The Stories that Matter

Untitled I came across Alex Tizon’s article unintentionally. I had never heard about him before. But the notion of someone speaking out about the atrocities committed within his own family made me click the link anyway. What I found was beyond anything I expected to find (though I’m not entirely sure what that was in the first place.)

For starters, the story was by a Filipino-American. I got even more curious. But the crime was not committed by him but by his parents. Who were both “full-blooded” Filipinos.  I was even more shocked.

You see, ever since you start learning history in school up until college,- as a Filipino,- you learn one thing. We were a colony. We were a people enslaved. So the farthest thing that one could ever think of (at least for the naive me) is the enslaved being no better than the oppressors who ruled centuries ago.

But Lola’s story was not a soap opera played on TV or in the theatres. It was real.

Today we wail for the lost native culture of the Philippines due to centuries of colonization and oppression. Something, I believe, is warranted. But that grief has also given place to some form of pride that has also blocked the less reflective part of ourselves as to failing to scrutinize the flaws of a glorious past. A pride that makes us neglect what Mr. Tizon had so clearly and honestly written in the article:

Slavery has a long history on the islands. Before the Spanish came, islanders enslaved other islanders, usually war captives, criminals, or debtors. Slaves came in different varieties, from warriors who could earn their freedom through valor to household servants who were regarded as property and could be bought and sold or traded. High-status slaves could own low-status slaves, and the low could own the lowliest. Some chose to enter servitude simply to survive: In exchange for their labor, they might be given food, shelter, and protection. (article)

 

 

Stories are powerful in themselves. They make us think what we normally would not on a daily basis. They make us feel what we probably never have.

The manner of how we value and learn from them, is what makes one story special than the other. But the value isn’t always in the date of an event, or the dress that the subject of the story wore, or the time and place. In fact, I believe it’s the memorization of these facts or data that has made the study of history a subject most of the kids find “boring”  or “tiring.”

Stories gain their impact through the relevance of the experience to the reader or listener. Relevance, meaning: “How does this impact my life? How could I possibly improve the way I think and act throughout my life, from learning this story?” I believe those questions rang through every student whenever they had to learn all about the Stone Age or the World War 3.

However, lot of us nowadays easily know the names of the likes of Clark Kent/Superman, Tony Stark/Ironman and Thor. Fictional characters, nonetheless, their names resonate with a lot of us (who wouldn’t probably excel in highschool/college history) mainly because of how “awesomely” went through their struggles- the impact of which, the audience felt they understood.  (Need I mention how obsessed a scary lot of us with the lives of celebrities?)

Some would remember and willingly go through lengths to learn more details about their characters of interest. But what makes “studying about the details of these characters so easy, but the history of our own and very real people, a drag?

Possibly, because we first focus (and put more weight) on the (trivial?) data like dates, numbers, and places before we try to connect to the story of the humanity  that is within the stories of other people in different times and in different places.

We fail to value it, as we fail to value reflection.

 

Somehow, as I absorbed the impact of Lola’s story a I thought back to all the historical dramas I’ve watched both from Asia and the West. I recalled the condition of Age of Ignorance/Jahilliya in Arabia. All of them had tales of oppression and rising above it.

I thought about how despite our stark differences across continents and even across time, the themes of our stories (our history), as individuals or as a people, were always the same.

Which brings me to one of my favorite verse from the Noble Qur’an:

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O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). [13]

Makes me think…

 

Mr. Alex Tizon, the writer who shared Lola’s story that inspired the writing of this entry, was known to be an exceptional journalist whose life’s work involved forgotten people, people on the margins, people who had never before been asked for their stories. He believed that all people had within them an epic story, and he wanted to hear those epic stories—and then help tell them to the world.

I share in that belief.

Maybe if we value the story of the farmer, the maid or the garbage boy as we do with Angelina Jolie’s or the next trending celebrity…

Maybe if we start listening to stories for their actual value rather than gossip…

We can learn to truly grow together.

 

(PS For the record, I really liked studying history. I flunked…just once. But that was because I’d had enough of how the teacher was treating the students. Dumb move. Haha)

 

G.T.

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Year Ender: 7 Fav Songs that Speak Beyond Barriers

How has everyone’s 2015 been?

It surely didn’t go smoothly…

Around the world, there are a lot of things we are still struggling with. Conflicts here and there that have yet to see their resolutions.

Tragedies have struck us to our core…

And there are still more tragedies that continue to unfold…

 

Nonetheless- year after year- the flicker of hope remains in all of us.

This is a post that is intended to bring the message of Hope through one very powerful medium that has always been part of human culture- music.

Many would say that there’s been too many songs that have been released that speak about their themes- of yearning for everyone to look past beyond the barriers of color, for everyone to see the beauty of diversity, for everyone not to be mindlessly following any group that seeks to instill fear and mindless hate in us. Many might say that there’s already so much songs about these, yet we have yet to see change.

Well, have the abundance of romantic songs ever seem to satiate the soul’s longing for that partner? Or been enough to soothe every brokenhearted?

I don’t believe so.

Nevertheless I think I’d like to end my year with songs that remind one to be a light despite things looking so bleak and dark. If anything, it’s the only way we can continue to move forward and live.

1. Michael Jackson’s “Heal The World”: Michael Jackson is a legend in this era’s music industry. And towards the end of his life, his works were geared towards awakening and uplifting the world. He didn’t just release one song that spoke about the issues that have racked our societies. He released more, and I believe he would continue to make more had he been still with us. He was not shy, and was outspoken about them. It is this aspect of him that I respect most in his life as an artist.

Also, at a time were war and conflict seems just right at our doorstep..this could not be even more timely.

2. Sami Yusuf’s “Shine”: Brother Sami Yusuf has been a role model. He has coined the genre, “Spiritique”, one that is ” informed by the belief that the major world religions bespeak a perennially harmonious spiritual and moral message that has the potential to beautify the world and create peace between people.” His latest release, Shine, is one of his best works that represent this message. May this new leaf, the coming days of 2016 be the moment where we all strive to keep shining.

3. Harris J’s “Worth It”: Shifting towards a genre that most of the youth can dig, I chose one of this promising newcomer’s latest releases. I’m glad to be seeing such good work from someone so young. Even as adults, struggles don’t disappear. In fact, struggles will always be there in different shapes and forms. May we continue to struggle for all that is worth our tears, blood, and sweat…no matter how hard it is.

4. Zain Bhikha’s “Someday”: “Salam”, the arabic for , “Peace”. This is the message of this song all the while uplifting the undistorted message of Islam and to add juice to the image of Muslims not commonly flashed on our TV screens. The song “talks about humanity coming together for one purpose, finding peace.” Give it a listen, and probably a share.

5. Zain Bhikha’s “First We Need the Love”  Or if you probably would like something with a “hipper beat” to it, here’s something I’d recommend from the same artist with the participation of his son, Rashid. Also very, very timely.

 

6. EXO’s “History” (Korean version): Suprise! Yes, I do (selectively) listen to song from Kpop. I’d thought it to shift to another genre and part of the world would be a little good too. To give a little story, I didn’t know about this group back in what was maybe late 2012 (beside the fact that they debuted on that same year). I just saw this on TV and like it then. No, not because of the physical traits of the singers, the moves they were making, but the lyric hit home. They had a previous release, “MAMA“, which also talked along the same themes but both the MV and the lyrics are until now quite debated. For those in the know, many would consider the lyrics to speak of the two group’s division and be attempt to attest their unity. But the thing about this song is, even if you don’t know a thing about EXO, once it’s translated its more universal message pulls through.  There’s also a Chinese version to this.

This last day of December will the final page of that will go down as 2015’s history. May it be blessed, may it open doors for all our growth!

7. Raef’s “The Path”: Earlier this year, I made a short post about brother Raef’s “Dream”. I’d still pick that for this post, but I didn’t want to be redundant.

I chose to round-up this post with this song because while it goes back to the type of songs that are like home to me, I think it beautifully narrates the shared struggle we all have within, though each story and depth is uniquely that of ours.

I’ll let the song speak once again. For once again, I am lost for words.As the dawn of another year (in the Gregorian calendar at least) draws near, may the path that we should take be much more clearer to us. Ameen.

And I know that it hurts
When we stop and wonder: “Why?”
Yes I know that it hurts
Maybe time will heal the burns

And maybe you’ve felt the path I seek, and
I know you’ve cared as much as me
Our stories were shared for us to see

Thanks for reading up until here!

Love, truth and peace,

G.T.

 

BLANK CANVASSES| Thoughts of An Ahjumma

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Another entry. I’m supposed to be doing some other stuff, but after reading an article that explains the person’s hatred that he/she says is not “racist”, but could might as well pass off as extremely prejudiced and arrogant, if not supremacist- I could not help but collect my upset thoughts. This is a product of that collection (laugh).

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you.” (49:13)

Several years ago, as someone who was searching for her identity… as someone who yearning to find a community she belongs to, reading that verse for the first time struck a strong chord in me.

American, European, Arab, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino- no matter what race one may belong to…beyond the social constructs and divisions we so normally have accepted, we are all human beings.

Our identities as a people, our history may define the “us”, now. But by connecting with others THAT is how we truly grow. When we start to look beyond the constraints of “culture” to define what is right and wrong against another human being, then we can grow.

Think of it like this, when we are born-regardless where we come from-we are like blank canvasses. Through time as we learn, we discover then change. Each experience is like a brushstroke that slowly forms a picture that tells a unique story.

Each day of our lives is like a fresh page in an initially, blank, story book- the material that serves like a brochure to the image painted on to the canvass once completed.

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If we were meant to be restricted to the borders of our “nations”/”cultures” then wouldn’t we NOT come as blank canvasses?

But we did, and no baby is born with a “culture” infused into his/her ways. We are born all equally…as human beings with probably the only significant distinction would be the defining purpose in the life we’ve been given. A purpose that only we could have completed in the way we have allowed or chosen to be.

I’m not saying to throw away the many achievements and grievances that each people has faced. No, definitely not. We have disregarded so much of each other’s history that we fail at the many challenges we face now, simply because we haven’t learnt the real lessons each point in history should have taught us.

What I’m saying is, instead of seeing our identities as something that sets each of us apart, shouldn’t we start to look at our unique identities as the strings that could bring us together?

We have so many romantics that say that differences between two lovers who share a genuine, beautiful relationship aren’t actually hindrances. Instead, those differences complement each other, help each other grow.

Perhaps we should adapt that way of thinking…see our differences as something that could complement each other. See our differences as something that could teach each other things we didn’t know, we didn’t know. (Yes, I just made a Disney reference.)

Perhaps we ca liken ourselves to canvasses, that are actually part of bigger canvas? Or like a volume within a series of books that complete one huge story?

Right now, as connected our communities seem to be with technology, we are still at a point of critical disconnection from each other…

However ours is a time, a chapter, a page defined by the past, and that which will define our future.

If we remain at this state of disconnection…

What kind of picture are we each contributing to?

What kind of story are we writing ourselves in?

Literary “Analysis” 2: Blind Man and the Sun |T.O.A.

A/N: Final share! I really find this piece heart-warming and mind provoking. The analysis is very rough, I admit. But I hope the message still comes through! 🙂 Peace!

BLIND MAN AND THE SUN

Short Story, by Su Shi (Su Dong Po) of the Song Dynasty

 

Once upon a time, there was a blind man who did not know what the Sun is. So he asks other people to explain.

One man said, “The Sun is shaped like a copper plate.” So the blind man banged on a copper plate, and listened to its clanging sound. Later when he heard the sound of a temple bell, he thought that must be the Sun.

Another man said, “The Sun gives out light just like a candle.” So the blind man picked up a candle to feel its shape. Later when he picked up a flute, he thought this must be the Sun.

And yet we know that the Sun is vastly different from a bell or a flute; but the blind man does not understand the differences, because he has never seen the Sun and only heard it described.

Analysis:

From the first intake, it would seem most fitting to approach this piece of literature using the Imitative Theory primarily, and the Affective theory secondarily.

Su’s use of the two characters can be immediately construed to mean more than their literal sense. What the Blind Man and the Sun represent exactly, however, would entail proper study of the exact timeframe when it was written and the state wherein the author was when he wrote it.

Taking from the personal background that is noted of the author, one can deduce that this short story is another expression of the values of that he stood for being raised and educated through his highly-educated mother and his town’s Taoist priest. Whatever are the values aimed to be addressed in the piece are surely addressed through the story of the blind man trying to grasp something that he had never seen.

A probable answer to the true identity of the Blind Man could be Wang Anshi, a political figure who, along with this faction, was the common subject of criticism by Su. Or could the Blind Man be an imitative depiction of himself, written during his time of exile and poverty in Huizhou/Huangzhou? Was this short story a depiction of an inner realization? It was in Huangzhou that Su had reached his literary zenith.

With all the questions, one lesson drives the whole story. Perhaps the ambiguity of the true identity of the Blind Man and the Sun was the intention Su had when he penned this story. Perhaps the author left the answer relatively limitless so that the lesson he tried to communicate would make a more effective impact to the heart of the reader. For the lesson answers the questions, “How do we expect to find something we cannot grasp? With our limitations, how must we approach the understanding of things?”

Literary Analysis 1: The Hundred Word Eulogy by Hongwu Emperor|T.O.A

A/N: Aye! Pretty busy, but World Literature gives me time to write! Our take-home exam was to make (beginner’s level, people) a critical analysis on 3 chinese literature of our choice. ‘Twas, alas, my first time to do an “analysis” based on literary theories that we were taught 😀 Enjoy (hopefully)!

THE HUNDRED-WORD EULOGY

By The Hongwu Emperor 

or Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋)

 

Chinese

至聖百字讃

乾坤初始

天籍注名

傳教大聖

降生西域

授受天經

三十部册

普化衆生

億兆君師

萬聖領袖

協助天運

保庇國民

五時祈祐

默祝太平

存心真主

加志窮民

拯救患難

洞徶幽冥

超拔靈魂

脱離罪業

仁覆天下

道冠古今

降邪歸一

教名清真

穆罕默德

至聖貴人

穆罕默德

清真北寺

English

Since the creation of the universe
God had already appointed his great faith-preaching man,
From the West he was born,
And received the holy scripture
And book made of 30 parts
To guide all creations,
Master of all rulers,
Leader of the holy ones,
With support from the Heavens,
To protect his nation,
With five daily prayers,
Silently hoping for peace,
His heart directed towards God,
Giving power to the poor,
Saving them from calamity,
Seeing through the Unseen,
Pulling the souls and the spirits away from all wrongdoings,
Mercy to the world,
Transversing to the ancient,
Majestic path vanquished away all evil,
His religion Pure and True,
Muhammad,
The Noble High One.

Analysis:

The most fitting approach to the analysis of this largely unknown yet relatively controversial literary is to examine it from the historical background wherein the author writes and from there, aim to deduce what he meant to express through the eulogy.

From Arabia to China, the fact that the Emperor (and said founder) of the Ming Dynasty would ever write about an Arab man, is astonishing at the outset. And even more striking would be the type of literature written- a eulogy, one of high praise, – which was dedicated to a man whose “culture” would be prejudged as the stark opposite of the author’s!

But after close inspection of what is again, largely unknown facts, the existence of such piece of literature isn’t all that surprising. Before the advent of the Hongwu Emperor’s reign, his life-story would explain the certain affinity communicated in between the lines of the eulogy. Zhu had been a member of a local rebel army that sought (and succeeded) to overthrow the preceding Yuan dynasty. Time and history can tell that years in struggle with “brothers in arms” forms unique bonds between men and transforms the beliefs and ideals of those involved. The Red Turbans, the rebel army to whom Zhu held position, was fusion of people holding different beliefs (from Confucianism down to Zoroastrianism, and most probably, Islam).

Surprising, indeed! Thinking of Chinese culture, one would be prejudiced that the only spiritual influence running through its people would be that of Buddha, Confucius or Lao Tzu. But the complete venture into the country’s history reveals a culture that was steadily enriched through years of influx of different beliefs and ideologies, inxcluding that of Judaism and Catholicism. The surprise is lessened if we remember a much more familiar historical fact, – the Silk Road, – that connected the East and West.

Combining these data together with the literature in focus what then, can we deduce? The complete answer might require a lengthier presentation than this.

From a superficial analysis, The Hundred Word Eulogy may attest to a more open and multicultural-embracing China, which could be evident during the Hongwu Emperor’s reign.

The eulogy could also be interpreted via the historical accounts of the Hongwu Emperor’s earlier life up until his experience with the Red Turban army. Perhaps there lies the beginning of the connection that the Zhu found with the “Arab desert man”*. And basing on what is quoted through history, it was a strong affinity that is most evidently and popularly expressed in the eulogy.

What is certain is that the outlook that the Hongwu Emperor held towards a historical figure is an absolute contradiction to what is commonly branded upon Muhammad nowadays-a barbarian, paedophile and tyrant. It makes one wonder: are we, of the current era, reading our history right? Or are we missing a huge piece of a puzzle?