Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Asi identity in the age of globalization (2)

(Commencement address to the graduating class, Class of 2012, Sibale Academy, 23 March 2012, Concepcion Parish Church, Concepcion, Romblon)

The buzzword of today is “globalization”. As it suggests, globalization indicates the very close interaction between peoples and countries of the world in trade and commerce, culture, education, and communication. Globalization has shrunk the world not just from size large to size small, but has also transformed it from round to “flat” because of technological advances which has given rise to new and faster ways of doing things.

You are already familiar with this technological phenomenon. The mobile phone, the Internet, and the computer are just few of the many technological marvels that have shaped the world and have “flattened” it.

Thirty years ago when I graduated from the Sibale Academy, my classmates and I looked forward with anticipation and joy to the arrival of the weekend. We used to gather under the big acacia tree beside the road at the school’s gate during Friday afternoons and there we proclaimed: “T-G-I-F”! “Thank God, It’s Friday.” T-G-I-F.

Today, in your generation, T-G-I-F has acquired a whole new meaning. Do you know what T-G-I-F now means? No? T-G-I-F means Twitter, Google, I-phone, and Facebook. You belong to the T-G-I-F generation, the generation that follows people and events on Twitter; searches and researches knowledge and information using Google; communicates—sends and receives messages—using the mobile phone; and builds friendships and socializes  by joining the social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace, WAYN, Friendster, etc.

And every day, because of the implosion of technology, a whole lot of new gadgets and inventions arrive in the market to change—improve—the ways peoples of the world do business, create products, provide services, learn new knowledge, and perform certain jobs. The Knowledge Century—your century—is here, and the world has never been the same again. It has become flat.

You will know that the world is flat when you transfer cash through Smart Padala; when, instead of writing a letter to your parents, you shoot an e-mail; when, instead of going to the library, you stay in your living room and “Google” or read the Encarta encyclopedia online; when, instead of buying a book at the National Bookstore, you order your favorite title from e-Bay; when, instead of buying a map of Sibale from the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, or NAMRIA, you go online and locate our island through Googlemap, which is satellite-fed; and when you write a blog if you can’t get published.

These things were unimaginable in my generation. In my high school days, listening to radio dramas, not watching DVD movies, was our pastime; letter-writing was an art form, not a simple ‘text’ away chore; and we impressed the girls with hand-crafted Valentine’s cards, not with e-cards which are now aplenty in the Internet. Our friends then were limited to those around us—classmates and neighbors; unlike now when, with only a click of the computer mouse, friendships could be developed with people whom one may never ever see in his lifetime, thanks to the social networks.

Just last week, I received a note from one Nancy Hite, an American student writing her PhD dissertation at Yale University, asking me if she could use a quotation from my blog, which I have been maintaining since 2007. I didn’t know Ms. Hite, but because of the Internet, she knew me and she has been reading me. That’s a flat world.

Now, you know why the world is flat. But if you’re still unconvinced, here’s more.

If modern technology has hastened globalization, globalization has given birth to outsourcing. This is the trend now. Outsourcing simply means letting others do the job that you used to do for reasons of economy, efficiency, and cost. Outsourcing has “flattened” the world. I’d like to illustrate this in the cases of India and China, as Friedman has observed and documented.

India is the world’s No. 2 outsourcing country in the world. In India, many of the world’s multinational companies outsource their products and services to Indian companies because, over the last two decades, India has made great strides in opening up its economy, thereby attracting foreign investments that created jobs which in turn required brainpower—high quality graduates, such as mathematicians, information technology and software engineers, scientists, business managers, and analysts. You will not believe it, but India is producing some 89,000 MBAs every year. The number is growing.

It is the number and quality of Indian brainpower that attracts global businesses, which have been facing high costs in the West, to outsource many of their operations to India.

Friedman says that in the US, for example, it will cost an American family from US$80 to US$100 per hour to hire a tutor. But in Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, it will only cost from US$20 to US$40 an hour.

China today is the world’s No. 2 economy after the United States. It has just recently replaced Japan. In the northeast of China is the city of Dalian. Dalian is very close to Japan so there’s a lot of Japanese-speaking Chinese in Dalian who work for Japanese companies that have relocated to the region mainly because of low labor and infrastructure costs. Not only that. Japanese companies that can’t relocate outsource to Dalian many of their services, such as architectural design, for a fraction of the cost if these were done in Japan.

Let get back to the Philippines, which has just replaced India as the No. 1 in business process outsourcing. You will not believe it, but if you are articulate and can speak and write very good English, even if you are not a college graduate and regardless of your age, and provided you have a short training course in BPO operation, you can be easily hired today as a call center agent with an entry level salary of between P18,000 to P20,000 a month plus a signing bonus in the range of P40,000 plus perks and bonuses. This is improbable a few years ago.

Your life after high school will be decided on the great questions I have earlier articulated and which are percolating in your minds now. Some of you will pursue college degrees, while some others, because of various reasons one of which is financial capacity will, perhaps, look first for low-end jobs and enter the university later. Still some others will stay in the island; perhaps, get married after a few years, and build their own families.

But whatever path in life you will choose, still you will have to answer these questions: Are you prepared to face the world that I have described? Are you ready to take the journey in a flat world? Are you ready to compete?

If your answer is “No!”, then maybe I can help. I can help by sharing with you my experiences, first, as an Asi Sibalenhon, and second, as a global Filipino citizen. What I will share with you I did not learn wholly from the classroom, but from the higher university called life which I have lived over the course of my 47 earth-years.

(Second of four parts. To be continued.)

The Asi identity in the age of globalization (1)

(Address to the graduating class, Class of 2012, Sibale Academy, 23 March 2012, Concepcion Parish Church, Concepcion, Romblon)

The Reverend German Mehler, SVD; Principal Cristina Fadera-Ferrolino; Members of the Faculty; Parents; Graduates:

It is a great honor and a privilege to join you as your commencement speaker today. The Sibale Academy, as many of you very well knew, is my Alma Mater, and I consider this opportunity an important milestone, even as it is a welcome detour from my very busy professional life.

The feeling of déjà vu is overwhelming. At about the same month thirty-two years ago, I stood before the graduates of my class, the Sibale Academy Class of 1980, to deliver my salutatory address. Much of what I said have already receded from memory, forgotten, perhaps because no one really listens much to or care about valedictory or salutatory or commencement speeches. The silent agreement, I could feel then, was to go through the exercise and go home. To what, no one can tell. Perhaps, to plan life after graduation? I didn’t know.

Today, you must be feeling the same. I can sense it. I was once young like you and I could, through the filter of memory, feel how you feel now: you are high in a mixture of emotions.

First, you feel sad about the imminent parting—with friends and classmates, with your teachers, and with a part of your adolescence which is gone tomorrow: your high school life.

Second, you must be excited, even nervous about the future, which is yet to come, hence, unknown. At this stage, a lot of questions must be whirling inside your head: Will I go through college? Will I get married soon? What will happen to my high school sweetheart? Will he or she follow me or should I follow him or her? What does the world out there—outside the Sibale Academy, outside the island—look like? Will I find a good job? Here in the country? Or abroad? These are some of questions that you must be entertaining now as I speak.

Now, listen. Please don’t answer those questions now. There will be enough time to think and search for answers later. My advice to you is to savor this moment, this very day of your graduation, because this happens only once in a lifetime. Enjoy your day. Celebrate the occasion. Be happy, thankful, and grateful. Be very proud.

The Lord God, our Heavenly Creator, willed it that you arrive to this day and finish this race to high school. This is an important accomplishment which you must share with your family and loved ones, with your teachers, with your principal, and with your benefactor, Fr. Mehler. Therefore, before I go on, may I request that you stand up and say, “Thank you” to those people I have mentioned. Please give them a warm round of applause.

Now, for the more serious part.

Today, I’d like to bring you to a guided tour of the world as I see and experience it. This world which you are about to face shortly is vastly different from the world you saw inside the walls and halls of the Sibale Academy.

This world has changed. It continues to change, and very rapidly, every single day. Therefore, my first advice to you is to accept this fact: be brutally honest with yourself that you will, after graduation, face a changed and changing landscape, a world with many rosy promises, but also with many pitfalls, trials, and challenges, even temptations.

There is one apt description of this world you will face, and I will quote Thomas L. Friedman, who wrote a seminal book, called “The World Is Flat”.

We all know from our history that the world is round so, perhaps, you will ask: “Why is the world flat?” I’ll tell you why.

(First of four parts. To be continued.)


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Agit-agit has kin, but unlike in politics, not engaged in double-speak

Politicians of the Romblomanon kind share a common lot with their brothers and sisters elsewhere in the archipelago: most engage in double-speak, which is akin to newspeak, one of those familiar terms in George Orwell’s classic novel, Nineteen Eighty Four. This novel gave birth to Orwellian, an adjective, which means one who deceives and manipulates the people to further one’s political agenda.

To double-speak—the root word “double” means match, twice, twin, a pair, duplicate—is not to speak again, or to repeat, but to be deceptive, be Janus-faced, or to double-deal. One who engages in double-speak or double-talk, is to be hypocritical.
A previous peroration on the Asi word agit-agit had elicited many comments, mostly from Asi speakers some of whom asked—because they have forgotten to use it—what it meant.
Well, I was right. Non-use of one’s own language makes one a stranger and susceptible to alienation worse than physical removal, the kind that happens when a tree is uprooted from the soil.

I have witnessed this alienation in many Asi speakers. They seem to be lost.
But unlike a tree whose crown and leaves are the first to wither away when its transport roots—the main roots—lose contact with the soil, with human beings it is the speaker himself—the main trunk—who gets alienated first when he is detached from his own language.

The next to suffer are the speaker’s descendants, the children and grandchildren—the feeder roots—who would have been the perpetuator of the Asi language legacy.
This is the reason why as an Asi writer in Asi and in English, I have been repetitive, to the point of being boring, in my exhortation for Asi speakers to continue speaking in Asi in every occasion and situation that demands and warrants the use of the Asi language.

Ako ging aato-ato ka mga Asi nak magbisaya it Asi.

Did you notice the Asi equivalent of “exhortation”: ging aato-ato? Ato-ato (atoh-atoh), like agit-agit, is a double word which is a root in itself.

There is no agit, only agit-agit, as there is no ato (atoh) in Asi except ato (pronounced with a heavy stress on the last syllable), a plural possessive which means “ours” in opposite to the singular ako, also pronounced with a heavy stress on the last syllable, which in English is “mine”.

Now, the Asi language has plenty of these double words, all connected, like feeder roots, to the main root agit-agit, the word made current by John Fetalsana of the Romblon State University.

The presence of double words seems to be an identifying characteristic of Asi as double-speak seems to be a badge—the fearsome “tsapa”—of many politicians.

I came to find this out last week as I was re-reading my piece on agit-agit.

The double words came not in torrents, or on-rushing like the vigorous waters cascading from its fount in a waterfall. It came slowly and carefully, which in Asi is inot-inot.

And what do you know? When I think in my private moments; when ideas form like cumulus clouds slowly taking shape in the bright summer sky, I get agitated (is it coincidence that “agitated” sounds like agit-agit?). I get excited. And when I get excited, I crave for more ideas.

In Asi, this state of mind has a description: na mamako-mako. Mako-mako is a double word, but it is a singular adjectival phrase for a lonely man pregnant with anticipation. What an apt word: mako-mako.

When in this state, I keep still, silent, and unmoving. The reason is that I don’t want to make any pre-emptive or sudden action that might distract the idea or thought from coming into full bloom. The inspiration to think or write is very sensitive. Once one is distracted or prematurely disturbed, the inspiration withdraws; it retreats and only writers know when it might come back. This distraction, this inability to write for an indeterminate period, is called writer’s block.

Thus, to avoid getting distracted, my approach to birthing an idea is paimat-imat.
This Asi double word has a twin. It is hipa-hipa.

Ako ging hihipa-hipaan kag baktin agor ako mababating. Ida ging papaimat-imatan kag kambing nak a ihawon.

Hipa-hipa and imat-imat means to carefully and slowly move. It is a covert act of moving stealthily so that no one would notice and thus enable one to accomplish a mission.

In my days in Sibale, when I succeeded in catching up a rooster or hen to be slaughtered, first by moving stealthily towards the object—paimat-imat—and then pahipa-hipa, the rooster or hen, surprised as it were, will also react. Makupag-kupag.

The Tagalog equivalent is “piglas”, but kupag-kupag is more colourful. It means trying mightily to get free from one’s sure hold or grip.

Voters and politicians alike exhibit such behaviour when caught in a gripping or tight situation. Nakupag-kupag. Again, there is no single word kupag. It is always double.

I come back to agit-agit.

Someone commented, upon reading my piece on the word, that agit-agit also means ugir-ugir, another Asi double word. Maybe yes. But no. Ugir-ugir is another Asi idiom for the Tagalog word, “tudyo”. It is the behaviour of a person who feels superior to another and who, through the use of contemptuous words, tries to provoke a person he thinks is inferior into hitting back or getting even. It could lead to another double word, raog-raog, which is an exception because its root, raog, indicates victory or a win.

In politics, a victory or a win is ensured only when the odds in one's favor are so overwhelming that even an attempt at double-backing is remote. In Romblon, it is often achieved by double-talk—deception, chicanery, and manipulation—not discounting double-cross, which happens all the time with voters and candidates.

In the Asi language, where double words are “honest” and convey exact and colourful meanings, victory is also achieved through “less violent”, but more of “patient” words, such as ato-ato, hipa-hipa, and imat-imat.

However, there are times when “drastic” words could serve the purpose of overpowering the enemy. I, myself, is open to the stratagem of encircling the prey—be it in politics or in the realm of the written word—through the employ of the Asi language.

I call this shotgun approach paapos-apos, which means to hit in all directions. This Asi double word leaves the enemy not only confused and lost, but also with nothing to do but to scratch his head in puzzlement, like a tree uprooted by a typhoon and shaken to the core, with its leaves scattered to the ground.

This situation has a colourful description in Asi: panguyo-kuyo, from the double word kuyo-kuyo.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Agit-agit and the literature of politics

It is so amazing how the Asi language, in all its strengths and weaknesses, its romance and tragedies, its verve and sorrowful rendition of things native and original, and its elegance and directness, can, in a twist of the tongue, produce a narrative with just a single word: agit-agit.
John Rufon, whose passionate affair with the Asi language has led him to the confines of the classroom to nourish young minds by food and drink literary, surfaced the word last week, in a conversation with this writer through the wonder of technology--the SMS--that in 1980 was not even in the fringe of the mind.

That SMS--that's 'text' to you, Virginia--has invaded, no, replaced, the sovereignty of the postman is a testament to the technological revolution of our age.

You see, John and I are 'text' mates. We communicate by spending 'loads' in our mobile phones, those ubiquitous tools of modern life that had since become indispensable.

But while we use this hip tool of communication, we remain rooted in the old medium of the Asi, the language of our souls. We exchange knowledge, ideas, and information through an immortal tongue made mortal--and now threatened to extinction--by non-usage.

We speak and converse in Asi so much so that if the mobile phone possesses a mind of its own, it should have long ago gone crazy, particularly when a learned man, such as John, texts me with sentences containing such Asi words as kahilab; and when I respond with such terms as pangurang-kurang.

John, who is holding summer classes at the Romblon State University, teaches literature. I have not seen any of his students, but I have a sense that they are excited with what John is teaching them, literature being a field that is seldom inhabited by boring souls.

And it is in literature, it is in the literary life, that agit-agit finds its appropriate home; that John Rufon, the romantic Asi, wakes it up from its deep literary slumber, or hibernation if you choose.

I have searched the English equivalent of agit-agit and I have failed. The nearest I can associate it with is the word torment, which means torture, distress, anguish, annoy, irritate, or persecute. But agit-agit means so much more than these, particularly if you use it in the idiom and context of the Asi.

The difficulty of finding an English equivalent of agit-agit is the fact that it is a  gender neutral verb. It cannot be transformed into a place- or people-, or thing-name, unlike torment, which is both a verb and a noun.

Tagalog, which is the language of the throng in the national capital and the Central and Southern Luzon provinces, provides us with tudyo and inis, or kulit, as the closest to agit-agit, but still, these words do not capture the cadence, color, and daring of the literary idiom which John Rufon has just midwifed.

And why did John Rufon forced agit-agit from its cocoon?

It was because of the political temperature of the province, now racing to exacerbate and surpass the summer heat, and which thus, threatens to make agit-agit more potent than it already is.

To divine its literary meaning, let us use it:

(1) Aya ako gi agit-agita.

By just adding the suffix "a" after the last letter, agit-agit as a word has just become menacing. To be forewarned is to be armed, so "Aya ako gi agit-agita", in this sense, is a warning to who it is directed to exercise caution. Otherwise.

(2) Kada kina nag-kandidato ay dahil ging agit-agit it kalaban.

A masterful invitation to political suicide, this sentence. Alas, Asi and non-Asi speaker-politicians alike, for a hundred years, have fallen into the trap of making political decisions simply due to agit-agit and, as a result, those who are affected--naagit-agit--often lose their way to ignominy, if not political demise.

(3) Inggwa it mga Romblomanong pulitiko nak sumok mag pang-agit-agit.

As an adjective, the phrase mag pang-agit-agit is a dark characteristic of Romblon politicians who have ran out of ideas and whose imagination and creativity have dried up because of contempt for their political opponents, if not envy. In the campaign trail, the tribe of this kind of politicians multiplies by the minute, their motive being solely to unsettle the serious candidates and well-meaning supporters.

(4) Hala, purbahi, nak taagit-agiton ka.

The classic challenge for an action still to be made in the future. The prefix ta and the suffix on that sandwich the root word agit-agit lend excitement to the prospect of acceptance of the challenge and the corresponding action of the challenger. In political literature, this is the crescendo before the plot. Watch out.

Unknown to many, the subliminal messages of agit-agit see fruition in the acts of our politicians.

For example, this is exhibited by an election loser who files a nuisance case against his opponent-winner even if he knew in the deep recesses of his thickened heart that the case is not going to prosper. Ging agit-agit yang?

Or take for instance an incumbent elected official who has this deplorable habit of expropriating for himself the nomination of all political parties in every election so that he leaves out his opponent without a party; or his more classic behavior of hopping from one political party to another like a nectar-sucking butterfly. Nagpapang-agit-agit yang.

But if it is all negativism there is to it in agit-agit, wait.

John Rufon, as a literature instructor, sees something positive in it. He says the word can be translated into an action that hides the intent but foresees the outcome.

In business parlance, this is creating an opportunity out of a dire strait; turning failure into victory; or picking gold from among a mountain of trash.

And how is that? There lies the agit-agit.

John says one can fashion a beautiful story out of what seems a trivial, but actually a powerful, word that in Asi means to agitate, inspire, cajole, motivate, lure, midwife, percolate, summon, or force into sudden and pre-emptive action. Thus, people who can use agit-agit this way are superior creatures.

Agit-agit. What a beautiful Asi word from an imaginative Asi intellectual.