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15 February 2009

Manila in the dark

TIM KINDSETH wrote in Time magazine this week about Manila Through the Eyes of F. Sionil José. The visual reference is the sweeping Rosales Saga, written by the most widely-read of contemporary Filipino novelists. I'm glad that Mr. Sionil José gets deserving space in Time Magazine. Unfortunately, Mr. Kindseth saw Manila most unkindly, sweeping one of Southeast Asia's most cosmopolitan cities ungraciously away, failing to realize how Western colonialism led to the decay that he avidly describes, and certainly failing to see it the way Mr. Sionil José did in his novels.

Manila's redeeming virtues were the centerpiece of Mr. Sionil José's five-volume opus. Instead, Mr. Kindseth decided to revisit the physical spaces described in the novels, and bring the modernized version into front row (on the magazine's print edition, the story was on full page). Hence, he talks excessively about sunsets rimmed in "diesel pollution", "vulgar light & sound shows", and "starched luxury malls". He fails to understand the redemption that lies beyond these modern elements, introduced into Asia by interactions with the West and so ubiquitous, if not grander in scale, in most of Asia's megacities. Had he gone beyond the façade offered by Manila's pockets of rancid smell and decadent sight, he would have celebrated a vital mass of warm humanity that is unique in Southeast Asia and increasingly difficult to experience elsewhere in this age of materialism and Web 2.0-driven fanaticism.

I'm not sure how to classify Mr. Kindseth's essay. He refers to it as "sense of space". It is neither travel writing nor architectural exposé. Either way, it is senseless and a waste of space.


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