I’ve always believed that in order for anyone to appreciate their present situation, they must understand their past. It’s the only way we can truly appreciate how much have been done for us to enjoy what we enjoy today. I’m not a history guru but I’m always excited to learn more about Philippine history. Last August 26, 2014, I attended Dr. Ambeth Ocampo’s “History Comes Alive!” session about Apolinario Mabini at the Ayala Museum. His audience that day would have undoubtedly agreed with me that he is a box of trivia and is wittily hilarious. That same day, he launched the seventh edition of his Looking Back series, “Storm Chasers” – which was fortunately included in our ticket purchase along with a day pass in the museum. The book in paperback is small and light. The second page contains his autograph. My friend who I consider to be the luckier one got a copy that had an additional note aside from the green-inked signature. Hers says, “Chase your storm!” I was stoked. What I would give to receive that copy before she did.
Dr. Ocampo is a public historian. His research covers the late 19th century and he writes for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He is also an Associate Professor. Among other things that he is, what I found most interesting is his Facebook fanpage and his photos where he photoshops himself beside Philippine heroes. For me, it’s the impression he wants to make – history is fun.
“Storm Chasers” is Dr. Ocampo’s 23rd book. It is a collection of his published articles. The book includes 22 interesting stories about storms, elections, national heroes, sculptures, and lost books. You might wonder what all these have in common for them to be compiled in one good book. But yes, they are very much similar. Read and learn why it is so. Or first, let me give you some hints from here.
Devastating storms like Yolanda is not the first typhoon that ever ravaged our archipelago. Yet it seems that we were never ready for it. “Storm Chasers” began with this claim – that “history does not repeat itself, rather it is we who repeat it.” In this book, same as his other works, Dr. Ocampo wants to use history to instill in new generations the values of patriotism, citizenship, and love of country. Most importantly, he wishes that we would realize that learning history could liberate ourselves from the past.
“Storm Chasers” has highly interesting stories. It is full of news and trivia about the past and the present. And it tells the story of the past in a very casual manner. The stories are like stories you get from eavesdropping gossips from a group of women while doing their laundry or conversations from a group of big-bellied men as they become less sober by the bottle. Heroes are given a different dimension other than their textbook description such as “sublime paralytic” for Apolinario Mabini. Jose Rizal, while we hail him as our Pambansang Bayani (national hero), and Marcelo Del Pilar were humanized in the articles. They become just like us.
I don’t know how Dr. Ocampo does it – to be both funny and serious at the same time. But he does it like magic. During his “History Comes Alive!” session and in this book, “Storm Chasers,” he discussed serious topics with a touch of humor. He makes listening and reading both fun and full of new ideas. Every turn of the page is filled with laughs and fun facts. This way, readers can easily relate to the topics and become more open to the sad and happy realities of the past. One of the articles in “Storm Chaser” is titled “Toilet Humor.” This article describes how fun loving and easy-going we are as Filipinos. An interesting takeaway from this article was that “what makes people laugh is a clue to national identity.” Genius.
The concepts discussed in this book are far from simple. It is complicated. The stories are serious yet told simply. The ideas that each page and each word represents are serious. After all, our history and our present is not a joke. Dr. Ocampo was able to bridge his ideas from his head to paper with much sense and sense of humor. The simplicity of his delivery seems intentional. The book was not written in a way to downplay the seriousness of its message. The simplicity of the delivery was meant for the readers to easily grasp what is being discussed and for us, readers, to reflect from our understanding. Humor has played its role in this light. And the book just proves that history is the same as our real life, which is both simple and complicated at the same time.
“Storm Chasers” is full of short stories. You may even finish the book in one sitting. But to process each topic would require more of your time than merely scanning the text. A 98-page book would usually take me less than a day to finish but it wasn’t the case for this book. This book must be pondered upon. I read and thought about each story carefully before going to the next one. Why so? It is, first and foremost, because you must realize that this is not fiction. Everything in here is real. It happened, it’s happening, it’s going to happen again if we let it so. The stories are short and deep. They’re funny but not exactly.
When discussing history, engaging stories help a lot. It’s a way to keep people interested, especially to those who feel like history is a distant past. “Storm Chasers” makes history reachable. It presents the stories as if similar to our daily lives. When it is history we are talking about, there is no way for you not to feel involve unless you’ve totally lost your sense of nationalism. This book explains the facts and the situations in an even more interesting and engaging manner. The setting is described clearly in a way that gives you a chance to be completely involved.
This book also tackles what is forgotten and what is memorable. Somewhere in one of the stories, it said something I find especially memorable, “Knowing why we had these beliefs will help us answer why we are who we are today.” The past, especially the distant past, is easily forgotten; more so when it is not properly documented; even more so when it’s tucked away in a dusty library with no one willing to uncover and study. History, while it is part of us, is not easily accessible. The stories we get from our textbooks are not exactly helpful. Textbooks turned our heroes to cardboard characters while Dr. Ocampo makes them come alive.
As you read “Storm Chasers”, you’ll gain more appreciation for our heroes. In their stories, they are not just characters playing the heroic role of the protagonist. Here, you shall realize that they too are also human. There were also stories about Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda and stories of past and present elections, Manuel L. Quezon, and Guillermo Tolentino. Interestingly, Jose Rizal and Marcelo Del Pilar had an unheard story of fighting over champagne. Wouldn’t that get you curious? So why didn’t our high schools ever teach us these? It makes me wonder how come our schools and textbook writers chose not to discuss such curious trivia. It would have been fun to study history. It might have helped build more Filipinos who would truly value their own blood and nation history.
This book wants us to ask more questions. Why are textbooks giving us the half-truths or less than half the truths? Is it because they want to make it simpler? “Storm Chasers” was able to discuss the truths with simplicity. Is it because we are too stupid to understand the dynamism of our own history? I beg to disagree. Is learning the simple truths less important than learning the grander titles of our heroes? I believe this only makes us distant from our heroes. Is history too complicated for our taste? Dr. Ocampo is a living proof that humor and storytelling is an effective solution. Are we too naive to ask relevant questions? Or are we just not taught to become more inquisitive and more concerned about the past? This could have been developed on an early stage if our textbooks were written with better intentions.
This book made me happy and sad – happy to learn about too many new truths, and sad to realize how much we are missing. Indeed, for me, this book brings about much emotion. It challenged me to think more critically, to question what is previously taught, to unlearn the falsified impressions, and to continue to seek for more truths. How much of this can you get out of your history textbook? How much of this can you get out of your fiction novel? One of my major takeaways from this book is definitely “looking beyond ourselves”. It is created and compiled to make the past more accessible to the present.
“Looking beyond ourselves” is about realizing that there is so much more in life than just our lives. The past has helped shape the present; likewise we shall help shape the future. I believe that this book is published for every Filipino and must be read by every Filipino because it is our right and our responsibility to know our past. I believe that this book is published for Filipino students, most especially, from high school to college as the text is written simply while it contains deep and significant message. This book should be everywhere. It should be promoted online, on newspapers, and on magazines. It should be accessible to all and to be passed around. The stories it contains should be told repeatedly – again and again, generation to generation. Our history should not be confined to old books. History should not be kept to historians and scholars.
If students would develop love for our history and learn in an early age to seek for more truths and more dimensions to our heroes and history, this world might just become a better place. This could help us not repeat what we’ve done wrong in the past, while help us repeat the good ones. We should all constantly seek for the truth because after all, as cliché as it may sound, the truth shall set us free.