Monday, August 29, 2005

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

A couple of weeks back, I had a flash of inspiration. After having written a fairly well-received article on the late Fr. Paul Chi, and because of close contact with some of the elder citizens of Dumaguete, I wondered if it wouldn't be a good idea to write a series on the history of the Chinese community in Dumaguete City.

The first order of the day was to determine if there were any such history already written, in which case I could use it as a secondary source if for some reason that I did want to pursue with the project at all. But after some inquiries it seems like the closest contender was a Dumaguete centennial souvenir written in 1989.

The most important issue, of course, was how to go about writing such a history. I am not a historian by training, I am not even on intimate terms with the histories and personalities of the local Chinese community. All that is leading me is some nebulous desire. I certainly needed some help in this area.

So this afternoon I paid the best candidate for consultant on the subject matter, Gilbert Uymatiao. I was quite impressed with Gilbert's eulogy for Fr. Chi some months ago in which he covered several core issues which I glossed over or totally missed out in my own history. I told Gilbert about the project, and his eyes simply lit up.

We sat down at his office and started going over the possibilities. Gilbert rattled off several names of people to interview, and he did so with such speed that I couldn't get any of it down. And to think that I only wanted to enlist his aid in creating an outline. It does look like I've bitten off more than I can chew on this little project.

Gilbert ticked off several interesting angles. One was the subethnic origins of the Chinese community. While majority of the Chinese in Dumaguete comes from Xiamen and the nearby highlands, there was also a Cantonese group and other folks who escape major categorization.

How did the Chinese manage to spread across Southeast Asia in the era preceding World War II? Gilbert made mention of the 13-port boat which travelled through Hong Kong, Viet Nam, Eastern Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and, of course, Manila. One point he raised was the relatively small number of Chinese in the Philippines as opposed to the Chinese in other countries. This owed to the strict immigration rules of the United States government in that time.

Really, Gilbert was on a roll. Other tidbits he dropped included trips to the cemetery to check the dates on the gravestones. On one visit, he said, he saw two people with identical dates of death. These two people were apparently killed by business rivals. One was a Chinese businessman, and the other was his loyal helper, done in under the guise of a robbery. Then there's the angle of Chinese participation in the resistance during the Japanese occupation.

Finally, Gilbert pointed me out to my own family history. Of my mother's family I am fairly familiar, but my father's side has always been a bit of a mystery. My Dad doesn't like talking about it, as I found out late this evening. It may have something to do with sordid tales of murder and other bits of skullduggery.

So really, there's a long road ahead of me on this project. It's a big project and my main fear is that I'll lose steam even before I get started. Ah, well, no recourse but to take this day by day.