Yelly Reads

Just Read: The Daughters of the Dragon

Sometimes we see the news on TV, feel engaged and properly outraged at the injustice, and then promptly forget about it. This has been true for the issue that is the backdrop of the Daughters of the Dragon.

Anything that mentions World War II instantly hooks me, in particular, especially if it relates to the Japanese attempt to annex Asia. My grandfather was a World War II veteran and he survived the Death March in the Philippines and being a POW in a Japanese prison camp. My grandmother experienced the fear and dread that a soldier’s wife felt when trying to learn about the fate of her soldier husband. My father and his older siblings were children during the war and I remember the stories that he used to tell me about the horrors that he witnessed as a child. He had particular opinions about the Japanese and Korean soldiers that were in the Philippines at the time. And I must admit, I had prejudices when I started reading the book.

The Daughters of the Dragon, while fictional, deals with the very harrowing reality that the Japanese Imperial Army did physically and emotionally damage a lot of women by forcing them to be sex slaves during the war. I remember seeing news clips of the Filipino comfort women demonstrating in front of the Japanese embassy in Manila when I still lived in the Philippines. At the time, I was young and almost completely unaware of the extent of damage that the Japanese Imperial Army was wreaking on the whole of Asia, let alone the experiences of other countries. My view was very myopic because it was trained on what I knew about the Japanese from my dad’s stories.

Without going into spoilers, this book provides you with insight into the thoughts of a young woman experiencing the rape and physical abuse that all those comfort women went through. And although it is an uncomfortable read because of the topic, I found William Andrews’ writing very insightful. The way he conveyed the thoughts and feelings of the central character Hong Jae-hee was quite discerning. I found myself feeling alternatively angry, fearful, uncharacteristically helpless and very, very sad. The narrative wasn’t emotional. It felt almost matter-of-fact, but despite that, it didn’t feel antiseptic or dispassionate. The realistic description of the surroundings, the people and the kind of interactions allowed almost a cinema-like view of how the story unfolded. I struggled to put the book down and would find myself being awake at 1AM trying to finish “just this chapter”.

I’ve bought the entire Dragon series after buying this book because I wanted to know what happened next! But, also, as a result, I’m reading more about the plight of these girls – children really, who I now know have come from the Philippines, Korea (where this book is set), Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan. It makes me want to know more. It makes me wonder about the scars that my grandfather and grandmother hid from their children and their grandchildren. It makes me realise that the cost of war, of imperialism is more than the amount in currencies that are reported.

Onto the next book! I’m reading The Dragon Queen next!

Yelly Writes

Margie Concepcion L Osorio

In Filipino, we have a word for “big sister” – it is ATE (ah-teh). In several Philippine dialects, it is Manang (mah-nahng). We also have other words for elder sister, according to whether they are eldest, second eldest, third eldest, and so on.

In my mom’s family, there is an Ate, a Ditse, a Sanse and a bunso. My Lolo Osiong and Lola Gening had 8 living children – 4 boys and 4 girls.

The Ate in my mom’s family was my Tita Margie. Tita Margie was, to me, the paragon of all Ate virtues. Without any exaggeration, I’ve always felt that Tita Margie epitomised the perfect “Ate”. She took care of her family. She took care of my Lolo and Lola. She took care of her siblings. She was at least 10 years older than the second eldest girl and she took her role as big sister seriously.

Mom often recalled that her Manang Margie made matching clothes for them, my Tita Migen, my Mom and my Tita Bing. They had pictures of the three of them wearing matching outfits that Tita Margie had sewn for them. Mama always said that Tita Margie always insisted on all of them being turned out well, that she would sew them outfits if they had something important to go to. She was the same with us. She would insist we dressed up properly and dressed appropriately.

Tita Margie started sewing when she was in high school and never really stopped. I remember she would sew clothes for my cousins and me. I remember all the clothes she sewed for me. Her sewing machine and sewing kit were a never-ending bag of surprises and she created magic with needle, thread, cloth and her Singer sewing machine. Once, my brother Aryeh asked for a plane-shaped soft toy and Tita Margie, even though she had never made a toy like that before, gamely took the challenge on. That toy is still at home, in Don Jose, somewhere. Tita Margie always made things to last.

Tita Margie was the constant in my mom’s family…at least to me she was. She was always there for everyone – for her brothers and sisters, for her nieces and nephews. She was the head cheerleader for her family. She was proud of her siblings and their achievements and I know that in her own way, she made sure that her siblings knew that. She let them shine and she helped them shine.

Tita Margie always wanted the best for her family. She was the same with her nieces and nephews. In a way that was uniquely Tita Margie, she encouraged all of us to be the best we could be. She supported us in whatever way she could. She cheered us on but at the same time, if she felt we were behaving in a manner that was less than acceptable, she would tell us, in no uncertain terms. She had rules and she had standards. But she had a way of calling out bad behaviour that only she could. We may not have felt it at the time, but in hindsight, everything she did, she did in love, because, she always wanted what was best for us.

Everything she did, she did because she loved us. Everything she did, she did for her family. Her love for her family was in everything she did, in every word, in every deed, in every stitch, in every treat, in every gift.

I cannot imagine Manila without Tita Margie. I cannot imagine not seeing her cheeky smile and hearing her witty conversation. But at the same time, I am relieved that she is no longer in pain, no longer uncomfortable, no longer struggling to move. I am thankful that she is now healthy and whole, with my Lolo and Lola, with my Uncle Magni, Uncle Franklin and Uncle Wawell. I am thankful that she is now with the Lord. I am thankfully reassured that when the time comes, I will be with her again.

I love you Tita Margie.