So I just finished reading this book earlier today ( 😮 applause for me! i actually finished reading a book after a long time of not reading one!) and thought I’d write a review while what I read is still fresh in my mind. But before I say what I think, let me tell you who I am. I normally wouldn’t, but I think it’s essential to tell you because this book is about basketball. And I’m not exactly what you would call a basketball fan.
It’s nothing personal really, I’m just not a fan of sports in general. I honestly don’t know the names of any athletes, except for really really famous ones like Tiger Woods and David Beckham, who admittedly are more famous for reasons other than the sports they play. But being Filipino, I have been of course, exposed to some form of basketball ever since I could remember. Example: Just like how the author of this book says that there’s a basketball court in every bario in the Philippines, there is of course, a basketball court in the subdivision I live in. It’s actually almost directly in front of our house, so yes, there are times when even when I’m not watching the game, I can hear the announcer on the loudspeaker from our living room. Still, despite this proximity, I never really paid attention to any of the games or the players.
My disinterest becomes even more disdainful because when I was in college, I happened to study in DLSU Manila, one of the schools in the country that’s revered for its basketball team. Add to that the fact that my brother studied in Ateneo De Manila, DLSU’s archrival. It should’ve been a riot, right? Unfortunately, of the three children of my parents, my brother was the only one who followed the games closely (my sister probably wouldn’t mind, but since she studied in UP and their basketball team isn’t a lot of fun to watch, she was pretty apathetic about it) and no sibling rivalry was amplified by the games. I’m actually sort of ashamed to admit now that I never watched any basketball game of DLSU (ever), which seems a bit like a waste since the time I was studying at DLSU was the time when the school’s team won UAAP champions for the 3rd and 4th consecutive time.
The only basketball games I ever watched were the recent ones that involved my officemates against the players from the other departments in our company. And to be honest, I only watched those games to show my friends support, and join in the fun of shouting cheers from the bleachers. It was somewhere in the midst of these games that Pacific Rims was released in bookstores, and the Youtube video of the author, Rafe Bartholomew, spread like wildfire through the internet. I guess it came at just the right time for someone like me who was just starting an interest in basketball, but has been interested in Philippine culture for as long as I can remember.
Right. A confession: What actually attracted me to the book wasn’t so much the basketball, but the chance to learn some insights about our country from an American living in Manila, and not for the usual reasons like summer vacation or to set up a business or find a wife or whatever. Since my exposure to foreigner opinion of the Philippines is limited to short and repetitive reviews about beach resorts or racist comments on YouTube, I thought, “Finally! There’s a book I can read about a foreigner’s opinion of Manila! And I guess I can learn some things about basketball, while I’m at it.”
It was with that attitude that I looked for a copy at National Bookstore in ATC. I saw one, and it was the last one on the shelf so I bought it right away, even if it’s a little expensive–Php899. (It’s Php999 in National Bookstore in Shangri-La. I have no idea why.) Anyway, I had a little time left before I had to be in the office that day so I started reading it right away. And I don’t really like to use cliches, but I have to say this: As soon as I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. This is strange because a) I’m not interested in basketball, and b) I don’t find it easy to read non-fiction. But the book is written in such a way that makes you feel like the author is just one of your friends talking to you. Also, it’s written in first person and the events are more or less chronological, so it actually felt like I was just reading a fiction story.
But let’s get to the meat of it. It’s actually a perfect book for someone like me, who doesn’t know much about Philippine basketball. Although the book is mostly about the author’s experiences as he follows around a PBA team (Alaska Aces), there are also mentions of the history and other facets of basketball in the Philippines—backgrounder stories of some of the most epic events in basketball since it started in the country, how politicians use basketball to become more popular with voters, etc. So I did get to learn more about basketball in my country (how ironic that I learn all this from a guy from New York), and I got to skip all the boring parts :).
I did however get sleepy at some parts, when an actual basketball game is being described and the words are too technical for me to understand. Truth be told, there were some stories of games where I didn’t actually know who won in the end. I mean, there are terms like “It was all net.” and I guess to a basketball fan that makes sense, and has impact, but I just found myself wondering if that was a good thing or a bad thing, and just relying on the description of the players’ reactions. But other than that, everything was just so much fun to read. From the author’s experience riding non-airconditioned buses along dirt roads in the provinces, to his “celebrity experiences” simply from being a tall white guy in an Asian country.
And what he wrote really makes my theory about the Philippines true: That we live in some sort of alternate reality where everyday events are so unusual that you can write about anything and it would seem strange to any foreigner. I mean, the book had paragraphs dedicated just to lugaw and sisig, which really isn’t interesting to me but apparently somewhat memorable for the author. Of course, I suppose all countries have their own quirks that make them unique and interesting, but I have to say that the author of this book really got a lot of things in the Philippines right. From being annoyed at a security guard for not letting him into a building just for wearing “short pants” to knowing that Filipinos get violent at basketball games because we’re tired of being cheated at everything else (like where our taxes go). I’m really impressed at his observations of Philippine culture, (maybe even more than the things he said about basketball) and I think that anyone who wants to learn more about us should read this book.
Somewhat unrelated: I think Rafe Bartholomew and Neil Gaiman should get together and have a talk about the Philippines. I know, what do sports and dark fantasy have in common, right? Well, maybe this is just my Filipino pride talking, but they are two people from the Western world who both found some things fascinating about the Philippines. For Rafe Bartholomew, it was basketball, and for Neil Gaiman, it was the folkore, which Rafe Bartholomew also mentioned briefly in his book. I think Neil Gaiman would be interested to find out that basketball games in Antique were scheduled in the early afternoons so that they’d be finished before all the manananggal came out. 😀
P.S. It endlessly entertains me that Rafe Bartholomew mentions the strange combination of movies they play in public transportation here, e.g. Rambo III would be played right after The Chronicles of Narnia during a boat ride. I’ve long wanted to write about how riding the bus has exposed me to the movies Tremors 2, 3 and 4. LOL.