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Experiencing British Theater in Manila instead of in London

12:15 am PHT

Act I: The London Non-Experience

One of my regrets during my trip to London was that I wasn’t able to experience British theater. As you may know, West End is the London counterpart of New York’s Broadway and there are usually around 40 productions ongoing at any given time. My not seeing any of them was not for lack of trying though.

When I was in London, I checked out the various theater guides and visited online review sites to decide what to see. I really wanted to watch The Book of Mormon, the award-winning satirical comedy musical from the creators of South Park, but their least expensive ticket was a whopping £37.50 (around 2,700 pesos)! In fact, the West End musicals were the most expensive with most having £20-tickets as their most affordable. So I settled with watching a regular play instead where the least expensive tickets cost around £10.

After checking out the reviews, I settled on The Crucible, a Tony Award–winning American play starring Richard Armitage, which you may know as the bloke who plays Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit film series, in the leading role. So I went on a Wednesday evening to The Old Vic theater near the Waterloo Station to catch the 7:30pm show. Naïve that I was, I expected to be able to buy a ticket at the venue but I ended up queuing instead for the ticket returns. Of course, nobody showed up to return bought tickets. It seems I underestimated the demand for British theater and I guess I should have reserved a ticket weeks in advance.

Act II: Coriolanus at Greenbelt

Surprisingly, I was able experience British theater here in Metro Manila instead. The British Embassy kicked off their GREAT (as in “Great Britain”) tourism campaign by screening a recorded performance of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, a tragedy about the Roman general Caius Martius Coriolanus, last September 5 and 6 at Greenbelt 3. Starring Tom Hiddleston, which you may know as the bloke who plays Loki in Marvel’s Thor and The Avengers films, in the titular role, the production was staged at the Donmar Warehouse theatre from late 2013 to early 2014. During the January 30 show, National Theatre Live broadcast the performance live to cinemas, theaters, and arts centers all over the world. It was the recording of that live broadcast that was screened at Greenbelt.

I’m not really familiar with Shakespeare’s works and Coriolanus is one of the lesser-known tragedies of the English playwright, but I was already familiar with the play having seen the 2011 film adaptation starring Ralph Fiennes, which you may know as the bloke who played Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films. Fiennes portrayed the titular Roman general and also directed the movie, his first. The play’s political and fascist themes were wonderfully adapted to the modern-day world and the film is the best direct film adaptation of Shakespeare that I have ever seen.

Because I was already familiar with the material and I wanted to compare the film and the play, and because I wanted to see Tom Hiddleston do a serious role, I watched the 10:00pm screening of the play last September 6, the very last show.

My verdict? I love it!

The Donmar Warehouse, where the play was staged, is a small 251-seat theater in London that was originally a warehouse (hence the name) and provides an intimate viewing experience for the theater-goer. In lieu of elaborate Roman-era sets, the producers of the Coriolanus opted to go with a minimalist design using only a ladder, several chairs, a podium, painted squares on the floor, and projected graffiti art to provide the setting. The actors also wore Roman-inspired modern costumes and the production relied on electronic synthesized music during scene transitions. The modern-minimalist design served to highlight the acting and dialogue and it was quite effective.

Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of the unsympathetic Roman general was visceral and I consider his performance to be better than that of Ralph Fiennes’. I also have to give props to Deborah Findlay, who plays Voluminia, the proud mother of Coriolanus. She practically stole every scene she was in.

I was actually amused that the screening had a real 15-minute intermission between the 2 acts to allow the audience to exercise their legs and go to the comfort room. The screening was also enhanced with behind-the-scenes interviews of the cast and crew before the play started, and an interview with the director, Josie Rourke, prior to the second act.

Watching the play cost me 400 pesos and it lasted three hours but it was definitely time and money well-spent. I actually find the National Theatre Live’s concept of broadcasting British productions live to the world a great use of modern technology in promoting the arts. I hope that Coriolanus will just be the start here in the Philippines and that next time will be an actual live broadcast and not just a recording. After all, if I couldn’t experience British theater in the United Kingdom, seeing them here in Manila is the next best thing.  :)

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Maps and Ale at OpenStreetMap’s 10th Anniversary Celebration in London

11:58 pm PHT

As I mentioned in my previous post, aside from presenting at Wikimania 2014 about various collaborations between the Wikimedia and OpenStreetMap communities, I was also able to attend the London celebration of OpenStreetMap’s 10th anniversary. This was held in traditional fashion in an English pub. In the Philippines, social meetups are often held in American-style cafes like Starbucks; but in the United Kingdom, they are held in pubs. The London OSM community have regular fortnightly meetups usually held in pubs, and the 10th anniversary celebration was no different. So even though I’m not big on alcohol, I was pretty excited to go to a pub and meet like-minded map geeks.  :)

For the anniversary party, the chosen pub was The Artillery Arms, a cozy corner establishment along Bunhill Row selected for its proximity to the Wikimania 2014 venue. So after the conference sessions were done for the day and I have had a light dinner, I, Tim, and a few other OSM people who attended Wikimania trooped north a few blocks to the pub where we were greeted with a noisy group of people from both the OSM and Wikimedia communities.

I was quite surprised to see Frederik Ramm from the German OSM community fly in to attend the festivities. I was also able to meet Grant Slater, one of the sysads that help maintain the OSM servers. Frederik and Grant were on a table conversing with Luis Villa, the Deputy General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation, and Katie, my Wikimania-OSM buddy. Seeing Luis at the pub and having an interest in OSM was surprising for me, but it turned out that Luis participated in the creation of the Open Database License, of which OpenStreetMap was the impetus. Joel Aldor, a fellow Wikimedia Philippines member, also attended the party and he talked with some people there about the plan to eventually incorporate OpenStreetMap into the Philippine Cultural Heritage Mapping project that Wikimedia Philippines is doing.

I couldn’t visit an English pub and not have something to drink, so I ordered a pint of London Pride, the premiere brew of Fuller’s. As I’ve said, I don’t drink much so I couldn’t say if the ale was good or not, but it went down well and I got a nice little buzz when I finished it over geeky map discussions with Katie and Tim. I forgot what we talked about but I think it involved Wikidata, which Katie is working on, and the Wikimedia OSM tile servers, which Tim was helping with.

And that was how I capped off my celebration OpenStreetMap’s 10th anniversary: with a traditional pub meetup/party in London, the birthplace of OSM.  :D

Of course being a London event, Harry has his own writeup of the anniversary festivities. Nice to finally meet you, Harry!

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Presenting about Wikimedia and OpenStreetMap at Wikimania 2014

3:51 am PHT

Harry Wood, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Many of my friends and colleagues know that I spend much of my free time contributing to OpenStreetMap and to the Wikimedia projects, of which Wikipedia is the most famous. I get a real sense of fulfilment in knowing that my voluntary work—whether online by contributing freely-licensed geographical data or encyclopedic content and media, or offline by organizing events, running workshops, or giving presentations—provides a tangible benefit to the whole world.

So, it was a really amazing opportunity that I got to celebrate an important event in each project at the same time in the beautiful city of London earlier this month. First was Wikimania, the annual international conference for the Wikimedia movement. And second was the tenth anniversary of OpenStreetMap. It’s a fortuitous coincidence that both events happened on the same weekend and that Wikimania was held in London, the very same city where OpenStreetMap was born.

Fortunately, my Wikimania presentation submission was accepted and so it was that I found myself in front of the Fountain Room at the Barbican Centre on the morning of August 9 talking to packed room about the two open-content projects that I am most passionate about. I have been to two previous Wikimanias (2011 in Haifa and 2013 in Hong Kong) but this was the first time that I became a speaker instead of just an attendee.

My presentation tackled the history, status, and challenges of collaborations between Wikimedia and OpenStreetMap. Both projects have many similarities and it is a fact that OpenStreetMap was inspired by the success of Wikipedia and it is not unusual that OpenStreetMap is often introduced as “Wikipedia for maps”. It is therefore no surprise that there is a lot of interaction between the two projects, ranging from enhancing Wikipedia articles with dynamic maps sourced from OpenStreetMap to a joint activity between Wikimedia Indonesia and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team to map and write articles about Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo. Of course, as with many other collaborations, there are challenges and problems encountered. The difficulty in further collaborations between OpenStreetMap and Wikimedia (namely, sharing of geodata) is mainly related to the incompatible licensing and legal norms adopted by the two projects.

I think my presentation was well-received because a few people approached me afterwards saying that they liked my presentation. Harry Wood, a prominent member of the OpenStreetMap community in the United Kingdom, stated that I did a great job during the Q&A, while Luis Villa, the Deputy General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation, told me that he enjoyed listening to my talk—which was really great because I took it that I didn’t mess up the legal points during my talk.  :)

Throughout the conference and during the OSM 10th birthday party in a nearby pub (this deserves a separate blog post), I got to meet a lot of people from the OpenStreetMap community in the UK and elsewhere—many for the first time and some again from past events. Among the people who are also active in Wikimedia were Katie (User:Aude) from the US (currently residing in Germany), a lady hacker whom I’ve met several times already; Tim (User:Kolossos) from Germany and Liang (User:Shangkuanlc) from Taiwan, both of whom I ate noodles with last year in Hong Kong; Holger from Sweden, whom I first met at the OSM Mapping Party in Haifa; Susanna from Finland, who is spearheading Wikimap (aka the maps with a time slider); and Andy (User:Pigsonthewing) from the UK, whom I met for the first time and who gave a presentation after me introducing OpenStreetMap and proposing tools to automatically add links between Wikipedia articles and OpenStreetMap objects. Other members of the OSM community that I met for the first time were Harry (whom I mentioned above); Jerry (User:SK53) from the East Midlands community; Grant Slater, OSM sysad extraordinaire; and Frederik Ramm, arguably the most vocal OSM contributor from Germany. There were a few other people I’ve met but I already forgot their names (sorry!). All in all, I had a really great time chatting with these people and learning what they were up to and what activities they were pursuing.

I would like to give my sincere gratitude to the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimania 2014 Scholarship Committee for selecting me as one of the travel scholarship recipients. I wouldn’t have been able to come to London without it, and I wouldn’t have had the amazing experience of celebrating and sharing my passion for OpenStreetMap and Wikimedia with other like-minded people.  :D

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Finding Heritage in a Box

4:07 am PHT

Yesterday, I found myself in heart of Quiapo.

I’m the type of person who would not normally go to the more chaotic parts of the Metro, prefering to stay in the more orderly areas like the Makati CBD and Bonifacio Global City. And I really do not like unplanned events and spur-of-the-moment decisions. So it was quite a surprise for me that I let myself get tagged along with Joel Aldor and Manolo Noche to the unveiling of the Boix House in Quiapo. ("Boix” is pronounced “bosh”—don’t ask me why. It’s supposedly a Catalan surname.) It was a decision that I did not regret.

Boix House is a heritage building located along A. Bautista Street surprisingly one block away from Quiapo Church and right beside the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, which was unfortunately closed that day. Boix House was built in 1895 and I’m actually amazed that it survived World War II and avoided getting burned down because the whole most of the structure was made of wood. One really interesting trivia that I learned was that Manuel L. Quezon used to board there during his days as a law student at the UST. Due to that bit of history, the place was renamed as the MLQ Dormitory in his honor (at least during the 50s).

The event yesterday wasn’t actually a real opening of the heritage house for tourism. The structure is still in dire need of restoration and the tenants occupying the ground floor still need to vacate the building. A group of young heritage volunteers just cleaned up the some areas on the second floor for the event with some sections still closed off for safety purposes.

Nevertheless, I saw the potential of the place. When fully restored, I think it would be a beautiful showcase of the turn-of-the-century Filipino architecture. The building has a nice central courtyard (not so nice now because the said tenants added an iron roof to cover it to provide additional living space) and I was told that there used to be a fountain there. The main staircase from the ground floor was quite unremarkable as it currently stands but I suspected that walls were added around it on the second floor so that additional boarding rooms could be built. If the walls could be taken down and the balustrade restored, the staircase would become a more welcoming entryway to the living room.

More than the house, remarkable as it is, I was also pretty amazed by the number of people who attended the event. Despite the heat, people of all ages visited the unveiling, including hotshot tour guide Carlos Celdran himself. The event had a simple photo exhibit containing pictures of the volunteers cleaning up the place. There was a message wall made up of manila paper where visitors can write words of encouragement and other walls had simple illustrations of other heritage structures in Manila. (Well, I was told that the walls were plastered with manila paper to cover the numerous graffiti left by boarding students. Hehehe.) There was even a modest “cocktail” snacks consisting of pancit bihon, puto, and kakanin as well as simple musical performances. The event is definitely not your formal affair but I feel that its significance is no less important than posh arts and culture openings located in galleries and museums.

It was actually quite inspiring to see all of these people congregate in a really modest place. Much like the feeling I get in Wikimania when I see people from all over the world be really passionate about Wikipedia, the enthusiasm people expressed for the potential of Boix House left me with a good feeling inside.

Would I become an ardent heritage advocate like all of those people? I would have to say no. But that is simply because I am already very passionate about Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, and free and open culture in general. Much as I would like to help out on all things that would make the world a better place, I simply do not have the time to fully embrace other worthy causes.

That said, my experience in Boix House seeing all of those people excited about heritage did leave me with a desire to help in any way I can. After all, what’s the use of free and open culture, if part of the culture that we are freeing is lost?

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Using OpenStreetMap for Disaster Risk Reduction

3:03 am PHT

 Facade of the Guagua Municipal Hall

Last November 5 to 7, I and a few other volunteer mappers from the OpenStreetMap Philippines community joined the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) in training the local government of Guagua, Pampanga (OSM) in contributing to and using OpenStreetMap with an eye for disaster risk reduction.

While I’ve done my share of OpenStreetMap-related training before, the Guagua training was the first time that I really took time off from my usual routine and went outside Metro Manila to teach people about OSM. I have to say that the experience was very fulfilling.

The Need for Disaster Risk Reduction

A day after our training in Pampanga, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), possibly the strongest recorded typhoon ever to have made landfall anywhere in the world, tore a path of death and destruction through the Philippines. Yolanda is now one of the country’s top two deadliest tropical cyclones after the official death toll exceeded 5,200.

According to the 2012 World Risk Report, the Philippines is ranked third out of 173 countries that is most vulnerable to natural disasters. (This is the same rank the country got in 2011, when the report was first released.) This high rank is partly due to location: the country sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire (resulting to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions) and is also right in the middle of the Northwestern Pacific Basin, which is the world’s most active region for tropical cyclones.

More importantly, the Philippines’ high rank is also due to a lack of resources and coping mechanisms for addressing disasters. Typhoon Yolanda is just the latest in a long line of natural disasters that concretely manifest the country’s vulnerability.

It’s not enough to be reactive to calamities but to also be proactive. We need to assess and reduce the risk due to natural disasters. While the Philippine Government already has a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), and each province, town, and city have their own similar offices, I think disaster risk reduction (DRR) is still in its infancy in the country.

We have an inflexible building code that is not strictly enforced and may not be enough to withstand strong earthquakes and 300-kph storm winds. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau only started updating their geohazard maps for the whole country in 2011 and many local government units still don’t know what to do with them. Our weather bureau PAGASA is under-equipped and understaffed and we have only begun enjoying the benefits of DOST’s Project NOAH. And our citizens still don’t appreciate the importance of preparing for disasters or even knowing the severity of incoming calamities as evidenced by the deaths in Mindanao due to Typhoon Pablo and the devastation in Tacloban due to the Typhoon Yolanda storm surge.

The ESSC-OSMPH Pampanga Trainings

The Guagua event I attended was actually the last in a series of 3 trainings held in Pampanga. The first was held in Candaba last October 7 to 9 while the second was held in Lubao from October 23 to 25. This series of trainings was initiated by the World Bank—East Asia Pacific (WB-EAP) and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) with funding from AusAID.

Maps and geographical data is an intrinsic component of disaster management and WB-EAP and GFDRR has identified OpenStreetMap as a key project since it aligns with the World Bank’s open data initiative. In partnership with the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the ESSC piloted a six-month project to train three municipalities in Pampanga. The training aimed to teach the LGUs on participatory mapping using OpenStreetMap to generate the base geographical data that can be used for DRR, and on using InaSAFE, a software tool that can be used to generate disaster scenarios and their impact and relief requirements using geographical data. If you want to learn more, just read the project brochure.

I was unable to join the first two trainings since I was quite busy at work. Fortunately there was some slack time in November and I took the opportunity to join Maning, Feye, and Dianne from the ESSC, and Rally and Erwin from OSMPH in going to Guagua, Pampanga. We had around 30 participants attend the training and we had a good mix of people coming from the municipal and barangay governments, including Councilor Joan Carreon.

The first day involved giving the participants an overview of the training and then introducing them to OpenStreetMap. We then had them try out the JOSM software to edit the map of their places using their personal knowledge.

The second day saw us split into five groups and going out to five areas all over Guagua to collect data through field surveying. I and Dianne were assigned to Brgy. San Nicolas 2nd in the Betis district and we were joined by Brgy. Chairman Michael Valencia and several young people from neighboring barangays. We went around San Nicolas 2nd noting down the location and names of points of interests and taking pictures of establishments. We also used GPS devices to collect tracks. Mr. Valencia also pointed to us the borders of his barangay and this was duly added later in OpenStreetMap.

After a quick side trip to see the beautiful ceiling art of the Santiago Apostol Parish (Betis) Church (deemed a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum) our group then took a look at an ongoing public works project to divert Sapang Maragul. (During times of heavy rainfall, Sapang Maragul overflows its banks and floods the Betis district.) We then headed back to our training venue and started editing OpenStreetMap to add the data we collected earlier while us facilitators demonstrated how to make use of GPS tracks, how to geotag photos, and how to use the Field Papers in JOSM.

On the final day, we continued editing OpenStreetMap. After lunch, the participants then had a mini-workshop on creating a plan on what other geographical data needs to be collected and how to do it. After that, Maning showed various ways of downloading and using OSM data. Finally, the use of InaSAFE was demonstrated.

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Requiescat in Pace

7:15 am PHT

 Homer Supe: 1986–2013

“Wala na si Homer.” Those were the first words our manager said when he held a special section meeting last November 15. I initially didn’t comprehend what he meant until my female teammate began crying and I was then taken aback with the sudden realization that we would never see Homer again. About a week before, Homer had taken a medical leave of absence and I didn’t think much of it. I never realized that Homer’s condition was quite severe.

Homer joined the company in 2008 and I’ve only really gotten to know him when I joined his team in 2011. He was one of the liveliest people on the team mostly populated by introverts. As a colleague stated, there was never a dull moment with him around because he would always steer the conversation to absurd topics. In the company, he was known as a street dancer and usually performed together with the other members of the company’s Dance Club during company events.

While he was known to be a jolly fellow, Homer took his project tasks seriously. Our team had depended on him for facilitating project deliverables and in technical roles, I’ve observed him concentrate on difficult tasks. I’ve heard that he had also been a very responsible brother to his three younger brothers, a role he took when their parents passed away. This responsible side of him is actually a surprise when you see how messy his desk looked being covered with numerous pieces of paper and empty Coke Zero cans, his favorite drink.

When I went to his wake two days after his death, the experience of seeing him lying peacefully was surreal. Homer was the closest person I’ve known to pass away. I sadly realized then that this will eventually become a normal occurrence moving forward.

It has been a month since Homer’s death. While our team has pretty much adjusted and moved on, we still remember his jolly side by leaving a couple of Coke Zero cans on his now-clean desk.

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Why I’m Going to the Million People March

9:23 am PHT

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook the following status in reaction to one of the many news articles about Janet Lim-Napoles:

The BIR says its going to crack down on professionals like us because we dont pay our taxes correctly. When you read stories like this, makes you question why should we when it goes to people like this. So disgusting!!!

At first, I disapproved of the idea that any citizen should evade paying tax on the sole reason that it will just be corrupted by the government. Even if we know that corruption is rampant, I thought that this was no excuse for us not to do our civic duty of paying taxes. As Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” I guess I was surprised by the revelation of BIR that some professional pay less income tax than public school teachers.

But seeing at how this latest political scam is playing out, I cannot help but agree with my friend. I’m a bit jaded with government corruption particularly when political padrinos get “commission” on public projects. But when you hear news about of ghost projects, bogus NGOs, and people pocketing billions of pesos with absolutely nothing to show for it, it makes me angry. And when some people, like the Napoles family, flaunt their wealth, the word “angry” doesn’t begin to cut it.

I will admit that I’m a bit envious that I cannot avoid paying taxes as a form of civil disobedience, like some in the professional sector. As an employed citizen, my income tax is withheld by my company and correctly remitted to the government. There’s no going around that.

Since I can’t show my indignation by avoiding paying taxes, then I would like to show it in the way the Filipino people have done it: through mass demonstration. I’m mad, angry, disappointed, and absolutely disgusted, and that is why I am going to the Million People March in Luneta.

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Goodbye, Google Reader; Hello, Feedly

7:02 am PHT

Like many other people, I was very dismayed to learn that Google was discontinuing Google Reader. I had hoped that Google would not push through with their plan, but given Google’s history and resolve (I think the decision to shut down Reader was not taken lightly and was likely debated internally at length by Google management) I eventually accepted Google Reader’s fate.

Since Google gave a 3-month window (until July 1) for users to migrate to another service, I decided to wait until near the end of June before switching. I wanted to see which among the many competing services would rise to the top and in my view, Feedly was the obvious winner. Feedly capitalized on Google’s decision by quickly adding new features to make the transition painless for Google Reader users. And given that many Google Reader users switched to Feedly, the danger is hopefully less that Feedly would suffer Google Reader’s fate.

So I took the plunge and migrated to Feedly in the last week of June. I found the transition to be as smooth as advertised and all of my subscribed feeds, including their categories and tagged posts, were imported. And by configuring Feedly to the Titles Only view mode—I have not found any use for Feedly’s other views—the functionality was quite similar to Google Reader.

That said, I quickly hit a limitation in Feedly, a limitation so bad that I can’t quite recommend Feedly as an adequate replacement for Google Reader. Basically, it appears that Feedly can only present a month’s worth of posts from your subscribed feeds. This is in stark contrast with Google Reader where you can go back (and search!) through many years’ worth of feed posts as long as somebody has subscribed to that feed early on. I’m not the only one who noticed this limitation (example) and this issue apparently has been ongoing since last year, way before Google decided to ditch Reader. What’s disturbing is that I can’t find any response from the people at Feedly addressing this issue despite the many postings from disappointed users on various forums and feedback sites.

It may be that Feedly does not have the resources that Google has in storing years’ worth of posts on their servers. I also doubt that the other competing services have better resources. And this is exactly why I was dismayed by Google’s decision. While it may be true that because Google Reader completely dominated the feed reader space, that there is stagnation in the “market”, and that Google Reader exiting will spur innovation, Google Reader had value due to network effects and Google’s enormous resources.

For instance, there are times when a post is deleted from a blog for various reasons, yet there would be a copy in Google Reader because Google managed to access the feed before the post was deleted. I personally find this valuable. Now it’s all gone together with Google Reader. This also applies to blogs that have been deleted: Google Reader would still have a copy of feed posts from that deleted blog.

For now, I’m still using Feedly as my feed reader and it does help me keep up with the sites I have subscribed to. But the situation is not as ideal as Google Reader still being in service.

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38th MMFF: Thy Womb

1:55 am PHT

I was a bit disappointed with last year’s crop of Metro Manila Film Festival entries. Among the eight films, I only had interest in watching three: Thy Womb, El Presidente, and Sisterakas (in decreasing order of preference). Thy Womb received numerous accolades at foreign film festivals and that’s the main reason why I was interested in this Brillante Mendoza–directed piece. And since Thy Womb was threatened to be pulled out of theaters due to poor performance at the box office, that was the first film I saw.

Thy Womb tells the story of Shaleha (Nora Aunor), the wife of Bangas-An (Bembol Roco). They are a Badjao couple living in Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost province of the Philippines. She works as a midwife but ironically is not able to produce any offspring for his husband due to her infertility. She finally agrees to let Bangas-An take a second wife and most of the film is spent depicting the couple’s search for a bride.

So what did I think of the movie? The one word I would use to describe it is educational. The movie had no overarching plot and I daresay is a slice-of-life kind of film. There was hardly any conflict or climax and I found the post-climax scenes quite abrupt especially when compared to leisure pace of the rest of the film. So I wasn’t particularly impressed with the film as a storytelling vehicle, but I was very fascinated with its depiction of Badjao life and culture.

Living in cosmopolitan Manila and being connected everyday to the Internet, I found the contrast with Badjao culture enlightening. I’m sure Direk Mendoza did plenty of research for this film and seeing the lives of our Muslim brothers in the south was very educational. People in Tawi-Tawi live with bandits, insurgents, and the military the same way people in Metro Manila deal with traffic jams. I was also a bit surprised that they still practice arranged marriages there and that it is the groom that pays the bride’s dowry. There was also a lovely episode in the film depicting a Badjao marriage and reception (with Mercedes Cabral as the bride). While Thy Womb placed dead last in the box office among the MMFF films, I feel that the film would be better served by including it as required viewing in the Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies) subject in high school.

Brillante Mendoza lamented how foreigners loved the film, but Filipinos are not supporting it. Well, having seen Thy Womb, I have no doubt that the film can be popular in the international film festival circuit. However, I think that the the average Filipino and also mainstream foreign audience would find the movie quite boring. So I don’t fully agree with Mendoza’s statement that the foreigners love the film. The most financially successful films are the ones that provide entertainment and sadly, Thy Womb is not that kind of film.

P.S. I have two additional quibbles with Thy Womb. First, as a Filipino, I find the Tagalog dialogues from the non-Badjao actors a bit jarring, especially when they are answered back in Tausug. But to foreigners, it’s all Greek to them so they would not be really distracted by it. Second, I really find it implausible to see Lovi Poe as the Bangas-an’s second wife (not really a spoiler). She’s far too pretty for such a role.

P.P.S. Jessica Zafra’s review is a good read.

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Documenting the Philippines’ Cultural Heritage

1:34 pm PHT

Below is the speech I gave as President of Wikimedia Philippines during the Awarding Ceremonies of Wiki Loves Monuments Philippines 2012 held last night, October 20, 2012, at the Filipinas Heritage Library in Makati.

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

They say that a picture paints a thousand words. Well, as cliché as it may sound, no writer can explain a complicated concept better than a well-done illustration. No amount of words can describe the the location of a place better than a well-crafted map. And no length of flowery language can adequately show the beauty of arts and culture than exciting videos, lively music, and colorful photos.

For instance, the Miag-ao Church, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines, has a beautiful relief facade that is quite hard to describe. Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

The central feature of the bas-relief facade is a large coconut tree which reaches almost to the apex. On the church’s facade the coconut tree appears as the “tree of life” to which St. Christopher carrying the Child Jesus on his shoulder is clinging to. The lesser facades feature the daily life of Miagaowanons during the time. Also depicted are other native flora and fauna, as well as native dresses.

While that description can use some improvement, I think we can all agree that even for someone gifted with a vivid imagination, he would be hard-pressed to picture how exactly the bas-relief that adorns the front of this Baroque church looks like by just reading the article.

© 2011, User:Alienscream / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Even though Wikipedia has become the world’s largest and most popular reference work—thanks to you, the editors that create and maintain the articles, and the readers that patronize this wonderful project—its articles lack illustrations, images, and photos to show what mere words cannot explain. And for cultural heritage sites in the Philippines, we actually lack both: photos and articles.

So in Wikimedia Philippines, we organize projects to build up Wikipedia and its sister projects in the country so that the whole world can learn of the unique blend of Eastern and Western culture that has made the Philippines what it is today. We hold Open Web Day events and workshops in colleges and universities to teach students how to contribute and write articles for Wikipedia. And on the visual side, we hold photo contests like Wikipedia Takes Manila, which was held in 2011, and Wiki Loves Monuments, for which we are having the Awarding Ceremonies tonight.

Wiki Loves Monuments is a worldwide photo contest aimed at generating photos of world heritage and cultural monuments and where all pictures are released under open copyright licenses. The annual contest started in 2009 in the Netherlands, became a Europe-wide competition last year, and is now a worldwide event in 2012. In fact, the Guinness World Records has recently awarded last year’s event as the largest photography competition in the world. Well, they would now have to update their records since this year is even bigger! 15,000 users from 36 countries and territories have uploaded more than 361,000 photographs.

I am particularly pleased with the turnout in the Philippines. 2,300 entries totaling more than 7.4 GB of data were submitted by 319 participants. This makes our country the 15th highest by number of participants, and we have uploaded more photographs than countries like Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, and Denmark.

But, more than the prizes, the numbers, and the world records, we hope to encourage more Filipinos to help in documenting our cultural heritage. We need more photographs and articles in Wikipedia. And as we aim to show through Wiki Loves Monuments, you don’t need to be a skilled writer to contribute to Wikipedia. Just go out, visit our cultural sites in the country, take photos, upload them, and let the whole world see that it really is more fun in the Philippines.

Thank you very much and good luck to all the finalists!

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