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papa osmubal
oscar balajadia INTERVIEWER'S NOTE: A friend once told me to write an article about myself, an article in the form of an interview, which I never did. It was an idea that would never cross my mind in a million years. I later found out that self-interview is not totally new but a widespread practice.

I want to make it clear I am not comfortable with whatever sort of interview, perhaps because I personally have not fully discovered its meaning. Is interview a form of art or small talk? Whichever, it is safe to try it with myself.

Interview is a curious thing, although to some individuals it is annoying. I decided, after a careful consideration, to give it a try, knowing that the enterprise is not going to be easy.

The interview took place in Macau, South of China, in a room that rather stinks of beer, old books and rotten boiled peanuts. The interviewee doesn't smoke, but there is an ashtray lying next to an almost dilapidated computer that still works perhaps through miracle or some divine intervention. The ashtray is too big for cigarette butts and ash, but just big enough to hold pistachios and peanuts to accompany beer.

Q: You live in Macau, tell a little about this city.

Macau has a unique history. Many people believe that it was annexed by the Portuguese. But that is not actually the case. The Mandarins leased Macau to the Portuguese because they want the Portuguese to guard the southern sea which, back in the old days, was infested with crooks and pirates. The Portuguese rented Macau for about 400 years, and they handed the territory back to the Chinese authorities in 1999.

Q: I see that you have lots of books. What sort of books do you read?

I love buying books, but I do not have time to read them all. If time permits I read. I read all kinds of books, except religious ones. I just dislike religious books; they are just a waste of paper and time. But I cherish spiritual works by Rene Maria Rilke and Jose Garcia Villa, and some others in their fold, like Donne, Dickinson. But reading is not a formal act to me. I read mostly when in the john. You will not believe I have written most of my poems in the potty. Perhaps that is the reason why some editors who return my submissions insinuate that my poems stink. Oh, yes, I also read and write in bed to the annoyance of my wife.

Q: You used the words "religious" and "spiritual". Kindly explain and differentiate them.

When you think, invent, innovate and create beautiful things for the advancement of human civilization, you are spiritual. When you think you can be greater than yourself, then you are spiritual. Great thinkers, scientists, scholars, all the great minds the world ever saw, are all spiritual.

When you go around towns or climb buses, brandishing the Good Book and preaching that somebody is coming soon to solve people's problems, then you are religious. When you go around, brandishing the Holy Writ and telling the people it is alright to be gullible and pathetic, you are religious.

Spirituality has something to do with intelligence; religiosity is close to folly.

Q: You are married. Tell a bit about your family.

I am married to a Chinese from Macau, and we have two beautiful children. Well, let us have a little bit of Cantonese lesson here. My wife's name "Sio" is Cantonese for "Golden Smile". My 6-year old daughter's name "Man Lok" is Cantonese for Nobel Prize. My four-year-old son's name "Man Hou" means "Good Culture".

Q: You also speak Chinese.

I speak a bit of Chinese, if by Chinese you mean Cantonese. There was a time when people spoke Portuguese in Macau, so I also know Portuguese.

Q: Do you have any Portuguese and/or Chinese poems?

I cannot write Chinese, although I know a very few characters. I translated some of my poems in Portuguese; they are not publishable though because I translated them just to brush up my Portuguese. But I guess my translations speak with a bit of sense and depth. I do not have enough exposure to the language, but I have the competence to comprehend it.

Q: Any particular books you read lately that related to you in a special way as a reader and as a writer?

When I have time and appetite to read, I read for my thesis which will be due in September 2007. Lately, though, I have read two bilingual books of poetry. One is Close to Speech by the Portuguese Eugenio de Andrade, translated by the Award winning translator, Alexis Levitin; the other is One Hundred and One Poems by Paul Verlaine, translated by Norman Shapiro. I just wish I were the creator of those fine poems.

Q: You write under the pseudonym Papa Osmubal. Why?

Writing is a spiritual experience, and every time I come up with a poem I can't believe it is me who wrote it; it must be somebody else so I decided that I will never write poems under "my" own name. Anyway, what are names for? Names just hide identity. Names just corrupt the truth. In the Philippines and in many parts of the world, names dictate as to who will rule and run the affairs of men and states.

Q: In the past, Filipinos living in Macau were mostly maids and security guards. Now, at least you have poets, lawyers, painters, and others. Is the Filipino community changing and becoming more recognized and involved in Macau affairs?

The past is not yet over and it is going to continue. We are still maids and security guards. The poets are nannies and guards who find time to read and write. The lawyers are street sweepers and dishwashers who talk politics. We are not changing. Some Filipinos here in Macau try their best and, by sheer luck, they accomplish something that Macau will be proud of someday. But that is just a wee drop in a vast interminable ocean. We are still maids and security guards in the eyes of the citizens here. This is not going to change, because the change should start in the Philippines. How can we solve our problems outside our own country? We are not like the Jews. The Jews left their country and gained the hearts and respect of their host countries. On the contrary, we Filipinos left our country and lost all. The more Filipinos come to Macau and to other countries, the deeper our problems get, because we cannot prove anything. Like in any place we go to, we are just occupying space in Macau and it is starting to irritate the residents who dream of a respectable Macau. Wherever we go, we just act like parasites.

You see there are only around one thousand Portuguese here, but they have their own schools and they are so vital in the shaping of Macau economy. There are British and Canadians here, altogether numbering perhaps a few hundreds, but they have their own schools and companies. We are more than 20,000 Filipinos here, but we have nothing and we give nothing because we are but a bunch maids and security guards, which is why Chinese locals call us dogs and little niggers.

Q: Your poetry sounds critical of human and social conditions.

That is what writers are for. The sufferings and agonies of countless people in the world touch me a lot and my writing is usually built on or around this experience or feeling. I just abhor politics and its painful and fruitless results: endless wars, hunger, poverty, consumerism, corruption.

Q: You are being too philosophical.

I studied philosophy when I was a seminarian. My philosophic study gives structure to my poetry, but not in a scholarly and highfalutin way, but in a way a willing and sensitive reader understands. But one does not need to study philosophy to be sensitive and sensible.

Q: You studied in a seminary?

Yes, with my intention of becoming a priest. But after two and a half years in the seminary I left.

Q: Why did you leave the seminary?

I learnt that too many organized religions are actually into rituals and proselytizing, and they neglect what goes on in the human mind. I attribute the backwardness of the Philippines and the sorry situation and the mindset of the Filipinos to organized religions. After leaving the seminary, I actually came to Macau as a missionary. But I left the mission after finally realizing and discovering that a belief in what is real and concrete is the most realistic and humane belief. It is just frustrating to face the truth that organized religions, like politics and governments, cause wars, mislead and divide people, and, in a subtle way, cause hatred and fear amongst people. Organized religions paralyze and impede critical and creative thinking, because they divert their attention into something unrealistic and forget the real subject of why we should have religions: the humanity and how humanity is going to improve and how it is going to create and sustain its civilization.

Q: My last question. Aside from Macau, where would rather be?

In the Philippines, a place that is...

Q: Sorry for the interruption, but why don't you go back to the Philippines?

Let's face it, to dream is the only right every one really has. Well, I mean a different Philippines here. I am talking here of the Philippines of my dreams. I mean, a certain place where the Philippines is now located. A place with a different name and identity. A country whose name is conceived and given by its own people. A place that saw its last glory in death of the man called Lapu-Lapu. A Place that died 500 years ago.

The country that is now called the Philippines can get a good example from Myanmar and other Asian countries. The British called it Burma, from "Bamar", the name of the majority ethnic group. But Burma wanted to go back to its native origins and to pick things from there, so the change from British Burma to native Myanmar. Yes, that is not a quick fix to solve all problems. It is a slow process, but in the long run, looking at a time perhaps some 200 years from here, Myanmar will have surely erased every trace of colonialism and made a culture its future generations can be proud of, a culture they call their own. Some 200 years from here, Myanmar will surely be proud of its name: a name it gave to itself, a name befitting its identity, a name not chosen or given by a foreign master.

The Philippines should know the basics of I-name-you-so-I-own-you business. When I say I am a Filipino, I honor a king who ordered to kill millions of my ancestors. I read about this artist who changed his to name to Kidlat Tahimik. One of my Chinese friends, whose name Yao Sam means "Good Heart" or "With Heart", asked me what the meaning of my name is. Oscar? I did not say it is not native; I said Oscar means "Maharlika", which means blue-blooded. From then on he started calling me Maharlika with his Cantonese accent.

[About the author. Papa Osmubal is Oscar Balajadia, a Macao resident of Filipino origins, married to a Chinese local. He is a teacher and a Masters student of Dr. Chrisopher Kelen at the University of Macao. He writes in Tagalog and another Filipino language as well, but mainly in English. He has published two books of poetry, Parnaso, in Filipino (1991, Angeles City, Philippines) and Lighthouse, in English (1999, Quezon City,Philippines). His poems have been published in Poems Niederngasse, Adagio Verse Quarterly (USA), Mitochondria (USA), Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS), LauraHird, Muse Apprentice Magazine, Retort Magazine (Australia), Jacobyte Poetry (Australia), Philippines Free Press, Philippine Graphic, National Midweek, A Critical Survey of Philippine Literature, The Surface (USA), Aesthetica: a Review of Contemporary Artists (UK), Stylus Poetry Journal (Australia, New Zealand), Our Own Voice: Filipino Literature in the Diaspora, Dalityapi Makata, birdandegg, Spillway Magazine, Rattle Magazine, Wild East (Hong Kong Literary Circle), and others. Several poems of his are forthcoming in the future issues of literary magazines including Snow Monkey, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS), spreadhead.net, and others. His work has been anthologized in Synaptic Graffiti: Slam the Body Politik (poetry on CD, Australia) and in Mitochondria: an Anthology of Rarities and Loose Ends. He has just finished writing the manuscript of his next book entitled Voice in the. An amateur artist, he has held in early 2004 a solo art exhibition entitled "White and Black" at UNESCO Center in Macao, through the sponsorship of Macao Foundation.]

-Posted: 1:35 PM 1/6/07 | More of this author on eK!

joborn2x/joseph_...@ (of Philippines) writes...

Your interview is very interesting. Would like to know more about our kabayans in Macau. Is there a school for Filipinos in Macau?

-Posted/Via Email: Thu, 6 Mar 2008 03:21:29 -0800

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