Month: December 2013

Penman No. 76: A Lesson in Description

A cool lesson in written description!

Pinoy Penman 3.0

Penman for Monday, December 9, 2013

 

NOW AND then I walk my students in Creative Writing through a lesson in description, which—as I’ve often noted in this corner—is at best always more than a rendition of the physical setting and the people and things in it. In the hands of a skilled or a gifted writer, a plain object can acquire a strange and memorable luminosity. Sometimes all it takes is the uncommon but logical and precise choice of a word, such as when William Faulkner describes a campfire as being “shrewd,” struggling and managing to keep alive despite the wind. At other times good description requires the writer to step back and to set things in a larger context, balancing fine detail with the broader sweep of memory and understanding.

I don’t even need to draw on the likes of Faulkner or Greg Brillantes or Kerima Polotan to…

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The Number 1 University in the Philippines

Sometimes, I like to think of my school simply as a plot of land that has buildings where professors can teach and students can learn. The State is simply mandated to take out some cash to finance some buildings with whiteboards, light bulbs, LCD projectors, laboratory glassware, and computers. But if financing was food that provides sustenance, and each college building is a body part, then the University of the Philippines is a skinny child.

Let’s have lunch in UP Diliman (UP). Wipe some sweat from your forehead, stuff your thick lanyard brand in your bag, and greet the hot, dusty road. It’ll be too hot inside the cafeteria, so let’s just eat outside. Yeah, we’ll sit on the pebble-cemented floor. Around us, students — some alone and contemplative, some flashy and in groups — flow in all directions as they manage the rocky, unleveled pavement. Street kids are around, and they can be persistent about your food. Some of them are the great grandkids of this lola who has sold banana-cue, kariyoka, turon and lumpia for at least 20 years now. True to her tenureship, she is a living library of stories about generations of students within this very area. And even if she never seems to change her tray and cover, I still buy from her. A lot do. So what do you think of UP? Isn’t it great here?

UP is far from fantastical portrayals of college life. The campus lacks streetlights, security and police officers. AC units are old and inefficient, etchings on wooden tables date back 10-20 years, and product sampling agents, music video ambush interviewers, random preachers, and bad-intentioned people can freely roam the campus like water is to cell osmosis. But if you ask a student or a teacher along the hallway, they will most probably say that everything is fine! At the very least, the most important resources like journal subscriptions, staff and teacher benefits, university-based funding are kept at a working standard. Issues like heavy teaching loads and large class sizes, lack of student lounges, bowling instructors who don’t issue receipts, robberies every other month, killings every other year…it just doesn’t bother everyone as much! But who am I to say, right?

Says my friend in Econ, “People think that Econ students have more rich students than the other colleges, but that’s not really true. They only think that way because everyone in Econ dresses nicely, which I think is the effect of having a nice building and tissue and soap in the bathroom. Did you know Econ students pay 5% more per unit, just to have that? Sometimes I go to Palma Hall and MAN, there has got to be, like, at least a minimum dress code. It’s like they just rolled right out from the bed.” And I agree. But not everyone does.

Oftentimes, quorum and consultation matters in UP, and it’s been key to moving the university forward. For example, the passage of the Standardized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program or STFAP was hauled by the board of regents for several terms due to persistent rallying by the students to keep the tuition fee pegged. But it had been so long since the 1960s, and UP needed so much money to keep itself alive. Alas, the last straw pushed the painful resolution to raise the unit tuition from 300 PHP to a graded range up to 1500 PHP per unit. Though the poorest UPCAT passer will put together some money to get to UP on the first few weeks of classes, he or she won’t last long when financial aid and stipends take too long to get to the bank.

Occasionally, one will pick up some nifty fact about UP. For example, my brother met some middle-aged Singaporean nationals who had something nice to say about UP, where they finished their undergrad. They recalled how they could take one look at the university and ruefully admit how such an institution could never exist in “backwards Singapore.” In another instance, an Australian visitor mentioned that the UP Diliman campus wasn’t a campus. “This is a city!” he said. It is possible that the original planners of the university had something bigger in mind when they founded the university. To become the best in all of Asia, perhaps?

In spite of the plight of the UP community, the snubbed annual budget, the fault of whoever is the president of any year (oh it’s just an old and repetitive vinyl record), UP is still subsidized enough to still be…the number 1 university in the country; this is driven largely by the enormous amount of research and publications it churns out. What explains this? The way I see it, there seems to be this national perception that UP is the best place to go to for training in popular occupations: medicine, law, engineering, pure and applied scientific research, and business. Even less populated arts courses such as language studies, social sciences (not including Psychology, obviously), music and design are regarded by industry professionals as the country’s standard. So, at the grassroots level, the smartest and most bookish students from every school of every town and province practically dream of going to the university. So what you get is a nerd herd that makes the public university comparable to Ateneo de Manila University, which is like the country’s Harvard.

I think there is much to be said about the amount of compensatory effort put forth by students who have less, in order to capitalize on their only valuable intelligence, and by students who have more, in order to make sense of why they chose to burn bridges by not going to…other universities. It’s just the burning desire in every person here.

It’s cripplingly satisfying to acknowledge that the scholars of UP are indeed indebted to the nation. But then again…says who? Such an idea is merely a perceived romanticization. UP is just a reality: cement, trees, backpacks and classes. All imaginations, whether romantic or socially scientific, are just musings of your professors and their horrendous stacks of readings waiting to be risographed at the xerox. Besides, buildings don’t eat. But you do. Now, nourish yourself.
@Moonleaf

Lantern Parade

Couple + SG

Bahay ng Alumni

UP Carillon

Eng'g/Music sign

"Roots" UP Fair