Thursday, March 21, 2013

Filipinas Heritage Library Turns a New Leaf

Let me indulge a little: I attended my first poetry reading on the grounds of the Filipinas Heritage Library's old Nielsen Tower home. That was 13, 14 years ago, and had no idea that the library was still fairly new. The reading began after dinner, later than I had anticipated, but somewhere I found the courage to step to the mic and read about old women falling in love. It was one of those times when I felt 'adult,' staying out late and talking to all these other artists and poets and writers as if I could belong in their company. At around 10, my uncle picked me up and we walked to the old Greenbelt mall where the driver had parked the car. It was a short walk, but that was one of my favorite moments with him. Only upon reminiscing now do I realize just how many details of that night I still remember.

Since then, I've visited Filipinas Heritage Library a few more times. It's a special library dedicated to books and other materials authored by Filipinos or about the Philippines, with a focus on history and culture. For the past 16 years, it was housed at the Nielsen Tower, but just recently until its very recent move to the Ayala Museum.

The new FHL logo looks like an open book. It features the Ayala Museum facade on the left and the Ayala Foundation colors on the right.

I was lucky to be one of the few invited to the FHL re-opening last March 18. There's a new energy in the air. It's more than a physical change. FHL is keeping up with the times and has taken on a digitization project to place history at one's fingertips.

The inclusion of the Filipinas Heritage Library into the museum is a significant step in the right direction. The move not only helps make the museum a center for culture in Makati, but it's also in keeping with FHL's pursuit of scholarship and access. With new programs and efforts in place, it's evident that that FHL is serious about becoming ‘the contemporary space for the contemporary researcher.’

If you’re new to FHL, head to the Ground Floor of the Ayala Museum to secure a library pass. Admission is P50 for students and P100 for professionals, though serious researchers may want to get an annual membership that includes admission to the museum for P1,000. Leave your bags (especially if they’re larger than 10″ x 7″ or if they contain food and drinks) at the entrance. Don’t worry; FHL will provide you a bag for your valuables and other personal materials. A librarian will then accompany you to the 4/F, where a special elevator will take you straight to the library on the 6/F.

The elevator to the new FHL

The re-launch included a tour of the new premises. The library is cozy; the space was said to be converted from an executive office. I counted about 13 workstations for students and researchers. The library is WiFi-ready and tables come with inconspicuous electric sockets to allow laptops and other electronic devices to be plugged in. There's also a conservation lab where they treat damaged materials.

FHL has over 10,000 books on Philippine culture and history

FHL also houses rare books from as early as 1608, maps, microfiches of rare publications (though you can find the rare books collection on the 3/F). A photograph archive can be accessed at Over 1,000 digitized songs can be heard at FHL also allows researchers access to an online union catalog of Filipiana materials from over 100 library-members nationwide, through

The Atiz book scanner, the only one in the country

The digitization of old books is already underway. The new Atiz book scanner is equipped with two DSLR cameras that can scan a page in seconds and produce high-resolution images. The images are then turned into flipbooks through partnership with Trade Channel Philippines. According to the librarians, a 400-page manuscript can be scanned in two hours, excluding editing.

FHL is making it easy and accessible for us to learn more about our history and culture with just a few clicks. But don't take my word for it. Visit the Filipinas Heritage Library soon, and rediscover our nation’s rich heritage through the extensive Filipiniana collection there.

(Thank you very much to FHL for inviting and welcoming us.)

Filipinas Heritage Library
6/F Ayala Museum, Makati Ave cor Dela Rosa St, Greenbelt Park, Makati City
9:00 AM – 6:00 PM (Tues-Fri)
10:00 AM – 7:00 PM (Sat)
Tel (632) 757-71117 loc. 36
Fax (632) 757-3588

Saturday, March 09, 2013

That Kind of Guy (Mina V. Esguerra)

Author Mina V. Esguerra is on a roll these days. Her previous self-published books Fairy Tale Fail, Love Your Frenemies, and Interim Goddess of Love have been released under Summit Publishing. She's just finished the sequel to Interim called Queen of the Clueless, currently available on Amazon. She's also giving out talks and workshops for budding writers. With her familiar characters and engaging writing style, it's no wonder that her books are getting new fans every day.

While some of her books have reached near local cult-favorite status, not too far behind is her solid offering, That Kind of Guy. I think Ms Esguerra does best when she works with older characters. They seem to me a little more well-rounded, a little more flawed, a little more realistic. That Kind of Guy follows playboy Anton (best friend of the lead character in No Strings Attached) and Julie, a self-admitted manang (though it literally means 'older sister,' it is used to refer to very conservative women). Julie thinks that a so-so first date was the last she'd see of Anton. But to her surprise, the charming and outgoing guy pursues her, even attending Christmas dawn masses for her. Despite their differences and her preconceived notions of him, it is easy to see how they made a connection. Ultimately it is Julie's ideas of how her manang self stacks up against Anton's past hook-ups, how she feels that she's treated differently than those other girls, that puts their relationship in jeopardy. In an almost masochistic exercise, she keeps a journal of Anton's past hook-ups as a way to reassure herself of her decision.

In Julie, Ms Esguerra fleshes out a different kind of manang. The term usually conjures images of the spinster schoolteacher sans makeup or the pious churchgoer in long skirts. Julie is none of those. Perhaps she has a manang's candor, opinionated and unafraid to let people know. She has her own kind of confidence. But if it hadn't been mentioned many times over in the book, manang would be one of the last things I'd associate with her. For me, a manang's uncompromising old-fashioned values extend towards most every aspect of her life. Clearly based on her actions in this book, Julie was far removed from my definition. But what's important to note that despite this, she still regards herself as a conservative woman. She feels that she is less adventurous or less sexually aggressive than the norm. It's a surprising revelation and one that makes me rework my own definitions of the term.

But that's what the novella is getting at. We are so hung up on labels that we tend to box everything else that way. Anton was a playboy, therefore he was expected to act this way. Or Julie was a manang, therefore she was expected to act differently. In his Course in General Linguistics, linguist and literary theorist Ferdinand de Saussure rejects the idea that a word corresponds to one set object and acts as a symbol for that object. For him, language is a sign-system that connects the signifier to the signified, from one idea to another concept. But a reader's interpretation of the word 'playboy' varies. Jacques Derrida came up with term differance to convey that the way meaning shifts between signifier and signified. The word has a field of meanings: "The written sign can break its 'real context' and can be read in a different context regardless of what its writer intended. Any chain of signs can be 'grafted' into a discourse in another context." As Julie discovers, her expectations of Anton fail her because she expects him to act in one set way. Language, as with human nature, shifts.

If I have a minor complaint about the whole book, it's that in No Strings Attached, I had a different impression of Julie's social life. She hung out with Dante and an intellectual, academic crowd. In That Kind of Guy, she's almost like a social wallflower whose real friends pre-Anton were barely mentioned. Maybe their absence helped reinforce the manang stereotype. Or maybe their inclusion would have been confusing in a short novella that is already full of secondary characters. I'll never know, but I missed them. (Fine, I missed Dante.)

That Kind of Guy also contrasts two different dating styles. Again we go back to the idea of labels: the bad guy and the good guy. The book plays along with reader expectations and then twists them at the end so we see what can be emulated in the 'bad' guy and what is flawed in the 'good' one. On two separate occasions, I found myself defending why Henry was the poorer choice of the two.

I read this so many months ago but I can still remember how hooked I had been. I was in a car running errands and I could not put this down. (And from the looks of this ultra-long review, I'm still quite hooked!) As much as I love Ms Esguerra's other books, ones like No Strings Attached and That Kind of Guy are the ones that draw me the most.