Letters to Blumentritt: Week Six

Posted in Books, Novels, Politics by J.R. Bumanglag on May 14, 2009

The Sunday of week six began with extensive browsing of the Shonen Jump issues I bought yesterday. I still am amazed by the use of recycled paper and the thickness of one single issue had. I’ve always dreamed of using the same process if I ever publish an anthology of my own. Sometimes I question the way Culture Crash Comics or Mangaholix printed their anthologies in full colour. But that’s just me!

X-Men Origins Wolverine

That evening, we went to watch Wolverine Origins at the Krikorian Theatre. Compared to the last time we were, there were many more people that night. I decided to eat hotdogs instead of nachos. I started to like relish because it had that certain sour taste and crunchy texture. This time, Joshua was a little less frightened, partly because his mom and dad were there to comfort him. Another thing was the theatre was almost packed. Good thing we found available seats just in time. After the long line of teasers, I sat back as the movie began.

X-Men Origins Wolverine

I thought Wolverine Origins was enjoyable but it had some boring parts. It did make up with some comedy from Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson and antics by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. The movie was a little too over-hyped and in so doing, was disappointing as the plot rolled on. One scene notable and obviously wasn’t given enough time was when Emma Frost and other imprisoned mutants manage to escape. It is revealed that Prof. Xavier helps Scott Summers find a way out and they all meet outside the island. The meeting scene was so fake and probably made over green screen. I do hope when they make a sequel that it’ll be better.


Monday, I began searching for new TV shows to watch. My former classmate Justine suggested I watch Gundam 00 and Avatar. I also found the series Planetes and Ghost in the Shell: SAC. I already finished the fourth volume of Heroes and am looking forward to the next season. Lost is a show I’ve always wanted to watch but never had the luck to find a complete season.

Central Pneumatic Airbrush CompressorThat afternoon, Manung Totit accompanied me to the hardware store. We were looking for a portable airbrush compressor. A week ago, he gave me his airbrush kit for me to mess around with. I’ve always wondered how airbrush painting works and finally I’ll be able to do it myself. Manung suggested that I buy the oilless version so that I wouldn’t have to maintain it. Luckily, we found a small 30PSI Central Pneumatic Airbrush Compressor Kit. I opted to buy another more professional airbrush kit too but it was too expensive. Manung told me he’d buy me one if was good enough to have it.

When we got home, Manung showed me how to operate the compressor and the airbrush. What I liked about it was that the compressor was small and portable. He also taught me how to maintain the airbrush and how to change colours. The only catch is that it is a 110V machine so I have to buy a transformer to operate it at our 220V outlets at home.


Tuesday, Manung Totit was done packing our two balikbayan boxes. I accompanied him to the Filipino store that’ll be sending our balikbayan box. Once there, we left the boxes in a room with other balikbayan boxes. They will be sent on Saturday and will arrive in about a month.

I read an interesting article on Gerry Alanguilan’s blog about the Great Philippine Book Blockade of 2009. As I read it, it made my blood boil to know that the Philippine government again is showing no signs of improvement. I just hope that this a case of “everything has to get worse before it gets better.” Question is, how worse can it get.

Here is an excerpt from Robin Hemley’s article, which you can read in full here.

“Over coffee one afternoon, a book-industry professional (whom I can’t identify) told me that for the past two months virtually no imported books had entered the country, in part because of the success of one book, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. The book, an international best seller, had apparently attracted the attention of customs officials. When an examiner named Rene Agulan opened a shipment of books, he demanded that duty be paid on it.

“Ah, you can’t be too successful in this country,” I said. “If you are, then people start demanding a cut.”

“Even before you are successful,” she said. “But, yes, I’m a Filipino, but I have to admit this is true. Have you heard of ‘crab mentality’?”

I’d been hearing of this so-called crab mentality since I first arrived in the country 10 years earlier. It’s the notion that crabs will climb on top of one another to escape the pot in which they are to be cooked, but, instead of letting one crab escape, the remaining crabs pull the other one back.

But most crabs I’ve encountered in the Philippines are small-time little hermit crabs or dashing sand crabs. The crabs in government are the kind you’d find in an old Japanese horror film, with an entire city’s population running in fear as the crabs snip away public works, entire highway projects, intangibles, such as hope and justice, and, now, books.

“Yes,” I told her. “I’ve heard of crab mentality.”

The importer of Twilight made a mistake and paid the duty requested. A mistake because such duty flies in the face of the Florence Agreement, a U.N. treaty that was signed by the Philippines in 1952, guaranteeing the free flow of “educational, scientific, and cultural materials” between countries and declaring that imported books should be duty-free. Mr. Agulan told the importer that because the books were not educational (i.e., textbooks) they were subject to duty. Perhaps they aren’t educational, I might have argued, but aren’t they “cultural”?

No matter. With this one success under their belt, customs curtailed all air shipments of books \entering the country. Weeks went by as booksellers tried to get their books out of storage and started intense negotiations with various government officials.

What doubly frustrated booksellers and importers was that the explanations they received from various officials made no sense. It was clear that, for whatever reason—perhaps the 30-billion-peso ($625 million) shortfall in projected customs revenue—customs would go through the motions of having a reasonable argument while in fact having none at all.

Customs Undersecretary Espele Sales explained the government’s position to a group of frustrated booksellers and importers in an Orwellian PowerPoint presentation, at which she reinterpreted the Florence Agreement as well as Philippine law RA 8047, providing for “the tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing.” For lack of a comma after the word “books,” the undersecretary argued that only books “used in book publishing” (her underlining) were tax-exempt.

“What kind of book is that?” one publisher asked me afterward. “A book used in book publishing.” And she laughed ruefully.

I thought about it. Maybe I should start writing a few. Harry the Cultural and Educational Potter and His Fondness for Baskerville Type.

Likewise, with the Florence Agreement, she argued that only educational books could be considered protected by the U.N. treaty. Customs would henceforth be the arbiter of what was and wasn’t educational.

“For 50 years, everyone has misinterpreted the treaty and now you alone have interpreted it correctly?” she was asked.

“Yes,” she told the stunned booksellers.”

***CSI: New York

Thursday, I spent most of the day watching CSI New York. I’m starting to love the series. It’s probably because it is set in New York and the characters are a respectable bunch of investigators. Out of all of them, Mac Taylor and Lindsay Monroe are my favourite characters. Mac, played by Gary Sinise, has this charisma and leadership that reminds me of my dad. Lindsay, played by Anna Belknap, is a rookie with a charm and the looks of an innocent girl. It’s just sad to know that I’ll be missing it when I get home because we don’t have cable.

Star Trek First Contact

On another note, the SciFi Channel was having a Star Trek Marathon in preparation for the new Star Trek movie that was showing in theatres the next day. At the time we were at home, I was able to watch Star Trek First Contact. For as long as I can remember, this is the first Star Trek movie that I have ever seen. For a non-Trekkie like me, I didn’t have to know any backstory to appreciate the film. Being a sci-fi fan, I was very satisfied with the plot and the scientific concepts proposed by the movie.


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