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papa osmubal
oscar balajadia I DON'T you and you don't know me. And we will never know each other. Even if that is the case I still have to do the honor of introducing myself to you, as I always believe that any sudden conversation has to be preceded by or concluded with a self-introduction.

For a start I want to tell you I am from the land known to all as the Philippines. But to me and my people the term nationality is an enigma, a humongous question mark. People say I am a Filipino. But, frankly, I don't know what they mean by that, as we have been a people without a nationality through and through.

For the sake of this conversation (yes, let's call it a conversation because it is somehow two-way---you listen, well, yes, I call your presence listening; I talk, well, yes, I call this mind talk as talk), I want to invent a nationality for me: Maharlikan. That is how you have to identify me. That is much better than what my conquerors gave to me.

Okay, I am a Maharlikan. I am from a place called Maharlika. Internationally, it has to be known as Bansang Maharlika or Land of the Nobles and Free. In my own language that roughly means Timawa, so Bangsang Timawa shall be the name of my country. So I am also a Timawan.

You can just call me Luwang Mayli (Tear of Smile/Smiling Tear). My parents told me that when I was a baby I still looked like I was smiling even when I was already crying. Would you mind if I called you Batung Dayu or Foreign Rock?

We have one thing in common: Both of us are without real nationality and real name. We are both molded in somebody's image: You, the Portuguese; and I, the Spaniards and the Americans. Although you resemble Jorge Alvares (the first Portuguese explorer to have reached China and Hong Kong), rendered with shape by the hands of a Portuguese sculptor, and the granite constituting your body mined from Portugal, you are not Portuguese. Your frozen gesture and facial expression are Portuguese, which makes Chinese in this city abhor you; and I am not scaring you, but your days might possibly be numbered, because to the Chinese here you are none other than Jorge Alvares—one of the icons of western conquest of Asia.

Yes, I talk to you because you resemble a human being.

But then the real reason why I talk to you is that, for sure, we will never differ; we will never argue or refute each other's points of view. And it is certain we will not club each other for some unresolved issues.

Let me tell you something about the place where I come from, Bansang Maharlika or Bangsang Timawa.

It is a very beautiful land, but its beauty shrouds perpetual pains. It all started when it was conquered by two white nations, first Spain and then America. These white conquerors changed our mentality. Now some of us think they are Spaniards and some think they are Americans, while some think they are both. This is what makes my country a freaking mess. We are so proud to be what we are supposed to be not. To us the color of salvation and of everything that is good and grand is white.

Look at me and my people: We are brown or yellow outside, but white inside. We are not different from bananas: Their peel has a different color from their meat. Well, that is perhaps the reason why they mockingly include my country among the so-called banana republics. That makes sense, doesn't it?

You are lucky. It is because from the outside I can know what color you have within. Well, yes, aside from small gray and white patches and smudges on your body that are clearly caused by birds (well, their droppings) and by the weather, your real color still shows. You must be really proud of it. I think my people can learn from you. Let us put it this way: The weather and bird droppings are your would-be conquerors that try to change your color. But against them you have innate resistance (which we people from a banana republic don't have), so you don't change color.

Have you, by the way, a language or something that you may call your language? In my country we have at least a hundred languages; but then we still can't understand each other. One language has been chosen to unite and make us understand each other, but my own people do not like it or rather each wants his/her language to be the national language. So our problems are far from being solved. My people bicker against each other just because of these languages. One thinks his/her language is superior to others. This weakens our unity (if unity we have).

I personally think our languages are all important, and they are our national pride and treasure. Yeah, all of them are equal in importance and cultural value, in prestige and privilege. But in my country one speaker of one language detests the other languages. This is a cancer that is gnawing our bones and consuming our marrows. Our conquerors bequeathed this to us. They once said, "Speak your own language and learn ours, and don't trouble yourself with the other languages." Well, what else had we to do but to listen to them?

Again I tell you in my country the color of truth is white. Whatever that is not white is of less importance. Our culture and languages are brown or yellow, so they deserve to be shelved. Instead of preserving our heritage we kill it---slowly but surely it dies---to please our conquerors. Now they say we can't blame them. They say we have no one to blame but ourselves. I believe them on that. But that was their strategy in the first place in order to get what they wanted, and it clearly worked.

We are a nation in limbo. Our conquerors changed us by reshaping our thought. We are a white people's creation. Now we conquer ourselves on/in behalf of our conquerors. We were cajoled into doing to ourselves what they did to us. It was a clever move. Now we are no different from a puppet. So they have the right to say that we have only ourselves to blame. Our conquerors won. I personally commend and congratulate them for their job well done. This simply means that we will never be free again. We will never regain our old selves. Tell this to my people and they will just wink at you, shrug their shoulders, and say, "Amen!" They even kill or die justifying the deeds of our conquerors. Our conquerors are our heroes, redeemers, gods, kings, and saints rolled into one. We even name ourselves, our provinces, streets, parks, buildings, and schools after our conquerors. This is unbelievable, but it happens in my country. It is just like saying "Thank you" to someone who breaks into your house, on his way out you open the door for him and give him snack and refreshment for his journey, and tapping him on the shoulder, you say, "Good job, buddy! Fare ye well, and remember my door is always wide open for you. And by the way, thanks for sleeping with my sisters and beating my brothers."

Well, yeah, dear statue-friend, I admit I have had more than enough of beer tonight. In fact, things become clearer to me when I am drunk. For that alone you have to believe me more. Remember, between friends beer is thicker than blood. Did I hear you say wine is redder than blood?

Surreal as it may seem, whatever I tell you really happens in my country. I swear to the white, blond, bearded, and blue-eyed God given to me by my conquerors, everything I say to you is true. True, as in I will never let myself suffer eternal damnation in hell on the day of reckoning just for lying to a rock statue like you.

Speaking of rocks, my country's fate is no different from that of Sisyphus. Our life is a heavy rock we roll up and down a mountain with no purpose at all, making our existence purely absurd and in vain. At least Sisyphus did not like his fate as it was a heavy punishment put in force on him for transgressing his gods; but ours is a harrowing sacrifice we willfully do in order to please our conquerors.

Confused, my people now believe that we can find whatever we are looking for by going to other countries. It is because the land that we stand on is without a name; rather, it doesn't identify us, it doesn't show who we really are. We did not name that land, which is why we don't own it. Yes, it was named by our conquerors after their king, in whose name countless of my forebears were massacred. Don't ever attempt changing that country's name or else 80 million of us will pulverize you.

Among Asians we are the only bunch that doesn't have will and determination to change things. The Koreans, for instance, had no written language 400 years ago. Before that they had to use Chinese characters. Then one Korean king created his country's own writing system and imposed it on his people, and now it is one of the most stable written languages in the world. That makes Korean script one of the youngest written languages. It was only two hundred years old when my country's writing systems disappeared. The Koreans willed the creation of their own writing system; whereas we can't even revive our very own, whose demise is still considered recent. Well, what the Koreans and their king did is what one calls Asian. The Koreans were conquered by the Japanese for 35 years, but in just a single day they managed to erase everything Japanese from their soil. Well, that is what one calls spirit and mind, which obviously we don't have. But then again we are not Asians and we are proud of it. We don't want people to call us Asian because we are brown Spaniards and Americans.

Now, my statue-friend, words are not enough to express my gratitude for this short chat. This has been the most peaceful conversation I have had in my entire life, because if I told my own kind what I have just told you they would have taken me for a fool or a pariah.

It is getting dark; I will just finish my beer and then I have to be on my way. Well, how would you say good night and thank you in your language? In my country, even politeness and etiquette have to be expressed in a desired language, or your head will roll.

[About the author. Papa Osmubal is Oscar Balajadia of Magalang, now Macau resident and married to a Chinese local. He has been a Catholic seminarian, Catholic missionary, bookstore staff, teaching assistant, and teacher. Currently at daytime he is the Assistant Librarian at The International School of Canada in Macau, while at nighttime he moonlights as part-time teacher and tutor. His poems have appeared in various anthologies and publications, online and hardcopy. He has work archived in the University of Columbia Granger's World of Poetry and other places. A work of his will also appear in the forthcoming W.W. Norton Poetry Anthology of Contemporary Voices from the East. He is a contributing writer to Chick Flicks, Our Own Voice (OOV): Writing from the Filipino Diaspora, and other publications.]

-Posted: 4:15 AM 1/15/08 | More of this author on eK!

Ric (of the Philippines) writes...

Hi, I had read your blog "a drunken conversation with a statue." Naniniwala rin akong Maharlikan ang dapat ibansag sa atin. I posted your blog at my site http://maharlikan.blogspot.com so that people with views like ours would link up. Salamat.

-Posted/Via Email: 2008-06-20 04:19:50 PDT

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