Sunday, February 25, 2007

16. A Change of Scene

 After Ateneo I enrolled in Far Eastern University. Loyola to Morayta was quite a big change of scene. Where there was a lush expanse of greenery dotted by a few school buildings and a scattering of young trees there was now a pervasiveness of gray concrete. There were car paths and scraggly hedgerows and aging buildings crammed side-by-side forming a wrap that defined the territory of the school. There was a bit of space in the middle of the grounds that was big enough to accommodate a football field and an open basketball court.

In the Boys High School students were required to wear khaki pants and white toppers as uniform. This semblance of order and neatness was not enough to hide the fact that the studentry was mostly from the working class. The aura around them was different from what most Ateneo boys exuded in their natty and branded expensive attires. While in the Ateneo my clothes were below par from most of my classmates but did not mind it nor was I aware of this discriminating nuance. In this new milieu I seemed to have developed a consciousness for it.

Most of my new classmates came from poor families. They could have been the sons of the drivers or menial workers of the families of my classmates in Ateneo. Their interests and manners were somewhat different but I found them familiar and somewhat like the kids from our Sampaloc neighborhood and these settled quite comfortably with me. We were not well off. Even if my father had good jobs as an assistant actuary at that time and a night job as a college professor his earnings were not sufficient to provide more than the basic needs of a rather large family. There were eight children in the family and my mom had always insisted that we go to good schools no matter the expense. She was willing to make all the sacrifices that unfortunately most of her sons failed to appreciate.

*There was never enough of anything in the house except for reading materials. My dad had bought piles and piles of GI paperbacks and old issues of National Geographic from the homebound American armed forces after the war. The GI paperbacks were printed manuscripts folded in the middle and stapled at the midrib like comic books only thicker. As a young boy I marveled at the cowboy stories of Zane Grey, the realism of the characters in Steinbeck’s dustbowl novels. I wondered at the gods and goddesses of Edith Hamilton’s mythology and enjoyed the writing style of the early migrant Bulosan as he wrote about his native Philippines in America. I traveled the world of natural wonders as presented in words and pictures in the stacks of back issues of the National Geographic and Life magazine. I would spend hours on end browsing the five-tiered bookshelves from top to bottom.

At the age of ten I had already read but completely misunderstood a book on Eugenics and the first issue of the Kinsey Report published sometime in the early fifties (may have been an early portent for my ending up in a career in research). Alongside this reading fare I read the fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, all the nursery rhymes of Mother Goose and the fables of Aesop. I remember in Maria Cristina I was called “tanda” (old man) by the older guys because I seemed to have a bit of knowledge of anything that was being talked about. I was a walking encyclopedia of useless information.

I was quick to notice that in school I was among a few who could speak and write well in English. I hardly felt this while in the Ateneo because, there, you took it for granted that everyone spoke and wrote the way they did…the way I did. Also, my spoken English did not sound funny like most of the other kids in my class. I guess I should be thankful for the speech drills that were pounded on us by our speech teacher, Robert Wilson. I never felt that I had excellent writing skills. It was just that I really looked good in contrast to the atrocious English of my new classmates. In this school never had the King’s English been more subjected to such mindless brutality and mayhem. Bert Ampil, now Father Bert did well in inculcating good basic spoken and written English to us in Ateneo.

All through high school I did not flaunt this advantage because I did not want to be conspicuously different. Most of my classmates were sensitive to this weakness. This may have caused them to be ridiculed on some past occasions. Filipinos in general have the penchant to laugh at actors, celebrities and others who make malapropisms and mispronunciations in the English language. As a result of being critical of others they have become extremely self conscious and timid to express themselves in English lest they be laughed at.

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