ashes to ashes

Manila, 10 March—When news broke that the UP Shopping Center had caught fire, I was filled with equal parts sadness and resignation. When I first laid my eyes on it seventeen years ago, it already had that fire trap kind of feel. Its corridors were dark by default, and it was always warm inside because of all the photocopying stalls standing side by side. It always struck me as dumbfounding, how all those computer shops, bookstores, photocopiers, salons, and even small restaurants fit in that small space, but just like something out of the Harry Potter series, they did.

As an Area 2 dormer, Shopping Center was really home, in many ways—it fed me when I had no more money, printed my papers when my ink ran out, and let me connect to the internet using rental PCs for student-friendly rates. Because I lived so close to it, getting my readings photocopied was easy. And of course, we were always close to Rodic's. 

A friend on Facebook reminded me that we used to wait for the Ikot jeepney under the waiting shed in front of Shopping Center, talking about life and school while I finished my P5 for 3 sticks Winston Lights. And that once, I had asked her the universal angsty question of those years: Kapag mahal mo ba, kailangan alam niya?

Damn, I'd almost forgotten about this memory, but now that it's been brought up, it brought me back to that afternoon: I was eighteen and questioning and I just met That Girl. Haha. How juvenile and long ago.

I feel so unexpectedly tender to be reminded of how it felt like to say out loud, for the very first time, feeling this way—perhaps also the first time I found the words for exactly what it was. 

Oh man. UP Shopping Center truly saw everything

*

I was following the outpouring of reminiscences about Shopping Center on Facebook, and many of them mentioned how Shopping Center was the silent witness to their moments of despair and victory. Shopping Center was where we had our thesis bound. It was where all my siblings had theirs, too, and where my girlfriend had hers bound, as well —proof that Shopping Center served everyone, with open arms. The reminiscences I read from alumni of other universities really spoke of how Shopping Center was for all, and not just for UP alone.  

But it's the UP Community that will miss it the most, hands down. We lost the Faculty Center two years ago, and before that iconic canteen CASAA and Alumni Center, where we had duckpin classes so memorable I still find myself telling stories about them every now and then ("Tangina, mano-mano yung pagtatayo ng pin!"). All old buildings burned down. It still hurts thinking about just how much we lost at the Faculty Center—first editions and such, never to be made the same way again.  

The last time I sent out a newsletter, I talked about saving what we love—but I'm afraid against a fire, we don't stand much of a chance.

*

Later, news reports featured Shopping Center stall owners and employees rushing to the site of the fire and worrying about all the student theses that were lost in the blaze.

Until the very end, a kindness.

Podcast rec alert: Slate's Slow Burn: A Podcast About Watergate

(Rec via @anamgroa, thank you!) I've just finished episode 1, "Martha", which is about Martha Mitchell, then US Attorney-General John Mitchell's wife. She was one of the lesser known personalities during Watergate, and what really interested me about her is the fact that she has had something named after her called the "Martha Mitchell effect"—defined simply as the "process by which a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health clinician labels the patient's accurate perception of real events as delusional and misdiagnoses accordingly." Fascinating, right? Slate's Leo Neyfakh, who narrates the podcast, explains the importance of revisiting Watergate in the era of Trump and authoritarianism by asking a couple of crucial questions: What did it feel like to live through the scandal that brought down a president? And if we were living through Watergate, would we know it?

These questions gave me pause. How often did I think we were in the middle of something so... life changing? And how much do people remember about these supposedly life-changing moments? How is memory made collectively? Who decides who remembers what and what is forgotten, like Martha Mitchell? 

To demonstrate: Maybe some of us still remember Clarissa Ocampo during the impeachment trial of former President Estrada (deposed president, convicted plunderer, later pardoned, now Manila mayor—), who testified that she was "one foot away" when she saw Estrada sign "Jose Velarde". But can you remember that woman who told Estelito Mendoza that "Iniinom po ang iced tea, hindi kinakain"? For some reason, I cannot forget that snippet, but I doubt that tiny detail made it to the repeated retellings of the entire proceeding. 

When all of this is over, how will it be remembered? Will we remember the Mocha Usons and Harry Roques, will we pass them down in vivid retellings of the desperation that cloaked this nation in the years they were in power? Or will we edit them out as unimportant, and favor the narrative that put front and center the 13,000 dead, the deterioration of institutions, and the rise of federalism amid a railroaded charter change?

What if we're in the middle of something big and since we don't know it, we're not paying attention?   

Final housekeeping segment

We're still taking pre-orders for The Ledger. For more information, its new site is stunning—visit to see sample inside pages, etc. 

Meanwhile, Mnemonics pre-orders are over here. 

Anyway, as I'm slowly finding my groove back, the format becomes less photos, more talking. Hope you don't mind. Let me know what you think. :)