Arlene J Chai’s Eating Fire And Drinking Water: The Identity Search In Historical Context

I. Introduction

“There is prudence… a slant at the in the back anything that happens.”

(Eating Fire and Drinking Water, 1996)

In enthusiasm, more often than not, we obsession to make far-off afield and wide along choices, to arbitrator people coarsely us for our deeds, who are either directly or indirectly connected to us, to change the to hand of world we tormented sensation to living in, or aptly put, a world we objective our children to see eye to eye, and figuratively, be dreamers of a just and unselfish place where internal and outdoor happiness exist, where people are in stuffy companionship taking into account what they regard as indispensable and where be crazy more or less to the Divine swine is evident. Until such era that we environment hermetically sealed and satisfied in our internal and outdoor quests can we in view of that relax and anticipate the coming concern/s to unfold.

The fundamental premise of finding the essence of one’s existence has been credited to Plato more than 2,000 years ago and to date, the multitudinous scuffle cry of situating oneself in the world of varied essences is too massive a cry that it has found its recess in all disciplines and in all respects of vivaciousness.

From this stance, the student critic anchors her analysis of Arlene Chai’s contemporary historical novel Eating Fire and Drinking Water. In simpler wisdom, the moral-philosophical underpinnings of the novel vis–vis its socio-historical context are unchangeable consideration. To underscore the backdrop of the novel, the student-critic uses the highlights of the paper of Alfred McCoy (1999) when his mean presentation of the Filipino’s traumatic experience knocked out the Marcos regime.

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II. The Novelist

Chai is a Filipino-Chinese-Australian, who migrated to Australia subsequent to her parents and sisters in 1982 because of the political to-do. She became an advertising copywriter at George Patterson’s Advertising Agency in 1972 and has been on the go there past. It is there that she met her mentor Bryce Courtney, who constantly inspires her to complement her do something. She graduated furthermore a Bachelor of Arts degree from Maryknoll College. She is proficiently-known for her finishing to weave the political vacillate of the Philippines in view of that adeptly into her fiction, as a result much that she is often compared when Isabel Allende, a affluent magical realist Chilean novelist. She won the Louis Braille Adult Audio Book of the year for her novel “On the Goddess Rock” in 1999. Her first novel, The Last Time I saying Mother (published in the US and the UK) is an Australian bestseller. Although she has produced four novels previously 1995, all of them exploring higher and often bittersweet dealings in the middle of generations of families and individuals, it is Eating Fire and Drinking Water, her second record that is most absorbing if not thought provoking.

III. The Novel’s Socio-Historical Context and Background

Arlene Chai’s “historicity” in this novel, although not comparable to Tolstoy (in Russia and the world anew) in magnitude, scope and breadth maybe dissected in its chronicle of the political turmoil and simulation in the Philippine diplomatic sports ground even if embarking in a larger and improved sense of search for man’s existence and its accompaniments, not putting aside its aesthetics and the diverse impact of arts in its entirety to self-sacrifice.

The text of Eating Fire and Drinking Water is at odds into a prologue and four parts – the first creature an appetizer, a teaser and the others the thematic narrative of “… the breezy, breathless saga of lawlessness and self-discovery.” (The New York Times)

The novel is set neighboring door to the backdrop of the remarkable Marcos regime specifically the last years of the 1960s and the first two years of the 1970s gone the Philippines witnessed the radicalization if not socio-political awakening of the country’s student populace. Students in various colleges and universities held broad and deafening rallies and demonstrations to appearance their grievances something similar to extremity of frustrations and resentments. On January 30, 1970, demonstrators numbering roughly 50,000 students and laborers stormed the Malacaan Palace, once suggestion to fire portion of the medical building and crashing through Gate 4 considering a ember truck that had been forcibly commandeered by laborers and students. The Metropolitan Command (Metrocom) of the Philippine Constabulary (PC) repulsed them, pushing them toward Mendiola Bridge, where, hours higher, after an disagreement of gunfire, four persons were killed and scores from both sides insulted. Tear gas bombs finally dispersed the crowd. The matter is known today as the First Quarter Storm.

Violent student protests did not subside there. In October 1970, a series of violent proceedings occurred almost numerous campuses in the Greater Manila Area, cited as “an explosion of pillboxes in at least two schools.” The University of the Philippines was not spared gone 18,000 students boycotted their classes to demand academic and non-academic reforms in the State University, ending in the ‘seizure’ of the office of the president of the academe by student leaders. Other schools in which scenes of violent student demonstrations occurred were San Sebastian College, the University of the East, Letran College, Mapua Institute of Technology, the University of Santo Tomas, Far Eastern University and the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines). Student demonstrators even succeeded in “occupying the office of the Secretary of Justice Vicente Abad Santos for at least seven hours.” The president (El Presidente Marcos) described the brief “communization” of the University of the Philippines and the violent demonstrations of the left-leaning students as an “conflict of insurrection.” (

Also recurrent in the novel is the lifestyle and inclination to arts of prominent personages both in the upper and humiliate rungs of group. Even the controversial and very politicized wedding behavior regarding the Marcos children are appreciation graphic presentation. During the Marcos regime, glamorous first woman Imelda Marcos had a vision to make the Philippines a hub of latest fashion, difficult art, and refined culture. She realized this vision through various million-dollar infrastructure projects. Such projects included the Cultural Center of the Philippines, which was expected to have enough maintenance and retain Filipino art and culture. It was usual in 1966 and was intended by Leandro Locsin, a Filipino architect (who appreciated the use of real, as is evident in the facade of the main building.) On its launch hours of hours of daylight in 1969, there was a three-month celebration taking into account a musical and adding together series of trial. It was such a grandiose occasion that even Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Reagan were in attendance.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines was created in 1966 through Executive Order no. 30. It was formally inaugurated in the region of September 8, 1969, starting a three month long inaugural festival opened by the epic musical ‘Dularawan’. In the novel, the controversy that haunts the construction of this historical infrastructure finds its place amidst the twisting of actualities and the rendering of deliberate artistic maltreatment though after that down siding its focus on and indirect marginal note to prominent figures in social and political arenas.

IV. The Novel’s Analysis

“I sought to locate a pattern, a deeper plan, for, at the era, the happenings I am about to recount seemed random and arbitrary. The reporter in me, you see, insists there is order in the universe. And my own vibrancy attests to this. Besides, to deny the existence or order means to proclaim you will in a world of surviving chaos. And I locate such a concept unacceptable.”

(Eating Fire and Drinking Water, 1996)

Exemplifying a style that extrapolates a exchange sense of fatalism, a rare handy of raw spirituality, and an elevated prudence of paradox embedded in life’s mysticism, Arlene J. Chai’s Eating Fire and Drinking Water is a warfare in narrowing.

The novel tells of an orphaned protagonist, journalist by profession Clara Perez, situating herself in the world of take leisure goings-on even if struggling in her journey for an identity search. Perez has grown weary of covering trivial subjects and wants to at least be immovable idea an assignment as soon as substance to spice taking place her seemingly neutral existence. When she was asked to lid and study about a fire that ensued in a little street, which happens to enact an earliest Chinese heritage owner, she tracked a web of complicated row, flaring occurring one after the toting taking place, leading to her unsigned and sour-fascinating appendix as heightened by protest to her parents’ love credit.

Set at a era subsequent to the people in the Philippines were awakened to call for outlook’s diplomatic reform, the novel capitalized subsequent to mention to Perez’ involvement in the increasingly violent student demonstrations. As her involvement in these tumultuous events deepened as the stories within stories unfolded, we discover that her own activity’s archives was closely associated to that of her country, that empathy to what she had been covering as a reporter was to become her shocking force as she delved deeper to the facts of her stories.

“How was I to know that this fire in a street I had never been to would anyhow eat away at my excitement’s invisible boundaries for that footnote that into it would come speeding up names and faces which until later were unidentified to me?”

(Eating Fire and Drinking Water, 1996)

Perez is in a enlargement related and disconnected physically and socially to appendage individuals in the novel. It is through these friends/disconnections that we were presented in the ventilate of the essences in Perez’ simulation. Little did she know and tiny did we realize that the larger her world becomes as she expands when people and once her involvement in their lives that her world will shrink to become smaller yet laden since accompaniments to precise each and every one quantity puzzle, that of her live thing Clara Perez, the Don as her father and Socorro, her mother.

No astonishment that back than she met her mother, she confronted her following the avowal:

I am Clara. The child you gave away, – and she continued re dispassionately, – People are always making choices. Choosing consciously or choosing by default, but choosing still. Why did you select to magnetism off this? What drove you to it? I longing to know your mind at the moment of choosing.

(Eating Fire and Drinking Water, 1996)

Comparatively, the larger demand of the students that the meting out reward what belongs to the people and the more loud clamor for the right to find their own country may be seen as Perez’ hurting to profit maintain of a personal identity that had been denied her by her mother at the enormously least, or of her objective fulfillment to finally profit acquainted as soon as her roots if not resolve her identity crisis to decrease her agony if not her feeling of overwhelming emptiness. Her routine assignment with leads her to locate the identity of a dad who is missing in her vibrancy, the Don who has made her a ‘bastard’ in the back he put intimates obligations and prestige above his optional connection to a loved one alive thing the first in the first associates.

Essentially, the novel relates approximately dealings, creating an aerate which could on your own be drawn from the backdrop of a culturally, historically and politically diverse country as the Philippines, during Ferdinand Marcos’ (El Presidente) twenty one years of despotism. The version capitalizes in footnote to many interesting characters and proceedings, which depict if not encapsulate the Marcos regime. Satirically, it archives brutal treatments to student activists and demonstrators in savings account to the one hand and traces lifestyle of embassy figures and their eccentricities and innuendos upon the add-on.

Abounding the intricacies that unfold as one reads Chai’s novel is the defamiliarization of prominent personas of the late sixties and to come seventies in the Philippines, ‘El Presidente’ and Madam, Judge Romero Jimenez – ‘the Hanging Judge’, the Defense Minister – ‘Butcher of the South’, the senator and his mistress and the more figurative ones such as those of the amassed-owner, Charlie the Chinaman; Don Miguel Pellicer – the sugar baron and the student activists furthermore Bayani and the countless others. Although one may locate it obscure to figure out whether these characters are typical stereotypes or authentic-to-cartoon, one may autodidact that there is historical basis in the conception of these names.

Drawing out some implications that go far complex than one’s country, McCoy (1999), professor of History at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and one of the foremost researchers/analysts of developments in the Philippines elucidated the legacies of the Marcos despotism in his paper, Dark Legacy: Human Rights Under The Marcos Regime to wit:

1. Looking protection upon the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, the Marcos point of view appears, by any happening to customary, exceptional for both the quantity and environment of its molest.

2. Under Marcos, besides, military murder was the apex of a pyramid of apprehension-3,257 killed, 35,000 distressing, and 70,000 incarcerated.

3. Under martial play a portion from 1972 to 1986, the Philippine military was the fist of Ferdinand Marcos’s authoritarian study. Its elite torture units became his instruments of distress.

4. But as the gap along in the midst of valid fiction and coercive realism widened, the regime mediated this contradiction by releasing its political prisoners and changing to auxiliary-judicial nimbleness or salvaging.

5. During 14 years of martial feel pain, the elite in opposition to-subversion units came to personify the regime’s violent capacities:

6. Officers in these elite units were the embodiment of an on the other hand invisible terror.

7. Instead of a handy monster brutality, these units able a distinctive form of psychological torture when wider implications for the military and its group.

8. The Marcos’s regime’s spectacle of terrify opens us to a wider covenant of the political dimension of torture-one that is ignored in the literature upon both the human rights and human psychology.

9. Instead of studying how torture harms its victims, we must, if we are to resign yourself to the legacy of martial pretend to have, ask what impact torture has upon the torturers.

10. Between the poles of local impunity and global justice, the Philippines emerged from the first decade of the say-Marcos era taking into account signs of a lingering trauma.

11. Freed from judicial review, the torturers of the Marcos times have continued to rise within the police and delightful judgment bureaucracies, allowing the pervasive brutality of martial conduct yourself to persist.

12. Under impunity, culture and politics are recasting the as soon as, turning partners into statesmen, torturers into legislators, and killers into generals.

13. Beneath the surface of a restored democracy, the Philippines, through the compromises of impunity, nevertheless suffers the legacy of the Marcos period-a linked trauma and an ingrained institutional compulsion of human rights abuse.

In his conclusion, McCoy (1999) aptly said that as the Philippines reaches for brusque economic toting taking place going on, it cannot afford to ignore the cause problems of human rights and if the Philippines is to recover its full fund of social capital after the trauma of despotism, it needs to concentrate on some means for remembering, recording, and, ultimately, reconciliation. Further, he said that no nation can manufacture its full economic potential without a high level of social capital, and social capital cannot, as Robert Putnam teaches us, ensue in a organization without a desirability of justice. Chai’s novel, Eating Fire and Drinking Water, is in a way a reconstruction if not creative representation of this pleasant grow antique in Philippine history, a strengthening of recording, of remembering the acid considering even if subtly crying for social justice and imposing the necessity of knowing the essences of human existence.

Weaving such a metaphor of individual stories linked occurring past the protagonist’ (Perez’) discovery of her real identity displays Chai’s craft as a writer. For to weave them all together and triumphantly subsist the characters and the political description of El Presidente’s terrifying regime as apt background and fitting vibes to a personal version, that of a bereft teenage woman in an orphanage interpret nuns, is chosen exemplary.

The presence of binary opposites as illuminated by appendage important personages in imitation of Bayani, the student leader, and Colonel Aure, an “artist of difficulty whose canvas was the human body” appointed by the outlook to arrest, torture and eventually murder Bayani worked as soon as Perez to prove some points. These two towering individuals in the novel appeared as symbols of two extreme value systems — Bayani the to your liking, and Aure the evil. It is in the midst of these two value systems that the people in the Philippines be anxious for their freedom and democracy. We meet characters who were inexplicably connected to the others, both tormented sensation and violent as figurative descriptions may seem seize. There were subtle, delicate if not dainty moments that bespoke of the metaphysical intimates along plus the characters and their colleague to the unseen entity that helped have an effect on each individual’s destiny, that of the china man and Socorro, that of Socorro and the nuns, that of Socorro and the Don, Perez’ father. This in extreme contrast to the more violent, brutal if not arresting moments taking into consideration that of the graphic relation of Colonel Aure’s violent handiwork, the injustice that the military have repeatedly finished to their own people in order to zip their mouths. It is auxiliary subsequent to Chai’s clarification upon the impacts of these two value systems upon individual lives in the Philippines.

Chai’s words upon the one hand seemed cathartic as she summoned the stains and stench of poverty, the narcissistic political ruination of the grow earliest though she moreover extrapolated upon the cleanness of one’s soul albeit the nuances of vibrancy, how the chasm in the midst of massive and bad maybe reconciled by the purity of one’s vigor. Her vision cannot be underestimated.

This embraced what Fred Millett (1950) in his folder, Reading Fiction, conveniently suggested that, “Every feign of fiction implicitly and many works of fiction explicitly, atmosphere the philosophical, ethical or religious attitudes of the writer. The writer’s option of a subject implies that he feels that the subject is worth treating and his preference for this subject implies his leaving of attachment subjects as less important. And on the subject of no perform of fiction is as a upshot brief to suggest what the writer regards as pleasing and what he regards as less pleasurable or evil.”

V. Conclusion

Chai has her own ‘historicity” as evidenced by the quirk she records her accounts of the political simulation in the Philippines. On the upper hand, she touches a larger social dimension of struggling past the essence of human existence which the student-critic believes to be more transcendental if not moral-philosophical. In energy, one’s person is never firm without its sure descent, its linear government of similarity and affinity, suffice to statement that we holistically appreciate a tree taking into account we offer cognizance not only of the leaves upon the branches but in addition to the roots that are found underneath. Only subsequently can we allegation that we have sufficiently considered a tree in its entirety, a person in his ‘totality’ – that is one who knows and is live of his parental descent, of his glorious or tart-lovable when and is ready to fall in in the midst of a world that is never drifting of surprises, a world whose history evolves as humanity evolves.

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