Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mt. Cloud Bookshop in Baguio City: A treasure-trove of Philippine culture and scholarship

BAGUIO CITY - One of my favorite stops here in the City of Pines is the historic Casa Vallejo in Upper Session Road. Dating to 1909, a year before the establishment of Baguio City itself, it is among the oldest surviving structures in the city, surviving both World War II and the Baguio earthquake of 1990. Just as it has been at some points in its storied life, it is now a boutique hotel, and the venue of other interesting establishments. Aside from the fantastic Hill Station Restaurant, the North Haven Spa, and even a art-flim cinema, it is home to Mt. Cloud Bookshop

“We don’t just sell books, we love them!” one of the posters read. And I must add that the bookshop owners must have a special affection for books of and about Filipinos and the Philippines.

Scholars and aficionados of Philippine history and culture will be delighted to see several works of William Henry Scott, alongside Ileto's Pasyon and Rebolusyon. Those of us who wish to have a deeper understanding of our contemporary socio-economic situation will appreciate the works about labor unions, a chronicle of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and number of reflections about the ramifications of globalization and neoliberal capitalism in the Philippines.

As an anthropologist, I was thrilled to see various ethnographic works, and I got myself two of theme: Kale Fajardo's Filipino Crosscurrents: Oceanographies of Seafaring, Masculinities, and Globalisation and Bruno Bottignolo's Celebrations with the Sun: An Overview of Religious Phenomenon among the Badjaos. There were also narratives of displacement among the Aetas in the wake of Mt. Pinatubo's eruption, among many others. Also interesting were local histories, such as Nita Berthelsen's The Tayabas Chronicles, Reynaldo Ileto's Maguindanao 1860-1888, and Warren's The Sulu Zone 1768-1898. What I planned to be a quick stop turned to be an hour-long bibliographic adventure!

The literature section, on the second floor, is equally impressive, and is arranged according to genre: novels, short stories, poems, plays, nonfiction, among others. Even Filipino comics are on display. For any lover of Philippine culture it is truly a joy to see all those books - from Jose Garcia Villa's poems to the short stories of Butch Dalisay and even Romi Garduce's account of his Seven Summits adventures.

Finally, there are coffee table books about Baguio City, among Filipino art, architecture, weaving, pottery, and many others. Wherever your interests lie, there is surely a gem waiting to be found! Most of the books are priced around 500 pesos, but there are good bargains too, with some short story collections at 100 or even 50 pesos apiece.

Aside from the extensive collection are books about our neighbors in Southeast Asia. There's a book called "The Rice Birds: Folktales from Thailand" and in the same shelf there's "Fishing, Hunting, and Headhunting in the Former Culture of the Ngaju Dayak in Central Kalimantan"! These books are rare, and are unfortunately "exotic" in the reality of our cultural disconnect with our geographic neighbours. So it is another epiphany to see them in that bookshop in Baguio.

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To a certain extent, bookstores are revelatory of culture, and one only needs to go to National Bookstore or Fully Booked to see how “Westernized” our sensibilities are, with Stephenie Meyer, E. L. James, and Paulo Coelho gracing the entrance while our great writers, such as Nick Joaquin and F. Sionil Jose, are relegated to the peripheries.

Which is why Mt. Cloud Bookshop is refreshing change. Far from marginal, books about the Philippines and by Filipino authors take (their rightful) centre stage. Like a passing cloud that invites introspection, these books make us look within, and can teach us many things about our beautiful culture, our beautiful land.

Baguio City
January 20, 2015

Books about the Philippines take centre stage in Mt. Cloud bookshop in Baguio

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