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BatJay: Trailblazing with True Filipino Humor

4.12.2008 interviewed by Dr. Emer

BatJay is only a monicker. But what a famous monicker it is! His real name is Nicanor David, Jr. Blogging since September 2001, his antics, adventures, and misadventures began when he was still in Singapore. Today, he is a multi-awarded blogger widely-read by most Filipinos, both here and abroad. He is one of the select few bloggers who has managed to snag a book publishing deal, or made a "blook," to use the modern term.

After five years of blogging, he published Kwentong Tambay, an anthology of his earlier blog posts mainly with Singapore as setting. It was a bestseller. Today, two years later, he is launching blook #2, Mga Kwento ng Batang Kaning Lamig, which includes his present adventures in sunny California. One day before he left the US to go to Singapore and then Manila to attend his second book launching in Bonifacio Global City's Fully Booked on April 14, 2008, I was able to catch up with him and squeeze in some quick questions. He gladly obliged, and here are excerpts:

DR. EMER: How did the term "BatJay" come about? Are you a fan of the Dark Knight (the Batman)?
BATJAY: I am a big fan of the Dark Knight. I love the avenging hero who isn't for truth, justice and the American way. Batman does have a lot of issues and he's probably boderderline mad. He doesn't see the world in black and white and I like that. I've been a Batman fan ever since I was a kid. I remember my Dad used to take me to Santa Cruz to buy Batman comics. So yes, I guess BatJay came from my love for Batman. A friend of mine asked me once why a Doberman is called a Doberman and not a Doberdog. I don't know why I suddenly thought of that. But now that I've mentioned it, if I were a dog, I'd probably call myself DoberJay.

But how come in most photos found in your blog you are always seen with that Spiderman action figure?

The Spiderman action figure is for my "Where in the World is Spiderman" website. I wanted to take pictures of all the places I travel to on business and the Spiderman doll, I thought, is a good point of reference that link the pictures of the different places I visit. Why Spiderman? When I thought of doing the website, they were showing the Spiderman movie in Singapore and so it was the cheapest action figure in the toy store that I could find.

How about "Unkyel BatJay"? Who is he? How and why was he invented?
Good question. I believe this is the first time that anyone has ever asked me about the origin of "Unkyel BatJay". It's a tip of the hat to my dad, Uncle Nick. He was popular during the 60s and 70s and had a popular radio show called "Maala-ala mo kaya" where people would write him and ask about advice, often about love. He would read the listener's letter on radio, give his advice, and play a song the sender requested. Whenever I do a "Dear Unkyel BatJay" post, it's a tribute to my Dad whose radio show always started with the Maala-ala Mo Kaya instrumental theme song then he'd say in his low sexy voice, "Dear Uncle Nick, bago po ang lahat, hayaan ninyo munang batiin kayo, sampu ng inyong mahal sa buhay..."

"Four years in Singapore, two years in California." This is your opening line in your second blook. You've said there were "highs" and there were "lows." Would you have left our God-forsaken country if it offered better opportunities?
Four years in Singapore, two years in California --- that's been our life as OFWs (overseas foreign workers), so far. It's like I am looking at my life right now and I am trying to measure if it was well-spent, all things considered. I probably wouldn't have left if I had what I wanted. I did have a great career and I loved my work and the company I worked for in the Philippines. It was just not enough. The main consideration then was finding a way that would enable us to make our house payments. While I was mulling about that, I got a call from a friend who was willing to hire me in Singapore all-expenses paid. It was a no-brainer. I packed my bags and left. Jet [his loving wife] followed me a couple of months later.

Would you encourage others to follow the same adventure you have taken?
Would I encourage others? I'd probably say work locally a few years to pay your dues and gain experience. If you think that it works for you, then stay; if it doesn't, then try to find a company who is willing to give what you think you are worth. It means, more often than not, going abroad, but it doesn't necessarily have to be that way every time.

Are you happy you left?
Yes. My only regret is that I don't see my Mom on a regular basis and I miss the humor and the food. But now, we live in a place that's safe, I have a job I love, the weather is great, and I have lost a lot of weight. You win some, you lose some.

Like in your blog, your stories in the second blook are adorned with rich and flowery titles. Before I thought you were only a Beatles fan. Now I see you also like Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Nash, and famous figures like St. Augustine and Benjamin Franklin. Can you explain the reason(s) behind the unusual titles?
People rarely comment about the title of the posts in the blog and the book. That's too bad because that's a point of discussion in itself. I do make a conscious effort to put quotes of obscure songs and bits of poetry here and there. They are related to the post either implicitly or explicitly. I think it's just a nice way to start an entry. I probably took that idea from Carl Sagan. All the chapters of his books start with a quote from someone relevant or irrelevant to the topic but they make sense once you read the entire chapter.

Jun Cruz Reyes calls your work a "biographical creative non-fiction." He hesitates to call it an essay, poetry or short story. I think you have stumbled on a new, modern style of writing. You have refused to be assimilated, and clearly, you have proven that resistance is not futile.
One of my favorite graphic novel authors, Lynda Barry (who is part Pinoy), calls her work "autobifictionalography". I think it is the same as Jun Cruz Reyes' "Biographical Creative Non-Fiction" description. It's a new and modern style of writing, I agree, and I discovered that style when I started writing about my life. Incidentally, Jun Cruz Reyes uses my book as required reading in his graduate class at UP [University of the Philippines]. Not bad for a non-writer like myself.

That's how great ideas are discovered. You begin by being different. How do you feel about being a non-conformist?

Being a non-conformist, i.e., not writing in a style that most people use? Yes, that's probably true. First is deciding to use a voice that you normally hear in street corners (tambayan) in the Philippines in a language that's vulgar and unapologetic Pilipino. I find writing in Pilipino better --- it hits harder, it touches the soul in a manner that can't be done in another language, and the humor just can't be translated in English. How do say, "Ang Mga Kwento ng Batang Kaning Lamig" in English? JMom's "Stories of the Cold Rice Kid" came close but it's not the same.

Bloggers like you are now more hopeful to see themselves published. Would you encourage them? How does one get published?

Like all things the good things that have happened in my life, the book deal just fell on my lap. I wouldn't know what to say if somebody asked me for tips on how to get published except to say, just write.

What can you say about the Filipino's sense of humor? Does it help our nation's economy?
The Pinoy's sense of humor doesn't help our nation's economy. It does ease the pain of the negative effects of our nation's economy. We do treat our woes with a lot of humor. It's like giving a big dirty finger to all the people who were responsible for the problems of our country. It's like saying, "You motherf**kers, we'll be here long after you're dead!"


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