Inspired by one of the essays in Bebang Siy’s It’s a Mens World, First Date: It’s a Mens World Walking Tour and Book Discussion was the initial get-together of the members of Pinoy Reads Pinoy Books as well as a meet and greet with the author (also one of the group’s moderator) held last December 1, 2012.
Chosen as the book for the last quarter of the year 2012, It’s a Mens World was first discussed by the Pinoy book readers on their online group over at Goodreads following a reading schedule giving focus to each article for a day or two. Participants gave their take, insights, and told even similar experiences found on Siy’s personal essays, ranging from the most in-depth, amusing, witty, sometimes personal, to the downright humorous, yet all are as equally entertaining as the book.
The moderators already have it mind that a possible meet up is in the offing, and taking as its cue they come up with an event patterned after First Date, an essay in the book giving readers a suggestion — or at least a guideline — of what the author thinks are the dos and don’ts for ideal activities for the would-be couple’s first romantic meeting. The event is also a walking tour with no other than Bebang Siy herself as the guide taking the attendees of the said event to some of the locations that figured in her book, especially the place where she spent her cherished childhood, Ermita.
Curious about what happened on Pinoy Reads Pinoy Books’s “first date”, Gentle Readers? I tell you, it was a day none of us expected, filled with laughter (well, we’re a hilarious bunch), full of surprises (it’s truly our lucky day!), and romance (at least for two people) — definitely, the stuff made of memorable first dates!
As our first ever offline activity was wholly influenced by the essay, as I mentioned earlier, let me cite certain passages from it to frame how we go about the event.
“Ang gusto kong first date ganito:
Setting: Modern Manila / December
Time: 2 PM onwards
Bakit December? Hindi hassle ang ulan. Hindi rin gaanong mainit. Kaya hindi hassle sa kili-kiling basa…
Bakit P400? [Para] huwag masyadong magastos…
Bakit hapon? Kasi kung umaga, malamang tapos niyan ay tanghali o hapon, pareho nang mabantot ang hitsura ninyo. At least kung nagdaan na ang tanghali, hindi na problema ang init.
Bakit sa Maynila? Kasi kabisado ko ang lugar na ‘to.
Ano ang mga gagawin?
Magkikita kami sa Simbahan ng Quiapo. Puwedeng sa loob, puwedeng sa labas.”
Some of us have prearranged to meet first before heading off to Quiapo Church, and arriving there we sat on the pews inside while waiting for the others. After a few minutes, with the appearance of one, two members — since we are not that hard to find as some of us were wearing the designated red color outfit, which I did not — Bebang Siy arrives, ruefully reporting that her bottle of perfume shattered (at least, she smells nice!). Pressed for time, she then hustled us out of the church to get on our way and guided us to the start of our First Date commencing our walking tour (because of this we miss Reev who, as it happens, was there at the very moment seated at the front near the altar, also waiting for us or a familiar face from the group to show up).
“Tapos maglalakad kami ng ka-date ko… papunta sa Bahay Nakpil-Bautista na limang minutong lakaran lang mula sa simbahan. Ito ‘yong bahay ng lakambini ng Katipunan si Oryang. Museo na ito ngayon.
Tapos makikipagtwanan kami kay Mam Tess Obusan, ang curator ng Museo. Kung may pera ako, bibili ako ng libro ni Mam Tess. Kung wala, magbibigay na lang ako ng donation na P40 per head. KKB. Kanya-kanyang bayad.”
This visit at the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista couldn’t be more fitting as the previous day, November 30, 2012, was the birthday of Gregoria “Oryang” de Jesus’s first husband, the Supremo, Andres Bonifacio. All of us marveled at how a place as historical as Bahay Nakpil-Bautista (located at 432 Ariston Bautista St., Quaipo, Manila) could be tucked at an insignificant corner near Quiapo’s infamous “Pirate Bay”. Even though it is located right smack in a depressed area, it remains a bastion and repository of history: a prime example of the quintessential bahay na bato architecture, it also bear witness to some of the pivotal points of the country’s past, especially the several clandestine Katipunan meetings that gave rise to the 1896 Revolution. Miss Terisita “Tess” Obusan (sister of Ramon Obusan our National Artist for Dance) indeed gave us a tour of the house from the impressive dining area, azotea (looking over to what I imagine was once a beautiful and clean canal), the Nakpil’s simple bedroom, to the Bulwagan ng Katipunan, with a sneak peek inside Oryang’s kitchen, which is currently undergoing renovation. Some of us bought Miss Obusan’s latest book teaching the writing of Bayabayin, and she also gladly gave us free historical-related journals. We also found out that Bahay Nakpil-Bautista can be used as a venue for activities like book discussions, which we are planning if ever in the future, given the right book and appropriate theme.
“Sunod, maglalakad kami papunta sa simbahan ng San Sebastian. Mga sampung minuto ‘to. Kung may kamera, magpaparetrato ako sa labas nito. Kailangan ma-capture sa retrato ang patusok-tusok na mga column ng simbahan na para bang handang butasin ang mga ulap. Kung walang kamera, tatambay kami sa labas ng simbahan hanggang sa Manawa ang aming mga mata sa ka-gothic-an nito. Tapos yayakagin ko siyang pumasok sa loob kahit pa may kasalang nagaganap.”
Following the spirit of the essay, we did walk our way to San Sebastian Church. First time and old visitor among us never failed to gasp at the majestic, gothic beauty of Asia’s only steel structured cathedral. And coincidentally, as life is imitating art, a weeding is in fact taking place at the moment of our visit. After feasting our eyes in the wonders of the basilica, and lest we are disrupting the solemnity of the on-going ceremony (which is then to be followed by yet another couple waiting to be married), we went outside — where we saw Reev who finally tracked our whereabouts — and then we proceeded on to the next route of the walking tour.
“Tapos sasakay kami ng dyip pa-Quiapo at Baclaran. KKB uli.”
In between two jeepney rides, despite the cramped transport and oppressive heat, we excitedly reached Ermita. It is at this point that we really got to know the person behind the book. Bebang toured us to Ermita Catholic School where she had her first three years of elementary schooling; it is also a sad and shameful reminder for her because it is but one of the many settings where her parents fought in front of the public, throwing pizzas at each other (it’s funny, I know, but true). We also got to visit some of the locations found at the map inside the book, notably, the park at the front of the Ermita Church (where surprisingly another wedding is happening!), the place where the young Bebang used to play with her neighborhood friends, sans the already tiled ground. She also showed to us the alleys that become her childhood playing areas, too, and pointed the exact location in front of an old residential building where she got that nasty bump when a pipe accidentally fell on her head which most readers can probably recall as one of the memorable episodes in the essay It’s a Mens World. This then gave way to questions about the current whereabouts of her childhood playmate Michael, but before Bebang sportingly answers it he indicated a disco bar’s backstreet where his family once lived in a meager lean to.
Of course, we can never miss visiting one of the most important settings in the book: Bebang’s childhood home, the groseri, or what is commonly called in their community as the Tindahan ng Instik. It is very much still a Chinese sari-sari store which is now presently manned by her Uncle John, Di Pe in the book, the second older brother of her father. The place is exactly as Bebang remembers it; it is at this moment that what once you read in text gains factual reality. The author also laments some of the nearby buildings she fondly remembers in her youth have been torn down. It is because of this that’s why she set out to to write about these favorite haunts of hers growing up; that by writing about it the memories of her roots, the place where she came from, can never be erased.
Bebang afterwards decided for a short stopover at Solidaridad Bookshop, which is just a few blocks away from where we are at. What seems at first an innocent window shopping for Filipiana turned into an instant book signing as we lucked out and chanced upon meeting none other the National Artist for Literature, F. Sionil José! Mang Frankie willingly gave us an audience and signed his books that we purchased from the bookstore along with gamely answering questions about himself, his works, and a host of others. It never did strike me that he’s quite a funny man, but he indeed is! Leaving the bookshop, I think we are all awed and extremely pleased by how everything turned out this simple afternoon. For us, it is definitely one of the highlights — if not the best moment — of the day.
“Yayakagin ko siyang magmeryenda sa Aristocrat. Sa Malate. Iyong nakaharap sa Manila Bay. Oorder ako ng chicken barbecue. Nasa P150 ata.”
Jumping from one place to another across Manila can certainly make one hungry, and so, still reeling, starstrucked with our encounter with one of the influential persons in the country’s literary landscape, another short jeepney ride took us to Malate. But before going to Aristocrat we took a short rest at Baywalk overlooking the Manila Bay, munching at some of our favorite childhood chichiryas while watching at the lovely Manila sunset. While at it, we got a short prelude to a question and answer portion with Bebang as well as telling us some of her earlier works and past editing stints before hitting it big with her latest book.
With the sun bidding the day its farewell, giving way to the night, comes the sign it’s now time to finally eat and on to another portion of the day’s activities: our first ever Christmas Party and Exchange Gifts at Aristocrat. Again, getting our cue from the book and serving as the guideline for our First Date, we each ordered the restaurant’s famous and best-selling chicken barbecue with the java rice (with the exception of Phoebe who is allergic to it. By the way, she finally was able to catch up us with us when we are at the Baywalk after being at tail-end in each of our stops all along the walking tour. She jokingly calls the experience her self-executed first date).
“Tapos magkukuwentuhan kami…”
As our food will probably take ten to fifteen minutes to be served, we go about with our Exchange Gifts while Bebang signs our books. Later, I was surprised to learn that she was the one who picked me, and I’m likewise happy she gave two of the books I listed down on my wishlist. On the other hand, I got Phoebe to whom I gave Mga Agos sa Disyerto (which fortunately is the group’s book pick for the first quarter of 2013). As it is with bookish meet ups, book gifts overflowed — it is after all our Christmas Party. I’ll do a separate entry about the books I received during the event, so keep posted.
While eating, writer Mr Ronald Verzo, Bebang’s fiancé, arrived and ordered halo-halo. After the meal, we continued with the book discussion from where we left off. Bebang, still bursting with energy, responded enthusiastically to our questions where we discover the true story behind the essay First Date, which excited a rush of mushy reactions from most of our female members (kinilig talaga sila!), the explanation of the word play of action poetry as seen in her brief essay Nakapagtatakang Nagtataka Pa, among others. At this point, Bebang also presented to us an artwork made by the romantic guy, her boyfriend, which K.D. chose on the spot as Pinoy Reads Pinoy Books’s official logo.
“Pagkatapos naming magkuwentuhan, pagmamasdan naming ang paligid. Titingin kami sa labas. Trapik pa ba sa Roxas Boulevard?”
A bit of winding down and a few bathroom breaks in between, we decided to call it a night. We may have failed to follow through the last destination of our walking tour: a stroll near the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex and to watch a free (or not) concert inside. Though the whole day had been pretty tiring, I know every one of us went home not only with bags filled with goodies as well as faces bright with smiles, knowing well in our hearts that we have been a part of something special, something magical.
“Habang naglalakad, titingin ako sa langit. Sasabihin ko, ang ganda ng gabi ‘no? Tapos magpapasalamat ako sa kanya. Thank you, ha? Salamat talaga! Nag-enjoy ako!”
Thank you Ms Bebang Siy for accommodating our humble invitation to be our guide in this walking tour and book discussion, as well as sharing and spending half of the day with us. Thank you to Mr Ronald Verzo for going the extra mile designing and giving the group its face, its logo. Thank you to the moderators who planned and made this event possible. Thank you for the members, for their presence that day, for without each of you this “first date” wouldn’t have been a success and a unique and unforgettable experience.
“Magkikita ba tayo uli?”
Definitely, this will not be the last of our meet ups; as Karen Carpenter sums it: we’ve only just begun.
Truly, it’s the perfect first date.
Thanks to Clare and Reev for great pictures.