Friday, April 30, 2010

Why Judah Can’t Teach

(In which it’s harder when you hide.)


“You have a really good job. Look. We have the same age but I’m still a student while you’re already working. But frankly speaking, I don’t think I can stand your job.”

I looked away from my computer and looked up to Judah. He was wearing his black long sleeved polo and he stood like an instructor lecturing a child. His turned his back to the light so his face was darker. But he wasn’t regretful or apologetic or even fearful that his comment might be taken negatively. He has always expressed his opinions with abandon. He knew he can always tell me what he thinks. I wasn’t offended. But of course I wanted him to explain himself. So I waited for him to continue.

“Well, teaching is a gorgeous job. But I think I can’t do it.”

“Do what? Teach?” I couldn’t wait to understand what his point is.

“I can’t deal with losing special people every time the classes end.”

I gave out a sigh that told him I understood. He sat on his chair and thought for a moment. Then he spoke again.

“Master,” he said; his face now serious with curiosity. His habit of addressing me in this very inappropriate manner started as a joke. It was inappropriate because we were not in an old Oriental society and because I am not even close to being a master. ”I think it’s hard when you met good friends and then you had to say goodbye to them, right? And I think it’s not good when you’re used to seeing people go. Like that is just normal. I don’t like that. So that’s why I can’t be a teacher.”

I took deep breaths. I have tried several times to evade this topic but it is always brought up when students are leaving. One of my previous students, Jean, also pointed out that getting used to this situation makes one’s heart harder. But now, I believe I just have to defend an aspect of my profession.

“Well, it is hard. But this is what we do. It’s hard to see students leave but that also means they have learned. And they have to go out and use what they’ve learned. That’s better than having them stuck. Just like you, I also feel sad and I don’t like this situation too. But teachers couldn’t be lugubrious because there are people waiting for us. There are people like you waiting to be taught. I cannot face the next student with gloominess over your absence. I have to deal with him or her with a glad face and anticipation that this will be a good experience for both of us – learner and instructor. Now that’s harder. There is even no time for us to be sad.”

It’s his turn to contemplate. Then he nodded.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Writing and Bitching

(In which what the last thing I wanted now is censorship.)


Half a decade ago, whenever I wanted to let my feelings out, I just grab my diary and pen. And then I could enjoy all the liberty of writing about the very emotional and even useless feelings or issues that I had. But then the idea that my exclusive access to my diary that I thought was an unwritten law was broken the moment my mother took me to task for cutting classes (which she wasn’t supposed to know). That is the main reason why I don’t feel like keeping a diary anymore. The other reason was that manual writing is such an exhausting job considering that I have been used to using the keyboard.

That’s actually a good thing because I feel more comfortable tapping the keys to transfer my thoughts into text than subjecting my right hand to the awkward and painful job of producing cacography. Also, the ideas come when I’m in the office. It always seemed like a win-win situation.

But the situation today is a Catch-22. I feel bad. I feel confused and annoyed the moment I took the van to the office and listened to the other passengers bitch about other people. And now I feel bad again – humiliated and intrigued. I wanted to type their names and call them names. Yes. Right into this blog. And yes, I don’t have the guts to actually tell them they suck.

Thank goodness I am not mad enough to forget that this will be published on a public blog. If not, that would be my next worst blog vomiting since the insult last September 11.

Oh well, where’s my diary?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Books of Rachel by Joel Gross

(In which we are all brothers.)

I saw the book just before heading for the counter to pay for the books I have chosen. It was hardbound; protected by a jacket whose edges were already torn and frayed. If it’s the artistic vines and flowers on the jacket or the name in the title that got me interested, I don’t know. But I bought it for the promise of a good read that the blurb gave as well as its incredibly cheap cost.

And the promise was never broken. The book is excellent.

The Books of Rachel is a collection of stories from a Jewish clan that spanned 50 decades. Alongside the expansion of a family is the expansion of their wealth brought by the diamond industry they control as well as tthe passing of the legacy of a diamond – Rachel’s diamond.

The birth of a girl after the death of a Rachel means a new heiress of the diamond and the name. Each Rachel is a heroine – a strong and virtuous woman amidst the cruelty of the world to her people. The novel relates how each Rachel defended her philosophies, her love and dreams. It tells how she fought for her family and brothers and for her being a Jewess.

Chapter One: Rachel of Zaragoza

When Judah Cuheno saw the diamond in its dull covering, he already knew the beauty it possesses and decided to cut and polish it himself as a present for his sister Rachel. But before he even completed the task, Spain has already fallen to The Inquisition. And Rachel, in the attempts of saving the man who protected her was executed as well as the some other members of their wealthy clan.

Chapter Two: Rachel of Venice

With the kind of life that she experienced in the ghetto of Venice, Rachel Cuheno couldn’t imagine that she might have belonged to a rich family in Spain. His father loathed the story. They were never going to be a part of that clan. Or better yet, it is better to think that his possible connection with Judah Cuheno of Spain is nothing but a myth. Rachel’s family lived in so much poverty that her sister accepted the offer of being a courtesan in the palace and left her with her gambler of a father and her mad mother.

But fate has other plans. A distant relative discovered Rachel and her sister and brought them to the place where they belong.

Chapter Three: Rachel of Berlin

If the other bearers of her name were proud of being Jewish, Frau Rachel Meier wasn’t. She wished she had descended from artists with a Christian name. She treated the thought of being brothers with filthy beggars and superstitious peasants with utmost repugnance. Not until she fell in love that she willed to face danger, even death. And she decided that whatever happens, she will never deny her true identity – she is Rachel and she is a Jew.

Chapter Four: Rachel of Jerusalem

What seemed as a religious pilgrimage turned to be an intense eye opener for Mademoiselle Rachel Cohn. She sees the poverty and desperation of Jews in the Holy Land, breathed the fetid air of the city and heard tales of fighting and death. She wouldn’t want to go back to her privileged life and leave her people to suffer. She intended to improve their lives and she is willing to do everything she can to help - even if it means fighting against death.

Chapter Five: Rachel of England

The seventeen-year-old Rachel Kane was an impulsive young girl who had people throwing their hands up in exhaustion from her inappropriate remarks and thoughtless speech. To them she was just another spoiled kid. Yet she knew more than wanting to be a painter and read. She fell in love with a man who lost his mother because of a war that is starting to take place. She married herself to him before he died. But he didn’t die in vain. With his death was the death of a Nazi economist. Rachel went to Vienna to help save the Jews but failed. On the way to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, she was shot dead.


When I found out that the author spent more than a year to research this novel, I felt a huge respect for him. And the respect is heightened after I finished the novel. The way he wrote the story made me feel like I belong to the era being presented. It blended history and fiction very well that I almost thought the entire novel really happened.

Another interesting factor is the force that love brings. The five Rachels in the novel were all young, thus incapable to fully comprehend what was happening, or why they were being persecuted. But after they experience love, not only in the romantic context but also humanistic, they understood that they have to make an action. They understood that not only the Jews need fair treatment and freedom – everyone does.


I have once read that reading history means understanding life using natural light; reading literature is understanding life with an artificial light. The difference is that you can direct an artificial light anywhere.

I don’t know how to describe reading historical fiction, though. Could it be maneuvering an artificial light in a garden one beautiful afternoon?

Currently reading:

Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reading for Self-Discovery

(In which a turn of a page is a step closer to me.)


I just knew I found a good hobby when people started sending me text messages without the usual questions of what I am doing at the moment. Instead, they are armed with a good guess – I am reading. And my thoughts were just confirmed when my father eyed my secondhand books with wonder. He must have been thinking of how much I’ve been spending for those things that only made my tiny box of a room more crowded and added another layer of blackness to my already dark eye bags. Nevertheless, I just knew I am doing things right.

I have loved books ever since preschool. Running my fingers over the smooth cover of a good-smelling new book brought happiness beyond description. And finishing a book feels like gaining a new friend. However, most of the new books I was able to lay hands on are the ones given free in school. No matter how much my parents took delight in seeing me read, they hardly had enough cash to purchase children’s books so I had to settle with really old books with yellowish pages that were so crisp they might be torn when I flip them. Sometimes, there were torn or missing pages and I had to guess the words or invent my own ending for the story. I never consider them bitter experiences though. I wouldn’t have appreciated reading the way I do now if I could easily get the books I wanted by just pointing to them at the counter.

I started purchasing books about a couple of years after graduation and it felt great. Not only because I worked for it but also because I do not have any deadlines to meet and penalty to pay after returning it to the library late. After a book, I got another one. Then another. I do not care if it’s a bestseller or it’s crappy or brand new or secondhand. I just do whatever will assuage my thirst for reading as if I’m making up for the years I missed because of poverty. I do not mind if my sister thinks I have too much books on the shelf or my father thinks it’s a waste of time and money. I just knew that by reading, the childish happiness I felt so long ago was relived. And I find a part of me waking up after each novel; there’s an insatiable urge to read more after every story. There is a call for further understanding of literature. And a stronger desire to share what I learn through writing. Reading for me has become a regular journey through time and space and a thoughtful walk along the hidden alleys of my inner self. Perhaps it may lead to something closer to finding what I’ve been searching or just another search. But I knew I just have to keep on travelling.


There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Oxford Chronicles by Melanie M. Jeschke

(In which I still giggle about romantic clichés.)

I bought the new edition of The Oxford Chronicles by first-time novelist Melanie M. Jeschke which includes Inklings and its sequel Intentions. The combination of the first two parts in one book made the reading terrible long. At the end of the book, I felt the need to purchase the third part (Expectations) and the prequel (Evasions) not because the tandem of Inklings and Intentions was wonderful. Here’s why.
On C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

Reviewers of the book commend Jeschke for writing such a great novel and recommend the book to the fans of C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. However, as far as I know, Jeschke just included parts of their biographies with more concentration on C.S Lewis’. I suppose that hard-core fans and even some less enthusiastic ones might have already taken note of those. I was actually expecting a critical discussion of their works in the meetings by the new Inklings society sponsored by the fictional David MacKenzie. It would be really thrilling to see this done on the next books, instead of just having the authors’ names and works mentioned in conversations to the extent that it seemed like a desperate approach to give the novel a more erudite feel.


The story takes place in Oxford University, 1960. Sadly, I was trying in vain to feel the setting until the end of the book. It seemed that had it not been for the mentioning of C.S Lewis’ death, the appearance of J.R.R. Tolkien in one of the students’ meetings and the French twist, the story could be mistaken to have happened in the present. I believe it could have been better if a historical event that would create another impact on the characters was included in the novel, so the characters won’t seem to inhabit a world of their own, separate from their time.


American Christian Katherine Lee Hughes – pretty, rich, charming and intelligent – went to Oxford University to study and was tutored by the 25-year-old Christian don David MacKenzie, a fabulously smart, athletic and handsome gentleman. But Kate (Katherine) was also being pursued by the dashing Lord Stuart Devereux – a gorgeous but sycophantic nobleman who acts like a gentleman when sober. I hope the author didn’t intend them to appear like characters in a fairy tale with all their aristocratic beauty and demeanor only twisted by a little darkness required when they are in a somewhat antagonistic role. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change the fact that they are almost physically perfect.

And speaking of someone being physically astonishing, David’s mother Annie never cease to amaze me every time I read how miraculously slender, beautiful and youthful she still is after giving birth to seven children and being a homemaker round-the-clock. Yes, it’s amazing. But I doubt if it’s realistic.

The Romantic Plot

Aside from the David-Kate-Stuart love triangle, another angle was made. Charlotte, the (yet another) seductively beautiful ex-fiancée of David makes her way to complicate the already complicated chain and make it difficult for David to maintain his Christian plan. Every time he tries to convince Kate that everything’s done between him and Charlotte, the latter devises a way to mess things up in her desperation to win David back.

David’s friends and family, who are Christians, are always ready to help and advise him since all of them want him to end up with Kate.

That’s basically it. The lack of a more complicated plot actually makes the reading more like watching a cheesy soap opera.

What I Really Wanted To Say

Inklings and Intensions talk about the start of David and Kate’s romance set in Oxford and end with their first kiss at the altar after getting married. It is basically a novel about how a couple find their way to true love by trusting God. It also deals with the conflict between appearance and reality. What people see as truth may not be the reality. People easily believe what they see or what other people make them see that they entirely miss the truth. Also, it talks about the conflict between Christian values and the current fashion. In the novel, Kate and David succeeded not only in saving their sexual purity before marriage but also their first kiss in a society where chastity is a thing of the past. I actually have nothing against the values in this novel.

However, with its descriptive paragraphs which are not very stimulating to the imagination, overly romantic males and somewhat immature females as well as a soap opera type of courtship, I believe what really made this novel earn incredible reviews are the values of chastity and purity and the classic and erudite atmosphere of Oxford.

I am looking forward to the next series to find out if there will be discussions of literary works of English authors and if more attention will be given to the other characters especially to Stuart Devereux. I believe he is the most interesting character in the novel. He is a lord, a royalty – someone who physically has it all. But he has the most complex personal history (and attitude) of all the characters. His existence is brought merely by the need of an heir. He has an opportunist and a philanderer as a father and an alcoholic as a mother and he resents them both. It would be noted that he himself has difficulty controlling his alcohol intake and behaves lasciviously when drunk. He seemed to be a major threat to Kate and David’s relationship but ended up as the one who saved the couple’s wedding. It would be good to know if he sought and found redemption.

On a lighter note, I must admit something in the novel touches me that I found myself giggling to funny scenarios and sigh at the romantic and cheesy moments. After reading the first two installments, I was filled with ambivalence.

Currently reading: