detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Wednesday, July 24, 2002

: . The Jeepney and Filipino Creativity, or The Lamentations of Two Incurably Romantic Filipino nationalists:

From Champion by Conrado de Quiros:
    As talent goes, we are a people that are not lacking in talent. We are in fact brimming with it. I remember one particularly brilliant demonstration of it in the game that pitted Bata Reyes against Dennis Orcullo... Reyes was leading 8-3 in a race to nine and Orcullo was stymied by a position that seemed to offer no prospects. The cue ball was on one side of the long table and the target well on the other side, and the other balls were strewn about blocking the path to the pockets. The commentators had just analyzed the best ways Orcullo could play safety when he did what they never expected. He made a bank shot, sending the target all the way back, missing obstacles by a hair's breadth, and dropping into his left side pocket clean as a whistle.
    "Of course," said one of the commentators after a speechless moment, "I didn't count on Filipino creativity."
    Unfortunately, neither do we, at least in daily life. Not even when Filipino creativity is there for all to see. In music, in painting, even in science and business, as Filipinos abroad have routinely demonstrated. You don't have to go very far to see the burst of Filipino creativity, you need only look at what he has done to the Jeep and the clothes he was made to wear in colonial times. The Jeep he has turned into the jeepney, that very utile, if often undisciplined, and very colorful, if often baduy, contraption on the road. The transparent clothes he was made to wear by the Americans to make sure he wasn't concealing any knives, he has turned into the national attire, the barong tagalog. That's genius.
    Unfortunately, that ingenuity has been employed more to achieve disingenuous ends than admirable ones. That ingenuity has been used to cut corners, skirt the rules, make "palusot." The fact that this country has a plethora of lawyers hasn't made it more law-abiding, it has made it more lawless. Enough to make you think we take up law only so we can get around it. Filipino creativity hasn't always been used to enrich the country, it has also been used, more often than not, to pillage the country. There's another word for Filipino creativity, and that is "abilidad,'' with all its unsavory connotations...
    In the end, our greatest enemy is not other people, it is ourselves. Or to paraphrase Cassius, it is not in our opponents, but in ourselves, that we are underlings. If we could only master ourselves, if we could only find the resources to see us through our darkest hour, if we could only find the character to bear the oppression that weighs on our mind, or soul, to face the task at hand, there would be no limits to what we could do. If we could only conquer ourselves, if we could only tame our impulse, or instinct, to use our creativity for destructive ends, if we could only temper our minds or soul amid the heaviest grief or affliction to face the battle, we could conquer anything.
    That's what champions are made of.

From A Heritage of Smallness by Nick Joaquin:
    [H]aving mastered a material, craft or product, we tend to rut in it and don’t move on to a next phase, a larger development, based on what we have learned. In fact, we instantly lay down even what mastery we already posses when confronted by a challenge from outside of something more masterly, instead of being provoked to develop by the threat of competition. Faced by the challenge of Chinese porcelain, the native art of pottery simply declined, though porcelain should have been the next phase for our pottery makers. There was apparently no effort to steal and master the arts of the Chinese. The excuse offered here that we did not have the materials for the techniques for the making of porcelain--unites in glum brotherhood yesterday’s pottery makers and today’s would be industrialists. The native pot got buried by Chinese porcelain as Philippine tobacco is still being buried by the blue seal.
    Our cultural history, rather than a cumulative development, seems mostly a series of dead ends. One reason is a fear of moving on to a more complex phase; another reason is a fear of tools. Native pottery, for instance, somehow never got far enough to grasp the principle of the wheel. Neither did native agriculture ever reach the point of discovering the plow for itself, or even the idea of the draft animal, though the carabao was handy. Wheel and plow had to come from outside because we always stopped short of technology, This stoppage at a certain level is the recurring fate of our arts and crafts.
    It’s two decades since the war but what were mere makeshift in postwar days have petrified into institutions like the jeepney, which we all know to be uncomfortable and inadequate, yet cannot get rid of, because the would mean to tackle the problem of modernizing our systems of transportation--a problem we think so huge we hide from it in the comforting smallness of the jeepney. A small solution to a huge problem--do we deceive ourselves into thinking that possible? The jeepney hints that we do, for the jeepney carrier is about as adequate as a spoon to empty a river with.

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