I call it Vietnamese white chocolate.
- In Vietnamese, bánh means cake. But everything is ‘cake’: On top of the obvious sweet cakes, rice cakes, and pancakes, the word is also used for bread (bánh mì), dumplings (bánh bá trạng), rice paper (bánh tráng), the spring rolls you make out of it (bánh cuốn), noodles (bánh canh) and crackers (bánh phồng tôm). Marie Antoinette would have made more sense in Vietnam.
- The Lake of the Returned Sword is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The heart of the only country that had defeated America in war is surrounded by buildings of neoclassical European and Chinese architecture, with banks adorned with flowers and willows and rain trees, and with one island with a temple with a gorgeous vermilion wooden bridge, and in another one of the most iconic buildings in the world, a French-Chinese tower built in honour of a legendary reptile and a magical sword. There are few places in the world for which I can write a description like that.
- I first read about of the Hoan Kiem turtle when I was in early college, and it never would have occurred to me that I’d ever find myself in in its picturesque lake. It feels like a personal tragedy that, on the very same year I finally do get to visit Hanoi, the turtle went extinct. Extinction feels like a dull heartbreak.
- But I believe, oh I believe. And when one believes it is difficult to lose hope. While only one old turtle has been verified for the past few decades (the lone turtle that died this year), locals report seeing at least two more. In the Temple of the Jade Mountain I paid more attention to the island’s banks than to the temple itself, looking for a turtle. I walked around Hoan Kiem lake three times, and on the second time I saw a mass of bubbles surfacing near the Turtle Tower. Oh I want to believe.
- The Temple of the Jade Mountain (Đền Ngọc Sơn), positioned on an island, feels like a fabulous sacred retreat from the mundane world, reachable only by the Bridge of Welcoming Morning sunlight, with dozens of karikomied bonsai serving as clouds in this lake paradise. Though seeing the turtle taxidermied only makes the sense of species loss sadder. Et in Đền Ngọc Sơn, ego…
- A couple of local shoe repair boys abused our tourist generosity by grabbing our otherwise okay shoes, repairing it before us, and charging us 650,000 VND (1,400 pesos). I wanted to be some Lê Lợi returning these swindlers to the turtle god, but that would be pollution. I don’t want to feed garbage to the turtles hiding in the lake.
- Vietnam has ingeniously marketed its communist propaganda materials – the famous propaganda that won them two wars against western superpowers – into tourist souvenirs.
- Why can’t Filipinos think of putting snails in their noodles?
- North of the lake is the 35 famous streets (more really) of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. It is a wonderful maze of Phốs and Hàngs, each street full of shops that sell a particular product (usually after which the street is named). In between busy stores and restaurants is the occasional temple or the bird cage with a singing bird, and at some point you will reach the Dong Xuan Public market. At night a street, starting on the lake’s north fountain court and going on to have three different names as it reaches Dong Xuan, is a bustling night market closed to vehicles. Getting lost in the Old Quarter is a must for any tourist in the city.
- I had such an adventure looking for Hanoi’s famous Bánh cốm. The rice cake, made with cốm (young green rice made into flakes flavoured with pandan) and stuffed with bean paste, is a Hanoi delicacy and is specially in season during Autumn. I had no idea where in the Old Quarter to find it. Equipped with nothing but a picture and its name in correct diacritics, I walked around showing it. The locals, with hardly any English pointed north. When I reached the lakeside edges of the Old Quarter, one local jotted down ‘Hàng Than’ and told me to go there. I enjoyed getting lost looking for this stret until I reached Phố Hàng Đường. When I showed a picture of bánh cốm they brought out a pile of little small boxes of it. I went back to the hotel grinning. Bánh cốm may just be like a cross between suman muron and pandan tikoy, but I owe to it my exploration of Hanoi’s cultural heart.
- Not entirely for the bánh cốm of course, I had other priorities too: I needed to look for a wallet for my Ilongga, and I wanted to buy a notebook and some Vietnamese books. For the latter excursion I was able to stray far enough to see the Opera House, and it was the occasion to go to Hiệu Sách Thang Long, a decently sized book store in Tràng Tiền street. It’s no books Kinokuniya, but I found what I wanted.
- Hanoi is a dog capital. There are dogs all over the street!
- Folk religion in Vietnam is thriving, the dominant religion in fact. Vietnam is one of the few countries in the world which predominantly follows an ethnic religion.
- Contrary to what its name suggests, there is little literary about the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu). It is in fact a Confucian temple, and the name stems from Confucius’ emphasis on literacy and learning. This emphasis is evident in the fact that Hanoi’s Văn Miếu is also the site of Vietnam’s first university, the Imperial Academy.
- Yup, schools should be as green and garden-filled as possible.
- Vietnam is turtle country. Because the turtle is the only one among the four sacred beasts which is a real animal (the other three are the dragon, the phoenix, and the qilin), it holds a special place in Vietnamese symbolism.
- I am confusing the Ly and the Le dynasties with each other. I am a failure as a history nerd.
- I may be stating the obvious, but the Vietnamese were really huge fans of Chinese culture.
- Which is not to say that’s all there was to Hanoi: the charm of this city is how these Chinese-style buildings are just side by side with the old European structures the French left behind.
- Thank goodness Uncle Ho was no madman like Mao, a China-style Cultural Revolution would have destroyed so much of Hanoi.
- The Palace of the President is a gorgeous yellow mansion. It was a shame we weren’t able to enter and see it, or Ho Chi Minh’s house.
- But his Mausoleum is displayed in all its solid granite glory, overlooking Ba Dinh Square. I could almost imagine Voldemort blasting it open to take the Elder Wand from Uncle Ho’s crossed hands.
- There is little information online in English on the buildings surrounding Ba Dinh square, so just a run through, clockwise with the Mausoleum at 12 o’clock: The Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace (and a little beyond that to the right the Ho Chi Minh house), the headquarters of the Communist Part of Vietnam, the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the Vietnamese Assembly Hall, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Embassy of Poland, and some way behind the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda.
- Be patient looking for the One Pillar Pagoda, and trust the locals when they point. Follow the tourists. The entrance is a bit of a long way from Ba Dinh Square.
- There is a quiet beauty to the One Pillar Pagoda (Chùa Một Cột). It’s at once novel and ancient, a classic Chinese pagoda, only standing on a single stone pillar, jutting out from a pond like a lotus emerging from the water (apparently that’s the design’s intention). It is connected to the banks of the pond by a staircase, which should ruin the serenity of the lone lotus in the water, but instead ends up having its own scenic charm.
- The current pagoda is very recent, rebuilt after the French destroyed it during the Indochina War. It demonstrates best how, in the absence of tangible ancientness, heritage is all a matter of continuity in spatial and cultural position.
- Seriously, mung bean as a flavour for ice cream is very underrated. You can never get wrong with mung bean ice cream.
- The Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long is an interesting historical site, with both Imperial, colonial, and revolutionary significance. As such it is an interesting mix of classical Chinese, French neoclassical, and 20th century military architecture.
- And few tourists visit! Hanoi’s most important historical attraction is still underrated.
- Part of the Citadel’s charm is how they openly showcase the archeology going on.
- The ceramic works they’ve unearthed in the site are impressively intricate. When I saw them I first thought they were made of wood.
- The building that now occupies the location of the destroyed Kính Thiên palace, the rather vainly named Dragon House, looks okay, but it’s depressing to know it wasn’t even a fraction of the original grandeur the site once had. The Vietnamese probably considered rebuilding the palace when they gained independence.
- I can still imagine future restorations for the citadel: the northern area is still closed to the public, and the Eastern Clock Tower gate is poised for a refurbishing.
- I noticed it first in Văn Miếu, but the Vietnamese knew how to make their stair partitions (I cannot find the right architectural term for it). In the Citadel, the stairs leading up the sacred dais of the palace site is made of dragons and, more beautifully. clouds.
- If you’re adventurous enough, go down that inconspicuous flight of stairs behind the Dragon House and you’ll see the bunker used to hide generals from wartime shelling. it has an exit that leads out to the House D67
- Do not let the unassuming name fool you, House D67 is a ridiculously important building: this is where the Vietnamese generals planned the Tet Offensive and the fall of Saigon – and ultimately the first time an alliance of western powers – led no less than the USA – was defeated by a still embryonic independent country.
- For VND 50,000 (110 pesos), you get to wear historical costumes, from ladies-in-waiting to soldiers.
- Of course, I had to wear the heavily Chinese-inspired Emperor’s clothes: the mian guan crown with a curtain of beads to reflect the galaxy the Emperor rules over, lush imperial yellow, and a belt and boots ornately brocaded with the five-toed dragon.
- And I look ridiculously good in Imperial clothes. The other tourists were having their pictures taken with me.
- Standing from the Duan Mon gate you get a great view of the Hanoi Tower.
- Unfortunately by the time we finished exploring the Citadel the Hanoi Tower was closed. But because this was one of the symbols of Hanoi, we still got great pictures.
- There are squirrels in the Citadel! Watch your head, they drop the talisay seeds after they chew on them.
- No, stupid millennial. Vladimir Lennin, who has a park in front of the Hanoi Tower, is not related to John Lennon.
- Almost everything I discovered in Hanoi, I discovered by accident: Bún chả, Bánh cốm, the pens and notebooks, the sites in the Citadel. If I had not made a turn at a particular juncture I’d have never be able to see a site or buy a souvenir. And sure enough we missed out on many things in this wonderful Southeast Asian capital. At every turn we make we open up new worlds, but close our doors to others. Do we regret the possibilities we never encountered? Life is far too full of things to actually experience, we have no time to regret what we missed out on.
- Thank goodness I suggested Hanoi when we were deciding where to go.
(For more pictures, see my album on Facebook)
(I encountered the humorous Vietnamese folk tale entitled ‘Rat Poison’ in Vietnamese Folk Tales: Satire and Humour, edited by Hữu Ngọc and published in 2012 by Thế Giới Publishers, and it intrigued me. It had almost the exact same premise as another classic work of folk literature, the kyogen play Busu. I intend to translate Busu to DF in the future too!)
May isang barat na amo na kahilig sa masarap, pero grabe makadaginot pagdating na gani sa ipakain sa mga tauhan niya. Para makalikay lalo sa pangupit o pagyawyaw, yang pinagabugo lang talaga na amaw ang gina-kontrata niya.
Isang araw, bago siya maglaag, gisabihan niya ang kanyang tauhan, isang binatilyo galing bukid na bago niya lang gikontrata:
- Dong, bantayan mo itong hamon at yang lechong manok ha. At sus, ‘wag mo talaga galawin yang dalawang bote diyan. Lanit (Lannate) yan, makahilo yan masyado.
Pag-alis ng amo, gikuha ng alalay ang pagkain galing sa mesa at gilamon, gipangtulak pa ang bino na nasa dalawang bote.
Pagbalik ng amo nakahapla lang intawon sa tulog ang amaw, parang tunog ng kasing kalakas ang paghagok.
- Oy ‘dong, buanga ka, gising – sigaw ng amo – anong nangyari sa ulam ko, ha?
- Ay hala boss sorry talaga masyado – sagot ng binatilyo, nagakusot pa ng mata at nagahikab – gibantayan ko talaga yun, pero ka-maro man talaga nung aso uy. Naglimod lang gud ako ikaisa, pagtingin ko natangay na.
- Sus, sa hiya ko boss, maghikog na lang sana ako, kaya giinom ko yung iyong lanit!