Why a Filipina is affected by Cecelia Ahern’s The Book of Tomorrow?

I am a fan of Cecelia Ahern. I started reading her books last year, starting with There’s No Place Like Here, PS I Love You, Love, Rosie and The Gift. I haven’t read her entire collections but I’m really amazed by her writing style. Ahern just know to weave sadness, happiness, grief, learning and magic in one overflowing masterpiece.

I just read her latest book in 2010, The Book of Tomorrow. I’m giving my personal review of the book and some sentiments over my nationality. Read my full review to find out how these two factors become intertwined.

The novel is about Tamara Godwin, a teenager who was once endowed with all those material wealth in life. Tamara’s secured and comfy life soon vanished when her father ends up committing suicide. Tamara never knew that her father was suffering from a financial dilemma. The death of Tamara’s father was not the limit of her misery.  In order to pay for all the debts he incurred, they have to give up their house in Dublin and other assets. Grieving and homeless, Tamara and her mom ended up moving to a far away province in Meath. Tamara and her mother moved with Arthur and Rosaleen, whom she knew as family friends.

Adjusting life away from the city, having a depressed mother who doesn’t speak and being housed with a mysterious couple led the evolution of the story. A change in Tamara’s life in Meath was further influenced with the arrival of the traveling library. A padlocked book, which happens to be a diary, came to her possession. Imagine having a diary where you could read the things that are just about to happen tomorrow. The entries in the diary, Tamara’s struggle of making her mom return to her normal life, the dark secrets kept by Rosaleen, and the nasty adventures of a curious teenager, all combined to wheel the story.

The diary was very instrumental in the novel. However, I find some lacking details over the diary. In particular, the novel did not give me sufficient justification of where did it really come from. All that was mentioned was it came from the traveling library. Why did the diary land to Tamara’s hands?  What was the magic that causes the diary to unravel the untold tomorrow?

The earlier part of the novel had a sluggish start. However, the chain of events, mysteries, revelations and all those questions left unanswered will make you become hooked over the story.

The magical element in every Ahern’s story is very evident in this piece. From the diary, to the mysterious castle and the real identity of Tamara, Rosaleen, Arthur and the people living in the house across the street, each of them has their own story to be told.

The story went almost to its near perfection except for its concluding parts. The ending piece of the novel almost resembled the plot of a typical Filipino soap opera.  Common endings of soap operas in the Philippines would reveal unknown family ties and relationships. The protagonist is the child of the antagonist. The antagonist and the protagonists are siblings. The protagonist or the antagonist was only an adopted child. The father of the protagonist and the mother of the antagonist used to be lovers. The antagonist has a hidden love to one of the family members of the protagonist. These are usual trends among Filipino soap operas.

When I found out that Tamara was the daughter of mysterious man living across the street,  Rosaleen was the daughter of a servant who fell in love with her master’s son, The master’s son was the brother of Arthur and the real father of Tamara, Arthur was the knight in shining armor of Rosaleen whom she doesn’t really love, and Jennifer (the mother of Rosaleen) has been hiding something from the real identity of Tamara; all of these outcomes made me feel like I am watching the ending of a 30-minute daily soap opera.

Unconsciously, I am comparing Ahern’s work to a typical story line of a soap opera in the Philippines. This now reminds me that I have one major concern and question to Ms. Cecelia Ahern.

Part of the story’s character line up was Tamara’s Filipino nanny named Mae. Except for the fact that Tamara remembered Mae for loving to watch those crime related shows,  no disgusting accusations were made about the Filipinos.

I hope this entry or my query would personally reach Ms. Cecelia Ahern. I also hope that she would provide an honest response. Is it really necessary to name a Filipino nanny in the novel? If I were to be asked, I think the novel could survive without making a specific mention as Tamara having a Filipino nanny. The story could evolve with Tamara having a nanny. Mae, being portrayed as a Filipino, has nothing to do or influence with the development of the story. What is really the point of having to emphasize Mae as a Filipino nanny?

Why of all nationalities in the world, Ahern chose to identify the nanny as a Filipino? What prompted her to make Tamara’s nanny as a Filipino? Did Ahern personally have a Filipino nanny? Did she somehow have the same experience with Tamara on having a Filipino nanny?

I am making these questions because I am a Filipino. I am bothered when other foreign nationalities demean us just because a number of my countrymen are forced to accept all the low skilled but decent jobs abroad.  

I know for a fact that a significant number of our labor populace is comprised by the Overseas Workers. Perhaps, a greater percentage of them work as household helpers. Being a household helper or a nanny is an occupation which other nationalities may consider as a low skilled job. I am however not ashamed of my fellow Filipinos, who are forced to accept these jobs, in order to decently live and uplift their families. What affects me is how other nationalities could belittle my fellow countrymen who have the purest intention of giving their families a better TOMORROW.

Before other nationalities and other writers would tag or impliedly label as a nation of nannies, please be fair and consider our story too.  Do you think that our Filipino overseas workers would still work abroad if they have a better life in our homeland?

I am thankful of my countrymen who were forced to become nannies because they are showing to the world the honest, dedicated and kind hearted Filipinos. I’m sure that people will agree that the best nannies and workers in the world should also possess those unadulterated traits. I am saddened over some people  who couldn’t see and appreciate the efforts and sacrifices of my hardworking countrymen.

To Ms. Ahern and all the other writers in the world, the words that your pen are producing are both constructively and destructively powerful. Given this power and freedom, please choose the constructive path.  Your Filipino audience would love you more if you would choose to uplift my countrymen who only have the purest intention of sacrificing to have their own better BOOK OF TOMORROW.

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I don’t want to become the BIG WINNER!

Early this year, I went malling with my college friend, Gracie. We spent the day window shopping, eating and a making lot of catching up stories.  I was astonished when she told me that she already transferred to a new company. She is now working in a government agency, that is just blocks away from my work place.

I never expected that she would leave her previous employer. When we once had dinner like two to three years ago, she was telling me how happy she was with her group of officemates. Though the salary and opportunities were not that promising, she remained loyal with her previous employer.

Eventually, Gracie admitted to me that it was her friends who really influenced her to stay. I cannot recall her exact number of friends. As far as I can remember, they were 8 happy people rolled in one group. They have lunches, sleepovers and all those work adventures. Eventually, those 8 people were reduced to like 5 members. Resignation and transfer to better companies were the primary causes of their separation. Gracie even told me that she can feel the desire of her other friends to look for better jobs and they could understand each other. Gracie once joked to me that in the end, she doesn’t want to be the big winner among her friends. Being the big winner meant being the last person to be left in the workplace.

My friend Anne also surprised me with her career move.  We went employed after graduation in the same month. We are perhaps the few people in the world who remained with our first employers for six years. Anne works in a local universal bank and is now transferring to a high-end international bank. She will start on her new work tomorrow and if you are reading this my friend, I am wishing you a big good luck! With all your talent and perseverance, I know you will become an asset to them.

My simplest intention of writing this piece is to shout out Gracie’s conviction, “I DON’T WANT TO BECOME THE BIG WINNER TOO!”

I am not saying that I am in the worst workplace condition. I still love my job and my workplace. My job still permits me to write and teach (a job which I have a love hate relationship). However, I am haunted by the idea of trying to move out of my comfort zone and explore other possible opportunities in the industrial sector. I want to meet other people, go to different places and try out other line of work.

However, these things are always easier said than done. The idea of transferring to another job requires a lot of considerations, the nature of work, pay,  location, etc.

I am now learning something unwritten. School and books  never taught me that the more you stay in your workplace, the more it will be difficult for you to leave it. This situation makes me become more attached to my comfort zone which obviously makes it more harder for me to get detached from it.

But on top of everything, if God is listening, please…. Don’t make me the big winner!

But if you will make me the big winner, please make me a happy and not a miserable big winner…

I have friends from all over the world! But how?

I was cleaning my room over the weekends when I notice a pile of neatly arranged letters in one of my cabinet drawers. They are letters coming from different continents and I started to receive them when I was still 14 years old.

I have been keeping these letters for more than 10 years. These letters came from my penfriends from Thailand, Brunei, Korea, Brazil, Germany, Mauritius and Tanzania. And I am proud to say that once in my life, I was able to gain friends from all over the world with just these letters.

If you have heard of International Youth Service (IYS), you could understand what I am relating here.

For those who are not familiar, IYS is a company established in Turku, Finland in 1952. The company maintains a database of young adults aged 10 to 20 years old. Teen-agers who want to have penfriends from other countries are the target customers of IYS.

A form, which requires you to enter your personal information (such as name, age, birthdate, hobbies and address) and your penfriend preference (age, country and gender), serves as your main gateway to avail of the service of IYS. For a minimum fee of $1.10, IYS will match your preference to a potential penfriend from their database.  The process of matching the right penfriend is fast because of the database. What lengthens the process is the sending of the matched penfriends through snail mail.

The good thing about IYS is the presence of after sales service. In case, the penfriend they gave you does not reply, IYS would be providing you another potential penfriend. You just have to inform them (again through snail mail) about the non-response of your requested penfriend.

So how did IYS reach me? When I was in second year high school, our Asian History subject required us to have penfriends from other Asian countries. The idea of the project was for us to learn the history, culture and traditions of another Asian country through letter writing. It was my friend and companion, Sheryl, who introduced me to IYS. She showed and explained to me the concept of IYS and I easily bought the idea. At that time, I was still an active Philatelist (aka stamp collector). Hence, having someone to exchange letters abroad encouraged me more to engage in this penfriend activity.

I initially requested and paid for a possible penfriend from Thailand. I chose Thailand because it was the country assigned to our section for the Asian Festival. The Asian Festival is a traditional activity of the second year Koolasas or Scholasticans from Marikina, during my time. And I am now giving myself a reminisce of my high school life!

Atcharee Bulyalert from Chiangmai, Thailand was my first foreign penfriend. We are of the same age and we exchanged letters until I was in college. Unfortunately, we no longer write letters to each other today. I am now regretting our lost communication and friendship. I’ve been searching her name in different social networking sites, but everything went unsuccessful. How I wish I could still reconnect with her. She sent me post cards of Thailand and related to me interesting events in their country.

Atcharee was the first person who taught me that tourism is one of the life savers of a drowning economy. It was the period of the Asian Financial Crisis when we were exchanging letters. It is normally not easy for anyone to admit that your own country is suffering economically. Atcharee could have written to me other topics.  But she was positively different.  She chose to relate to me the truth about their economic depression and their government’s efforts of strengthening the tourism industry. She introduced to me their famous tourism marketing program, Amazing Thailand. Though honestly, it took me until college to fully understand the concept of using the tourism industry as a pump priming activity for a drenching economy.

My other memorable penfriend was Azlinawaty Binti Jaini or Azlina from Brunei. She was a Muslim and I was initially blinded by the idea of their conservative culture. But I was surprised to learn that we shared the same love for Backstreet Boys, Boyzone, 911 and those other American boy bands. Most of our letter conversations emerged from our favorite western artists. Though she was a Muslim, I was somehow shocked the first time she sent me a Christmas card. A Muslim giving me Christmas wishes! I don’t see anything wrong about it. In fact I appreciate it because it makes me feel that they also value the feasts and celebrations of other religions. It’s just that I initially thought that they are forbidden to do such things. Similar to Atcharee, I lost communication with Azlina. I’ve been searching for her on social networking sites but I got no positive results.

How could I also forget my Korean penfriends! Unfortunately again, I don’t anymore communicate with them. If that time, I was able to forecast the Korean invasion in the Philippines, then I might have a different story to be told. Hehehehehehe! Though seriously, generosity is something I cannot forget from my Korean penfriends. One of them even gave me a fancy silver necklace that I have worn in my entire high school life. Another Korean penfriend also gave me Korean stamps after telling her that I am a keen collector.

My original intention was to write about IYS. But as you could see, I related much of my penfriend experiences. Too talkative of me!

The real reason why I am actually writing these things is to express my sadness over the closure of IYS. Upon search in the internet, I learned that IYS closed operations last June 30, 2008. In the company’s last statement, they pointed out the lack of enough young people who are interested in penfriendship. The internet and other technology tools have led to a situation where exchanging letters through snail mail became old fashioned and unpopular.

Honestly, I feel that exchanging letters is not an old fashion thing. I still exchange letters with one of my classmates back in college, who now enjoys life in Australia. Although today we use email instead of snail mail. But not everyone is sharing the same perceptions and feelings with me. We have twitter, chat and those other tools that will make communication fast and convenient. The emergence of social networking sites also makes its easier and free for people to search for other possible friends abroad.

I am regretting the opportunity for other teenagers to experience having friends from other countries with the practice of preparing letters with your own handwriting. The excitement and happiness I felt whenever I receive mails and going to the post office on weekends form my fondest, unadulterated, growing up memories. I would also like to believe that my writing skills were practiced and sharpened through these letters.

To the people who made IYS possible, thank you for the opportunity and thank you for becoming a part of my growing up years. To my lost penfriends, I hope you are enjoying life more than I do. I wish that one day our paths would cross again and when that day comes, I hope you will still remember me. It’s Diane here, your  Filipino penfriend!