31 December 2021

Last lessons

Of the year, that is.

This morning a trainee and I were discussing legacy. Unable to articulate his thoughts, he shared a poem, which according to him encapsulates every Japanese's life-desire, including his.

Be Not Defeated By The Rain
Kenji Miyazawa
(Translated by David Sulz)

Be not defeated by the rain. Nor let the wind prove your better.
Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.

Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you.
Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.

A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove's shade.

A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.

If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health.
If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden.
If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear.
If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues:
Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.

In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy.
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.

Stand aloof of the unknowing masses:
Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a "Great Man".

This is my goal, the person I strive to become.

(Via Kenji-World)

It's so funny, when he sent me the first English translation he found, he quickly dismissed it as bad, shook his head and searched some more. I couldn't identify the translator, but instead found many other translations. Most of them were similar to each other, and my trainee eventually chose a slightly improved version of what he initially sent.

A few more minutes of research led me to David Sulz's translation (quoted in full above). The longer lines, I felt, served the poem's prosaic diction well while providing a rhythmic flow. Simple, lofty.

Another writer, and another David — Novak this time, also "fiddled" (to use his word) with the Miyazawa poem. He called his work a loose paraphrase of Ameni Mo Makezu and an adaptation of Sulz's translation. His is more poetic in diction and structure, which doesn't mean that it's better. Though fun to read out loud, the tone borders on condescension.

There was a time when I wanted to learn Japanese, so I could read haikus in their orignal form, because I just knew that something great is lost in translation. Learning the language entails learning a new writing system, so I gave up.

I've been training Japanese professionals in Business English for three years now. On good days, I am convinced that I have demystified their culture. On bad days, I have demystified their beautiful cuture.

It's the last working day of 2021. Another trainee left a gem for me to keep in my mind's pocket. Not so much a discovery but a reminder. She says there is no such thing as luck. If anything, luck is a result of practice.

Keep writing, Razel, keep practising.

29 December 2021


My little world, for a little while.

Something very pre-Covid happened last Monday: I commuted to and from Makati to have my hair-cut, shop, dine, and hate on the crowd.

It has been a solid 21 months since I've done that and boy, does it feel good.


Once upon a time, Greenbelt 3 was the place to go to if I would like to go book-shopping. Facing the road was the two-storey Power Books, where my university friends and I spent countless hours and cash on books and possibly coffee.

The book-store had evolved into a book-slash-office-and-school-supplies-store until it closed and was replaced by an H&M.

With its evolution and eventual demise, good literary books, especially poetry, have been a struggle to find; and somehow my excitement to hunt for rare gems in second-hand book shops have also waned. Finding gold that's dirt cheap becomes meaningless if that's the only option you have.


Another category of books in abundance during that time was music books: sheet music, method books, classical etudes, 'song hits' (lead sheet of popular music). These are close to extinct these days.

In my early years of piano lessons, I hoarded them. What the hell was I going to do with a complete collection of Chopin etudes? Nothing, but as hoarder mentality goes, I thought I might play it in the future.

Along with it, I bought Czerny etudes, which looked intimading back then. Guess what, I've been using Czerny 599 since I re-enrolled in piano lessons last September. Am now half-way through. Not so intimading anymore.

While I'm at it, I also have the complete score of Cats, because I just love the damned musical. As I gain confidence in playing, I mess around with a few songs every now and then.

Maybe I'll soon give a Chopin etude a go.


My heart leapt when I saw Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos, because I didn't expect to see it.

Where I avoid a life of excess, books are a worthy exception. There will always be space and time for them.

Last Monday, I dropped by several book shops in the area, feeling hopeful. Being out and about is something I've missed. What makes me happier is that my appetite for book-hunting is back.

The long walk was rewarded. I found what seemed to be the last copies of Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos volumes 4 and 6, as well as a beautiful collection of Kundiman (traditional Filipino love songs) transcribed for piano.

Eagerly I scanned them, but not before I settled at a nice café to enjoy lunch and unwrapping my books. The difficulties in each page, coupled with the understanding of what made them difficult, were sources of excitement. Same goes when I open a book of poetry or fiction. It all felt familiar. It all felt new.


I, too, sometimes have regrets about delaying things. If I had focused on writing more in my twenties, then I would've already published my very own book.

Those years, instead, were spent doing the things that I wanted to do when I wanted to do them: I went to graduate school and met some of my best friends, took piano leassons, learned to swim, somehow got into a conservatory, applied for jobs, quit them, earned, saved, invested, stared at clouds, drank vodka at the bar and pretended to like it.

No time was wasted. Although it appeared so due to a constant message of living a linear life-narrative. The moment I strayed from the part where we're supposed to fall in love at 16 should've been a clue that I am not meant for this brand of normalcy.

Neither is this pandemic taking away my zest for living despite everything it is taking away.

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