Crossing cultures

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Jan 2 2011

By Kane Errol Choa

Kane Errol ChoaAll my life, I thought I was Filipino until I reached college.

I thought all Filipinos had chinky eyes, ate siomai for snacks, and labored for years studying Chinese history in Mandarin. Not until I met my classmates in first year college did I realize these misconceptions.

After all, I spent 13 years of elementary and high school life in a Chinese school and grew up with friends who had similar cultural backgrounds. My whole world changed when I went to UST to pursue a degree in Communication Arts.

My first year in UST was a cultural re-awakening. I soon realized that many of my classmates had not heard of Chinese snacks like “hakaw” (shrimp dumplings), radish cake and other dimsum. And I was totally clueless about “pancit molo” and I only discovered “bopis” when my friends introduced it to me at Lopez Canteen along P. Noval Street one afternoon after our PE session at the gymnasium.

Never mind the hepatitis scare that plagued the P. Noval food establishments at that time. It didn’t stop me from trying the sautéed meat dish cooked in tomato sauce. My friends cajoled me into eating it and informed me after that it was made out of pig’s brain. Good thing I didn’t puke.

While I was experiencing “culture shock” in my first year in AB, I was learning about it in sociology class under Prof Josephine Aguilar, who never failed to amaze us with her entertaining and enriching lessons. At least, it helped me assimilate with my new friends and re-discover my ethnic identity as a Chinese Filipino.

I began to realize that I was the only one in class who could write Chinese characters and have a Chinese name. And they all thought I was a genius in mathematics just because of my ethnic roots. Not to mention, everyone asked for “tikoy” during the lunar new year.

Soon enough, I got used to, or should I say assimilated, as how Prof Aguilar taught us. When I became a part-time professor, I realized that the culture shock I experienced was shared by the few Chinese Filipino students as they would tell me in conversations after class. At times, they would engage with me in a conversation using our dialect, hokkien, in class and those around would be so amused listening because they are reminded of their favorite “chinovelas” like Meteor Garden.

And it always happened in the past 15 years of teaching Communication Arts and Journalism students. From the time my students appeared like my juniors in college to the time now that they are old enough to be my children, only if I became a batang ama in college.

Through the years, I didn’t just experience cultural changes, but I also saw technological changes in education. Week after week, I traveled to España Street and taught media students from the era when students used chalks and blackboards or wrote on manila paper for reporting and presentations to the new era when students utilize PowerPoint presentations and edit their own videos.

In college, we had to queue the public phones at the lobby of St Raymunds Building when we had to make a call. We made prior agreements with classmates for meetings, rehearsals, and activities. We had to search through card catalogues at the UST Central Library to find the references we needed. We had to endure the long brownouts that hit the country in the early 90s and studied in candle-lit classrooms because there were no power generators yet. And we had to shell out money to shoot and edit for our video projects.

It’s different nowadays. Students bring their own mobile phones, send group SMS or use social networking sites, and share notes and files online. If they don’t want to search in UST’s Lorenzo web catalogue, they could just Google or search the Internet for information. They no longer need to worry about power failures these days. And they could now shoot video using camera phones and edit them straight in their laptops.

Despite these changes, what remained the same through the years is the brand of education that UST gives to its students. It sowed the same seeds of learning and thinking from my professors’ time, to my time, and to my students’ time---the same foundation that helped us all achieved our goals in life. V

*Kane Choa is the PR chief of ABS-CBN. He was a Features writer of the Varsitarian from 1992-1994.