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FIELDNOTES: A Bikolano in Busan

Tito Genova Valiente

By the time you read this, I am already in Busan, South Korea. I am attending the 23rd Busan International Film Festival, reputedly the biggest film festival in the region upon the invitation of the Film Development Council of the Philippines in partnership with the Busan International Film Festival. Busan is in South Korea, a country that young people now only know because of the so-called “Hallyu” wave, the phenomenon of (South) Korean arts and music spreading all over Asia and the rest of the world. In our city, the number of people rushing home or, at home, dropping whatever they are doing, to catch the latest love story from South Korea is a phenomenon in itself. The wave or craze has popularized the culture and food of the said country to the point that we have almost entirely changed our notion of male and female pulchritude. Fans of South Korean actors may not like what I am about to say but in less than a decade, I know of young women – and young men as well – who are passionate in their ardor for these Korean men who look prettier than any of the prettiest women in the local scene. There are, in fact, tips and products to use so that our men can transform themselves into Korean men – white, pallid face and fashion that blurs the line between the masculine from the feminine. Few members of this generation are perhaps aware how South Korea or simply Korea has had a distinct historical relationship with the Philippines. It was in 1950, some few five years after the end of the Second World War, when the Korean War took place. The simplistic account points to the rise of communism in certain parts of the country. Fresh from its victory in the Pacific war and theEuropean campaign, the United States rose once more, as the Americans put it, “in defense of democracy. The 1950s ushered in the beginning of the Cold War. The world had been divided: US was the leader of the Free world and Russia was the feared nemesis. China was not yet a force that it is now. Fightings raged for months. The Philippines sent its own contingent – the legendary 10th BCT. Our soldiers were at war once more. An old photograph shows a send-off of the young men as they prepared to cross the sea into Korea, for there was only one Korea then. A young war correspondent – all of 17 years of age, according to documents – was relentless in recording the valor of our soldiers. Unused to the cold weather, our men reared in the tropics fought the enemies and what was supposed to be the harshest winter in Korea. This brave war correspondent was Benigno Aquino, Jr. One of his most celebrated reports was about this young soldier who crossed the icy waters and captured enemies. The soldier’s name was Boni Serrano, a Bikolano from Masbate. No one remembers now Serrano and the many heroes of that war. One has to go to Quezon City, near Cubao and look around to find one of the major streets there named after Boni Serrano. The exploits of Serrano would form the screenplay of the movie directed by Lamberto Avellana, a stellar graduate of Ateneo de Manila who would be declared National Artist for Film in the 70s. There would be other films. The sad state of our film archive would reveal one dismal truth: the copies of these films cannot be found anywhere. Busan is now a bustling, developed city. During the Korean War, Busan would be the site of one of the fiercest battles fought between the Allied Forces and the Korean communist forces. The Allied Forces almost lost this fight. The battle was known as the Busan Parallel War. When the war ended, two Koreas emerged: the South and the North. A place called the 38th Parallel was born, a site known as a demilitarized zone. My memory of Busan is strange and beautiful. I knew Busan when it was still Pusan, a simple harbor town. It was tough securing visa to Japan. Students would travel to Japan on a tourist visa. When the visa was about to expire, the students were asked to travel to South Korea and there apply for a visa with longer duration in Japan. South Korea served as a refuge for these students. To save their budget, the students would take the ferry from Hiroshima and land in Pusan. Busan is a grand, and maybe ironic, lesson for us Filipinos. We can learn much from this city, now the second-biggest city in South Korea, with the memory of a violent war merely a memory, a subject matter for some compelling cinema in an international film festival.

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