Book Nook: Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

I had to laugh like hell.
—Kurt Vonnegut

HOCUS POCUS is a grim, depressing, yet terribly funny, fictional autobiography of General Eugene Debs Hartke, a person who never masturbated and uttered neither blasphemy nor profanity in his life. His parents died in a freak accident in Niagra Falls without ever knowing what hit them. His wife and mother-in-law, carrying a powerful strain of insanity, turned into lunatics. His son and daughter, upon knowing that they too could end up in an insane asylum, couldn’t forgive them for reproducing. Gene also has a son out of wedlock, who was named after a cocktail.

Gene dreamed of being a jazz pianist or a journalist, but “life being what it was” placed him in West Point and made him lieutenant colonel during the Vietnam War, an accomplishment which made his frustrated father real proud.

That path to West Point was all thanks to the “helmsman of his destiny,” Sam Wakefield, a lieutenant colonel he met during the high school science fair, who would commit suicide years later and leave a very ambiguous and absolutely unoriginal note: “My work is done.”

As a professional soldier, Gene would have welcomed a returning Christ  with a napalm air strike, if ordered to do so by his superiors. At the end of the book, he would reveal the number of people he had killed in the war and how many women he had slept with.

When the Vietnam War was over—which was “nothing but the ammunitions business”—Gene met Sam again, who then hired him as a professor in Tarkington College, which was a correctional insititute, to teach physics and music appreciation to affluent learning-disabled students, or “seemingly hopeless cases of plutocratic juvenile incapacities,” whom no conventional universities would dare accept.

The college did rather well and proved that they could teach what the other universities thought to be unteachable: some of their graduates were successful in life and even became among the nation’s great men.

Spent in this institution were Gene’s happiest days—not as a teacher, but as a carillon player at the beginning and end of classes. He was a good teacher and was a students’ favorite, but he would soon be fired because of “life being what it was.”

Gene landed another job on a maximum-security prison as a teacher to the illiterate and dangerous convicts who were never allowed set foot with society again, and there he contracted tuberculosis. Then one night, a prison break was successful—the largest in American history—with the Tarkington College just across the frozen lake that separated them.

He was inside a prison library when he wrote his scrap autobiography. And so it goes.


The novel’s format is unparalleled in its unique brilliance: “The narrator wrote this book in pencil on everything from brown wrapping paper to the backs of business cards, from scrap to scrap, as though each were a bottle to fill,” hence the nonlinearity of the story line, a signature Vonnegutian device, which makes this work entropic, digressive, challenging, and anticlimactic.

The story can be summed up as an old war veteran’s retrospection of his life, like taking into account the number of the people he killed in the war and the women he slept with. This method allowed Vonnegut to go on a “freewheeling commentary,” and not without the raging moral outrage and ridicule, on war, fate, society, racism, and politics, business, and education.

The rhythm of Kurt Vonnegut’s “sharp-toothed” and stoical witticisms remains irreproachable and inimitable, and none of his literary inheritors come close to his satirical and philosophical bents.

Definitely among the 20th century’s greatest novels, Hocus Pocus stands as a depressing vision of humanity. Vonnegut states, “I am not writing this book for people below the age of 18, but I see no harm in telling young people to prepare for failure rather than success, since failure is the main thing that is going to happen to them.”

(Published on Sun.Star Weekend Cebu: June 19, 2016)


Descent Extreme: Rolling Down the Winding Roads with the 7th Visayan Longboarding Trilogy

The epitome of the Philippine longboarding scene.
An experience that defines the spirit of longboarding in this side of the world. 
—Juan Duazo, owner of Driftwood Local Enterprises

Photo Credits to All Day Media.

Photo Credits to All Day Media

EXTREME SPORTS such as longboarding is yet to be standardized here in the Philippines. Point in fact, only a really few Filipinos understand the intricate physics working behind the sport.

Skaters rolling their wheels in the busy streets, abandoned parking lots, and secret alleyways are oftentimes regarded by society as eccentrics who are “wasting time” and “not thinking about their parents or their future.”

Photo Credits to All Day Media (3)

“Reckless fools! Maybe they’re cutting classes, doing drugs, or drinking.” “Don’t they know how dangerous it is?” Such classic derogatory remarks stem from the general public’s misunderstanding and prejudice over skateboarding. (Another case would be the absence of a decent skatepark in the city while the presence of a basketball court is almost everywhere.) Despite society’s lack of support and judgments, the skater’s spirit won’t break all that easy and will continue to rise.

A group of longboarders is slowly but steadily making a breakthrough in the country’s culture that they caught the eyes of internationally acclaimed skaters who are now joining them in spreading the true spirit of the sport with fellow Filipinos.

Photo Credits - Mediadelic

Photo Credits – Mediadelic

“The simplicity of life and brotherhood brought up by skating is what we want to share,” Joseph Falcone, an experienced longboard racer and a skateboard craftsman for Driftwood Local Enterprises, states during the press conference for the 7th Visayan Longboarding Trilogy, an annual pilgrimage of longboarders, held at KOA Tree House last April 2, 2016.

Photo Credits - Mediadelic

Photo Credits – Mediadelic

Now Asia’s grandest longboarding event, the fourteen-day Visayan longboarding trilogy kicked off in the wonderful island of Siquijor for the Mystical Island Freeride and Traditional Race (April 5–7) and continued and culminated in the mystifying spots of Cebu, in Oslob for the Super Mango Skate Clinic (April 10–12), which was hosted by the world’s #1 pro downhill skateboarder, Patrick Switzer, and in Carcar for the Veggie Hill International Downhill Federation (IDF) World Qualifying Series Race (April 15–17). Almost 300 participants joined the IDF race.


Here’s the list of winners:

Mystical Island (Siquijor) Traditional Race Winners

Photo credit - Grupo Nopo (2)

Class A (Open) Category

Champion – Riley Harris (Canada)
1st runner-up – Tiny Catacutan (Philippines)
2nd runner-up – Lawrence Thompson (Australia)
3rd runner-up – Mitchell Thompson (Australia)

Photo credit - Nerissa Althia Ravina

Photo credit – Nerissa Althia Ravina

Class B Category

Champion – Cameron Hancock (Australia)
1st runner-up – Brian Russel Banzal (Philippines)
2nd runner-up – Gene Nillas (Canada)
3rd runner-up – Sebastian Redila (Philippines)

Juniors’ Category

Champion – Charlie Guitering (Philippines)
1st runner-up – Franz Brian “Pantoy” Solasco (Philippines)
2nd runner-up – RJ Ancot (Philippines)
3rd runner-up – Charles “Bodeck” Reuyan (Philippines)

Photo credits - Trina Risos

Photo credits – Trina Risos

Women’s Category

Champion – Abigail Viloria (Philippines)
1st runner-up – Sharon Marie Diocera (Philippines)
2nd runner-up – Elissa Mah (New Zealand)
3rd runner-up –Anna Pixner (Austria)
4th runner-up – Kara Marbe Urbiztondo (Philippines)

Photo credits - Trina Risos

Photo credits – Trina Risos

Super Mango Clinic (Oslob) Stand-Up Race Winners

Photo credit - Patrick Switzer

Photo credit – Patrick Switzer

Champion – RJ Ancot (Philippines)
1st runner-up –Tiboy Santiago (Philippines)
2nd runner-up – Michael De la Serna (Philippines)
3rd runner-up – Manu Duhamel (Canada)

Photo credit - Grupo Nopo

Photo credit – Grupo Nopo

Photo credit - Patrick Switzer

Photo credit – Patrick Switzer

Photo credit - Patrick Switzer

Photo credit – Patrick Switzer

Grupo Nopo Outlaw (San Fernando) Invitational Winners

Champion – Roy Churchland (Australia)
1st runner-up – Danny Carlson (Canada)
2nd runner-up – DandoyTongco (Philippines)
3rd runner-up – Sam Randalls (Canada)

GN Invitational Winners left to right CHAMPION Roy Churchland - 2nd Place Danny Carlson - 3rd Place Dandoy Tongco - 4th Sam Randalls - Photo Credit to Grupo Nopo

GN Invitational Winners left to right CHAMPION Roy Churchland – 2nd Place Danny Carlson – 3rd Place Dandoy Tongco – 4th Sam Randalls – Photo Credit to Grupo Nopo

Veggie High IDF World Qualifying Series (Carcar) Winners

Open Category
Champion – Patrick Switzer (Canada)
1st Runner-up – Riley Harris (Canada)
2nd Runner-up – Max Ballesteros (Brazil/USA)
3rd Runner-up – Danny Clarkson (Canada)

Women’s Category

Champion – Rachel Bruskoff (USA)
1st runner-up – Elissa Mah (New Zealand)
2nd runner-up – Jenny Schaurte (United Kingdom)
3rd runner-up – Tamara Prader (Switzerland)

IDF Women's Division - Left to Right - Rachel Bruskoff 1st - Elissa Mah 2nd - Jenny Schaurte 3rd - Tamara Prader 4th - Photo by Aubrey Bejec

IDF Women’s Division – Left to Right – Rachel Bruskoff 1st – Elissa Mah 2nd – Jenny Schaurte 3rd – Tamara Prader 4th – Photo by Aubrey Bejec

Juniors’ Category

Champion – Franz Brian “Pantoy” Solasco (Philippines)
1st runner-up – Sebastian Chanco (Philippines)
2nd runner-up – Enrique Chino Padin (Philippines)
3rd runner-up – Mario Nathaniel Umali (Philippines)

IDF Juniors' Division - Left to Right - Franz Solasco 1st - Sebastian Cinco 2nd - Enrique Padin 3rd - Mario Umali 4th - Photo by Mcflurry Adriano

IDF Juniors’ Division – Left to Right – Franz Solasco 1st – Sebastian Cinco 2nd – Enrique Padin 3rd – Mario Umali 4th – Photo by Mcflurry Adriano

IDF Masters’ Division

1st place  – Benjamin Hay (Australia)
2nd place – Ryan Nicholls (Australia)
3rd place – Caloy Sambrano (Philippines)

IDF Masters' Division - Left to Right - 3rd Caloy Sambrano - 1st Place Benbro Hay  - 2nd Ryan Nicholls  - Photo by Ering Ricablanca

IDF Masters’ Division – Left to Right – 3rd Caloy Sambrano – 1st Place Benbro Hay – 2nd Ryan Nicholls – Photo by Ering Ricablanca


Photo Credits to All Day Media

Photo Credits to All Day Media

Photo Credits to All Day Media

Photo Credits to All Day Media

Photo Credits to All Day Media

Photo Credits to All Day Media

The Visayan Longboarding Trilogy aims “to unite the local skating communities in the country and strengthen the foundations of this sprouting lifestyle”; to develop “riding skills, first aid and safety awareness, and to teach lessons on how to be an ambassador in one’s community.” It also aims to create a breakthrough in the sport, thus improving its integrity and safety, and to appreciate our own talents that are now competing on a world-class level.

The trilogy inspires eco-extreme sports tourism in the Philippines island paradises.

(Published on Sun.Star Weekend: April 24, 2016)

Chicken Abortion

Naa kay eighteen diha, ki?

I WALKED ALONG the polluted sidewalk downtown where there lay a stretch of street food stalls that habitually begins to grow crowded at the first stroke of twilight. People who just got off from school and work found themselves feasting on the delicacies to relieve their hunger and nerves, sometimes while enjoying a conversation with an acquaintance or a friend, mostly exchanging summaries or anecdotes on how their day went.

Passing by, I could hear peals of laughter, as incessant as the sizzling of food in the scalding oil, and even belches of people whose stomachs were gratified right after the gulp of their beverage, often followed by lighting a cigarette.

I looked with astonishment at the burning of the cigarettes, for their tips stood out perfectly, like crimson stars, between the moonlight and the glares coming from the headlights congested in the road.

The greasy savor in the air suddenly rendered me famished, but somehow absolved me from the whole day of earthly labors.


I was well into my fourth piece of penoy when a group of foreigners lined by the stall I was in. The crowd threw glances at them.

The five foreigners, three men and two women, whom I thought were Americans, looked exhausted, out of breath, undoubtedly from carrying huge backpacks, bags, tents, and rolled sleeping mats. Nevertheless, I saw excitement gleaming from their faces; their eyes were of those beholding the arrival of a long-awaited meal.

At once, I reckoned that the foreign group must have heard myths about Balut and that now they were going to unfold its mystery; one of them confirmed it by saying he found “the Balut.”

The men declared to draw first blood while the women backed them up with cheers.

I listened to the vendor stuttering his way in giving instructions. He guided them through gestures—like pointing at a certain part of the shell—and managed to convey the instructions with precision.

I was surprised at how the men devoured the embryo in an instant, perhaps without even tasting, and certainly without spitting the bits of bones and hairs out; regardless, they expressed delight at its tastiness.

The women’s applause caught the attention of the busy crowd. It was their turn next. But no sooner had they peeled the shells than they backed down at the sight of the embryo.

As though spectators in a show, passersby circled around the stall and cheered for the women.

“Chicken abortion!” I broke in. People, including the foreigners, turned and laughed at my remark; a student even repeated, “Di ta mokaon ani uy, kay chicken abortion.”

One of the women stopped laughing and asked me, “What happens if no one eats them?”

“They’re thrown away,” I said rather coldly. “The reason they’re ‘aborted’ is because the farms here can’t afford to raise them. So even if they were to live, they’d eventually die of starvation. Besides, no one can shelter all of them, and they’d be a nuisance if they’re too many.”

The crowd, I realized, was silent and listening to me the whole time, perhaps never expecting such an insight on the matter.

“Balut,” I continued, “is actually a solution to poultry overpopulation.”

Illustration by Geraldine Sy

I lit my fourth cigarette while walking into the heart of the downtown, which I fancied to be pumping the traffic of strangers and vehicles into the streets.

The evening declined, and I looked at the moon glowing brighter beyond the rise of the buildings, the sight of it misted by the smoke coming out of my mouth.

I stood on the street corner, listening to the cacophony of wheels, horns, footsteps, and gossips, when a strange memory involving balut sprang into mind:

Once, a sallow balut vendor, who was my “suki” since he was just across the street near my home, confided to me about hearing death rattles of full-grown embryos from inside their shells as he boiled them in his large pot.

(Published on Sun.Star Weekend: March 27, 2016 and on Zerothreetwo, a local online magazine)

Cheers to TINTA! A Toast to Another Bottle of Ink!

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute.
We read and write poetry because
we are members of the human race.
—Sir John Keating, Dead Poets Society

ON THE TENDER NIGHT of the 27th of February 2016, at the 2nd floor of Handuraw Pizza, Gorordo, TINTA of University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu marked its 13th monthly poetry reading, or “Basa Balak,” which was handsomely titled “Kasumaran: Pisik sa mga Tinagsip” (Anniversary: A Splatter of Fragments), as a year already passed since TINTA started breaking ground into the city’s literary landscape.

Denver Torres (Photo by Rika Castro)

Denver Torres

Karla Quimsing (Photo by Rika Castro)

Karla Quimsing

TINTA hosted their largest crowd yet. In attendance were established Cebuano writers Denver Torres, Jona Bering, Karla Quimsing, Anthony Kintanar, and Larry Ypil; various members of the Nomads and BATHALAD, two of the literary circles in Cebu; TINTA poets Jae Magdadaro, Monica Manluluyo, Reyna Cadiz, Astrid Ilano, and Tara Angela Prieto; and Cebu-based start-up Suwh(a)t, whose soulfully hand-crafted notebooks served as prizes for the trivia and “tigmo” session. The audience, mainly composed of youths who brought their own poems, songs, and anecdotes into the open mike segment, contributed largely to the full house event.

Anthony Kintanar (Photo by Rika Castro)

Anthony Kintanar

Suw(h)at is a Cebu-based crafts start-up that seeks to empower individuality and thoughts through carefully crafted and personalized notebooks/paper products. (Photo by Rika Castro)

Suw(h)at is a Cebu-based crafts start-up that seeks to empower individuality and thoughts through carefully crafted and personalized notebooks/paper products.

Overwhelmed by the growing multitude of people appreciating the monthly poetry nights, Tara Angela Prieto, TINTA’s incumbent chairperson and also a graduating psychology student, envisioned a “stronger patronization to these literary events.”

TINTA Chairperson Tara Angela Prieto (Photo by Rika Castro)

TINTA Chairperson Tara Angela Prieto

A Rorschach Test

When the first verses were penned by its founding chairperson, Romeo Nicolas Bonsocan, on June 16, 2011, TINTA no sooner became UP Cebu’s official—and only—creative writing organization. With the guidance and support of Lilia Tio, Januar Yap, and Shane Carreon and the commitment of the group’s members, TINTA, which was initially born of the idea of having an essential creative outlet and “interest-based organization” for students, assumed the form of an inkblot smeared not just in the school walls but also in the walls of contemporary Cebuano literature.

Outside the school’s wrought iron gates, TINTA conducted their own love letter writing contest (2013; the awards night was held at the painfully missed beauty of La Belle Aurore) as well as a literary awards night (2014; this was held at UP Cebu) that drew participants from different universities.

Going in for the Quill

The organization was formerly named “Mga Alagad sa Dagang” (The Order of the Quill). Now, other than being the Cebuano translation for “ink,” TINTA also stands for “Tunob” (footprint), “Iwag” (light), “Nasod” (country), “Talento” (talent), “Alampat” (art)—five components that serve as the organization’s cornerstones.

TINTA’s groundwork activities are to “read, write, and inspire.” They practice their craft through sharing, engaging in discussion, and getting involved in the development of national literature. They also hold several workshops, where they are mentored by Cebu’s literary heroes.

Now stepping into their 5th year, TINTA continues to influence a generation of young writers to move toward a renewal—or a revolution, if you will—of Cebuano literature.

(Published on Sun.Star Weekend: March 13, 2016; photos by Rika Castro)