Unknown Unconventional Filipinos in Nagoya
Second of a Three-Part Series
Off A Beaten Track …
by Maria Concepcion A. Pidelo-Ona (with Charles Cielo)
To some, he may sound like a mad scientist; but to me and to others who care passionately about having a better world and a better Philippines in the future, I think some of his specific, concrete ideas show promise... who knows, some of them just might actually work :)
We can only watch and wait.
To those who might be interested in following a similar path, he offers up one word as a form of advice - "Invictus."People react to unfamiliar places and climes in different ways. There are those who subsist within a small clique of friends of similar backgrounds, shutting off the unfamiliar environment with a familiar comfort zone. Then again, there are those who take to strange environments like a fish takes to water, letting the new environment in and letting it transform them completely.
One such person is Charles Cielo, a native son of Manila as he is a hodge-podge of Spanish, Indian, and Chinese bloodlines within a common Filipino frame. When you first meet him, you realize that he leaves a unique first impression. At best, you will remember his strange theories. At worst, he will leave you wondering whether you should alert the authorities about a madman on the loose. For within a conventional exterior hides an unconventional passion burning so hot as to make the sun a poor comparison for his soul.
Who is this man? What makes him tick?
As a child
Charles was born in Manila, the first of a brood of four, to a civil engineer and a medical student/ chemistry teacher. His parents enforced a pact with their children: That the parents would sacrifice to send the children to the best primary schools, provided that the children will subsidize their higher education by scholarships. It was thus he attended Colegio de San Agustin, Makati until he completed his elementary education at the age of 13 in 1997 and went on to publicly-funded high schools – the Manila Science High School and the Philippine Science High School, Diliman Campus.
His household was atypical. His mother stayed up with him late into the night preparing him for his first grade examinations until sixth grade. He was also trained very early in writing and speaking in English, since his paternal grandmother (a high school teacher) was extremely adamant that her first direct grandchild should be proficient in the language. Perhaps it was then Charles’ inborn streak of rebelliousness first manifested itself: He gained proficiency in the English language to escape having to use the polite expressions “Po” and “Opo” when talking to his elders.
His parents nurtured his love for reading early in his life. It was the boredom of being a single child trapped in an isolated and Internet-bereft Marcos era (His siblings will be born several years after), that set those first bookworm-infested flames blazing into a wildfire. His love of reading became a voracious habit which explains his tendency to spout insanely fun ideas. He remembers even now that surge of joy he felt when he first got hold of his library card in first grade. He reminisces about that particular library: "In the next seven years, I devoured practically every single book in that weird little Catholic school library. It housed such an incredible variety of books, from natural science and fiction to magic and the paranormal. Boredom was my constant enemy, and reading gave me a brief respite from the boring, mundane world."
As a young academic
Charles attended three years of pre-medicine at the University of Philippines, Manila until he managed to attain the Japanese government undergraduate scholarship which brought him to the Tokyo University of Foreign Language Studies for intensive training in the Japanese language. Upon graduation, he entered Nagoya University, to take his undergraduate degree in the field of Biological and Chemical Engineering. This is when I first met him.
I first met Charles at a Spring 2001 gathering that my husband and his more senior colleagues hosted for the most recent batch of Filipino Japanese government scholars assigned to Nagoya. The air was crisp with the promise of fresh new possibilities and verdant life. I remember that he was quite an unusual chap: quiet when others were lively and lively when others were quiet.
Certainly, the path he had traveled so far was one far removed from the straight and easy, that specialized road to comfortable employment favored by most of his peers. He was the only under-graduate in those Filipino student get-togethers but he did not limit himself socializing with his own kind (if such ever existed). He actively participated in international student activities, primarily as a member of the Nagoya University Foreign Students Association, but also through other venues.
Diversity of experience seems to be an abiding obsession for him. Aside from being a student, he took on a sur- prising variety of part-time jobs in his decade-long stay in Japan: From manual labourer in a chair factory, to focus group analyst working for a regional Japanese radio station, from translator/ interpreter working for various public institutions, to a job as a parking attendant for an event held by a major Japanese electronics company, to a lucrative stint as a consultant in the world's largest pharmaceutical company.
All this he did as he worked to get his undergrad, master's and (currently) doctorate degrees. He is also the only Filipino scholar in recent memory who entered Nagoya University as an undergraduate student, attained his undergraduate degree and continued on, still under the Japanese government scholarship, until attaining his Master's degree in Biological and Chemical Engineering in 2007. He is the only foreign student in Nagoya University to take a year-long leave of absence (LoA) to work full-time with a major multinational corporation, only to return to college student status upon returning to his doctorate program.
Recently, I asked him why he did all of this. He answered with a single word: "growth."
"What defines my life most succinctly is 'boredom', and the only way I have been able to deal with it is encapsulated by the word 'growth.' I get bored easily, so I need to grow to keep myself interested in the world.
Further, I have no real defenses against empathizing with the people and animals around me - to the point of being labeled an Internationalist (the diametrical opposite of a Nationalist, I suppose. It implies that in my mind, the best way to improve my people is to learn from the successes and failures of other people.). I've found that personal growth is the best way to understand how people work and find out the best way to help/hinder them. And the best way to attain personal growth is to expose the mind and body to diverse environments, and to allow those environments to make selected positive changes in me. Of course, my individuality sometimes wins out (I still have quite a few bad habits), but I'm confident that the approach is both valid and doable.
Fundamentally, I am a Christian transhumanist who dreams about completely understanding the world one day, and using that to acquire great power so I can take that world and remake it into the more balanced image I hold in my head.
By far, my life isn't an easy life... and I certainly don't know where my current path will take me. Given the chance to retake my choices, I would surely, sorely be tempted to take the easy path. However, I've never been a conformist to the demands of society or tradition - and I don't think I would be satisfied with a stagnant state of being, no matter how comfortable or lucrative it may be."
OUT OF THE NIGHT THAT COVERS ME、
BLACK AS THE PIT FROM POLE TO POLE、
I THANK WHATEVER
GODS MAY BE、
FOR MY UNCONQUERABLE SOUL.
IN THE FELL CLUTCH OF CIRCUMSTANCE、I HAVE NOT WINCED NOR CRIED ALOUD、
UNDER THE BLUDGEONINGS OF FATE、
MY HEAD IS BLOODY、
BEYOND THIS PLACE OF WRATH AND TEARS
LOOMS BUT THE HORROR
OF THE SHADE、
AND YET THE MENACE OF THE YEARS FINDS、 AND SHALL FIND、 ME UNAFRAID.
FOR IT MATTERS NOT HOW STRAIT THE GATE、
HOW CHARGED WITH PUNISHMENTS THE SCROLL、
I AM THE MASTER OF
I AM THE CAPTAIN OF
-- William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)
by Charles Cielo)