Video Golay Lecture: For Whom Are Southeast Asian Studies?

The 11th Frank H. Golay Memorial Lecture, Cornell University

“For Whom are Southeast Asian Studies?”

Caroline Hau (Kyoto University)

 

 

Video of lecture: https://www.cornell.edu/video/caroline-hau-for-whom-are-southeast-asian-studies

Which audiences, publics, and peoples do Southeast Asianists address and serve? The question of “audience(s)”—real and imagined, intended and unintended—is arguably central to (re)conceptualizing the rationale, scope, efficacy, and limits of Southeast Asian Studies.  It has an important bearing on what kind of topics are chosen for study, what and how personal and institutional networks and intellectual exchanges are mobilized, which dialogues and collaborations are initiated, what language(s) one writes in, where one publishes or works, which arenas one intervenes in, and how the region is imagined and realized.  I focus on Jose Rizal’s two novels–Noli me tangere(1887) and El filibusterismo (1891)–and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1983, 1991, 2006) and examine the ways in which the issue of audience(s) crucially informed the intellectual projects of the two authors, and how the vicissitudes of production, circulation, translation, and reception shaped the intellectual, political, and artistic trajectories and legacies of these three notable Southeast Asian studies texts. I will also discuss the power of these texts to conjure and call forth unexpected and unintended audiences that have the potential to galvanize Southeast Asian studies while stressing the connected histories that link Southeast Asia to other regions and the world.

Previous Golay lectures were delivered by Barbara and Leonard Andaya, Benedict Anderson, James Scott, Claude Guillot, Aihwa Ong, Anthony Milner, Jomo K.S. Sundaram, Ruth McVey, Craig Reynolds, and Erik Thorbecke.

Caroline S. Hau is Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan. Born in Manila, she was educated at the University of the Philippines and Cornell University. She is the author and (co-)editor of more than thirteen books, including Necessary Fictions: Philippine Literature and the Nation, 1946-1980The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation, and Region in and beyond the Philippines; (with Kasian Tejapira) Traveling Nation-Makers: Transnational Flows and Movements in the Making of Modern Southeast Asia; and Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture.  She has published a novel, Tiempo Muerto, and two volumes of short fiction, Recuerdos de Patay and Other Stories and Demigods and Monsters: Stories.

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Opening Lines of 50 Filipino Novels

 

Aguilar, Faustino. Pinaglahuan (1907)

Bayan ang tumawag at bayan ang dumalo.

 

Alfar, Dean Francis. Salamanca (2006)

Seven years after the complete destruction of Manilaville in Louisiana, the dissolute author Gaudencio Rivera decided to settle the matter of his prodigious sexuality and beget a child.

 

Bautista, Lualhati. Bata, Bata…Pa’no Ka Ginawa? (1991)

At sa wakas, tumugtog ang graduation march at nagmartsa ang mga batang magsisipagtapos.

 

Bulosan, Carlos. America is in the Heart (1943)

I was the first to see him coming slowly through the tall grass in the dry bottom of the river.

 

Bulosan, Carlos. The Cry and the Dedication (1995)

Now long shadows were falling upon the hushed silence of the great forest.

 

Castillo, Erwin E. The Firewalkers (1992)

Once upon a time, in the year of 19 hundred and 13, there lived in the town of Lakambaga, the province of Cavite, a man named Gabriel Diego who was sergeant of the police.

 

Cleto, Luna Sicat. Makinilyang Altar (2002)

Dadamputin ko na sana ang librong nakapatong sa pasamano nang mapansin kong dumapo ang maraming tarat sa punong sampalok sa bakuran.

 

Coson, Mara. Aliasing (2018)

A volcano is about to explode, but perhaps if they don’t think about it, it won’t happen.

 

Cruz, Andres Cristobal. Ang Tundo Man ay Langit Din (1986)

Lalabas na sana si Victor del Mundo sa silid na kulong ng salamin nang kumiriring ang telepono sa kanyang mesa.

 

De Guzman-Lingat, Rosario. Ano Ngayon, Ricky? (1971)

Nakita mo na ang Maynila?

 

De los Reyes, Isabelo. Ang Singsing nang Dalagang Marmol (1912)

Matapus ang kasindaksindak na labanang nangyari sa mga tagalog at americano sa Kingwa, lalawigan ng Bulakan, ng ika 23 ng Abril ng 1899, na siyang ikinapatay kay Coronel Stotsenburg, sa Capitan at iba pang mga kawal americano, kaming mga tagalog naman ay nagsiurong sa Sibul, at sa isang bahay-gamutan ng aming mga kawal ay natagpuan ko ang isang matapang na pinunong tagalog na bahagya nang makagalaw at makapagsalita dahil sa marami niyang sugat.

 

Derain, Allan. Ang Banal na Aklat ng mga Kumag (2013)

O Dakilang Manunubos na isinugo ng Dios Ama buhat sa Kinabuhayan na siyang unang langit.

 

Diaz, Glenn. The Quiet Ones (2017)

The airport’s impersonal contours and antiseptic light discouraged strength of feelings, but the regret in Alvin’s chest brooded, a petulant child.

 

Firmeza, Ruth. Gera (1991)

May dalang balita ang LO, ang pinunong pangkomunikasyon: Kaalis ng napakaraming sundalo, galit dahil walang natagpuang NPA sa baryo.

 

Francisco, Lazaro. Maganda pa ang Daigdig (1955)

Natatalisod ng tao kung minsan sa landas ng buhay ang isa o dalawa o ilan mang pangyayaring nauukit nang malalim sa gunita at di nalilimot.

 

Galang, Zoilo M. A Child of Sorrow (1924)

Lucio had just received his sheep-skin diploma from the provincial high school, and had laid his book on the dust-covered shelf.

 

Gonzalez, N.V.M. A Season of Grace (1956)

It is in the hills beyond the sitio of Bondoc where the Alag begins.

 

Groyon, Vicente Garcia. The Sky Over Dimas (2003)

The fact is: George Torrecarion went crazy.

 

Guillermo, Ramon. Ang Makina ni Mang Turing (2013)

Mula sa kinatatayuan natin ngayon, kinamamanghaan natin ang kamangmangan ng mga pangunahing panauhing pangkasaysayan tungkol sa kanilang sariling daigdig at panahon.

 

Jalandoni, Magdalena. Lucia (1919)

Sa isa ca malinong nga hilit nga mahamtang sa isa ca bahin sining matahum nga cadatuan sang Iloilo, may isa ca masangcad nga baybayon; baybayon nga ang iya masadia nga hunasan napunihan sang mga matin-ao nga paquinhason nga naga silac sa tunga sang iya malum-oc nga cabalasan nga sa guihapon guina hadcan sang iya maazul nga ilog.

 

Javellana, Stevan. Without Seeing the Dawn (1947)

He was only eighteen years old but already he was tall, as wide as a house, and he had big strong arms like those of the town blacksmith.

 

Joaquin, Nick. The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961)

When she told him she had two navels, he believed her at once: she seemed so urgently, so desperately serious—and besides, what would be the point of telling a lie like that, he asked himself, while she asked him if he could help her, if he could arrange “something surgical”—an operation.

 

Joaquin, Nick. Cave and Shadows (1983)

The vision–a crab on a string being walked by a naked girl–occurred in deep hotel-corridor twilight and moreover  when he, Jack Henson, was feeling himself in a swoon.

 

Jose, F. Sionil. The Pretenders (1962)

On the night her husband left her, Mrs. Antonio Samson could not sleep.

 

Hernandez, Amado V. Mga Ibong Mandaragit (1969)

Nangalahati na ang 1944.

 

Laya, Juan C. His Native Soil (1972)

Martin knew what it was to come back to these seven thousand islands and find a place to live in among sixteen million people.

 

Lee, Ricardo. Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata (2011)

Sa labas, habang ang mga kababayan ko ay hindi pa nakaka-recover sa sunod-sunod na bagyong pinasimulan ng Ondoy, ako, sa loob ng High Notes sa kanto ng Timog at Morato, ay naka-split sa stage, ini-impersonate si Beyoncé, kinakanta ang If I Were a Boy, theme song ng mga tomboy.

 

Melvin, Reine Arcache. The Betrayed (2018)

In their exile they knew that nothing could last, yet the family tried to feel at home in the new country.

 

Mendoza, A.A. III. Aklat ng mga Naiwan (2018)

Walang nagsusulat upang magpasupil.

 

Nolledo, Wilfrido D. But for the Lovers  (1970)

He was beginning to eat flowers and the crescent moon was in his eyes when he awoke again.

 

Ong, Charlson. An Embarrassment of Riches (2000)

Oh! But for the waste, the awful waste!

 

Perez, Tony. Si Crispin (2012)

Madilim ang gabi.

 

Polotan, Kerima. The Hand of the Enemy (1962)

On Wednesdays, Emma Gorrez knew that as soon as she entered the shop, Isabelo, the cajista, would pull himself up from his shelf of types and look at her with his small bloodshot eyes, parting his lips in a dreary smile.

 

Posadas, Mano de Verdades. Hulagpos (1980)

Pilipinas, 1974.

 

Regalado, Iñigo Ed. Madaling-Araw (1909)

Puno ng tao ang Luneta.

 

Reyes, Edgardo M. Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1986)

Sa simula, siya’y isang kalansay na nakatalalan sa hangin.

 

Reyes, Jun Cruz. Tutubi, Tutubi, ‘Wag Kang Magpahuli sa Mamang Salbahe (1987)

Hindi ako makaraan doon nang hindi mapapahinto at mag-iisip.

 

Rizal, Jose. Noli me tángere (1887)

A fines de Octubre, don Santiago de los Santos, conocido popularmente bajo del nombre de Capitan Tiago, daba una cena que, sin embargo de haberlo anunciado aquella tarde tan solo contra son costumbre, era ya el tema de todos las conversaciones en Binondo, en otros arrabales y hasta en Intramuros.

 

Rizal, Jose. El filibusterismo (1891)

En una mañana de Diciembre, el vapor TABO subía trabajosamente el tortuoso del Pasig conduciendo numerosos pasageros hácia la provincial de la Laguna.

 

Rizal, Jose. Makamisa (c. 1891-1892)

Tumigil ang tugtugan at natapos ang misa ni Pari Agaton.

 

Rosca, Ninotchka. Twice Blessed (1992)

The formal ball usually begins with the rigodón de honor, a quadrille by seven couples, six along the hall’s length and one in the middle, underneath a ball of mirrors spinning in its axis, piercing space with the pink, blue, yellow and purple of reflected light, reflected images, its harsh brilliance an insubstantial waterfall spilling upon the dancing pairs, all drawn from high society, provided of course there are enough who can dance without tripping on their feet or causing the help to titter under their breath, otherwise dancers will have to be pulled in from the Women’s School, where they train future society-page ladies and discreet prostitutes.

 

Santos, Bienvenido. The Praying Man (1982)

The President of the Philippines arrived late as usual.

 

Santos, Lope K. Banaag at Sikat (1906)

–Kailanman pong nagpakarami-rami ang taong umahon dito ay di gaya ngayon–anang isang taga-Antipulo sa ilang taga-Maynilang nanunuluyan sa kanyang bahay.

 

Sitoy, Lakambini. Sweet Haven (2015)

You see I didn’t love you.

 

Syjuco, Miguel. Ilustrado (2010)

When the author’s life of literature and exile reached its unscheduled terminus that anonymous February morning, he was close to completing the controversial book we’d all been waiting for.

 

Tuvera, Katrina. The Jupiter Effect (2006)

Gaby, the only Contreras daughter, was a difficult child to conceive.

 

Ty-Casper, Linda. The Peninsulars (1964)

In the early morning sun, the Mexican creoles standing guard on the forty-foot limestone walls appeared like bleached shadows.

 

Ty-Casper, Linda. Dread Empire (1980)

Past nine the night of Friday, September 21, Don Paco—having finished a large supper that began and ended with soup—turns on the porch radio for news from Manila.

 

Yabes, Criselda. Broken Islands (2019)

In my childhood I counted nine bridges.

 

Yuson, Alfred. Voyeurs and Savages (1998)

It was the farthest Chief Antonio had ever thrown his spear.

 

 

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Q&A on “Tiempo Muerto”

Q&A with ABS-CBN News Channel’s Jam Pascual about Tiempo Muerto.

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Tiempo Muerto: An Excerpt

Town & Country (Philippines) features an excerpt from my novel, Tiempo Muerto.

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Featuring “Tiempo Muerto: A Novel”

An article by Spot.ph‘s Mia Rodriguez about Tiempo Muerto, just out from Ateneo de Manila University Press’ Bughaw Imprint.

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Tiempo Muerto: A Novel

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On Filipino Food

palabok.jpgIn 2011, Ligaya Mishan, in her review of the Filipino restaurant Maharlika, wondered if Filipino food might finally be having its moment. In 2012, Andrew Zimmern predicted that Filipino food is the next big thing in America. In 2016, in another review, Mishan again says that Filipino food might have reached a tipping point in popularity.

Maybe it has and maybe it hasn’t. I’ve been hearing a version of this since the early aughts. There are certainly many more Filipino restaurants in New York these days, trendy ones worlds away from the old Elvie’s Turo-Turo. And if Filipino food has indeed reached a certain level of popularity, it’s probably because of the heroic efforts of Ligaya Mishan herself. Mishan, a restaurant critic and contributing editor at the New York Times, is Fil-Am, and uses her position, energy, and talents to promote Filipino cuisine.

Last year, Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad, owner and chef of thriving Filipino restaurants in New York, came out with the cookbook entitled I Am a Filipino and This Is How We Cook. The title is somewhat unsettling, with the drama of its declaration, the confusing pronouns, and the inconvenient fact that Trinidad is Dominican and not Filipino.

But it’s also ballsy and quite brilliant. Ponseca used to be an ad executive and obviously understands marketing. In an America that’s struggling to be woke, the book has been noted and celebrated. It’s in Sam Sifton’s list of 2018’s best fall cookbooks, in the New York Time’s list of 2018’s best fall cookbooks, featured on Saveur, and one of the sixteen books of the year featured on Food52’s Tournament of Cookbooks.

And the cookbook deserves the acclaim. It’s comprehensive, knowledgeable, and accessible. Ponseca’s love for the cuisine and the culture is clear and quite moving. I have to admit that I haven’t had great experiences in her restaurants. I’ve mentioned in another blog post here how the kare-kare and sisig in Maharlika, while delicious, tipped into being cloying, and how a carelessly served cold tinola in Jeepney made me sad.

And the first time we went to Maharlika, we were made to wait and then not given a table after waiting. The restaurant had just opened a few months before, it was lunchtime on a Sunday, and the place was packed. We didn’t have a reservation and we didn’t think we could get seated, but we were in the area anyway so we went. The hostess told us she might be able to seat us if we were willing to wait for twenty minutes. For some reason, she made the assumption that the group of people with a reservation wasn’t coming. Or maybe she wanted to make sure that, in the slim chance that the group didn’t arrive, the table would be occupied. She was in her twenties, with glowing dewy skin, a spiky crewcut, multiple earrings, a flannel shirt under her apron, a swaggering confidence. In my mind, she looked like a film student from nearby NYU and was supercool, incredibly pretty, a Filipino-American obviously, an Asian-American, a New Yorker.

We waited, got hungry, and didn’t get seated. It would be a couple of years before we had the opportunity or inclination to visit Maharlika. By that time, the excitement about the restaurant had subsided and it was easy to get a table. A few months after, we went and ate at Jeepney, its sister restaurant, one billed as more casual.

Who is a Filipino? What does it mean to be a Filipino? The young gorgeous Fil-Am at the restaurant is a Filipino. The beauty queens on the walls of the restaurants are Filipinos. Jose Rizal, his iconic image shown in the restaurant, is a Filipino. In photograph after photograph in the cookbook, Filipinos are in marketplaces, kitchens, fishing boats, food stalls, and carinderias. Filipinos are cooking, eating, and smiling. And the Philippines is a verdant country with abundant fish, meat, and all kinds of produce. It has urban spaces with tangled electric wires, churches and Catholic saints and jeepneys, mildewed walls in markets that are strangely haunting and photogenic.

I like the cookbook but the narrative it offers is obviously simplistic. One can even argue that it’s problematic, with its strange epigraph from Carlos P. Romulo, its tired tropes of smiling Pinoys and colorful jeepneys, and the overarching importance invested in the idea of some kind of American recognition of the wonderfulness of Filipino food. I mean, we love our food. Isn’t this enough? Why do we need Americans’ approval of our food? Why does Filipino food have to be, as Ponseca says, “universally regarded as one of the world’s classic cuisines”? What does that even mean? And does it only become valuable if this universal recognition is attained? These are complex questions and I truly don’t know the answers. Or perhaps the answer requires a book. (Or perhaps a longer essay, this time from Carol.)

Ponseca herself calls her book a manifesto, not just a cookbook. It works brilliantly as a cookbook—I’m so inspired to cook old favorites like kare-kare and pancit palabok. I was introduced to dishes like sinanglay na isda and manok sa tsokolate. Last week, I cooked tortang talong. Every time I open the book, I long to go back home and feast on batchoy and burong mustasa and sinigang. I’m delighted that there’s even a recipe for burong mustasa, a dish that, in my hometown, was traditionally bought from a street peddler who, legend has it, sent his four children to college from his burong mustasa revenues. But that’s another story.

One shouldn’t really ask for more from a book, and I don’t. I applaud Ponseca’s entrepreneurship and championing of Filipino food. I want to drive to DC and check out Bad Saint. I love Mishan’s columns and have gone to other Filipino restaurants she has recommended. My husband and I have been disappointed by most of them, however, and our hearts continue to belong to Ihawan in Woodside.

Maybe I should write about that next time.

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A Lauriat of Chinese-Filipino Dishes

The publication of My Angkong’s Noodles is a milestone in Chinese-Filipino culinary history.

Written by Clinton Huang Palanca (one of the most gifted Filipino writers of his generation and a talented cook himself), photographed by Neal Oshima, styled by Ginny Roces de Guzman, and published by Elizabeth Yu Gokongwei, this beautiful, lavishly illustrated book contains more than a hundred recipes for rice, noodle, seafood, pork, beef, chicken, and vegetable dishes, plus desserts, for everyday eating as well as festive occasions. Thoughtful essays by Mara Coson, the late Doreen Fernandez, Rafael Ongpin, and Jeffrey Yap leaven this cookbook, and sixteen recipe authors and five establishments (including Ling Nam, Mann Hann, and Hai Kang) contributed to the creative team endeavor.

“Angkong” in the title means “grandfather” in Hokkien or Minnanhua (literally, “the speech south of the Min River”), the lingua franca of the Chinese community in the Philippines and a topolect (nay, language) that is spoken by more than forty-six million people in China (mainly southern Fujian), Singapore, Malaysia (especially Melaka and Penang), Taiwan, and parts of Indonesia (including Medan in North Sumatra) and Thailand.

Although the kitchen is often assumed to be the domain of women, Palanca invokes his own father’s love of cooking to show that the lived experience and history of the Chinese in the Philippines complicate this “tradition” and its stereotype of the “dutiful daughter-in-law.”

For most of the nearly four centuries during which the Philippines was a colony of Spain, Chinese migrants were overwhelmingly male. They were either bachelors or married men who left their wives and children behind in Fujian. Some of these migrants founded their own families in the Philippines through marriage or informal unions involving Filipino women. It was not unusual for Chinese men—the more prosperous ones, at least—to have families in China as well as the Philippines.

These Chinese-Filipino unions in turn produced the so-called “mestizos,” who were granted their own legal classification between 1760 and the 1880s, and from whose ranks descended some of the country’s most illustrious (and some notorious) sons and daughters: Tomas Pinpin, Lorenzo Ruiz, Jose Rizal, Emilio Aguinaldo, Sergio Osmeña, Ferdinand Marcos, Jaime Cardinal Sin, and Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, to name a few. Only in the early twentieth century did sufficient numbers of Chinese women migrate to the Philippines, a trend that accelerated in the 1930s because of the chaos and devastation of the Sino-Japanese War but tapered off once China went Communist and Hong Kong replaced Amoy/Xiamen as the embarkation point of emigration for far smaller numbers of Chinese. In recent decades, new migrants (xinqiao) have kept the community institutions such as Chinese-language newspapers and organizations afloat, even as second- and third-generation Chinese Filipinos have integrated into Philippine society in the wake of the landmark relaxation of naturalization requirements in 1975.

As Doreen Fernandez  pointed out, the word pansit that we now use to refer to the popular Filipino dish of noodles cooked with seafood, meat, or vegetables originated in the Hokkien word pien sit, meaning “something that is conveniently cooked: usually fried,” proof enough that “fast food” cooked and peddled by Chinese men but thoroughly adapted to Filipino taste and sensibility was already inventing its own tradition in colonial Manila and other urban areas.

Included in the cookbook are recipes for such Chinese-Filipino staples as Han Zhi Be (lugaw with cubes of sweet potato), Kiam Peng (savory rice with toppings of chicken, pork, Chinese sausage, and roasted peanuts), Ma Tsang (tetrahedral dragon-boat parcels of glutinous rice flavored with five-spice powder, packed with bits of pork belly, chestnuts, black mushrooms, and dried shrimp, and wrapped in bamboo leaf), Ngo Hiong (kikiam, seasoned pork encased sausage-like in crisp bean curd sheets), Gulam (short-rib beef stew), Mi Sua Teng (Misua Medley, featuring patola and fresh oysters), O Ah Jien (oyster cake), Chai Tao Que (radish cake), Sai Zhi Tao (Lion’s Head meatballs, eaten with Chinese pechay), Diong Kwei Teng  (medicinal black chicken soup, boiled with goji berries/kam kee, bamboo pith, and red dates), and Lo Han Zhai (vegetarian stir-fry with wood-ear fungus, “fa cai” vegetables, bamboo shoots, baby corn, snowpeas, and Chinese cabbage). For the more adventurous cooks planning a lauriat (from the Hokkien term, lau-diat, “merry-making”) banquet, there are recipes for Po Pia (Chinese lumpia), a simpler, more ecologically friendly version of the Put Tiao Chiu (Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, the original of which is made of melted sweet potato and taro, prepared over two days, and served in porcelain wine jars), and Pao Hi Hiu Ko (abalone with mushrooms).

These dishes have as their base the chicken stock (preferably home-made) that distinguishes the food culture of the Chinese from that of the Japanese, who normally use fish stock, and Koreans, who use seaweed. The coastal origins of Chinese-Filipino cuisine can be seen in the liberal use of oysters and seafood. While the Southeast Asian (Nanyang) influence is evident in the Philippine version of shrimp toasts (He Pia), Chinese cuisine has also been shaped by China’s interaction with the Philippines. Sweet potato, a major supplement to the Fujianese diet, and chili pepper, without which Sichuan mala sauce is unimaginable, first entered mainland China from South America via Manila, a key port in the galleon trade.

At the same time, Chinese cooking has made a home for itself in the Philippines, with siopao and siomai, maki (made of pork shoulder, pork fat, and camote flour), fishballs (Hi Wan), boiled peanuts (Sah To Tao), pata tim (Hong Ti Ka, braised pork trotter), and humba (Hong Ba, roasted pork belly) becoming part of the Filipino repertoire. In turn, the Chinese-Filipino table has incorporated Pinoy favorites such as pochero, which used to be served by mestizos on Sundays, and the delicious Philippine mango. A number of dishes are mestizo in themselves: bean sprout and tofu cake (Tao Hu Que), beef and tripe curry (Kali Guba Guto), and chicken taro in coconut sauce (Iya Chiu Kwei). Others offer clever improvisations on old standbys: using Haw flakes, for example, for sweet and sour pork (Cho Ba).

Palanca rightly states that Cantonese cuisine has long set the benchmark for the globalization of Chinese food, owing to Cantonese immigration to America and to the rise of Hong Kong as one of the Four Dragon economies in East Asia and Guangdong province as a special economic zone in post-Maoist China in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the Philippines, the Cantonese who form a minority of the Chinese population had tended to cluster in the restaurant business, a fact that is borne out in Jose Rizal’s second novel, El filibusterismo (1891), which includes a chapter in which “fourteen young men from the principal islands of the archipelago, from the pure indio (if there be pure ones) to the Peninsular Spaniard” decide to “celebrate” the defeat of their efforts to set up a Spanish-language school by throwing a party at the Panciteria Macanista de Buen Gusto. (Macanista is derived from the proper noun “Macao”; the Chinese in the Philippines still refer to Cantonese speakers as “Macao-a”–a reference to the port city from which Cantonese originally sailed in the early centuries of the Spanish era–much as they call people from India “Bombay-a,” regardless of place of origin.)

As shirtless Chinese waiters bring in the dishes for the four-course meal, the students laughingly dedicate the first course, soupy “pancit langlang”–made of “mushrooms, crabs or shrimp, egg noodles, sotanghun, pieces of chicken, and I don’t know what else,” the student Makaraig helpfully explains–to the sneaky, noncommittal Don Custodio. (“Langlang” in Tagalog means ingredient or spice, but “Langlang”/”Lanlang”/”Lannang” is also what the Hokkien call themselves, literally “our people”; the late historian William Henry Scott tells us that in the sixteenth century, Tagalog elders referred to pirates as “langlang.”) The other three courses are: “lumpia de chino” made of pork, crab cake, and pansit guisado. One wall of the restaurant is festooned with this versicle: “Glory be to Custodio for his cleverness and pansit on earth to the youths of good will!” If the effort to nationalize Spanish, the colonial language, is doomed to failure, a form of “national” solidarity may yet be engendered among “ilustrados” of different ethnicities and backgrounds by the simple act of eating comfort food together. It is Rizal who tells us that while the pancit is supposed to have a “Chinese or Japanese” provenance, the kind that Filipinos eat is to be found only in the Philippines.

The relative invisibility of Fujianese cuisine owes something to the mercantile profile of its emigrants and to the rugged, mountainous terrain that kept the province isolated. Ironically, this isolation has ensured that Hokkien and the other Min languages would retain vestiges of Middle Chinese (and perhaps even Old Chinese), which accounts for why Hokkien reading of Tang poetry rhymes while Mandarin Chinese does not.

Viewed in terms of the long durée, however, isolation is relative to some parts of Fujian but not to others. The Fujianese city of Quanzhou, where many of the ancestors of modern-day Chinese-Filipinos originate (Zhangzhou is the other major source of immigration to the Philippines in the early Spanish period), stands out for its long, cosmopolitan history and its cultural diversity as a contact zone between east and west and between near east and far east. Established in the 8th century as a port-city of Tang China, Quanzhou surpassed Guangdong to become the largest seaport in China during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) Dynasties, serving as the starting point of the fabled maritime Silk Road, meriting mention by Marco Polo, and acting as a springboard for Kubilai Khan’s attempted invasion of Java.

Fujian was noted in the Ming and Qing Dynasties for two important cultural achievements.  The first is Fujian’s singular success in providing the highest number—2,436—of people who attained the highest degree, jinshi, in the 276-year history of the imperial examination system that supplied the bulk of the empire’s civil bureaucracy during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The two counties of Putian near Fuzhou and Jinjiang in Quanzhou (Jinjiang happens to be the ancestral home-county of many Chinese-Filipino families) alone accounted for 493 and 368 jinshi degrees respectively, and had the largest and third largest number of jinshi degrees per capita in China. The reason for this scholastic success was that Fujian merchants could afford to hire tutors for their scions; indeed, there were Philippine Chinese like Lim Tua Co (of the Destileria Limtuaco), who attained jinshi status in the nineteenth century, and there was a Fujianese family that produced seven generations of jinshi over 200 years.   The second achievement is Fujian’s native son, Lin Shu (1852-1924), born in Fuzhou, who enjoyed a long, distinguished career in the late nineteenth century (late Qing [1644-1912] period) as China’s foremost translator who introduced Western literature into China. Although Lin Shu did not know any foreign language, he worked with bilingual collaborators to translate more than 170 literary works, many of them novels in English and to a lesser extent French, into literary Chinese, and in so doing, helped modernize Chinese thought and culture.

The coastal cities of Xiamen, Zhangzhou, and Quanzhou have thrived historically on the remittances and investment of their sojourning sons in Southeast Asia and, now, in the Anglophone Pacific countries that include the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Neglected by the socialist government, which did not bother with infrastructure-building in the 1940s to 1970s, Fujian’s Xiamen/Amoy was one of the first cities to be designated a special economic zone in 1980, followed by the capital city of Fuzhou in 1984. Close contact with Taiwan across the straits and major investment by the Hokkien diaspora since the economic reform and opening up of China in 1978 have made Fujian the ninth richest province in terms of GDP per capita in 2013.

For too long now, Chinese Filipinos have had to rely on their own family recipes, handed down from generation to generation, as well as popular Taiwanese author and television personality Fu Pei Mei’s bestselling three-volume cookbooks and special cooking classes in Southeast Asia, for their comfort food. My Angkong’s Noodles not only offers a lauriat of classic dishes from one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world, but also restores to Philippine and Southeast Asian history the Chinese Filipinos’ place in it.

 

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This essay originally appeared in “Letters to Narcissus.”

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