A pandemic winding down

Email: danton.lodestar@gmail.com Twitter: DantonRemoto



The Manila Times



I WAS head of school of the University of Nottingham in Malaysia in 2020 when I had to come home to oversee the medical procedure for a PWD (person with disabilities) sister with eye problems. The procedure was successful, and I flew back to Kuala Lumpur on March 16, 2020. The airport was eerily quiet and only a few passengers were there. I didn’t know the country’s borders would be sealed in a few hours, and ours was the last plane to leave the Philippines. When I arrived in Malaysia, I had just moved to a new condo unit, and my former flatmate had delivered my things while I was in the Philippines. I arranged the condo unit for one whole day, and the next day, March 17, the lockdown in Malaysia also began. I was lucky I had moved to the flat a day before the lockdown. There was a supermarket nearby, and a pharmacy in front of my condo building. I could go out if I needed to buy food or medicines. Those were the only trips outside the house that was allowed by the authorities. I continued doing online teaching at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia, where I taught a creative writing workshop and a class on Popular Literature of the 19th Century to postgraduate students. I had to learn to do online lessons quickly using Microsoft Team and held school meetings online. All my life, I have not been averse to changes in technology and education. When I was the interim president of The Manila Times College (vice Dr. Isagani Cruz, who had been ill), I advocated the use of blended learning. University administrators are a derided lot, but our job is to harmonize everything together, like conductors in a symphony concert. It all begins with finances. So I checked the list of students who had dropped out and emailed them if they could return to school. They dropped out mostly to work at call centers and didn’t have the time to physically attend classes. So I prepared modules for them, asked them to enroll, write papers and take a final exam. Several of them accepted my offer. The modules were delivered online, the papers received comprehensive feedback one-on-one, and the final exams were taken in school. At the Ateneo de Manila University, where I taught full-time for 20 years and part-time for 10 years, I had also used multimedia platforms even before they became the norm. I asked my students to watch “Il Postino” (The Postman), on the life of the Nobel Prize winner for literature Pablo Neruda, in our class on Introduction to Poetry. Guide questions were given before the film showing, as well as a short introduction to film as a series of moving images. I brought my class to the excellent Ateneo Art Gallery to look at paintings and write about one that moved them. “Moved them” is not just a vague term in my class on poetry. It meant writing at least a page of words on how the colors of the painting, the angle of vision created impressions in their mind. I said that colors are to paintings what words are to poems: try to touch the pulses that throbbed in both painting and poem. When we discussed the haiku, I also asked my students to draw the haiku that they had researched on. I forbade them to use modern haiku but to stick to the traditional ones. For to draw the haiku with their own hand (I did not allow computer graphics) was to immerse themselves in the text. They had to use their imagination to create pictures in their mind, which is one definition of poetry. Moreover, I asked my students to watch “Cinema Paradiso,” another prize-winning film, for the class on Introduction to Fiction. Likewise, guide questions were given before the film showing, as well as a short introduction on film as storytelling. I also asked my students to watch Japanese anime and read Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels. Moreover, I introduced texts heretofore unread in the classrooms. One of them was Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves,” which I began teaching at Ateneo de Manila University when I came back from my studies in the UK in 1990. I passed around copies of this modern fable, and pretty soon, many other teachers were using it in their classes. In the students’ minds, another world had opened. In life, we have to adjust, to accept how quickly things change. *** Isabel Allende also has wise words to say about what this pandemic has taught us. “This pandemic has taught me to free myself from things. It has never been so clear to me that I need very little to live. I don’t need to buy, I don’t need more clothes, I don’t need to go anywhere, or travel, now I see I have too much. I don’t need more than two dishes! Then I started to realize who the true friends are and the people I want to be with.” When asked about the teaching of the pandemic, she said: “We’re all connected, and that’s evidence of the tribal idea that we’re separated by groups and that we can defend our small group from other groups is an illusion. There are no walls, or walls that can separate people. The virus has brought a new mindset and today, a large number of people — among them creators, artists, scientists, young men and women — are moving toward a new normal. They don’t want to go back to old normality. “The virus invited us to design a new future. What do we dream for ourselves as global humanity? I realized we came into the world to lose everything. The more you live, the more you lose. First you lose your parents or very sweet people, your pets, some places and then slowly, your own mental and physical faculties. “We can’t live in fear. Fear stimulates a future that makes living in the present a dark experience. We need to relax and appreciate what we have and live in the present.”