A look into China: from Culture to International Relations

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(I have been busy reading for my research method class. I am working on a research proposal regarding the Impact of WTO membership to China’s development. And I am yet to find a research gap for my proposal. There are just a lot of books and journals to read. But, honestly, as much as I dread reading all of them, they’re quite fascinating. Especially that I’m into China a lot.

After reading I thought of sleeping already. But I suddenly have the mood to write. And I like to write about China. So here you go—what I squeezed from the last threads of my brain!)

China and the Philippines have not been in friendliest terms since last year’s standoff in the West Philippine Sea. Yet despite of all that is going on in our two countries’ relationship, my fascination to China—to its culture, history and people—does not changed.

Chinese culture for me is just so rich, so colorful and so diverse. The intricate designs in their pottery and clothing as well their spoken and written language tell much about the antiquity and sophistication of Chinese culture. Their architecture which stresses on harmony with nature and of the people living in it interests me a lot. It tells a lot about the fact that human beings are interconnected with nature. And the more we fashion our buildings and our homes with nature, the more livable they become.

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And of course their language for me is really awesome. The first time I heard it as a child, I thought it was strange and I laughed hard at the accent and the pronunciation. In fact, growing up, it was a joke among my friends that you are Chinese when you speak gibberish. But growing up, I realized how beautiful it is. The words are seemed to be pronounced with adequate pauses. Chinese people also seem not to bend their faces too much when they’re speaking. It was a joke in one documentary that I watched quite a long time ago that the Chinese looked younger than Americans because they don’t pressure themselves too much when speaking. That means that they use less facial muscles when they’re speaking, only their mouth. So they tend to be younger looking!

In talking about China, I cannot omit or even neglect in smallest terms my admiration for their history. China is the only ancient civilization that has survived up to this day. Great empires like Rome, the Aztecs and the Greeks have come and gone. But China has remained intact. A lot of it has to do, in the words of Martin Jacques, with the Han identity. And I believe in that.

In the duration of Chinese history, they have produced great minds; poets, scientists, political leaders and great warriors. In fact, I was surprised how the very few people like Marco Polo and some Christian missionaries during the medieval period had actually come to admire Chinese thinkers like Confucius and Lao Tzu. At that time, China’s Yuan dynasty was an advanced civilization, a far cry from Europe which was by then in its Dark Ages.

It would take around half a millennium before Europe would beat China. In fact, even as late as the 18th century, China still accounted for one third of the world economy.

I could not forget the story of how the British ambassador to China was told that his country’s products were not needed by the Chinese for they produced goods that were more plentiful and superior in quality than their European counterparts.

But years of stagnation, civil war and foreign domination reversed the fortune against China. We now know China as the leading copy cat in the world, producing counterfeited products of all sorts—sometimes making them even better!

And the fall of China is also at the same time when underdevelopment is rampant in the developing world. And I came from one. The Philippines and China have both endured the humiliation of foreign domination and abuses. We both have ups and downs in the second half of the 20th century. And we still have problems like high infant mortality rates, poverty, income inequality, and many hindrances to political rights and freedom among many other issues typical to any developing country.

And I think my fascination for China is related to that fact that both China and the Philippines are developing nations.

So much so that China is growing leaps and bounds—economically, militarily and politically. For me this is an inspiration for Asian nations and to the developing world in general. There might be few developed nations from Asia, Africa and Latin America, but not one is as big and influential as China.

And for this reason I shall say that China should not be feared but rather welcomed.

If our response to China is to run into the clutches of the United States, then we are inviting conflict. China becomes ‘more’ aggressive not when individual nations resist in territorial disputes but when we invite foreign powers into the problem.

That is why I think that we, in Asia have a lot to do to assist China in making it a more responsible member of the international community. We cannot make it responsible if we invite great power politicking. We can only do it if both of us are truly committed to fair dialogue and cooperation.

In that matter, I think the responsibility is far greater for East Asian and Chinese majority countries and territories; Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and to lesser extent, South Korea and Japan. These countries which share a lot in common with China should show the Chinese that a political system and society that respects human freedom and human dignity is the one that flourish and endure. And the Confucian culture which these countries share with China is not in many ways incompatible with democracy.

If we succeed in helping China transform into a vibrant democratic, but distinctly ‘Chinese’ society, then we might avert the wars that has so characterized the rise of emerging superpowers throughout history. If we succeed in doing that, we will be able to continue progress in the region. China, as much as the Philippines, has a lot to profit from it. I believe that if peace and stability in the region will continue, China will progress and in its own pace, democratized — with Chinese characteristics of course.

And for me if regional conflicts would be averted, that means an even greater admiration for countries in Eastern Asia, Philippines and China included of course.

As a starting point, we should remember the old Chinese saying which goes, ‘the Yangtze river becomes wider as it nears the sea’. It implies that we, in the new generation, have become wiser and achieved greater things like the Yangtze which become wider and wider as it approach the sea.

Image from http://www.lovethesepics.com/2011/03/21-stunning-superbly-serene-chinese-gardens/

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Dorm Life: doing groceries

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I’ve been living in a ‘dorm’ (which I would generally refer to either an apartment, boarding house or condo) for almost four years now. And I can say that it can be quite difficult to be separated from my parents. I have to do all things. From cleaning the room to cooking as well as getting up early for school without my mom or dad waking me up. From first to the early part of second year, I had to do the laundry. I didn’t feel like doing it. I don’t know, but doing laundry is the least of the house chores I would do.

But I really like doing groceries. Going to the supermarket and picking vegetables or meat or cereals is just fun. I especially love bargains. There are times that beef would have discounts or fruits during their seasons would get so cheap. There was a time when oranges went on sale. For 50 pesos you could buy around 6 or 8 pieces. I bought a lot and it seemed like I’ve eaten oranges for a week!

The vegetable section is also fantastic. When I feel like eating Sinigang, I would buy sliced long beans, eggplants, kangkong and okra. And, oh, the white onions are just perfect for sinigang. It brings veggie sweetness to the sour taste of the sinigang, making the dish very delicate and, I’m telling you, very yummy!

I also like the part of the vegetable section where there are root-crops like potatoes, sweet potatoes, purple yam, etc. As I’m into nilagang baka, I really want to make sure that the potatoes have to be of good quality, because if not, it would ruin the taste of the nilaga.

One thing that I enjoyed also about supermarkets is that they’re clean and air-conditioned. That makes doing groceries a little bit easier. But I like wet markets as well. You can find more bargains in the wet market than in supermarkets. Apart from being cheaper, vegetables and meat products tend to be fresher, at least that’s my experience in Mandaluyong where my first dorm was located.

But being fond of doing groceries does not necessarily mean that I’m efficient in doing it. Earlier on, I would buy a lot of unnecessary things. The worst was that I had to throw away a lot of food; bread, meat, vegetables, you name it.

I would also tend to buy lots of junk foods like sodas, chocolates, chips and instant noodles. That’s why I tend to lose a lot of weight even though I keep on eating. That’s quite strange I thought because those foods were supposed to make one fat. I don’t know, maybe my metabolism just happens to be really fast.

But as I get more used to it, I get a lot smarter in doing groceries. Now I have to have a list of what to buy so that I won’t pick unnecessary things. If I like something that I’ve never tried before, I would buy just one piece not the whole pack if it happens to be sold per piece. If not, I would not even buy it.

In that way, I became a lot efficient. I save a lot of time since I don’t have to go to and fro the supermarket in confusion. I also save a lot of money since my spending has actually decreased quite dramatically. Before, I would usually spend 700 pesos a week. And you see that would eat a lot of my allowance since what I bought was usually just for dinner during weekends and, of course, for snacks. Now I only spend around 200-500 pesos a week. And not every week I go to the supermarket. That saves a lot of money and time. So I can now have more time to study and do things that I have to do.

With that I see that planning is really important. It allows us to maximize our time, money as well as our effort. And that redounds to anything that we do. Either doing a research or house chores, planning has to be there if we want to see good results.

What will I become in the Future?

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I have this tendency of going online just to google anything that interests me at the moment. This evening after doing school work, I chanced to think of searching a random professor’s bio. From reading the bio, I happened to open the website of the research center of UA&P. And for some reason my random internet searching took me to the alumni site of the university.

The particular article that I got into was the 2011 Bar exam passers who were alumni of the university. To my surprise many were not from my course, Political Economy, or Industrial Economics. As you can see, many of them either took Information Technology or Management before studying law.

It seems to me that those people from courses I would not expect to study law were the ones who actually did. You see, I’m coming from a pre-conception, like most people in the Philippines, that pre-law courses should have to do something with politics or economics. That explains my reaction to the article that I read in the alumni website.

But when I think of it, life is really that surprising. I don’t know if the guys or girls from other courses today who seem to lack much interest in current events or anything political under the sun would someday be in the field of law or politics.

That I think proves that we can’t speculate what people will be in the future based on what they are now. They might not like this or that today, but maybe in the future they would change their mind and do something else where they can find more interest and fulfillment.

And that should not create confusion or anxiety for the future in any way. As so long as we stand firm in our belief in the truth and we do good in whatever way we can, we can be assured that no matter where we go, we will be contended and happy.

With that thought, I also reflect on myself. What will I become in the future? Will I be the person I want to be?

We’ll that’s the question that I am yet to answer myself, and for each and every one of us if we ask the same question.

But I am not implying that we are not in control of the future. We are in certain ways. It is just that sometimes things happen a bit differently or there are better options that came about so we changed our mind, so as our plans. But if we are really determined to pursue our dreams or goals in life, our idea of the future must meet with our actions. That is, we should work hard to be the kind of person we want to be.

Of course, God has to be there in our life. For without the light of God, we are like walking in the darkest night without even the spark of light to guide us in an uncertain path ahead of us.

And now back to the question, what will I be in the future and what will be my brothers, friends and classmates be in the future? These questions are yet to be answered and I am looking forward in knowing those answers.

Back to School

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So school is here again. I can feel it. Yes, I can feel it especially that one of my professors had us read 8 readings for one meeting! You see in my senior year the number or length of readings does not really matter as much as it was before in 2nd year or 3rd year. There can be 12 pages of reading which is very hard to understand due to many technical terms and jargons with it while you can have 32 pages of reading which can be light due to familiar concepts or vocabulary.

In fourth year, however, it can be both long and difficult. But I have to refrain from complaining too much. That is because I see purpose in it. Learning can’t be spot on. It has be worked on with. That is in every effort you exert, you learn something new.

I see this especially true for people studying politics or any other fields touching on public policy. This is because if we are to go out in the professional world one day, we should be well equipped with knowledge not just in knowing concepts but in analyzing real life problems and implementing policy decisions. And in our every action, we should consider that what we do has an impact on many people’s lives.

Dr. Corazon Toralba, my professor in Work and Society do not cease to encourage me and classmates to stand up and create change in society should we graduate one day. Surely a big thing bordering classic idealism and idealistic rhetoric. But to think of it, the challenge has a lot of substance in it. As a student of political economy, we, I mean my classmates and I, have to make use of what we learn to the field in which our specialization applies. And that happens to be, by and large, public policy. Therefore, it is for expected of us to be good policy makers in the same way as a medical student has to be a good doctor when he goes out school someday.

And that is a big challenge. But for now we should settle ourselves in reading the piles of readings before us. If we can’t surmount the challenge of academic learning, then it is all too possible that we can’t do any better in addressing societal issues. That is why in our small task today, we should learn the value of hard-work and determination, which leads us to a common fact in life; that there’s reward in every endeavor well-done. For our school work it’s learning. And for policy making, it’s transforming societies and making the lives of people better.

With that thought, I shall go back to my readings.

Someone took my umbrella at the convenience store

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This evening I went to a grocery shop just outside the village where I live. It was raining hard and the thunders were roaring like crazy. Thankfully I brought with me my big black umbrella which my mom bought in Baclaran last December. Upon arriving at the store, I put the umbrella in the rack. A lot of the other umbrellas were the smaller and fold-able types. It was only mine and another blue umbrella which were the big ones. And as I am confident that my umbrella was safe in the store’s rack as it always was in the past, I proceed buying groceries without hesitation or what.

After around half an hour of going to and fro the shop, I finally had my groceries: four bottles of 500 ml Coke along with some canned fruits and cereal drinks. As I am shopping in Pasig City, plastic bags were not allowed. So the guy at the counter had to put my groceries in a paper bag. I was a bit worried because it was raining hard that the paper bags might get wet and all my stuffs would spill out.

Thankfully, in my mind, I brought a big umbrella with me.

But when I went to the rack near the door, my umbrella was missing. A few seconds later, a guy put his black umbrella in the rack which I thought he must have mistook my umbrella and returned it. But it appeared that he didn’t because he gave a second look when I took his umbrella and upon closer inspection I realized that it was not mine.

When I realized that my uimbrella was indeed missing. I called the guard of the store. He was quite old. Around his forties or early fifties. But he too was clueless of its whereabouts. Clueless because he spent doing something in the grocery section and was not in his post, which should have been in the front door where the rack was.

The guard spent around five minutes mumbling where my umbrella was. Then there was another five minutes or so of saying this or that costumer might have took my umbrella.

In my head, ‘it was because you’re not in your post that is why you didn’t see who has taken it!’

I must admit that I was about to blow my top at the time. The typical me must have rant and rant for the mishap. But thankfully I didn’t. I was raging mad inside but kept cool on the outside. And thankfully because I refused to speak for a while that I was able to step back and see on top of the situation.

I thought, ‘what was the purpose of staying here if the umbrella could not be retrieved?’

‘Will it do me any good if I get mad at the guard?’

‘Is my 100 pesos umbrella worth the argument that I would put up with him?’

My immediate reaction to those questions was to buy an umbrella and leave. I did ask the guard where to buy an umbrella and he showed me politely what they have. But I didn’t like it cause the design were for girls! So he guided me to a fastfood outlet that was selling an umbrella with the company’s name on it.

He said ‘sir dito ho sa kabila may payong, mura lang ho’. I agreed to go out. But on the way I told him that what happened to me should be a lesson to them. They should have numbers or tags for each umbrella left in the rack as was usually done in many establishments.

So finally I bought the umbrella at the fastfood and left. I should have eaten at that fastfood as planned, but I’m still brewing hot at the time that I had to leave to cool down.

It was when I was already away that I realized that I did the right thing. But laughed at myself for keeping my temper cool more than what I used to.

The incident brought me to the realization that ‘peace’ can’t be done by looking at the injury incurred or the wrong that was done. Rather peace lies in finding a common ground where each and everyone involved can benefit. Where solutions are sought and improvements are thought of.

In the case of my lost umbrella, it was hopefully the improvement in the way umbrellas are left out in the rack that will become our common ground.

However, I also realized that when dealing with a misunderstanding or when we are wronged, it is always good to say things gently, which was exactly the message at the Church service I attended last Sunday. We must remember that we are dealing with people; not animals or machines that can’t be hurt by words.

In fact, if we are gentle and polite enough, we will realize that the people who have wronged us are seeking ways to repair the damage they’ve done. Something which is natural for human beings; for men are naturally inclined to do good.

This realization helped me actualized what I have learned from God’s words. Not that I wanted to boast it. But to just say that we can only made good of the lessons we’ve learned if we practice them in our lives.

It is because in doing not in thinking that good can be done.

So to the person who took my umbrella, I got irritated but I thank you.

I didn’t know that the loss of my umbrella was a blessing in disguise.

Urban Dead (n.d.). Umbrella accessory. Retrieved from http://wiki.urbandead.com/index.php/Umbrella_(Accessory)

God in History: Realizations from the Book Children of England

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I am currently reading the Children of England by Alison Weir. This is perhaps that last book I will read for pleasure before the semester starts. Surely by then, I have to deal with academic readings.

The book is about the relationships of Henry VIII’s successors – Edward VI, Jane Grey, Mary and Elizabeth I. Much has been written about the four heirs to the throne, but the author claims that few has been as thorough as his book in examining their relationships.

I have read the book for some time now, and tonight I stopped at the Chapter when Jane Grey-Dudley was executed. Jane was executed as she was accused of high treason for assuming the throne after Edward VI died, disregarding Henry VIII’s will of succession which put Mary as the next in line to the throne. I felt sorry for Jane. She did not want to usurp the throne in the first place. It was the Duke of Northumberland who forced her to accept the throne for his own advantage, not hers. Immediately prior to Edward’s death, Northumberland married Jane to his son. Having in mind that Jane would be enthroned by himself as the Queen if Edward died.

Mary who succeeded in overthrowing Northumberland and his cronies knew that Jane was nothing but an instrument of Northumberland. Although she refused repeatedly to behead Jane at the Tower of London, she was finally made to agree by Renard and his councilors following the massive rebellion that was opposed to her marriage to Philip II of Spain. Jane knew she was innocent but I was impressed with her calm and accepting disposition following the announcement of her death. It made a great impression on me when she said that her mortal life would end in return for an immortal one. Such words indicates her understanding and devotion to the Christian faith.

Unfortunately, I find it hard to accept that many of these people in 16th century England were truly devoted but unknowing of the Christian faith. For Christianity is a religion of love and love can not dwell in the hearts of those who kill innocent people. Edward VI was a devout Protestant but had persecuted Catholics. Mary was a devout Catholic but had persecuted Protestants, including Jane Grey.

In judging England’s monarchs at the time, I do not want to commit an error by putting judgement to people who did not have the benefit of a hindsight of the consequences of their actions and the understanding of human rights that our generation now have. But I don’t think that that makes the people during the reformation not culpable for their actions. The book shows that people had knowledge of the moral implications of their actions. But conscience had to be set aback for political and other ulterior motives.

In reading the book I realized that religion was not at play in much of the religious persecution and wars that took place in Europe, England most specifically, during the Reformation Era. It confirmed my belief that it was politics, not religion, that made people fight and kill each other. Queen Mary was merciful but when Renard, the Imperial Ambassador of the Hapsburg to London, persuaded her to agree with harsh laws, she turned into a truly bloody Mary. The conflict in itself was caused by the rivalry of the Emperor and Henry II of France. Each of which used their respective ambassadors to perpetuate rumors, encourage rebellions and cause disunity in the government to ensure that England would be at their side. The Protestant and Catholic English bishops were powerless. They were nothing but instrumentalities to be used for political purposes. I could not speak though authoritatively for the pope. But the way I understood it, religion was used as nothing more than a prefix or a mark that would distinguish which supported whom.

It therefore pains me to see how religion is slandered and hated across the Western World, and increasingly in Asia. For such hate is based on the misunderstanding of religion’s role in history. It is the same as a person whose name is used by an impostor, and that person is tried and punished for a sin he has not committed.

The Christian Faith preaches justice. Justice means giving a person his due. And Jane Grey-Dudley was an innocent who did not deserve punishment. But why did God let her suffer. I can not know exactly but I believe there was a greater purpose for it.

But the lack of clear answers must not make us blame God for letting bad things happen. All of what happened was done by men and women who by their own free will chose the path of evil. God can not choose for themselves because he created men free. And God has one word. He will not take away what He’s given until its allotted time.

This explanation cannot be accepted by many modern historians. For they removed God out of history. Believing that it was the belief in the Almighty that brought peril to humanity. They are wrong. And our approach to history which is increasingly becoming mechanical is wrong. And the reason why we fall to the same mistakes as that of our ancestors is because we choose to look at history and not learn from it.

And I think reading the book inspired me the more to learn from history and not learn history.

What does the 7.8% economic growth means for Filipinos?

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The news about the Philippines’ 7.8 percent growth in the first quarter of this year set the media abuzz in the last few days. But what does it really mean for Filipinos? The first time I learned of the news from an online news website, I simply could not find a concrete answer; so too the vast of majority of our countrymen, I think. This is because despite of the good news of our country’s growing economy, the poorest of the poor would feel that nothing has changed. Nothing because they’re still lacking with the most basic of human necessities like food, shelter and clothing. For many common people in the street, economic growth only affects the rich but not the poor.

While walking in EDSA-Crossing in Mandaluyong a few days later, I realized that the notion of inequitable growth seems all too visible. There was a woman with a child begging in the street while in the backdrop were tall polished malls and condominiums serving country’s rich. But instead of cursing in my mind what seems to be an unfair social condition, I found hope. I found an answer that I was looking for. I realized that our country’s economic growth is meant to put an end to the daily struggle for survival of our nation’s poorest. Although it might take time for the poorest members of our society to experience real change in their lives, the improvement of our country’s economy is a signal that the end of their suffering might be forthcoming. We can be assured that that will happen if political reforms made by the Aquino Administration will continue side by side with our country’s rapid economic growth.

Nevertheless, I hope that many of us would see opportunity in this period of our economic development. Opportunity not just for those who are already educated and moneyed who can ride in with progress, but also for those who are not. To do this, we must allow the poor to understand, not just know, the good that our economic growth can bring. So that the poor children who skip school would find inspiration to study hard knowing that there will be a job ahead of them when they persevere. So that those who live in crime would change their ways knowing that there is more incentive in making a living in accordance with the law rather than those which are against the law. So that those who seems to have lost faith in our country’s political system would open their eyes to progress knowing that the government does something to improve their well-being. We should understand that it is not only concrete measures made by the government and the business sector that lead to development. It is ‘inspiration’ that would allow people to work harder and unite together knowing that there’s value in doing and in cooperating with each other. And I could not think of anything that our recent economic growth would serve best than inspiring our people to work harder for our country’s development.

Bubble News (9/13/2012). Poverty in the Philippines. Retrieved from http://www.bubblews.com/news/33789-poverty-in-the-philippines