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A Guest of the Teacher

A Guest of the Teacher

The Blue Mosque, Photo acquired from the Taguig City Government website.

Going to Blue Mosque was not too difficult. Living in Paranaque, traversing to the mosque meant a meager 30-40 minute ride by car. Add the fact that I was visiting on Holy Thursday, and one can imagine the ease in reaching this destination. In fact, the most difficult parts of the trip was merely traversing in 1-way, narrow roads in Maharlika Village, all of which were adorned by the colorful hijabs worn by Muslim women, the smiles of children playing, and the typical urban hustle and bustle typical to a non-subdivision barangay situated within a growing urban city.

Amir texts me around 3:40 PM, announcing that he had just arrived in the mosque, and asks me whether I’ll be arriving soon. “Let me find my way through these narrow streets muna,” I tell him in jest. “Good luck,” he jokingly replies.

Datu Amir Wagas is a 3rd year AB Developmental Studies in Ateneo de Manila University whom I met in a political party in the same university a few months before my trip. Regularly representing the Muslim sector of the studentry, I’ve made his acquaintance through a number of discussions and school events. At one point, on telling him about my interest in exploring the Muslim faith, he offers to bring me along with him in one of his Thursday prayers one of these days. I eagerly agreed. After all, it wasn’t everyday that such an opportunity arose. “It will be educational,” he promises.

When I arrived ourside the gates of the Blue Mosque, the majestic and poignant image of the gentle mosque against the backdrop of the grey-paved barangay immediately struck me as stunning. I found Amir waiting by the front gate, wearing a white taqiyah, a type of Muslim head-wear which rested on the crown of his head. He grasps my right hand between his hands firmly, and shaking it, then pressing his arm to his chest he greets me, As-salāmu ʿalaykum. I greet him good afternoon, and he brings me inside the gate. “In Manila, this is my home,” he assures me. Immediately at the mosque facade I was introduced to Datu Moden Talandig, a grad-student from Ateneo de Manila University studying MA Global Politics, who was also invited by Amir to join him in today’s prayers.

Amir tells me that Tuan Parmanan, his teacher should have been meeting us shortly, but he is still out of the mosque for some errands. He invites me and Moden to go out to buy some snacks at his favorite place around the area while we wait. Looking around, some boys our age – maybe younger – around the facade were also on their chores, two cleaning cars, one dragging a dried banana trunk from the backyard to the gate to dispose of it. He calls out to them to greet them, and they greet us back and approached us.They give a slight bow, and as Amir introduces me and Moden, they also take our right hand, shake it, and press their right hand to their chest. As they take my hand, I try to shake back, greet them in return Asasamamalaykum and press my hand on my chest. I realize that different from other youth our age, in their disposition in their work, and in respect expressed in greeting us. Amir looks impressed and somewhat amused. He tells me later in jest as we walk going to his favorite canteen, As-salāmu ʿalaykum.  As-salāmu ʿalaykum. “Don’t forget,” he asserts, “it means peace be upon you.”

Going to the canteen, a couple of streets in from the main road from where the Blue Mosque is situated, he tells me to look around. I notice the quietness, and somewhat a peacefulness to the area. Maharlika was also considerably clean, much different from the barangays from my area in Paranaque. Posters of of Qur’anic Summer Classes are posted on light posts, there were also visibly less cars weaving about in the streets. “This is what Mindanao looks like,” Amir tells me. Moden, who hails from Maguindanao agrees. It is very peaceful here, also very safe if I may say,” he continues, “much different from how Muslim communities are stigmatized.”

When we arrived at the canteen, Amir orders us Beef siomai, chicken balls, and some packs of Zesto. Moden orders a mango shake. People eating with us in the canteen are in conversation. I look at their menu, hung about in a tarpaulin board inside the canteen behind the manang who manned the cashier. Beef siomai, chicken balls, chicken tocino, tapa, beef sinigang, chicken adobo, beef barbecue, beef hotdog. For a while, I forgot that I am eating with with Muslims, if not only for the halal menu that this canteen has. Moden and Amir talks about school. Studying in Ateneo as a scholar, Moden says, it’s been useful for him to have had experience studying abroad through many programs. United StatesJapan, Taiwan, it’s an application of his experiences and observations in these places, in which this, along his knowledge of Sharia Law, does he hope to use as a viewing point towards his course in MA Global Politics.”You know us Muslims,” Amir exclaims, “it is obligatory for us to seek knowledge. Secular, religious, same thing.”

We go back to the mosque, where Tuan Parmanan sits on a chair near the. Amir sits in front of him, and we sit beside Amir. Tuan Parmanan apologizes for his lateness, he came from Cubao to buy a goat. He tells us how this morning he saw Sedeqah unfold. In Islam, Sedeqah is an act of generosity/benevolence. He says he went with a couple of teachers to an orphanage, where they served goat curry. He tells us of the significance of dividing a goat to peoples, an act of sharing blessings. He shares on how their community always involve themselves with orphanages.”Orphans are taken care of, who are close to Mohammad, for he himself was also an orphan. Nakakalambot ng puso.

Amir brings out a pen and a notebook and starts jotting down notes. “Now,” he continues, “we Muslims are like orphans, with no one to care for us, to get closer to Allah. And that’s why we need our teachers. Without teachers, we are like orphans. Teachers are our source of knowledge. If there is knowledge in a dog, then we accept our knowledge. Every living thing can be a teacher as long as it inspires.”

The person who was dragging out the banana trunk a while ago passes by us, with a bowed head, right hand on his chest, and left hand on the side of his body, quickly and urgently. I learn later that it was important for Muslims to not interrupt people in discussion, in studying.

He asks me on my religious beliefs. I told him that I am unsure, yet compelled to believe that there is a higher being, albeit not what has been depicted in religious history so far. Tuan Parmanan nods his head in approval. “Di tayo pwedeng malimit sa isang practice,” he says.“Exploring faith requires an open mind, respect, and engaging other faiths and cultures. Respect, especially, brings to knowledge.” He refers to Amir, and continues, “Thursdays, they go here to learn, yet it is our hearts which will lead to the Creator.” He refers to me, “We are all journeying, and I am lucky to have been on this journey. The Creator’s purpose to create is for us to worship Him. He quotes, “I am a hidden treasure. I love to be known.”

I ask him on how Muslims approach faith. “We learn about the creator through creation”, he says, “There are many ways to know the creator, but the closest is through ourselves.” He tells me that teachers in Blue Mosque are tasked to 1) interpret Qur’an, 2) memorize Qur’an, 3) study Islamic law (Sharia), 4) study Mohammed’s life story, 5) study Arabic language.” He tells me how Divine Presence is a contrast to simply study. “It is to search for the creator, not only through knowledge, but through presence”. “The Creator encompasses everything, not constrained to a paradise. Out of all races (referring to order of beings), humans beings are special because we are set to know him. Hindi tayo ang mayari sa ating feelings, sa ating knowledge.”

Muslims go to the mosque for the Magrib, one of the 5 daily prayers, the salat.

Suddenly, the call for 6:00PM prayer, the Magrib. The muezzin goes on top of the minaret, Amir tells me, and he says a special call for prayer, the Adhan. He tells me a couple of phrases from the Adhan.

‘lā ilāha illā -llāh, muḥammadur rasūlu -llāh
There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.
Ašhadu an lā ilāha illā-llāh waḥdahu lā šarīka lahu, wa ašhadu anna muḥammadan ʿabduhu wa rasūluhu.
I bear witness that (there is) no god except Allah; One is He, no partner hath He, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger.
                                  Muslims washing their feet and arms before entering the mosque. 

 

Tuan gets me a chair just outside the musallah, the prayer hall and tells me to observe for now. I go around for a while and take pictures, women and children, and men are physically seperated. The Imam, the Jama’a‘s (the Muslim community) leader leads the prayer, he stays behind a curtain, unseen by the constituents. They bow, stand up, and touch the floor with their foreheads, signaled by phrases, all in succession. The air somewhat smells spice-ey, musky, yet not unpleasant.

Muslims in prayer, led by the Imam.

After the prayers, we meet up with Tuan Parmanan again and he continues on his discussion.

He tells me of the concept of Mi’raj, and its significance to Muslim culture.“Mi’raj encompasses different realities, body and soul. Like how Mohammed who was tasked to preach Salam. Siya lang ang nakaattach sa creator. Qur’an was revealed to him. He is a mercy to all mankind”. He continues, “Kaya ito ang mensahe ng Islam: good character, good society, to be a peace-loving person like Ali, the first caliph”. “Makikita mo ang propeta sa mga taong katulad ni Mohammad.”

“Our companions contain fragments of Mohammad, and together, they build an image of the great teacher: just like how the stars make up the moon.”

“Islam contains a message of prayer, of fasting. To train us to become a person with a strong patience.” “We believe in in the rule of love, how the prophet does not need our love, but how it is us who needs to love him. We love who Allah loves, and if we follow this, then we too, receive Allah’s love.”

He pauses, and smiles at us in lightness, “Kaya ang Muslim, hindi marunong magalit.”

Around 7:20, once again there was a call for prayer, this time for the Isha. This time, I can join in, says Tuan Parmanan. As I go in, in my nervousness, I stay a row behind Amir, Moden, and Tuan Parmanan. A couple of kids saw me, probably in annoyance, and they drag me to the right side of the musallah. Seperated from my peers, I was subject to the scolding, and being taught by the almost-teenagers. They fix my arms in a cross-armed manner, they push my legs forward, for they sense my nervousness, and they look at me in confusion, probably perplexed, for this faux-Muslim joining them, yet, all in a sense of jest. After a while, I get used to the pattern. Allah. I touch my head on the ground. Allah. I stand up and put my arms in a crossed-arm manner. Allah. Then I bow.

 Women are physically separated from men during prayers. Thank Allah, the women tell me, “Men are smelly”. A group of boys walk through the womens’ area in the Mosque.

After the prayers, the almost-teenagers approach me, and asked me if I’m new. Or if I’m part-Middle-Eastern. It was the beard, they say. Tuan Parmanan arrives in amusement and speaks to the almost-teenagers in Tausug. They laugh. I laugh with them in confusion. Leaving the almost-teenagers, Tuan tells me that they’re also some of his students. He also acknowledges my beard.

 Amir on the far left, Tuan Parmanan off-center, and Moden on the far right, having dinner with me as we continue discussing

After the Isha, we have dinner in one of the rooms in the mosque. They serve us goat curry, which, after the prayers and the lectures, I found really comforting. I meet Brother Aian Naqshbandi, a missionary affiliated with the Blue Mosque. They tell me about the state of the Muslim world in the present. On how puritan movements arising, the emergence of ISIS, the question of a new caliphate. But Tuan Parmanan inserts himself in the conversation. “To the Muslim world, we simply need to return to the Qur’an.”

Amir exclaims, Inshallah hopefully, which means “if Allah wills”.

Mohammad was known to have many cats, the most famous being Muazza.
Thus, cats have earned a special place in the hearts of Muslims.

Tuan Parmanan and Brother Aian tell me about the evening prayer I am to join in.

Dhikr means pagaala-ala, Ala-ala, they tell me, Allah-Allah, a remembrance of “Allah” and his “good names.” Blue Mosque is authorized to hold Dhikr. Their theme this year is “The Seal of the Masters”, which emphasizes the role of the teacher. They tell me how how the first teacher, Mohammad taught, and whom he taught also taught, who taught a student who also taught, which created a cycle called the “golden chain”, Mohammad’s predecessors. “Dhikr is to get the pity of Allah, seek his pleasure, pagkakaisa. There is a garden of paradise to those who seek Allah.”

“Make prayer as if kahit tibok ng puso magiging prayer to Allah.”

“Lahat ng bagay ay lumuluwalhati, always somewhat connected.”

“Do not be a kafir. If you remember him, he remembers you.”

After eating, Amir puts on the turban imamah, it is tied according to the tradition of Prophet Muhammad, Amir tells me. And he also puts on the jubba, worn because the Prophet Muhammad also wore one. It is worn for special prayers.

We walk out of the dark hallway and enter the empty musallah. We gather around the circle rest for a while. Moden and Brother Aian talk about the Gnostic tradition and its relation to Islam. Some of the boys whom I saw working earlier, apparently children of some teacher join us in the circle. Finally, with the Misbaha, a type of prayer-beads, Tuan Parmanan leads the Dhikr. The group joins him in chanting the prayers, different prayers, one after another, in darkness, under the dome of the Blue Mosque, a very foreign, yet welcoming place.

Around 9:00PM. We talk through the facade of the Blue Mosque, on our way to the night-stained musallah.

I close my eyes and try to hum with their chanting. The knowledge imparted that day, the plethora of ideas, the sights seen, and my own personal thoughts revolved in my head. As the chanting grows louder and louder, such thoughts too, get stronger. I rock my body left and right with them as they too rock their bodies stronger and more chaotic. Tch!, Tuan Parmanan signals us to stop.

Then as the chanting stops, what was only left was silence.

I recall what Amir tells me earlier, on how people stay away from Barangay Maharlika, and how even taxi drivers refuse to bring passengers in the area because of a fear of violence, of war, of harm. Yet, in my short time with these new brothers – these Muslims who are not too different from myself and whom I’ve learned so much from and whom earned my respect, these people whom through them I’ve met the great teacher, the Prophet – I’ve found peace.

Going back after the dhikr.


  1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?

In regards to being part of the salat, Being part of the very communal experience of prayer subjects you to a feeling of being in solidarity with the jama’a, the Muslim community. It also reveals a specific effort exerted on the part of the individual in prayer. This might reveal, for example, a particular fervency in the act of prayer. Being beside a praying Muslim and greeting/acknowledging each other’s presence – As-salaam Alaykum – reveals a social dimension between two individuals in prayer. It is a closer perception of the experiences the constituents go through. Beside this, in regards to discussion between teacher and student, the level of engagement deepens, especially in being an outsider inquiring about the discussion, leading to a diversity in ideas and insights, in contrast to merely observing a discussion between teacher and student.

  1. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?

Having a key informant, and especially using his position as a vantage point to the observed ritual, has been beneficial in deepening the contexts of the ritual in which he participates in. The nameless and of course, strange ideas and practices which were observed in the Blue Mosque were given names – religious terminology, actually – and these were explained. Furthermore, the experience of the informant is a necessarily important emic perception in the rituals, and thus, can be used to further or easily understand what was happening in a particular moment.

  1. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?

Especially in the Muslim Dhikr, where songs and hymns of praise were offered to Allah, a questionnaire or interview would be ineffective in forming the observer’s experience and/or understanding. Other than this, gestures, which are abundant in Muslims’ interactions with each other would not be observed. There may also be perceptions or attitudes which may be missed in gathering information. This is because a questionnaire requires the researcher to create expected answers in regards to the perceptions or attitudes of the constituents, which would limit the depth, or authenticity of a subject’s testimonies.

  1. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?

A questionnaire would inevitably be more beneficial in creating ageneralization in regards to the constituents’ attitudes or perception in regards to an object, ritual, or event. This can be alluded to the limiting of the diversity of testimones, and thus, data which would be received. This may also be useful in gathering more commonplace data.

  1. Using our cafeteria observation exercise as reference, what insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?

Philippine society deserves to understand Muslim culture, and Muslim culture as well deserves to be better represented in our society. A culture of respect, thirst for knowledge, reverence for tradition, and fervency in prayer and faith is something that our present society needs to integrate in itself. Yet, one of the biggest hurdles in achieving this is social prejudice, generalization, and misrepresentation: all things which will be solved simply by observing – just like the cafeteria exercise – and ultimately engaging with and immersing in this easily marginalized Muslim aspect of our society.

Published by Earl de los Santos, 2 AB Lit-Eng.

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It’s Time to Duel: A Day Playing In Card Game Tournaments

It’s Time to Duel: A Day Playing in a Card Game Tourney

By John Carlo Pagsolingan and Marxwade Ortega

Introduction

Card games are a fun, if an expensive, past time. Most card games are usually one on one fights with other players and using the abilities and skills of each cards one possesses, win against their opponent through a game-specific way or condition. Yet there are also card games that could include multiple players, such as Magic: The Gathering, where players are pitted against three or more other players and must reach the victory condition/s before the others do.

Two such card games are Weiss Schwarz and Cardfight: Vanguard. In Cardfight: Vanguard, two players attempt to beat the other by damaging them until their opponent reaches six damages, in which case the player who cause six damage wins. Each player starts out at grade zero, and must advance until grade 3, all the while attempting to damage his/her opponent’s vanguard six times. Once he/she reaches grade 3, he can either use stride or legion in order to boost his/her chances of damaging his/her opponent.

Players, however, can also block their opponent’s attacks by throwing down cards with larger numbers than the opponent’s attack or by using perfect guard. Perfect guard allows players to negate an attack by their opponent by negating said attack and dropping one card in order for the perfect guard to work. Also, players can also use generation guard, or G-guard in short, to guard their opponent’s attacks. By using G-guard, the player drops a heal trigger, a card that heals one damage received by the player if they have more damage than their opponent, and reveals a G-guard from their stride deck, a separate deck where the players place their strides on. The G-guard can be further boosted as well by dropping more cards, thereby negating an opponent’s attack if the sum total of the G-guard and all the other dropped cards are greater than the opponent’s attack.

In vanguard, there are also cards called triggers, each of these cards have an affect that could further boost a player’s attack by five thousand points. These triggers are: draw, stand, heal, and critical. A draw trigger allows you to draw another card, a stand trigger allows you to re-stand a rearguard but never a vanguard, a heal trigger heals a damage if you have more damage than your opponent, and finally a critical trigger adds another damage that your enemy takes.

Weiss Schwarz, on the other hand, the players possess zones labelled deck, field stock, waiting room, damage, the resolution zone and level. The deck zone is where the deck is located; maximum number of cards allowed in the deck is 60 with 8 climaxes. Waiting room is Weiss’ equivalent to a graveyard: the zone where the cards that have been used or have been ‘destroyed’ are placed. In order for a participant to be victorious, one must level their opponent to the level 4. The participants’ level is increased by the virtue of them having 7 cards in the damage zone. When leveling occurs, one of those cards must placed into the level zone and the rest into the waiting room. To deal damage, characters must be summoned unto the field, and attack. Be careful though, there are limitations on summoning a character, like the level the character has compared to the player’s level, the character’s ‘color’ in comparison to any of the damage zone cards, is there an open character zone on the five allotted character zones, and lastly can the player afford the stock needed to summon the character card.

When a character attacks, they trigger for damage and reveal what is on top deck. If the revealed card has a symbol denoting an on-trigger-check ability, the effect is activated, then the triggered card is placed on stock. The person attacking isn’t the only participant active during this time. When an aggressor attacks then the assaulted player must make damage checks, so that he takes the damage dealt by the attacker. The top card of the deck is then placed on the damage zone, and this process will repeat the more damage the attacking card deals. But the defender is not just slowly leading him/herself into damnation, if he/she reveals a climax card then the whole damage the enemy card would have dealt will be canceled, and the revealed damage indicator cards will be placed into the waiting room (graveyard). In general, Weiss is a complicated game, and, I believe, the given information is enough to give a gist on how the game is played.             

This paper would focus on the researchers’ experience in participating in a tournament for the two games. By using their own accounts from the event, and accounts from the researchers’ informant/friend within the tournament, the researchers would attempt to provide an inside view of how a card game tournament looks like.

To do this, the researchers would divide the paper’s body into two parts: the first part would be the insight the researchers gained by interviewing and talking to the informant about the activity. By using the guide questions as the questions asked to the informant, the researchers hoped that it would help enlighten both the researchers and the readers of the nature of the event being observed.

The second part would focus more on the researcher’s’ own reflections and observation of the event. Using the guide questions provided, the researchers would attempt to show the card game tournament as how they saw, felt, and experienced the card tournament.

And finally, in the paper’s conclusion, the researchers would like to combine both their own observation and the gathered information from the informant and state the researchers’ final words and reflections on the ethnographic fieldwork as a whole.

The Informant

Our informant is a Fortress Tourney regular Rich Montejo. He has been playing Weiss in the tournament scene for the last few years. A well known person in the community, for he is deeply involved in the card trading scene as well. He has meet up and traded with many people, that it cemented him as one of the most reliable middleman in the community. It is a usual sight to seem him in tourneys, as well the transactions that happen around him. The most important info I’ve garnered from him is how tight-knit the card gaming community is. That it is likely that the tourney regulars of one shop to know people. who are regulars, in others. As well as the likelihood of being aware of a person’s deck and playstyle just by word of reputation. That with the utterance of a name a person active in the competitive scene can already imagine how one reaches his/her demise.       

The researcher’s own observation of the event

John Carlo

For one, I have absolutely no idea about what I was getting myself into during the tournament for I have no past experience of joining a card game tournament before in my life. So I just let Marx do the talking for me when we arrived at the place where the card game tournament was being held. When we met our informant, Rich, for this ethnographic fieldwork, I simply shook his hand and also the owner of Fortress( a card shop) and the manager of the tournament, Sir Edzel. After shaking hands with the both of them, I found myself a seat and watched the other players who’re already there play either vanguard or weiss.

The place was actually quite small, for my expectations. I thought we would be playing on a place like a convention center or a sports complex. Instead, the convention was held at an events room on a Bacolod Chicken Inasal restaurant. The vanguard tournament would start after the weiss tournament, so I had a lot of free time to prepare for the tournament and to observe the other vanguard players as well.

While waiting for the start of the weiss tournament, I came across two other vanguard players also waiting for the start of the tournament. I asked for permission to sit beside them and watch for a while. While watching, I can’t help but feel a bit worried and excited because this was my first ever tournament and the people I watched playing seemed really good at handling their decks, whereas I just started playing vanguard about three months ago. But, I also feel excited because I can finally experience the thrill and fun of being able to compete on a proper tournament and be rewarded should I be able to win.

As the players were finishing their game, I inquired one of them if I can play with one of them after their game was over. As I moved to the other side of the table to play, I placed my deck on the table because I haven’t bought a proper deck matt yet. As I expected, I lost against my opponent, but to my credit the margin of his victory wasn’t really that huge.

Even though I lost, I’m still glad because it wasn’t a counted match for the tournament and I also gained experience on what kind of decks and what playstyle people who joins tournaments uses. I also get to know new people as well, being introverted and all, socializing is pretty difficult for me. And, as we finished playing, Sir Edzel announced that it was time for the weiss tournament to start, so we immediately vacated the table we were playing on to give room for the weiss players.

Being bored, I went out of the room from where the tournament was being held and ordered a meal, the place being Bacolod Chicken Inasal. Because I really don’t have much money after paying 300 pesos for the entrance fee for the tournament, I chose a simple meal of Daing na Bangus with rice. Still, this being a restaurant, I still spent more money on food than I should have, and the food itself tastes nothing special compared to the average Daing na Bangus.

As the tournament began, I was able to get my freebies for joining the tournament as I returned, and I was also able to view them. Unfortunately, none of the freebies that I got were useful for my deck but I still kept them, just in case someone may buy it to me. As I was putting them on my deck box, the announcement on who’s gonna fight who were posted on the door.

After checking for the table and name of my first opponent for the tournament. I didn’t immediately found my opponent. But after a few minutes of searching I finally found him and sat beside him. As the tournament began, I was able to win my first match, but lost the next two games. My fourth match was an automatic win because the person I was supposed to play with didn’t want to play anymore. My last match was another loss, unfortunately. Still, I had enjoyed the tournament even though I lost most of the matches I played. After each game, I would shake hands with my opponents and congratulate them and also talk about other topics with them.

Marxwade

Unsurprisingly, beginning of the tourney is not on schedule. Fortress’ owner, Sir Edzel, the host of the tournament allots some extra time for the event regulars to arrive. Philippine time, it seems, is also a sickness of the competitive card game scene. So when I and John arrived, we are greeted with a calm atmosphere contrary to the nervousness welling up inside me. This is the first tourney I am to attend in an unusual venue without my usual contacts into the community. Rich Montejo, while I am an acquaintance of, is not a person that usually goes with me to these events, but my schedule cannot compromise, and besides I want to learn about another place I can play competitive Weiss in anyway.

After composing myself, I immediately scouted out Rich and introduced him to John Carlo. Rich asked me if John’s deck is something he helped make (because apparently everyone in my card gaming circle acquisitioned majority of their cards using Rich as a middle-man Rich). I told him that John played Vanguard not Weiss. Then I ask him if he helped build Vanguard decks, but he replied in negation to both questions, because, as he told me, he has washed away all of his involvement in Cardfight Vanguard. Rich gave me the missing piece of my deck: a copy of Kaleidoscope Illya, then left for he wanted to play some Weiss with his acquaintances in the venue.

When Rich went of, I unsleeved a card from my deck and replaced it with the card Rich gave to me. I then incessantly shuffled my deck until the beginning of the tourney. In Weiss, the luck of which cards come out at the right time is supremely important. Example, if in early game all of the cards you drew were level 2s and above, then that would mean you don’t have anything to play at your current level of 0. Another example is that if all of your climax cards (the cards that cancel damage if revealed on damage checks) come out of the deck early on, then that would mean you would be receiving all the damage of your opponent’s attacks, thereby placing you closer to the dreaded level 4 lose condition. Afterwards, I wandered around to where John was. Seeing that he was getting along with other Vanguard players, I went to the match Rich was watching. It was a Re: Zero against Sword Art Online fight. The fight was intense with the Re: Zero player having a level 3 early played on level 2 with the SAO player about to level up to 3 But before the fight could even reach the final level, the awaited player arrives and Sir Edzel announced the start of the tourney.

In the tourney, I performed poorly with a record of 0-3, three losses and zero wins. The first game put me in the unfortunate situation of dying before I could play my level three turn. In the second game, I could not damage my opponent sufficiently to place him inside my kill range before the beginning of my level three turn. I was summarily executed when after my offensive ran out of steam. The last fight was close: I placed my opponent unto level three with two damages remaining to level 4, but he canceled all three of my attacks, and finished me off the next turn.

All in all, though my performance is subpar, I still adhere to the view that the going through the entire event was enjoyable. The people were polite and homely with affectionate insults of a friendly manner being thrown towards each other. Win or lose, people just laughed it off, and even celebrated when they were subjected to a very punishing combo. In the end of a fight, everyone would share words of cordiality “good game”, “G.G.”, “nice fight”, and the like. There is also this experience of utter tensions and focus when fighting in a tourney. That unlike a casual game, each move is more thought out and under stressful conditions.  

 

Reflections

  1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?

The insights we gained while we participated on the activity being observed compared to just simply sitting on the event and watching were the thrill of the game, the drive to win, and the fun of playing card games. By simply observing a card game match, one can’t feel the excitement of the game as one draws either a very good hand or a very bad one, or even the feeling of drawing that one game changing card that’ll turn the entire game to your favor. Also, if one merely observes the event, one won’t experience the drive of the players to win the match and the happiness of winning the game or the disappointment of losing it. And finally, to fully know the joy of something, in this instance card games, one must also play it to experience for himself/herself the joys of the game.

  1. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?

The heavy trade and transaction culture that occurs at card game tournaments. If Rich were not my informant, I would have no reason to partake in the heavy trade cultures that occurs in the tournament itself. The reason why we believe so, is because you need to know the people there or have someone, who knows the people there, in order to effectively transact between each player.

  1. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?

A questionnaire or an interview can’t quantify nor an answer to it fully explain and describe the feeling of playing the game itself. A questionnaire or interview would also miss the struggles within the players on how they would be able to utilize the hand given to them to their advantage in order to win.

  1. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?

An interview or questionnaire would have allowed us to gain information from a greater number of people. A single person is limited to how many people he/she can interact, and a survey does not suffer as much from this limitation of quantity.

  1. Using our cafeteria observation exercise as reference, what insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?

An important part of Philippine society is relationships or connections. The competitive card gaming scene emphasizes this. The event also showed us the openness of Filipinos towards strangers, as even though I(John Carlo) was new to the tournament, the people there treated me quite well and I didn’t felt that I was a stranger to them that much. It is also clearly seen that capital standing is heavily involved in the community, for one cannot get the desired if one does not have sufficient money, or cards to use for trade.

 

Bibliography:
Weiss Schwarz Official English Website. Bushiroad.

http://ws-tcg.com/en/wp/wp-content/uploads/WeissSchwarz_comprehensive_rules_v1.71-2017.pdf. Accessed 1, May 2017.

Cardfight Vanguard Official English Website. Bushiroad.

http://cf-vanguard.com/en/howto/pdf/vg_playbook_web.pdf. Accessed 1, May 2017.

 

 

 
 

Simple Sharing and Togetherness: A Closer Look at I Am Hope 2017

Simple Sharing and Togetherness: A Closer Look at I Am Hope 2017

Annia de Guzman & Trish Filart (SA21 – X)

We, the researchers, were able to observe Kythe-Ateneo’s even called I Am Hope (IAH). Kythe is a non-profit, non-stock organization. They focus on helping children with cancer or with other chronic illnesses who are confined in hospitals by making sure that the children would not miss out on the experiences that childhood would entail despite of their confinement. Ultimately, the organization aims to instill hope to these children. They work on achieving this goal by going to weekly visits and hosting events such as I Am Hope.

The I Am Hope event is the flagship of Kythe, an organization in Ateneo de Manila University. They hold this event annually, and normally it is held during the first semester of the school year; however, the organization wanted to make I Am Hope their culminating event for this year and so they held it during the second semester. One of the key informants of the researchers, Matthew Ang, who was part of the logistics team of the I Am Hope event explained the event further and what its purpose is. “We invite all the kids from our partner hospitals and we have a whole day planned out for them, so we have performers, booths, activities, food, and other stuff prepared. The event is really for the kids to enjoy because they’re always in the hospital and it can really affect the way they grow up and the way they enjoy their childhood,” said Matthew. In addition to that, he stated that as Kythers, it is their mission to give the kids a taste of the childhood they would not get otherwise and that is not only what I Am Hope is for, but the Kythe organization itself. However, for this event, the kids are not the only people that Kythe aims to reach out to but also their families. They also invited the parents to the event and provided activities such as zumba dancing and free-painting. This is so that they may also take a break from the worry and pressure that they have to go through given that their child is confined. Essentially, I Am Hope also aims to spread the advocacy and that is why I Am Hope is open to everyone in the Loyola Schools, not just Kythers.

The call time of the buddies was at 6:30 in the morning to set up the venue, but the actual event started at 9 am; that is when the kids started to come. The event was held at the UP amphitheater which was a wide circular field with a large tent at one end. There were activity booths across the tent surrounding the amphitheater and food booths at the sides. These booths provided different activities ranging from interactive sports to arts and crafts. Although the event formally started at 9, we arrived at the event around 12 noon. We were supposedly buddies; however we had an NSTP talk to attend to from 10 am to 12:00 noon and so we ended up observing, walking around, and playing with the kids of our friends, whom are buddies, from time to time.


When we arrived at the event, we first noticed how hot and sunny the weather was. We wondered if the kids were alright considering they were battling an illness which can easily weaken a person. However, despite the heat, we saw children with happy faces as we looked around. Some kids just wanted to sit down and talk with their ates or kuyas, some wanted to play soccer, some wanted to play frisbee, and some just wanted to roam around.  We started participating as soon as we got to the venue so that we would be able to further immerse ourselves into the event. We played soccer with the kids under the intense heat.

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Despite of their illness, we saw that some kids were still able to play as if they did not have any sickness at all. We heard one buddy ask a kid, “Uy, okay ka pa ba? Baka masyado kang mapagod ha” and the kid replied, “Hindi at okay pa ko minsan ko lang ‘to magagawa.” This made us think that events such as I Am Hope are something that children living in such circumstances eagerly anticipate since the activities that the event have are things that they are not able to experience given that they are staying in a hospital.  As we were participating, we ran into our friends, Tiolo Alvarez and Aaliyah Monasterial, whom are buddies. We were able to play as well with their kids for some time. We interviewed Aaliyah and asked her various questions on being a buddy; we asked Aaliyah why she chose to be a buddy and how the experience was like for her. She answered “I was a buddy last year and I really enjoyed my time as a buddy, so I decided to make it a tradition that I’ll continue volunteering as a buddy until my last year in college.” She continued to speak about her experience with this year’s I Am Hope event. This year was a bit different for her since her buddy-partner did not show up; however she took advantage and savored the opportunity because she got to spend more time with her kid, TJ. At first TJ was shy and reluctant to spend time with Aaliyah for the first few hours of the event; he wanted to stay with his mother. However, after some time, TJ started to warm up to Aaliyah. They started to run around and tease each other. We saw how happy TJ was, along with the other kids playing in the field. Aaliyah also said that she really did not mind if TJ did not warm up to her as much as he did, what was important to her was that TJ was having a good and fun time since that day revolved around the happiness of the kids. According to Aaliyah, it was a very fun yet fulfilling experience for her. As we continued to walk around, we saw various interactions of the kids with their buddies; some were a bit shy at first while some were fast to be attached to their buddies.

Due to the heat, we decided to take a break from playing and to walk around the venue to observe. As we were roaming around the venue with our ice creams in hand, one booth caught our attention. The booth was called “Camp Rock” and here we observed the kids being serenaded by college students from a UP organization. As they were singing we looked at the reaction of the little girl who was being serenaded by the boys. She had a shy smile on her face, looking a little bit kilig. After their song was done we moved to another booth called “Art Attack”. This booth was manned by the students from the organization UP Flyers, which is a sister organization of Kythe. One of our key informants named Gabbie Caburnay was able to explain to us what activities they had in store for the kids. She said that in this booth, kids would be able to make small paper tents made out of popsicle sticks, coloring materials, and paper.

Not only did we pay attention to the children during our observation, but also to the Kythers as well. We noticed that all the Kythers were active; roaming around, catering to parents, playing with children, dancing around. All of them had a smile on their face and looked genuinely happy to be helping the children and the families out despite having to brave the heat and going through the hassle of organizing a huge event. We also saw that they were very accommodating to the buddies who were non-Kythers and also to us who were just outsiders. Here we saw their generosity and kindness.

Food and drink concessionaires were present to give out free food. By the time we were observing, we were already hungry and tired from all the playing and running around. However, as outsiders we first felt shy to get some food, but one of the Kythe members, Rianna Bengzon, who is also the marketing head of the event, told us that we were free to get as much food and drinks that we want since they were consumable. The programs head, Coleen Illescas, also told us that we were free to observe and make use of what they have offered as well.

While we were lining up for food, we could overhear the conversation of a buddy and his kid. We saw the kid’s name tag and it said that his name was James. James was wearing a big smile on his face, even though it was obvious that he was tired since he was breathing a bit heavily. He had a lanky body which was quite noticeable under the big shirt he was wearing. His buddy was fanning him. They were behind us in line for the juice stall. By this time, it was already instilled in us that the kids are the number one priority in this event. Which is why we made them go ahead to get their beverages ahead of us.

While walking and looking around, watching the kids play, we felt a bit sad because we genuinely wanted to be buddies as well. Through our participation and observation, we were able to see the impact that buddies had on the children and the new friendships that they have developed. We wished we were able to interact with the children as much as we would be able to if we were buddies, but despite of this, we were still able to appreciate the short moments we got to meet the children and played with them. As we were observing, we were able to get a chance to share and talk about the insights that we gained after participating. The smiles that we shared together with the kids as we were playing were a manifestation of us feeling like kids again. We realized that even though this event was mainly for the kids, it was also a chance for us college students to put aside our worries for a while so that we could be able to participate and engage well in the event. This in turn made us think that the event was for the buddies and also the student organizers.

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Towards the end of our stay in the event, we decided to sit by the amphitheater to do some further observations. In this area, most of the children were resting with their buddies and some would have their parents or guardians closely staying near them. The hosts who were at the amphitheater were consistently engaging the tired, but happy crowd. By this time, they were hyping the crowd for the arrival of their celebrity guest, the child star Mutya Orquia. Personally, we both did not know who the celebrity is but the excitement that we saw in some of the children’s faces made us realize that she is a big deal to them. We also saw some parents and guardians sitting down and having a bit of small talk with each other. From this point of the venue, we had a good view of the whole event. At one point, we were able to observe from afar the field wherein the children and their buddies play. While at another point were able to observe the children and their buddies lying across the picnic cloths put around the amphitheater itself. At this spot, we were able to synthesize all the learnings we were able to gain from participating and also observing.

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The very last activity that took place was the graduation and picture taking of the children. This occurred from 3:00 in the afternoon to around 4:00. The graduation served as a sort of reward for the children for being able to survive and fight through the whole day despite the heat and despite their illness. The picture taking captures the day and all the memories within it for the families, the children, and the volunteers to keep always. This part of the event really emphasized the instillation of hope into the lives of these children because it shows them that they can still enjoy life and be normal even through the hardship of having such an illness. This part was bittersweet because the day of fun for the children and families has come to an end, but it was successful in spreading the advocacy of Kythe and in giving the children and their families a happy experience in contrast with their daily lives in the hospital.

Looking at all the activities present in the event, one could say that these things are normal things that any child would be able to experience. However, we realized that the circumstance that these children are in put them at a disadvantage since they are not able to do these things as much as normal kids could do. These simple activities are things that they would eagerly wait for and seeing the satisfied smiles on their faces is proof that these simple activities are something that they would cherish dearly. Through simple sharing and togetherness, the families, children, student organizers and volunteers were able to uphold the advocacy of Kythe and spread hope.

 


  1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?

We played with the kids together with their buddies as a form of participation. From all the playing, we realized that the event was not just for the kids and their parents of guardians, but for the buddies as well. We felt like kids as well since we had time to immerse ourselves in the activities and to put our worries, such as academics and other personal matters, aside. Through participation, we were able to meet the kids and interact with them. The insights we gained from observing are a bit different. As we were observing, we felt more like outsiders. We were able to see how Kythe as an organization takes an extra step just to live out their advocacy. By observing, we were able to somehow analyze the various interactions between buddies and children and the reactions of children, as well as their parents, to the event. Furthermore, we will not be able to realize these as we were participating since during that time we were focused on having fun with the kids.

  1. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?

Having our key informants helped us in understanding what the advocacy of Kythe really is and we were also able to have a closer look on how they organize events such as I Am Hope. This helped us in gaining a deeper perspective of how to live out the meaning of the word Kythe which is “healing through simple sharing and togetherness.” Listening to how our key informants talk about their advocacy and their event made us see how important it is not only for the student organizers but most especially for the kids that they serve. Through our key informants, we also realized how unique I Am Hope is because we, along with one of our key informants, pointed out that we are not familiar with other events help by other universities that have the same agenda and goal as I Am Hope.

  1. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?

Simply knowing more about this event from an interview or a questionnaire would only provide us objective answers that would not be of enough substance. From our participation, we were able to have a little bit of experience of how it is to be a Kyther even though it was for just less than a day. From this we can say that we will not be able to learn the value of their advocacy if we do not live it out even for just a little while. The Kythers’ passion for their advocacy cannot be simply put into words and objective answers, rather through participating and engagement in their activities and this is why, as Matthew said earlier, I Am Hope is open to all students of Ateneo.

  1. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?

Conducting interviews with our key informants gave us a closer look at what happens behind the scenes. In other words, we were able to know what process the student organizers had to go through in order to achieve this event. Being non-Kythers, it would be obvious that we would definitely miss out on this part of the event. Knowing the process that it had to go through is an important part of this fieldwork since it gave us deeper understanding of the purpose of this event. Furthermore, an interview with key informants will help us gain knowledge on the foundation of Kythe and the personal experiences of Kythe members and volunteers.

  1. Using our cafeteria observation exercise as reference, what insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?

As in the cafeteria observation, we were also able to observe an interaction between different social classes. The Kythers and Non-Kythers came from a high social class compared to most of the families present during the event. This is parallel to the employees working in the different cafeterias around the campus and the students of Ateneo. From the event, we saw the interaction between the two social classes and what makes this event different from the cafeteria observation is that those who are in a high social class are serving those who are in the lower one. The event held for the enjoyment of the parents, guardians, and their children. We noticed that at first, children would be shy towards their buddies and most of them bonded through games and playing. This shows how differences can be set aside easily in playing because Filipinos in general have an interest in sports, as seen during PBA games, UAAP games, and even NBA games.

 

 
 

Dungeons and Dragons: How to Be a Warlock

by Sachi Siquijor (SA21 – J)

As a (frustrated) writer, I’m always on the look out for ways to improve my world and character building. When we were given the opportunity to immerse ourselves in an unfamiliar topic / activity, I immediately knew that I wanted to partake in Dungeons and Dragon session.

Dungeons and Dragons, often shortened to D&D, is a text roleplaying game, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson almost 40 years ago. The brand is under the umbrella company, Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of the Hasbro Company.

The objective of the players, or player charcters (PCs) is to complete a campaign run by the dungeon master (DM). Over the campaign, PCs meet a host of different characters from helpful non-player characters (NPCs) to the enemy monsters. Usually played in a group with 3-5 members, these campaigns can range from the official, canon-compliant D&D works, to one of the dungeon master’s own making. Part of the appeal of the game is that players are free to create any character that suits their fancy.

The game progresses under a turn based system, with each player having to roll a pair of dice. These dies are anywhere from the regular four sided die, to a twenty sided die. These rolls determine most of the quantifiable aspects, such as character statistics and number of spaces moved, that happens in the campaign session. Usually, the setting and movements of the campaign is narrated by the dungeon master, with the player characters using their imagination to visualize the different happenings that occur during the journey.

The themes of D&D are deeply rooted in the high fantasy genre, with the presence of the titular dragons within the lore. Many of the races and character classes are built on a world totally removed from this plane of reality. Magic users, half- dragon half-men hybrids are among the few fantastical creatures present in the D&D world.

Dungeons and Dragons has a long established history and lore, with the canon of the game spanning over the four decades since it came in to existence. Currently, the game is in its 5th edition. The game has become a staple of ‘geek culture’, prominently featured in shows like the Netflix-produced, Stranger Things. Often played on a tabletop as a group, Dungeons and Dragons has evolved over its more than 40 year history.

On a more personal level, I’ve plunged myself into a life of so called geekery, from collecting comic books (Hawkeye (2012) is still my favorite series) to videogaming (clocking in at over a hundred hours on Overwatch). Prior to the ethnography project, I was uninitiated into the ways of a D&D player. Many of my good friends played it religiously, and I was intrigued by how they weaved stories and worlds, all for the sake of a game. As a dungeon master or a player character, all of the participants take on roles to shape the unseen world that they are journeying through.

Some campaigns run anywhere from a few hours and can be completed in one or two sessions, while others span years and several editons. Large convensions with multiple campaigns running are also a norm within the culture of D&D, with Manila hosting Conclave, a large gathering of players from both near and far.

I was considering joining Conclave, as per my veteran D&D friend suggested, but looking at the price for the entrance fee and my own uncertainty of dealing with large crowds, I decided not to. A post on Facebook and several inquiries later, I came to join the campaign of a fellow student and D&D student. We spent about two weeks planning on how the session was going to go, and worked on building my character during our spare time.

The character creation was done with dungeon master and friend, Maye Gaite, in the middle of my Sci10 class. Maye offered to include me in a campaign she was writing at the time, perfect for beginners like myself. For the campaign, we would be joined by a few other of her friends, most of them also in my Sci10 class. I should have been paying attention in all honesty, but I also was extremely excited to get to work with her and on starting on D&D.

I had skimmed through the Players Manual (a pirated copy I had downloaded online) and reviewed the different races and job classes I could put my character in. In the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse, a player character could be anything from a human or elf, to some of the more fantastical races such as the infernal Tieflings.

The product of two weeks and multiple conversations online and in person led to the creation of my Tiefling Warlock character, Phelia Zhang. Phelia came into existence while our Sci10 professor was talking about DNA patterns, chromasomes, and hereditary traits, which I thought to be a rather apt white noise to the process.

Prior to making my character, I knew that I wanted to make them female, and have Charisma as the highest stat. Mostly because I wanted to romance and/or seduce other PCs and NPCs, since I had heard of many stories of players romancing other objects (including a bridge) to comical extents. The Tiefling race perfectly suited my needs, with their charisma getting a +5 bonus, in addtion to what the player had already rolled for. Within the Player’s Handbook were suggested classes that each race should take on. Naturally, I picked the job most suited to the race and my character became a Warlock.

The process of building a player character was made easier through the use of an Android mobile application which automatically calculated the stats rolled for, and added the corresponding race and class bonuses. It was a huge relief when Maye suggested that we all download it to streamline the character creation process. The app also listed all of the available skills that on character could inherit or adopt as they leveled up. Each detail of the charcters was meticulously written down and constructted by the player, as if one were creating a person of their own making.

Maye made a Facebook messenger group so that all of the players could interact with one another and generally get a feel of each other’s personalities before we had our session. I’d met most of them offline already, seeing that we were mostly classmates and had interacted prior joining the D&D group. They were a friendly bunch, and we took to each other’s company immediately, sending memes and jokes about our characters to each other.

I played my first session online, over the text and voice channel of a messenger service called Discord. The group agreed to do so becuase of the difficulty of finding common time in the day. It was a Friday night and I had left my weekday address to go home for the weekend. In the end, I was hooked up to my phone and typing furiously to keep up with the campaign.

8:30 pm. We did a connection test and everyone was ready to go. I was a bit nervous, seeing that a few of them had some experience in participating in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

I had no idea how to act as Phelia, though I had made a character sketch in my head about how she would act and her backstory. It was difficult keeping in character, without my own personality bleeding into her lines.

Maye became the Dungeon Master, and the group was immersed into the session with her narrating it over the voice server.

As our player characters, we were told that we had suddenly woken up in an unfamiliar room inside an inn. I was a bit late to the campaign becuase my mobile data had decided to cut out on me as soon as I entered the car and was on my way home.

The first thing I typed out as Phelia was ” *kicks the closest player character next to me* Who the f- are you?” with the askterisks indicating an action by the character. It was an automatic knee jerk reaction for her. We were no longer Sci10 classmates in an online group, I was a 20 year old Tiefling Warlock named Phelia. Another guy, an Information Design major who sat to the far right in my row in class, was Nyess, a rude bard frog / dog thing that sometimes used his farts to play his flute. Another ID major was now, Hrogarious, who was apparently after some clarification, a six foot tall, muscular librarian. Unfortunately, he was also the player character I had decided to kick.

With our DM telling us how to proceed, all of the characters were made to step out of the communal inn room and down the stairs. We were met by the innkeeper, a middle aged elven man, and four drunk and rowdy human patrons. the Dungeon Master gave us a choice on how to proceed. We could speak with them calmly, approaching them first before doing anything hasty, attack them, or ignore the rude customers all together.

We each rolled for our turns. I was caught somewhere in the middle, and went third out of the six players. The two ahead of me did nothing to hurt the drunkards. I, on the other hand, typed out multiple times and entusastically ‘murder’ in the chat box. I wanted my character to flex her power in front of the party.

The DM unperterbed by my choice of action, asked me which skill I would like to use. I immediately replied to that Phelia would be using Eldritch Blast, a cantrip or skill that allowed the attacker to use infernal energy as a projectile. It was known to be the best offensive spell, as I read up. The DM then proceeded to ask me to roll a twenty sided die to see if I would land a hit on the unfortunate man.

I had rolled an 18, guaranteeing that my attack would hit.

The entire chat was flooded with laughs and emoticons that looked like they were laughing. Our DM, surprised but amused, asked Phelia to describe how the drunkard gets affected by the shot.

Quickly typing out what I thought, the chat burst into laughter again. ‘The man was hit point blank with the magic shot in the chest,’ I typed out. ‘The table beside him was splattered with blood and guts. The innkeeper looked on horrified, while our gentle fae healer almost passes out from the sight. Phelia cackles, before Hrogarius hits her with a book.’

With my turn over, I excuse myself to rest my eyes from the moving text. I was still on the way home and my vision had started to go fuzzy from staring at the screen for too long. I took out my head phones and rested my ears as well.

After around 15 minutes of rest, I connected again to the Discord server to find that the party had totally eradicated the ruffian and were going outside the bar to explore the world outside. Here, our DM presented the party with a choice. Be employed by the truffle farmer, for a chance to get gold (the currency of the game) or steal the truffles and sell it on the black market. Most of the characters agreed to simply work for the truffle farmer.

I asked if I could seduce the truffle farmer into giving us the truffles. Our DM at this point was used to having my player character go to extremes, whether it be anhiliating a slight nuance or taking the unorthodox route of seducing the elf we were supposed to work for. She asked me to roll persuasion.

I had gotten a 1, meaning I had failed spectacularly. Again, everyone laughed and hooted at my misfortune. No truffles for us, but the DM allowed the NPC elf to give us a small compensation for our troubles.

With the equivalent of a day past, the DM made the party return to the inn. Now that the ruffians were gone, the establishment was in full swing and packed with customers. There were drinks and other races present, the DM described. In a corner there was a male elven entertainer. At the bar was a high ranking looking halfling official. There was a dwarf playing the piano as well.What would the party like to do, the DM asked over the voice chat.

I made Phelia approach the elven entertainer. “I want to seduce him,” I typed out.

Our DM made the vocal equivalent of rolling her eyes. Taking a slightly different voice to suit the character of the male elf, she says “Well, that will have to cost you.” Phelia asks if she can get it for free. Our DM asks me to roll for persuasion again.

I roll a perfect 20. He has to give into me for free.

The other players send clapping emojis to the chat, and our DM announces, “You aren’t a half bad looking Tiefling. I like your tail. Wanna take this upstairs?”

I used that opportunity to bow out of the session, seeing that my player character was indisposed for the rest of the night.

When I finally disemabarked at my house, I felt giddy that I had completed my first session with the group.

Looking back at the experience, I understand why many have taken a shine to the game. There’s real human intereaction, coupled with the face that players can literally choose to be whomever and whatever they want. Each character created is so multifaceted and the world that they immerce themselves in is only limited by how far they can stretch their imagination. It’s an exercise in universe building, with each action dictated by the player but left to chance with the roll of the dice. It’s impossible to play D&D with out friends or companions and it’s utterly amazing that the players and the DM can evoke such feeling and diversity by simply saying a few words or describing how a scene is going. Anyone can play the game, and the end goal is not to complete a campaign or a session, but to learn how to enjoy the company and cameraderie between characters and participants alike. I have new found friends and new found appreiciation for the game, and continue to play with Maye and our group until today.

One is not required to have a table top now, as technology has connected every individual no matter how far apart. Wizards of the Coast is planning to release an app for the Dungeons and Dragons game, though other third party developers like those behind the Squire app, have made things easier for people to keep track of their characters aside from the usual pencil and paper character sheet. Now anyone, anywhere can a character and build a campaign as complex or as simple as they fancy. I suppose that is part of the appeal of the game itself.

The project has immersed me and introduced me into the world of Dungeons and Dragons and I don’t think I’ll be leaving any time soon.

 
 

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League of Legends: An Exhilarating Experience

Kevin Evangelista, 154853

Out of all the favorite pastimes of Filipinos, online gaming ranks as among the most popular and most widely seen today. Rarely can you venture through a city or a village without coming across an internet shop. Chances are that the majority of people within any internet shop at a given time are playing online games- as opposed to studying, merely browsing the web, or playing other types of games. In fact, internet cafes seem to report that the online gaming phenomena (which is recent compared to internet cafes themselves) are now making up the bigger percentages and shares of their monthly revenue compared to other activities (Olandres). The online gaming phenomena has even seemed to transcend normal ideas of class distinction, as the image of children playing in a computer shop right next to sari-sari stores on the street isn’t as farfetched as it may have been a few years before. In fact, many of the people these children may be playing against could be in an airconditioned internet cafe in a mall somewhere on the other side of the country. Such is the appeal of this gaming culture. It was interesting enough that I decided to take a look at this culture myself, through the lens of an ethnographic fieldwork.

A short disclaimer before I proceed further: I myself am a gamer, albeit not the sort who’d be familiar in the ever-growing online gaming community that I’ve talked about. The games I mostly play are single-player experiences with no online components. They are more driven by narrative, character and a sense of adventure and grandeur, rather than by fast-paced, team-oriented battles, or massive multiplayer experiences. They are action-adventure games rather than MMOs (massive multiplayer online games). As such, the world of gaming that many of my friends are a part of is completely foreign to me. I’ve never been into those types of games, and so this meant that the prospect of finally getting to try them out and participate in that culture was an exciting one.

To get started, however, I realized I’d have to narrow my search. Online gaming has several different manifestations. There are first person shooter multiplayer games like Counter-Strike and Team Fortress; MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games) like World of Warcraft and EVE: Online; multiplayer online battle arenas like Defense of the Ancients (more popularly known as DOTA); and so much more. To get started, I decided to narrow my research scope down by choosing a game which I knew most of my friends were already familiar with: the online battle arena phenomenon known affectionately as LoL, or League of Legends.

My specific goal for this project was to apply participant observation in order to get a general feel of the practice of online gaming itself, and the experience of participating in an online gaming environment. In order to do that, I decided to visit Mineski, an internet cafe that is popular among students from the Katipunan universities and schools. I asked help from my high school classmate and current Ateneo schoolmate, Joshua Luna, who is an avid LoL player and member of a group of regular players consisting of my other high school friends. He would be my guide and mentor on my first foray into the world of online gaming.

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Key Informant (right) and high school friends

We set our gaming session on April 25, 2017 starting at 6 PM and ending at around 9 PM (for me, as he said he’d be there until at least 1 AM). When I arrived, I found that the internet shop was on top of a cafe, so I had to ascend through a narrow staircase to get there. Outside, four students were smoking, so I had to wade through a thick haze of smoke in order to get to the door. As soon as I entered, I was immediately hit with a wall of noise. Music was pulsing through the air, shifting from pop to electronica to retro with every new song. The beats only served to punctuate the din of conversation noise that reached my ears next, with the drone of excited clamoring and chattering interrupted by the occasional loud curse of defeat or shout of victory. I made my way to the front desk. It was manned by two people in Mineski collared shirts, and they were busy responding to the needs of customers who were also at the counter in order to buy food, extend their playing time or request things that were absolutely foreign to my ears; probably related to whatever game they were playing. When I was able to get the attention of one of the people behind the counter, I requested three hours of playing time (Mineski Katipunan is priced at P30/hour for people without a membership card or special privilege), and then texted my friend to ask him where he was. Out of the sea of people and computers, he stood up and waved me over. I slowly made my way to the far end of the internet cafe, pausing periodically to squeeze through the seats of people who were too focused on their computers to realize they were blocking the way. As I reached my key informant, I realized that two of my high school friends were beside him, which made me more comfortable. Settling into my seat (you are free to choose any free computer terminal), I entered the user code and password given to me at the counter and was faced with a computer desktop. It was a familiar enough sight, except for the fact that icons for games and several extra interfaces for different programs and platforms that I had never seen in my life were crowding the screen as well. I was excited however. It was time to start playing.

My key informant got me started by teaching me how to pull up Garena (an internet platform provider that distributes LoL) and entering the profile information of a friend of his that had agreed to let his account be used for this occasion. We encountered a problem however, as I had to have LoL installed on the computer I was using. We started the install sequence and my key informant and friends decided to play a game on their own while they waited for me. I decided to use this time to observe the game itself, before jumping in. What met my eyes was a flurry of color and movement that looked nothing like the games I was used to playing. There was an interface that went way beyond the normal HUD (heads up display) that was common in adventure games. Instead of just a health bar, a mana bar (for magical or special attacks and abilities), a weapon wheel (for selecting tools and weapons) and perhaps the number of bullets left in a gun for shooters; there were maps, numbers, icons, symbols, foreign-sounding words, several bars and things I didn’t even know what to call covering every inch of the sides of the monitor. As I tried watching, bars of different colors would lessen and slowly refill in different amounts corresponding to what I guessed were the different attacks that were being used. I surmised that some icons were special moves depending on the way they faded out of color whenever my key informant’s character did something that looked complicated and cool. I guessed that the map randomly spouting different lines were for tracking the predicted movements of their characters, and that different icons on the map corresponded to different types of players, NPCs (non-playable characters) and units. That was as far as I got though. The numbers flickering, decreasing, and increasing beside pictures of what looked like potions, swords, and things I didn’t even recognize threw me off completely. Sometimes my friends would open menus and enter quick commands into varied and complicated interfaces that didn’t seem to do anything different in my eyes. That the game didn’t pause for them while they did all this multitasking was something I didn’t comprehend. My own single-player games sometimes required some quick hand-eye coordination and thinking, but nothing on a scale like this, and not with several different interfaces besides the main game. My key informant wasn’t even looking at his keyboard, and instead was focusing on his monitor and periodically glancing at his seatmates to laugh at a joke they had made or to simply say a few taunting words. His hands however were quickly entering commands and instructions that seemed impossible for me to do without focusing on the keyboard itself first.

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A match underway

Despite all this action and skill, what impressed me the most was the calm and playful demeanor with which my friends seemed to do this. They weren’t struggling to keep up with all the information, commands, and visual mayhem that were going on, but instead seemed to know exactly what everything meant, what to do, and how to do it such that they seemed to be able to flow with the game– even making small talk on different topics, and taking bites out of their food, or sips out of their drinks. There were moments of quick anger or frustration when one of them died of course, but they were never exhibited the sort of frustration that occurs when someone is lost, and is unable to process information fast enough to do something. This clued me into the fact that players of this game who did it regularly were more than just people in front of a computer. They seemed a real community; with their own methods, rules, vocabulary, and knowledge of what something meant or what needed to be done. It was a community I wasn’t a part of, however, as I had no idea what the hell was going on in the bigger picture. There were times when I lost what was going on entirely and simply decided to surf the internet or look at Facebook to pass the time. I even ordered some food and simply watched as they played intently.

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Local cuisine

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My character avatar

Soon however, my install was finished and the time came for me to finally join my friends in playing LoL. Needless to say, I was intimidated because of what I had seen. I worried at not being able to follow all the information and execute the commands fast enough. I told my key informant that I was probably going to be laughed at in game, or worse, be responsible for making us lose. He told me not to worry, as both he and all my friends were all first-timers once too, which meant they knew perfectly well how it was like. To get me started, he set up a couple of training matches with me to learn the controls. In training matches, one could fight with A.I. instead of with real online players, which made it slightly easier and put less pressure on me to perform. My key informant showed me the ropes by teaching me how to select my character and get it ready for a match. Then, he taught me how to move around and quickly transition from one place to another on the map.

Despite being a gamer in my own right, this was necessary things as simple as movement controls add camera orientation can differ greatly depending on the type of game you play. For example, adventure games usually are oriented in first person (such as in shooters such as Call of Duty) or third person (such as in Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto), while games like DOTA and LoL were oriented with the camera in a fixed position at a certain angle above the game map, where it didn’t even constantly follow your character like it did in adventure games. As I learned the basics of attacking, defending, casting spells and healing myself, I began to get the hang of it. I was taught to buy certain materials from the shop (which constituted one of the many other interfaces I saw my friends use) and use them in basic ways, to attack minions (basic enemy units), to stay away from towers unless I had extra reinforcements, to hide in bushes and cast spells to reveal people who hid within bushes and so on and so forth. Soon, I was confident enough in my knowledge of how to do the basics that I requested we start sending real A.I. enemies (as opposed to simple minion “pawns”) into the ring. As soon as the battle started however, I was caught off guard. It’s certainly one thing to know what to do and which button does what; but to remember all of those commands and combinations in the heat of war with several different things happening all at once instead of one by one is something else entirely. My key informant kept telling me which attack to use and when to cast defense (as well as when NOT to cast defense) and would constantly reach over and execute a command to ensure I didn’t die completely. With his advice and instructions (such as telling me to follow his character’s movements at all times) I began to slowly find myself do better and better. This culminated in us repeatedly defeating the enemy A.I. and slowly advancing towards the enemy base. When we won the match and a huge “VICTORY” sign was plastered onto my screen, I felt good. Really good. As if I had passed some sort of rite of passage. Little did I know however, that a real match wouldn’t be that easy.

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A normal match interface

My friends and key informant set up an easy match for me to join them in, and even though I was a bit put out by that (as anyone seeking to prove himself would probably be) I understood as soon as the match started. This wasn’t a training match at all. People moved quicker, there were different roles to fulfill (which my key informant rattled off in a half-focused manner before turning to me to explain what each strange term meant after he died the first time), and it was much harder to battle enemies. In addition to this, different messages kept flashing onto the screen. There were messages commenting on the excellent performance of certain players (“MADFRIES is unstoppable!”) and messages simply laughing and shouting random words at everyone (“KEVIN WHAT THE HELL”) . I barely held my own, following my key informant’s specific instructions to the letter whilst I tried my best to survive. Needless to say, I died several times, and my friends were having good natured fun and laughter at my expense. Everytime I felt brave and tried to attack an enemy player directly I’d be dead in five seconds. As a result, my friends told me to stay in the bushes and hide as much as possible, serving only as support for them. Although we tried our best and I myself had a few glorious moments that earned praise from my friends (successfully “hooking and punching” an enemy player, saving my friend from death), we lost in the end. As all that fun had taken up most of my time in Mineski, I simply took notes of my experiences as an observer and participant before bidding my friends and key informant goodbye and heading home at around 9 PM. It was an amazing experience, but I was happy for it to be over so that my mind could get back to a slower pace after that hair-raising experience.

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What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?

Firstly, participating in a LoL match instead of merely observing one gave me clarity as to the nature of the game itself. Whereas observation merely showed me confusing visuals and symbols that I didn’t understand, participation allowed me to be a part of all of that and take part in what I used to think was just something I couldn’t understand or come to learn. It broke down the veil of utter complication for me and actually gave me a semblance of understanding to the madness. Now I can look at other people playing LoL and recognize the general idea of what’s going on. On a deeper level however, I think that participation actually showed me what it felt like to participate in such a culture and feel things because of it. I actually learned how to play the game, and thus learned that such games weren’t as incredibly exclusive as I imagined. I felt disappointment (although light-hearted) at my failures and a sense of both triumph and community whenever I did manage to do something substantial. It gave me a clue as to the nature of the online gaming phenomena in the Philippines as a whole. It dispelled the notions that some people had (that I was aware of) of everyone playing such things being either hopeless addicts or people with no options in life. There I was, someone who used to not be a part of that world at all, having genuine fun and sharing an experience with friends. It felt like more than just a game that people “wasted time” on. It felt like a communal thing that, even if for a brief moment, I was a legitimate part of.

What did having a key informant add to your understanding.

Having Joshua as my key informant was very helpful, because he helped me navigate a culture and a game that was completely foreign to me. He taught me that matches were generally seen as a relaxed thing and that I shouldn’t worry about truly upsetting people for the most part. He taught me how to actually play the game and he was very helpful in me getting a feel for how the mechanics worked instead of just what button to press at what time (although there was a lot of that too). More than just that though, my experience with him also made me more comfortable in playing the game. I didn’t always feel lost and clueless, and perhaps to other players somewhere around the world (LoL matches aren’t limited to single places) I actually appeared competent to a degree. Under his guidance, I was able to truly experience being a part of the online gaming community.

What was learned from participant observation and at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?

One simply can’t understand the game by interviewing the players or giving out questionnaires. Such methods may only get you different ideas about it from players. You may even be able to understand which button does what if you ask specific enough questions. What won’t be garnered by such methods though, is the feeling and spirit of the community and culture in a real way. It’s one thing to hear about or read about everything I elaborated on above, but it’s another thing entirely to experience it for yourself. It’s just not the same when you actually put yourself in the seat and try to win a match against real people. In addition to this of course, try learning the mechanics of the game itself through an interview. It’s not going to work at all. It’s far too complicated and coordinated to learn without experience.

For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?

While I elaborated that experience may be very helpful in giving someone both the knowledge and feeling about online gaming to really form a complete picture of it, its very nature as a communal activity lends itself well to interviews and questionnaires conducted well. You get a broader view of what the game means and is to lots of other people, and you get a much wider pool of reference for information if you want to learn more about the culture and experiences of the online community as well. Thus, interviews would serve better for a broader approach to the subject.

Using our cafeteria observation exercise as reference, what insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?

Since LoL is an online game it creates anonymity for its players whenever you have a match with them, but the sheer amount of people playing LoL itself within Mineski alone is testament to the broad reach its had within the country. You can see adults, teenagers, and children playing next to each other with the same level of competence. People with school IDs are slugging it out next to kids dressed in nothing but sandos and house shorts. It seems online gaming has no boundaries if one has access either to internet or a computer shop (which usually has very cheap prices, like I mentioned earlier).  All of these observations seem to point to the idea that the Filipinos of today really are a people that are technologically proficient and connected with online culture. One normally wouldn’t expect people from all across the social spectrum to be able to learn the complexities of a game like LoL, but the fact that everyone seems to play proficiently with time here speaks to how entrenched such technologies and practices are in Filipino society today. Also, the sense of community it builds and the sense of achievement one can obtain are factors that I suspect play a large role in the popularity of the game. In fact, for thousands of Filipinos (as well as over twenty seven million players worldwide, with around seven million active at any given time), LoL seems to have become a cultural pastime that’s deeply ingrained in the lives of all of its players (Rega). One can only expect this phenomena to grow in the Philippines if the trends continue.

Sources:

Joshua Luna – key informant

Olandres, Abe. “The Internet Café Business in the Philippines.” GMA News Online. N.p., 28 May 2008. Web. 01 May 2017.

Rega, Sam. “League of Millions: Inside the video game phenomenon that’s selling out global arenas and earning stars up to $1 million.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 28 July 2015. Web. 01 May 2017.

 
 

A Millenial’s Way of Worship: The Victory Youth Service Experience

Fortunato Madamba SA21 – X

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   Recently, I discovered a new and unconventional way to serve and praise the Lord. I have been a devout Roman catholic since birth because both my parents were roman catholics and wanted me to stay the same. I reverently practices my being a roman catholic through the various rites and rituals that bring us closer to God. I believe that I have explored every way possible for a roman catholic to enhance my relationship with the lord. I have gone on recollections, retreats, special silent retreats, almost all of the sacraments and of course up to this day i go to a roman catholic school. Recently I heard about Victory, a place where my friends who are born again christians go to worship and give praise to the Lord. For a couple of months now, they have been inviting me to go to their weekly Youth Service where “a lot of ateneans go!” This sparked my interest so one day I decided to finally go.

    It was my first time to go up the fifth floor of regis, a building that I usually go to. I was suddenly in an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar faces. All of them were about the same age as me or younger which tells me that I am in fact in the right place. I immediately look for Jasmine Buen or Jam, my informant for today youth service. She greeted me with a warm smile and introduced me to her group of friends including Red our campus minister which is sort of the leader of the group as well. As we entered the hall, I was overwhelmed by the venue. It was very big and spacious, I didn’t even think there was something like this in regis. Music was playing and lights were flashing onto a stage ready for a concert. There were probably a couple hundred people eager to fill up the seats as a timer was counting down to 6pm, the official start of the youth service. Their faces filled with joy and excitement yet patiently waiting for the timer to finish counting down. Jam led me to the seats on the left side of the stage and we sat more of her friends on the second row (since the first row was already filled with people).

The countdown timer eventually reached zero and a fellow student from Ateneo went up on stage and started reciting spoken word poetry. I was confused ‘till he got to the part proclaiming his love for the Lord. At this point I started to conclude that they worshipped the Lord through various forms of art like spoken word poetry. To further support this observation, a band started to play as he finished reciting his poem. Five singers ran up onstage and started to sing what I’m  guessing was their opening song asking everybody to stand and sing along. It was hard to resist since the lyrics were flashed on multiple screens and almost everybody was jumping, dancing and singing along to the songs that were being played. it was such a euphoric environment where everybody was having the time of their lives while worshipping the Lord.

At after a few songs, campus ministers like Red got up onstage to read a few passages from the Bible. As they explained these Bible passages they made it very relatable to the audience by inserting Snippets of the college experience. Examples include the hardships of hell week, the mountain of requirements, how to balance your allowances for the week, and finally studying for your subjects like theology. As they said these examples they would always wait for a response as to entice audience participation and to keep the attention of the young audience.

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After another song of praise, a man named Joseph came up on stage to talk about moving forward in one’s  relationship with Jesus. He started his presentation by sharing recent events in his life, his recent trip abroad, this funny experiences with his son, and finally his experience studying theology. At this point my friend Jam informed me that Joseph also graduated from the Ateneo. She also told me about Joseph being a campus Minister just like red but eventually moved up to be a pastor. Pastor Joseph then continue to talk about how one could move forward in a relationship with Jesus. He cited the verse 2 Peter 3:15 onwards and highlighted key phrases in order to further explain the topic at hand. And if that wasn’t enough, he related it to the everyday experiences of the youth like using social media and studying theology in college. First, he related it to the hardship of studying theology and how the wrong use of theology could lead to false beliefs that allow room for misinterpretations and misuse of the word of God. He even hinted instances of misuse by imitating a current senator that evoked a few laughs from the crowd. He mentioned how some people see the word of the Lord in fear instead of love taking the passages too literally word per word like some of his classmates. He then moved to his next example to expound on how the word of the lord should lead to love instead of fear. He likened it to stalking your crush on social media and how he himself stalked his wife which led to him loving her more. The more he learned about her by reading her blogs and her tweets, the more he fell in love with her. He talked for about an hour walking around the worship hall interacting with some of the members that he knew. Even though he talked for such a long time, it wasn’t boring and was even very interesting since it was catered to the youth.

As he said his concluding words, the band started to get up onstage and prepared for their final song. They repeated their first song of praise to end the youth service in a celebratory mood asking the people to come closer to stage and to join them in singing for the Lord. Jam told me to go with her and the dozens of people who went towards the stage jumping and dancing and clapping their hands in joy. But it wasn’t the end as Red gathered everyone for a debriefing to talk about the service and how we felt.

 

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The most important insight that I learned from participating in Victory Youth Service was that it wasn’t that different from the kind of worship I grew up on. It strengthened my pre-conceived notion and belief that we all have ways, albeit different from each other, to praise and worship the Lord. This difference does not necessarily mean one is wrong while the other is right; it just means that we all have our unique way of expressing our faith. As I was listening to Joe talk about his relationship with Jesus, it wasn’t as far as I expected from what I already believe in (except of course for the part where he talked about being a born again Christian which was a new concept to me as a Roman Catholic). I further understood how every religion may worship a different god and may worship in a different way but their intentions remain pure. At the end of the day, their main objective continues to be to teach values and ways of life that will encourage the members of their faith to grow positively, to grow more as a community, while believing in something that is bigger than themselves. To promote camaraderie as they help each other and teach each other, as Joe has done and has been doing for the past 20 years.

I would like to thank my key informant Jam Buen for guiding me through this experience and even encouraging me to participate during the Youth service itself as well as the sharing after. She was so welcoming and kind to a newcomer like me which gave me a clearer picture as to what someone who goes to victory is like. I realize how entering into unfamiliar territory could be overwhelming to an outsider like myself. Having an informant who was immersed and well-versed in that culture guiding me through helped alleviate that pressure. From the moment I entered the fifth floor of Regis I was immediately lost in the sea of people, but thankfully Jam was there. I wouldn’t have sat in the front row if it wasn’t for her and I wouldn’t have been able to focus on what was happening if I was as lost as I was at the start without her help. In order to make the experience more genuine, she made me feel like someone who was invited to try youth service for the first time (as I really was) instead of someone on a fieldwork. Overall, Jam was a big help in making the experience more meaningful and worthwhile.

Speaking of the experience, it was just as my friends described while at the same time exceeding my expectations, all in a positive way. The sense of community that I felt was so overwhelming and so inviting. There’s no wonder my friends go back there every friday night to participate in youth service. The enthusiasm of the people, along with the presence of an actual band that plays great music and a light show to top it all off was really something I didn’t expect. Words cannot really express how I felt about the experience of Victory. All of the testimonies of friends that have asked me to come is nothing compared to the actual youth service.

But the downside is that all the lights and loud music can be a distraction to a participant observer such as myself. I was so amazed and even overwhelmed by the theatrics that I almost forgot that I was doing it for a field work. I was so immersed in the sense of community, the songs of praise and the passionate sharing of interpretations that was so relatable I missed a few points for observation. Good thing I had my informant Jam to help me out whenever I didn’t get or understand anything during the program. The briefing after the service also helped me process how I felt and look back on the events that happened to make them more meaningful thus more memorable.

Just like our cafeteria experiment I learned to be more observant in the events that i participated in. By being observant, one gets to see things clearer, to take into account details, although small, that speak volumes about the subject. Just like the cafeteria experiment I consider this event as a regular practice in society that is very important but is commonly overlooked in order to better understand a specific culture. By observing it closely I get to see how it affects society and members of society. Recognizing the dynamic relationship between common practices and society is important if we want to understand the internal workings of society. Just like language and food, religion has the ability to reflect the values and norms of the society it originates from while simultaneously molding them. Thus, those who control these basic needs have the power to influence society. Going back to the cafeteria experiment, we as people give our trust to those who serve our food as we eat them without hesitation. Just like these food servers, we also trust pastors and priests, those who lead us through our spiritual life, as if what they’re speaking are infallible truths when there are other religions or beliefs that may otherwise contradict their statements. I realized that as much as we believe and value the things we hold as truth, there are people who may not necessarily agree with us, but we shouldn’t be quick to judge them as blasphemous or misinformed. I believe we all hold our own truths and invalidating others’ truths and imposing our own without first hearing them out reflects arrogance and assumes that we are on a level higher than everyone else. I noticed this as I was listening to Joe talk about being born again and I watched as people left and right nodded in unison to agree with what he was saying. Being a devout Roman Catholic I did not wholeheartedly agree with what he was saying, but I remained to keep an open mind, thus the insight I learned about society.

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While observing and participating in this activity, i tried my best to keep my biases at bay. But I realized that one must not empty the cup fully but use the content as a tool to gain further insight on the situation.

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Images from Victory Katipunan Facebook

 
 

Daydreaming About Yoga: A Deconstruction

Daydreaming About Yoga: A Deconstruction

Angel Kischka O. Baccay

Sandra Nicole Patrice P. Garcia

Alyssa Andrei T. Llaguno

SA 21 – Section X

May 1, 2017

In the digital age, the colloquialisms and experiences of the millennial generation can be encapsulated in a few words—or “hashtags,” as people in the current would call it—and “squad,” “lit,” and “goals” are among those. Emerging from the depths of the comments section in an Instagram picture right up to the mouths of a millennial, these terms are commonly used to communicate a certain amount of yearning for the lives depicted on social media. “Goals!”, said a friend on a particular post-workout selfie—a photo glamorizing even the sweat-inducing act of exercising, with fitness as the prime indication of a life well put together. This phenomenon of hyperpersonalization, or enhancing public image, through the use of fitness is widespread; and nothing gives off the impression of a youthful, healthy, and active lifestyle more than an individual who practices Yoga.

As young adults who are up to date with the latest trends on the Internet, we, like almost everyone we know, were pulled into the alluring world of Yoga—the air of nonchalance that seemingly surrounds those who practice it and the overall peaceful and serene ambiance that it supposedly entails. Fueled by our curiosity and awe, we proceeded to sign up for free classes offered by a studio just across our university. These free classes were posted on Ateneo Trade, the buy-and-sell Facebook group of the Ateneo community. Upon contacting the studio through text and reserving our “mats”—substituted for the word “slots”—Ms. Joy, who introduced herself to be the instructor, responded with the important details of the activity: date, time, address, confirmation process on-site, proper attire, things to bring, and other essentials, should we choose to collect our bearings and freshen up afterwards. 

We were set to have our very first Yoga session at 12:15 on a Friday afternoon, March 31, in Whitespace Mind and Body Wellness Studio, 6th Floor, Regis Center, Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City. By midmorning of that day, the three of us were appropriately dressed, taking heed of Ms. Joy’s note to “wear clothes you can sweat and stretch in.” In tight-fitting, stretchable leggings and loose shirts, we headed to the studio for our first-ever practice of Yoga—something we have only ever witnessed vicariously through screens and other people’s stories. Despite its location in Regis Center, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Katipunan Avenue, the wellness center persists and thrives in being a sanctuary. Aptly named Whitespace, the studio exudes the atmosphere of relaxation and tranquility. It has stark white walls complemented by warm tones of the wood accents. The reception area greets you with intriguing antiques and writings—others strange and others somewhat surprisingly familiar—associated with different aspects of Yoga. The subtlety of the rocks propped against the marbles on the desk are neutralized by the exquisite intricacy of the engraved “Om,” a mystic Sanskrit syllable considered to be the most sacred mantra in Hinduism, the religious and spiritual roots from which Yoga originated. This single special character, whose meaning has been lost in the mists of time, appears to have been deliberately placed by the entrance to serve not only as a welcome to the mystical world of Yoga, but also a subtle yet symbolic foreshadow of the religious incantation one would inevitably witness within its realm, and even choose to participate in. Consequently, this sharp contrast creates a certain mystique that, in turn, further piques one’s interest and curiosity, almost evoking a sense of fascination among its guests.

Past the reception, a slightly elevated wooden platform adorned with small pebbles, clear marbles, and bamboo straws leads the people over the length of the studio space. Accompanied by soothing sounds of raindrops, river flow, and instrumental music, we were acquainted with three rooms called “Serenity,” “Harmony,” and “Vitality”—names befitting the unmistakable vitality one feels and breathes upon immersing in the serene ambiance and experiencing for oneself the harmonious ties among instructors and clientele. There were also two alternative rooms called “Tranquility” and “Equanimity” that literally embody what Whitespace advocates for.

Whitespace conquers the limitations brought about by the small floor area through utilizing glass walls and large windows to frame its rooms. As a result, the studio was able to efficiently maximize the space, incorporate practicality into interior design, and above all, embody the calm and tranquility that it promises to promote. A counter is conveniently located across the rooms to serve water and hot tea. Above the tabletop, motivational quotes were plastered on the wall, advocating wellness, spirituality, and balance of mind and body. Some Hindi/Sanskrit sayings were recognizable to us, owing to our good memory of Asian History. The three tenets of Jainism practiced to attain enlightenment, Ahimsa (nonviolence), Anekantavada (non-absolutism), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), were written in bold yet decorative handwriting—a perfect combination for a subtle yet effective reminder. Another Sanskrit principle, the Satyagraha, loosely translated to truth force, also stood out in its artistic lettering. But the most prominent of all was the famed, celebrated, and quite expected “Namaste,” the traditional Indian greeting and gesture of respect, demonstrated by having the palms together against the chest and bowing. Namaste does not have a direct translation that is capable and substantial enough to encompass what it truly means. Essentially, Namaste is equivalent to saying, “The spirit within me acknowledges, salutes, and embraces the spirit within you.” Its pattern and calligraphy was the most colorful and intricate of all.

The tabletop was also decorated and illuminated with white, scented candles that emanate warmth and a calming aroma. There were distinct fragrances of various oils as well—peppermint, lavender, and jasmine—but they surprisingly worked well together to give a feeling of relaxation with a little zest of energy, and did not clash into something completely repulsive and nauseating.

Towards the end of the hallway lies the area allocated for lockers and restrooms. One can opt to have a locker in exchange for a valid ID, as mentioned by Ms. Joy in our conversation. Even the lockers were covered with mirrors to maintain the illusion of a spacious studio.

Evidently, the place was constructed with the concepts of continuity and openness in mind, and it proves to be effective. The space never felt cramped and the participants did not seem to feel constricted in the relatively small area for a studio. If the need arises when the number of participants exceeds room capacity, the wooden partitions in between rooms could be adjusted to accommodate the surplus. Regardless of its architectural limitations, we observed that Whitespace still is able to foster a safe and nurturing space for people looking to discover the transformative power of Yoga and mindfulness and find peace and balance within themselves.

Whitespace Mind and Body Wellness Studio offers free Yoga classes and encourages people to participate, whether looking to stretch and strengthen the body, calm and center the mind, or even heal and harmonize the soul. The three of us were driven by intrigue and a hint of envy, aggravated even more by social media savvy Yoga practitioners who post their post-Yoga selfies highlighting their patterned pants, toned bodies, and bordering-grotesque poses. Our wellness journey started with something superficial, but we ended up with so much more.

Staying true to its vision, Whitespace focuses on fostering a community through constant guidance and support, which Ms. Joy feels are the most vital elements in practicing Yoga. “These things overlap with each other, but the umbrella that covers them all is CHOICE. We want to take your wellness journeys in the direction that YOU want to go. And we do so with instructors that are passionate about the practice and committed to their respective students.”

Our Yoga session was assigned in the Serenity room, which we thought was universe’s clever way of giving us exactly what we need—an escape from the academic pandemonium and into the serene; and something about the slipping out of our dirtied, worn-out sneakers and setting foot into the bright and sunlit studio symbolically represented that.

The Serenity room was lined with bamboo ornaments and pebbles on one side, resembling a freshly landscaped garden, and huge glass windows overlooking Katipunan Avenue on another—finding the perfect balance between the commotion of the city and tranquility of the tropics. There were mats and ropes prepared for us and a woman was standing in front with a warm, welcoming smile. At that exact moment, it dawned on us the realization that we are really here, we are really doing this, and there’s no going back.

As with all firsts, exploring an uncharted territory—especially one so romanticized in the digital world—always brings in a rush of adrenaline. With the excitement of venturing into an activity the three of us were unaccustomed to comes the usual tinge of nervousness, but also the eagerness of finally experiencing and immersing oneself in something entirely unfamiliar. Tethered to the idea of Yoga as an accessory for hyperpersonalization and not an age-old ritual, it would be easy, we thought, since videos circulated online show people doing Yoga with ease and stances being executed effortlessly. The blasé portrayal of Yoga on the Internet conveyed it as an unchallenging and elementary practice. We were mistaken, and this misconception hints at the snafu that will transpire in the session and translated into the instructor correcting our posture from time to time, not expecting the physical and mental faculties the activity demands. How, then, did we misconstrue the act of Yogaas did most of the young people who try their hand in it? Often we attempt to grasp or comprehend centuries worth of culture and history from a heavily diluted post through social media, fostering a kind of naïveté that generalizes the particularreducing traditional Sanskrit chants into an exercise for the regulation of breathing, poses into Instagram-worthy shots, and Yoga only as a measure of a healthy and stable lifestyle.

After exchanging pleasant smiles and greetings, the woman introduced herself to be Ms. Joy Jacinto, a yogini—a female Yoga practitioner—and our instructor of the day and the person we have been in contact with. We had told her in advance that we were beginners, which led her to instruct us to find our place near the front in order for us to see the poses clearly and follow them correctly. While waiting for the other students to arrive, we engaged in conversation with her and she encouraged us to let loose and be carefree. “Tense and stiff bodies do not go well with Yoga!” she exclaimed. We put our faith in her constant reassurance that our first Yoga experience will be fun, rejuvenating, and most of all, fulfilling.

The students started pouring in and the room was eventually packed. Ms. Joy and her assistant teacher, Ms. Sherryl Tuazon, welcomed us all and expressed their gratitude for our presence and participation, which they revealed to be a crucial step in completing their certification requirements to become verified Yoga instructors. They needed to hold classes without charge in exchange for the practical experience they would gain, both as compliance with the prerequisite and preparation for what legitimacy as a Yoga instructor entails.

They gave a short introduction to what kind of Yoga we were about to practice—Hatha Yoga. According to Ms. Joy, most forms of Western Yoga are classified under Hatha Yoga—the most basic and inclusive form of Yoga, making it suitable for beginners, that integrates the practice of physical yoga postures or asanas and breathing exercises or pranayama that together help ease and align the mind, body, and spirit and prepare it for deeper spiritual praxis such as meditation. Further research reveals that the Sanskrit hatha possesses elements associated with “balance.” In terms of etymology, Ha- translates to “sun” and -tha translates to “moon,” connoting a balance between the cosmic forces. In practical terms, Ms. Joy explains that Hatha Yoga can straighten out physical and mental imbalances. Moreover, Hatha also traces its roots back to “force”—translating to being willful and adamant in conquering one’s body and “forcing things to happen.” It stems from an intimate understanding of how your body works and utilizing that connection to sustain higher levels of energy. As rigorous as that may sound, Ms. Joy guaranteed that it will still be relatively slow and gentle, accommodating to our beginner pace—to which we breathed a sigh of relief.

What makes Hatha Yoga appropriate for beginners is that it does not require any special physical agility or previous experience. It entails a very subtle and gradual change in the energy system of the body and once regularly practiced, it can can slowly yet effectively enhance and transform the way one thinks, sees, feels, and experiences life. Quoting Ms. Joy, “we are taking baby steps, but these baby steps can ultimately revolutionize the way you perceive life.” Ms. Sherryl adds, “Not only can it improve health and wellbeing, but also help you realize your fullest potential and reconnect you back to your soul—to your spirituality.”

The onset of instrumental music signified the formal beginning of our very first Yoga session. Ms. Joy calmly directed us to sit on the mats “Indian style,” also called the “Lotus position,” which is actually the most basic asana, the Padmasana, a cross-legged position in which the feet are placed on the opposing thighs and the hands are rested on the knees. This asana derived its name from its resemblance to a lotus, which encourages proper breathing through balance and stability.

With closed eyes, straight posture, and rhythmic breathing, we were in a solemn and spiritual state brought about by Hatha Yoga.

Ms. Joy softly spoke, encouraging us to focus our energies into our senses, particularly the sense of hearing. She invited to listen to the gentle flow of the waterfall music, the high-pitched beeps of the vehicles along the jam-packed roads, and the invigorating sound of our own hearts beating against our chest. Once the sound has been established, Ms. Joy taught us how to employ the Ujjayi breath, commonly known as “victorious breath” or “ocean breath.” Pronounced as oo-jai, this ancient Yogic breathing technique has been used in Hatha Yoga practice ever since its debatable dawn. It helps synchronize breathing with physical movements, making the entire practice more rhythmic and harmonious.

The Ujjayi breath was demonstrated by Ms. Joy and she gave us the choice to follow. According to her, it is important to ascertain that her students are comfortable in what he/she is doing. In Yoga, choice and consent are essential. She then went on to perform it by sealing one’s lips and breathing in and out through the nose. Afterwards, one inhales more deeply and exhales more slowly through the nose, while the muscles at the back of the throat are contracted. Then, one gradually shifts to slowly and loudly exhaling through the mouth, emulating the sound of ocean waves crashing against the shore. Ms. Joy remarks that the Ujjayi breath is not only employed in Hatha Yoga practice, but also during times of strenuous activity, anxiety, and agitation.

Ms. Joy brought us back to our physical selves when her voice echoed around the room, saying, “Now, I invite you to chant the sacred mantra of peace, but if you want, it’s fine as well, ‘Oṃ śānti śānti śānti.’” The class recited the incantation thrice.

Afterwards, the class went to perform the main practice, the Surya Namaskar Hatha Yoga, or the “Sun Salutation,” another ancient yogic tradition that assimilates worship of the rising and setting of the surya, the sun. This represents the cycle of day and night, dawn and dusk, and inhalation and exhalation. Ms. Joy also mentions that this warm-up exercise is the perfect time for reflection and exercise, as it tones the muscles, massages the organs, and speeds up metabolism.

The sequence is as follows and comes full circle back to the original position:

  1. Pranamasana – eyes closed, upright position, feet together, palms held together at the center of the chest
  2. Hasta Uttanasana – inhale; hands shoulder width apart, reaching back, bent slightly
  3. Utanasana – exhale; slightly bent knees, body bent forward, head facing knees, fingers or palms touching the floor
  4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana – inhale; right leg stretched back, left knee bent, foot flat on the floor, arched back, upward gaze
  5. Adho Mukha Svanasana – exhale; palms flat on the floor, left foot stepped back beside right foot, hips lifted up into the air, lengthened spine (downward dog)
  6. Ashtanga Namaskara – exhale; lifted heels, lowered knees, chin, and chest, raised hips and abdomen
  7. Bhujangasana – inhale; hands and feet in place, chest slid forward and raised up, pulled shoulders away from ears, tilted head looking up
  8. Adho Mukha Svanasana – exhale; hands and feet in place, lifted hips, heels back to the ground, lengthened spine, shoulders towards the ankles
  9. Ashwa Sanchalanasa – same as step 4
  10. Utanasana – same as step 3
  11. Hasta Utanasana – same as step 2
  12. Pranamasana – same as step 1

Both Ms. Joy and Ms. Sherryl helped us students to correct our poses during the session. Some of the students were We observed a tag-team process taking place in which Ms. Joy would stay in front and lead the routine. Meanwhile, Ms. Sherryl would check if all the students are following accordingly. Both Nicole and Angel were in constant need of guidance and correction because of their lack of flexibility and balance.

At the end of the session, we were all asked to lie down on our mats, close our eyes, and reflect on the “mystical experience” we have just immersed ourselves in. But what we have realized is that, the Yoga depicted on media is nowhere near the Yoga we experienced. We encountered several difficulties in balancing ourselves and engaging our bodies in order to recreate that photo online that garnered numerous likes and comments. We reflected on the perpetuated Yoga culture of commodity and hyperpersonalization on social media. Nevertheless, our first-ever Yoga practice was definitely memorable and worthwhile. It may not have sent us to Nirvana, but it did give us a sense of peace and serenity. Lastly, Ms. Joy and Ms. Sherryl applied various soothing oils on our forehead.

After the session, we interviewed Ms. Joy in order to learn more about this event. Ms. Joy started practicing Yoga in 2007 where she had no plans of becoming a full-time yoga instructor. She was simply looking for fresh avenue to workout. Through the years, Ms. Joy ended up finding a new love for the practice in which it did not only strengthen her body, but also her mind. She pursued being an instructor as a full time profession due to the fact that she wanted a job that was physically and spiritually sustainable for her. Ranging from 20-70 years old and with a ratio of 90% females and 10% males, Ms. Joy’s classes are modified to fit the needs of the participants at present. Aside from getting her accreditation at Whitespace Wellness, Ms. Joy teaches regularly at Treehouse Yoga in BF Homes Paranaque and Anytime Fitness Alabang.

Ms. Joy defines Yoga as “the practice of achieving the union of the body, mind, and spirit, via certain postures, breathwork and meditation.” In our pursuit to learning more about Yoga, our key informant even recommended a couple of books explaining the origins and definitions of Yoga which was the “Yoga Body” by Mark Singleton and “Science of Yoga” by William J. Broad. In line with this and contrary to the simplification of a sacred ritual, it then begs the question: what exactly is Yoga?

Yoga takes its origins from Ancient India which at that time was a rich part of Hindu culture. In which, the Rig Veda, an ancient collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, mentions Yoga for the very first time in recorded history. These prehistoric documents the early existence of Yoga and its roots as a spiritual discipline in Hinduism. It focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body, with its maxim serving as a parallel to what modern scientists believe: everything in the universe is just a manifestation of the same quantum firmament. This echoes the aim of Yoga, to attain self-actualization, to experience the oneness of existence, to realize the ‘state of liberation’ (moksha) or ‘freedom’ (kaivalya). Those who have achieved self-actualization and reached nirvana are called Yogi.

 As with all early historic records, the origins of the first Yogi is shrouded in mysticism and legends. Shiva, one of the principal deities in Hinduism, was said to be the the first Yogi or Adiyogi and proceeded to pour all profound knowledge into the seven sages or “Saptarishis”. The saptarishis scattered all over the world and promoted this knowledge that they carried, and in one these lands is India, where Yoga and the yogic system found its fullest expression. In the modern period, yoga masters have travelled to the west and have propagated this practice internationally. Today, there are over thousands of Yoga Centers all over the world.

Our main informant, Yoga Instructor Ms. Joy, teaches Yin, Hatha, Vinyasa and Meditation out of the different varieties of Yoga. Yin observes holding the asanas, or posture, for periods of time while Hatha focuses on the strengthening the body along with the mind. Both of these forms could be combined to practice Vinyasa yoga, which highlights “flow”, ensuring that movement is aligned and linked with each inhale and exhale.

Aside from interviewing our Yoga instructor, we also decided to communicate with two of our fellow classmates in our Friday Morning Yoga Session at Whitespace. Arjo Mejilla is in his mid twenties working as a full time teacher at Ateneo Junior High School. In his spare time, he joins Yoga to practice his balance and mindfulness. While Nikki Regalario is a 19-year-old student at Ateneo De Manila University. It is her first time to join Yoga completely. She states that she only joined Yoga due to the recommendation of her friends.

According to Ms. Joy, “Practicing Yoga consistently allows your body to access your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you relax. Practicing the asanas will stretch your muscles and lubricate your joints, leading to a stronger and more flexible body”. Similarly, our other two informants, Nikki and Arjo, also agree with the health benefits of Yoga. Nikki does yoga to enhance her flexibility, as well as keeping her heart and skin healthy. On the other hand, Arjo knows that Yoga relieves muscle tensions, enhances breathing, improves posture and also gives a greater peace of mind.

Although our yogic knowledge is limited to only a few sessions, the disparities between the ‘mainstream’ Yoga introduced to us in social media and the Yoga as a spiritual discipline that we have come to know is glaringly evident. This colossal difference can be seen in the humble beginnings of Yoga as a religious and solemn practice juxtaposed with the glamour of today’s Yoga culture—the ostentatious paraphernalia, expensive retreat trips, and post-practice selfies in the name of so-called “enlightenment” and “self-realization”—that it came to be associated with, which ultimately, turned a sacred ritual into a recreational gimmick.

The three of us only aspire that the wellness culture in the Philippines, currently perceived as “cool” and “chic,” can evolve into something that it was always meant to be—not for bragging purposes nor selfish consumption, but for the physical, mental, and spiritual enlightenment of the Filipino people.
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  1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?

One of the things that came to mind is how diluted the practice is, the diminution of a discipline that came into existence almost a millennium ago in a modern world that actually has the capacity to immortalize the antiquity of wisdom. The three of us initially thought of Yoga as something very easy, leisurely, and undemanding. That impression has long been registered in our minds, reinforced by the various posts on social media. A preconceived notion like this is dangerous to the study, as it would become the foundation on which every observation would rest on. If we had only performed observation, we would suffer from confirmation bias—the tendency to recognize only the actions that support and confirm our established beliefs and ideas and ignoring the ones that contradict and coincide with them. This selective perception dismisses other possible behaviors and explanations, ultimately clouding our judgments and jeopardizing the objectivity that we aspire to have. This is why participation or participant-observation is deemed paramount in order to come up with an ethnography. Though this, we were able to gain a first-hand experience of how the Yoga depicted on various forms of media were entirely different from what was offered to us in reality. Contrary to the picture-perfect postures of toned first-timer girls online, the three of us encountered several difficulties in finding our balance and maintaining our stance. Pictures and videos circulating online show carefree and equally sweat-free Yoga practitioners who seem to show no signs of struggle, despite their lack of previous experience. From our participation, we were able to subject ourselves to the true reality of Yoga, one that we would not have been able to fully understand through mere observation.

  1. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?

Having a key informant in something unfamiliar as Yoga proved to be crucial for our ethnography. Granted that there is the World Wide Web, literally at the tip of our fingers, with vast amounts of information, it would still not be tantamount to what a Yogini of almost 10 years has to offer. Ms. Joy knows the ins and outs of Yoga, not only as a practice but as a profession, like the back of her hand. She disclosed confidential information about the process of accreditation as a Yoga instructor that we would not have been able to have access to. She also shared insights from her own unique perspective as someone from the inside, which enabled us to employ the emic approach of studying and describing the Yoga culture within the realms of understanding of an insider. Having a key informant also helped us balance the tone of our ethnography—ensuring that our personal reflections and etic perspectives did not overshadow the realities within.

  1. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?

Yoga, for all intents and purposes, is a solitary activity. External factors such as other people, objects, or even surroundings, holds little to no bearing at all to the practice. Everything is wholly internal. It is because of this that the essence of the discipline will only be captured by an individual who practices it, an objective look or a glimpse from another participant will not be sufficient. To learn and practice Yoga is not to critically analyze it, but to feel and experience it in all of its forms. To attain self-actualization and enter a state of freedom, which are things that could not be grasped without self-involvement.

  1. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?

More often than not, we are subject to human error. Even with the effort to not influence the situation at hand, the observer-expectancy effect and confirmation bias can and will continue to taint the lens with which we observe and look at the world. As opposed to participant observation, a questionnaire reduces the chances of bias and proposes a more objective inspection into the fieldwork, although lacking the necessary personal, first-hand experience for an ethnography. If, hypothetically, we were to conduct and hand out questionnaires instead of directly observing, we would have lost the personal liberation and intimacy with oneself that the practice of Yoga promotes. An interview would be marginally better to correct and verify our assumptions and hypotheses gathered from observing, although second-hand experience still pales in comparison to encountering the actual spiritual discipline itself.

  1. Using our cafeteria observation exercise as reference, what insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?

Initially, we have observed that the Yoga culture in the Philippines has lost touch with the reality and the true essence of Yoga—to embark on a personal wellness journey to attain liberation and self-realization through movement, breathwork, and reflection. We saw the unfortunate reduction of Yoga into a mere indication of a healthy lifestyle that translates to bragging rights, exemplified by curated feeds on social media platforms. But through this activity we have immersed ourselves in, we were first-hand witnesses to open-minded and passionate people who perceive Yoga as a sacred ritual that improves their health and wellbeing. This serves as glaring evidence to the flourishing of Yoga in the Philippines—not as a means to show off online, but to seek spirituality within oneself.