Tuesday, January 07, 2020

100,000-plus visits and 460,000-plus page views: Thanks for browsing this blog!

Early today, my website tracker Statcounter reported that this blog has been visited more than 100,000 times. And according to Blogger.com stats, this blog now has more than 460,000 page views.

I started this blog in 2005 as part of my “Legal Issues and Family Matters” website. My goal in creating this blog was to write about (1) lessons on photojournalism for high school and college students and (2) topics relevant to students.

Shooting black-and-white photographs

My RHS Class '92 students (Leili,
Stevenson, and Daniel) in our
makeshift darkroom
I was a journalism teacher and yearbook adviser in Rizal High School in Pasig City from 1984 up to 1996. (In the 1990s, Rizal High School was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest high school in the world, with enrollment reaching as high as 26,000 students.) During my time in Rizal High School, I organized the Mini Press Conference from 1984 to 1991, a yearly conference attended by some 300 students from about a dozen public and private high schools in Metro Manila.

During that time, I also took more than 10,000 pictures (mostly black-and-white) with my beloved Canon AE-1 Program SLR camera and Vivitar zoom lenses. I started with films such as Negrapan (made in Barcelona, Spain) and the locally-packaged Colpan. I also tried Ilford HP 5, but later on, I primarily used Kodak Tri-X Pan because it was used exclusively by my idol, Sebastiao Salgado, the world’s best photojournalist.

Together with my students, I processed the black-and-white films and printed the pictures in our school’s makeshift darkroom. I used the cheap, locally-manufactured Atlas developer and fixer; for the photo paper, I primarily used Grade 3 Oriental or Agfa Portriga.

From photojournalism book to photojournalism blog

Based on some of the pictures that I took, I wrote a book on photojournalism way back in 1997. For the next two to three years, I went to numerous book publishers trying to get my book published, but to no avail. The book publishers told me that there was no market for the book.

In 2001 or 2002, a company called Pyra Labs created the “weblog,” a new platform for writing on the Internet. Pyra Labs was later on bought out by Google, which then transformed the “weblog” into the Blogger platform.

After studying basic HTML, I started this blog and several others in 2005. I rewrote the chapters of my photojournalism book so that they would fit the blog post format. I wrote 40 lessons on photojournalism for this blog. You can find the links to these lessons in the sidebar; in the post titled “Photojournalism: Introduction,” I wrote in more detail about how I learned about photography.

Since then, I have been editing these lessons to keep them up to date with developments in digital photography. I have also embedded relevant YouTube videos in some posts. (As I told a young photographer I met at the Rainforest Park in Pasig City, the techniques of photographic composition are the same whether he’s into film-based photography or digital photography.)

Synopses of Korean historical dramas

In 2014, I decided to broaden this blog’s goal by writing synopses of Korean historical dramas. The first two dramas I wrote about were “Empress Ki” and “The King’s Doctor.” I have now written 26 spoiler-free synopses of Korean historical dramas and movies.

This blog’s most-popular post is my synopsis of the 2016 hit “The Flower in Prison” which has more than 50,000 views. (Most Filipinos are not familiar with this 51-episode drama because it has not been shown on any local TV network.) Episode 8 of the drama had just been aired on Korean television when I decided to catch up and write a weekly synopsis for each of the remaining episodes.

In 2019, I wrote the synopses for “Haechi,” “Joseon Gunman,” “Bridal Mask” (aka “Gaksital”), and “Iron Empress.” I also started writing and posting the synopsis of “The Duo” (a 2011 critical and commercial hit), but I haven’t found the time or motivation to complete it.

Being a photographer, I love art, and so, I’ve been wanting to write the synopses for two Korean historical dramas that deal with art — “Painter of the Wind” and “Goddess of Fire.” Who knows, maybe I’ll get to write about these dramas in the future ...

“Dong Yi” (2010)
In Korea, “Jumong” was aired in 2006-2007, while “Dong Yi” was aired in 2010; both dramas became worldwide hits. A year after their respective Korean broadcasts, “Jumong” and “Dong Yi” were aired by GMA 7; they became blockbuster hits among Filipino viewers, especially “Jumong.” In 2017, I hesitated in writing my synopses of “Jumong” and “Dong Yi” because I didn’t know if people around the world were still interested in these dramas. But now, I’m happy because the Blogger.com stats show that my synopsis of “Jumong” has more 17,000 page views, while my synopsis of “Dong Yi” has more than 13,000 page views.

I’ve written synopses for four Korean movies, namely, “The Royal Tailor” (starring Park Shin-hye), “Masquerade” (ninth highest-grossing movie in Korean film history), “A Taxi Driver,” and “26 Years.” (The last two movies deal with the 1980s Gwangju Uprising.) The most-visited synopsis is that of “The Royal Tailor”; if you love heartbreaking romance or fashion as art, then you should watch this movie.

Based on my synopses of Korean historical dramas, I have written three related resources:

(1) Photography lessons based on Korean historical dramas

(2) Relationship tips from Korean historical dramas

(3) Interactive English grammar exercises based on Korean historical dramas

Discovering my love for Literature

My graduation photo from
Mandaluyong Elementary School
(2nd picture above)
After learning to speak, read, and write in English from my teachers in Mandaluyong Elementary School in the 1960s, I began reading voraciously. After waking up in the morning, I would go to the house of the Chinese business tycoon for whom my father worked as a chauffeur and read all the newspapers delivered there daily — Manila Times, Philippine Herald, etc. In the afternoons after my classes, I would wait for the Evening Post to be delivered and then read it.

Of course, as a kid, I loved the comics section more than anything in the newspapers; I loved “Mandrake the Magician,” “Phantom,” “Modesty Blaise,” and others. (From “Mandrake,” I learned the word “chivalry,” while from “Wonder Woman,” I learned the word “avalanche.”) They inspired me to begin writing my own story in English based on the Filipino comics character “Palos.”

The tycoon had two rooms in his garage filled from floor to ceiling with magazines such as Life, Saturday Evening Post, Popular Mechanics, and Reader’s Digest. I also found there copies of the comic book “Tintin.” On weekends, I oftentimes spent the whole day inside those rooms, reading everything.

When I graduated from Mandaluyong Elementary School, I was awarded a 4-year scholarship to Rizal High School in Pasig, which was then the provincial high school. I remember going to the school library for the very first time, asking to take out a book “The Little Colonel” for my home reading report. The library became my hangout throughout my high school years; another place that became my hangout in the afternoons was the provincial library, a stone's throw away from the town plaza.

Along with science, English continued to be my favorite subject. All throughout high school, we used for our English classes the literature textbooks (“Panorama”) by Celso Al. Carunungan and a series titled “Prose and Poetry.” These books were a treasure trove for me; I remember reading from them “How My Brother Leon Brought Home A Wife” by Manuel Arguilla and a story by Alejandro Roces, the title of which escapes me right now.

(From Carunungan’s textbook, I remember reading a footnote about the book “Crucible” by Yay Panlilio in which she chronicled her life with the famous World War 2 guerrilla leader Agustin “Marking” Valdez. It fascinated me because, all throughout my childhood, my father told me stories about his experiences with the Marking’s Guerrillas, especially in the Ipo Dam Campaign. But sadly, I haven’t had the opportunity to read “Crucible.”)

Because of my love for reading books, newspapers, and magazines, I learned a lot about general information and current events. Thus, in the 1970s, I joined quiz contests on television such as IQ7 of Channel 7 and Pamantayan ng Talino of Channel 4. The photo above shows some of the other guys who joined quiz contests such as Vic Saymo, Dick Acacio, Jake Maderazo, Ed Garvida, Angelito Gabriel, Esmie Tellerva, Cisco Pangilinan, and Jim Bilasano.

Not in the photo are the best-known guys in quiz contests: Bong Barrameda and Jose Ramon Lorenzo.
In my junior year, the journalism teacher (Miss Consolacion Constantino) took me under her wings. She assigned me to cover sports events and then patiently corrected the articles that I submitted. But none of my articles were good enough to be published in our schoolpaper.

After graduating from Rizal High School in 1973, I qualified for an engineering scholarship in UP Diliman. In my freshman year, I saw fraternity rumbles and lightning rallies by students against martial law along the corridors of Palma Hall (or simply “AS”). I also saw an old guy who hung out on the AS Bridge with the freshmen guys from San Beda and Ateneo. One time, I saw that old guy at the back of the Chem pavilion, drinking with some other guys; when I wondered aloud about who that old guy could be, my classmate exclaimed, “That's Danny Purple!

I lost my scholarship when I failed Math 53 and Physics 41. Not knowing what course to take instead of engineering, I sought advice from the guidance and counseling office in Vinzons Hall. After the counselor reviewed my UPCAT scores (96 percentile rank in English and 94 percentile rank in science), she told me to consider either English or medicine as a course.

From UP Diliman (with a stopover in another college), I transferred to Philippine Christian University where I enrolled in the AB English program. I enjoyed the literature classes, especially the poetry classes; later, I became president of the English Club.

My Advanced Composition professor oftentimes started each class by reading a selection from the book “People” by Bob Garon. Later, I bought my own copy of “People” and began cutting out and collecting Garon’s newspaper columns.

I also bought the book “Adventures in a Forgotten Country” by Kerima Polotan, then and now, the country’s best writer of informal essays. I read through her essays, some of which are “Tarlac Dike,” “The Young Father,” and “Grandma Goes To School.” (I don’t remember if her essay “The Happy Hoi Polloi” came from this book.)

I read the short stories “Dead Stars” by Paz Marquez Benitez, “Blue Skull and Dark Palms” by N.V.M. Gonzales, and “Tomorrow is a Downhill Place” by Erwin Castillo. I read Nick Joaquin’s short stories “May Day Eve,” “Candido’s Apocalypse,” and “The Order of Melchizedek.” I bought a copy of his novella “The Woman Who Had Two Navels” and carried it around all the time. During those times, I also carried around the book “Words of Science” by Isaac Azimov; his discussions on the etymology of words and phrases were fascinating. (To impress my fellow English majors, I also carried around “The Problem of Pain” by CS Lewis.)

Although I loved poetry, essays, and short stories (like “One With Shakespeare” by Martha Foley), I didn’t have a deep interest in reading novels. I couldn’t finish “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser; I just skimmed “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand; I read almost through “Of Human Bondage” by W. Somerset Maugham but couldn’t understand what it was all about; and I only read the “Grand Inquisitor” chapter of “Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoeyevsky.

The only novels that I read completely were “Exodus” and “Battle Cry” by Leon Uris, “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, “The Day of the Jackal” by Frederick Forsyth, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers, and “Cry, The Beloved Country” by Alan Paton.

I frequented numerous libraries such as the Thomas Jefferson Library in Araneta Avenue in Quezon City; the Asian Library in Roxas Boulevard; the Mass Com library in Rizal Park; the PACE library in Mandaluyong which was later on transferred to Cubao; and of course, the National Library. I remember reading “Split Level Christianity” by Fr. Jaime Bulatao in the Asian Library and the short story “The Artist of the Beautiful” by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the Thomas Jefferson Library.

In 1986, as I was preparing to take the entrance exam to the UP College of Law — the Law Aptitude Exam or simply LAE — I went to the Mass Com Library to review for the vocabulary section of the exam by reading books and magazines. I came across the word “egregious,” and to my pleasant surprise, that word appeared in the LAE. After the exam, I overheard a lot of people cursing the LAE, with some saying that they had not come across the word “egregious” before. Several months later, the results came out, and among those who passed the exam, I was ranked number 4. (Some of the other people in the top 10 were Melina Almase, Joel Yuvienco, and Gerald Baldivia.)

My journey as a writer

March 2018, I revisited UP Diliman for a 4-day MCLE seminar. Some scenes
have not changed in almost 45 years after my freshman days there.
In 1973, my very first subject in UP Diliman was English I and II, a five-unit course with Dr. Thelma Kintanar as my professor. When Dr. Kintanar went on leave for about a week, the professor who took over asked our class to write essays on any topic we wanted to write about; I was a big fan of Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and Carole King, and so I wrote about music. Later, when the professor returned our essays, she exempted me and two other students from rewriting our essays; I got the highest grade of 1.5. (Of the two other students who were exempted, one became a medical doctor and the other one, a justice of the Court of Appeals.)

In 1976 (when I was 19 years old), I became the charter president of a Kiwanis youth club known as the Circle K Club of Pasig. For about two years, our club kept in touch with our mother club composed of the adult Kiwanians from Pasig, even though our activities and projects were separate. Later on, however, we found out that our mother club was no longer active.

Somebody else had taken over from me as the club president, but in order to help the club, I went to the main office of the Kiwanis Philippines in Shangrila Makati and submitted a letter detailing our club’s history and asking the district governor to assign to us another mother club. Later on, when I met the governor (the president of an insurance company), he told me that my letter was well-written and that he would have it published in the district’s newsletter. After the meeting, I thought, “Really, my letter was well-written?”

In 1977, I got a reply-letter from Angie, a Manila Science High School graduate who was my Chem 17 classmate in UP Diliman. In that letter, she told me that I had flawless grammar and could express myself clearly. Looking back now, her comment made me realize that I had some talent for writing. Posted at the bottom portion of this post is a copy of that letter.

Click to view a bigger copy.
At the Philippine Christian University, I still didn’t know whether I had the talent for writing, although my Advanced Composition professor sometimes read for the class my compositions, and I got a grade of 1.25 in an Asian-poetry interpretation exam. (After 40-plus years, I still have that exam booklet, and I still read it from time to time.)

I began to write down on a steno pad original phrases or expressions that came to my mind, such things as “stubble of unfulfilled promise” and “I’ve had so many turning points in life that I'm now turning around in circles.”

While taking my Education units in Philippine Normal College in 1980-81, I wrote articles that I submitted, using a pen name, to the “Letters To The Editor” section of newspapers and magazines.

I applied for a part-time writing job for a Binondo-based newspaper that catered to students, but it was an embarrassing experience. It took me a whole day to write one news item, and then the editor pointed out so many of my errors. The next day, I quit.

Because of my interest in quiz contests, I wrote two or three quiz-type articles that were published in the magazines MOD and Mr. & Ms.

Click to view a bigger copy.
In 1983, I wrote for the “Sidestreets” magazine an exposé of a religious cult that published its materials in a broadsheet. In 1985 or 1986, I began contributing articles for the religion section of the broadsheet Daily Express, thanks to the section editor F. C. Borlongan.

For my masteral thesis, I began researching and writing on the topic “The Schoolteacher as Portrayed in Philippine Short Stories in English.” In my research, I found out that it was Bienvenido Santos who wrote the most number of short stories with schoolteachers as the main character; his best story about a teacher was “Dear Miss Samonte.” I also found out that in Kerima Polotan’s short story “The Sounds of Sunday,” her main character “Emma Gorrez” was a schoolteacher.

(Years before I started working on my thesis, I already knew that the main characters in two of the most well-known Philippine short stories in English were schoolteachers — Miss Noel in “Visitation of the Gods” by Gilda Cordero-Fernando and Mr. Reteche in “Zita” by Arturo B. Rotor.)

I wasn’t able to get my master’s degree, but I rewrote my proposed thesis into a magazine article. Sometime in 1984 or 1985, the article was published by Kerima Polotan in her magazine Focus Philippines. As far as I could tell, Kerima Polotan did not edit any of my words, and later on, I got paid for the article. That was quite an experience! (It’s just too bad that I lost my only copy of that Focus magazine.)

RHS yearbooks that I designed
In the 1990s when I was working on the yearbooks of Rizal High School, I oftentimes listened to country music to inspire me. I also remember taping the songs from the cult movie classic “Eddie and The Cruisers” and listening to “Tender Years” over and over again.

In terms of writing style, my greatest influences were A. W. Tozer, Max Lucado, and Philip Yancey. I’ve got about a dozen books by Yancey, (for example, “Reaching Out To The Invisible God,” “In His Image,” and “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made“). I don’t agree with everything that Yancey says in his books, but he is a brilliant writer.

In 2011, however, I adopted the Plain English style of writing. Since then, my goal in writing my blog posts has been to write as simply and as clearly as possible.

What does the future hold for me and this blog?

I continue to learn about writing; presently, I’m reading the book “Style, Toward Clarity and Grace” by Joseph Williams. Based on what I’m learning from this book, I’m revisiting my blog posts and improving them.

I don’t know if I will still be writing about photojournalism or synopses of Korean historical dramas. But I want to thank all of you for visiting this blog.