It was the year I entered college when popular historian Ambeth Ocampo left the Abbey of Our Lady of Monserrat as Dom Ignacio Ma. Ocampo. I ashamedly admit that at the time I have paid no attention to his books being sold in the San Beda College Library.
My avid interest in Philippine history and culture began a decade later in 2007 when I bought Nick Joaquin’s Almanac of the Manileños from Tiendesitas. I purchased the book because I thought it will look good on our coffee table. With nothing to do at home one rainy day I began reading its pages until I realized that I have read the book to its last leaf that same day.
What followed next was an insatiable hobby of collecting and reading Filipiniana material. At first my collection concentrated on creatively-packaged hardcover coffee table books since I find books on paperback less appealing to collect. In other word, I judged a book by its cover and not for what it contained until I’ve read Ambeth’s historical essays from a paperback edition of the Aguinaldo’s Breakfast.
Since then I’ve started buying books authored by Ambeth including those that have been out of circulation for a long time. My only regret is that I should have bought those books back in college because those that have been out of print cost three to five times its original price in Old Manila in Megamall and Heritage Antiques in Cubao Expo today.
What is common with Ambeth and Nick aside from both have worked for National Library for some time, and have resided in religious cloisters for a short time (Nick with the Dominicans in Hong Kong and Ambeth with the Benedictines in Mendiola), is that their writings on history and on popular culture were pieced together from trivial events and small characters in Philippine history. This makes the usual scholarly boring and long drama about Philippine history livelier and less overwhelming to learn. Thus, appealing to the common reader.
Reading the works of Nick Joaquin and Ambeth Ocampo led me to one interest to another. It encouraged me and my wife to travel around the country to see for ourselves the places described in their historical essays. Our family travels led us in putting up the blog Traveler on Foot to document our experiences and share it to the world.