Welcome to the Goethe-Institut CityScapes Blog.
From January through December 2011, these were the parameters for a playground of diverse, fascinating, vibrant tales: Responding individually to a collective impetus, a host of hand-picked young bloggers uploaded photos, texts, and multimedia. Every month, they were given a new theme. Step by step, they created a kaleidoscope of impressions, opinions, ideas and… plain fun.
This project has now ended. If you like what you see, you may want to check out the brand new CityTales Comic Blog.
There are words we do not use often in Manila. “Culture” is one of them.
The word has come to acquire too many roles in the country's linguistic map—albeit functions that most have deemed as better left to the academe, high society magazines, tabloid shows, the imposing billboards. In the streets, we use it more liberally—not in terms of frequency, but of duplicity in meaning: culture as a source of pride when someone from any of our 7,107 islands makes a little dent in the global brickwork and gets a mention in The New York Times; but a scapegoat of a reason when the international flip camera zooms in on us for our breaking of new world records in poverty, corruption, city density.
Still, in talking about these, we don't use the word “culture”. We say “tradition” as if they weren't entities of the past that ought to be remembered only through books and not relived over and over. We say it as if the only things we can keep on changing are the names of our city streets and boulevards. We say it as if we can continue to afford losing ourselves in the confusing geography of our history.
One has to give some credit, however, to the silent acknowledgment among commuters in a train traversing the skyline of Manila of what culture means for us as a people. But true to this silence, we cannot quite put a finger on the whole picture of our culture—save for the tough commuter culture in our cities. It is for the same unidentifiable reason that we can point to actors with Filipino lineage in American TV shows, or how ,when given a chance to venture into foreign lands, we watch with knowing eyes those that take root in the same tropics. When asked why something is so and so in Filipino culture, our eyebrows, noses and lips all spell one thing, “Basta,” the most concise translation of which is, “That's just the way it is.”
Rather than consider this inability to arrive at concrete definitions a unique, abstract, and pricelessly intangible feature of Filipino living, I choose to diagnose it as a symptom of our continuing aimless wandering in history. Not that all the other countries in the world each have their 99-year plans, but someone has to actually take the lead here and listen to the advice that our history, economics and literature books have been giving since the 20th century. We owe that to our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, for whom we have been celebrating a grand sesquicentenary this 2011, at the least. Progress, after all, does not only mean moving forward, but acknowledging the painful past so that the move away from it can finally begin.
Hoping is no more a futile activity in today's Philippines—or so I'd like to believe, and will keep on believing. In Congress, a bill for the creation of a Department of Culture is in the works—yes, finally, after the Department of Education dropped culture from its agenda in 1997; while the recently concluded annual Cinemalaya Film Festival (the transliteration of which would be: “cinema of the free”) for independent cinema succeeded in adding to its roster a new breed of socially conscious films that a good percentage of Manila's populace was actually able to see. Still, the fight continues so that more would see them, so that more would develop a love for reading the books that contain much of the Manila's secrets, so that more would know where the country is headed despite the prolific practice of changing street names and depriving cities of the necessary historical, geographical and cultural markers.