Bewildering Stories Discusses
“Quartered in the Sunset”
with Mia Tijam
[Don Webb] Ever since Guillaume Apollinaire depicted the Eiffel Tower as a shepherdess tending her flock of bleating automobiles, your Managing Editor has had a fondness for surrealism. Mia Tijam’s “Quartered in the Sunset” is certainly that. The author has kindly granted our request and favored us with an explication of the story.
There’s a lot more involved. Bewildering Stories has always taken pride in its role as a kind of United Nations in modern literature; we have contributions from every inhabited continent and, we think, a very respectable list of translations.
As a result, we sometimes have to remind contributors that their audience is the world. Cultural references — including abbreviations — that are commonplace in one neighborhood in North America may not be in another, let alone in Africa or Australia — and vice-versa.
The Internet has two apparently opposing effects. On one hand, it unites the world in sharing ideas; on the other hand, it promotes local and regional literatures as never before. The effects are no paradox: they are as natural and complementary as the two hands of the human body.
Now, let’s see what the key is to Mia’s “Quartered in the Sunset.”
[Mia Tijam] “Quartered in the Sunset” is a critique and play on many things that are happening in the micro- and macro-processes and culture in the Business Process Outsourcing industry. It also critiques the language training intended to give workers competence in communication.
In the Philippines, outsourcing is popularly known as the Sunshine Industry. and Business Process Outsourcing is now number 1 in the world — beating out India — and generating billions of dollars in revenue.
“Quartered in the Sunset” gives a glimpse of the challenges faced by non-native speakers of English — such as the Filipinos or “animal workers” in the story — when they have to express themselves at the level of native speakers of English; in this case, American English. The story attempts to show how neuro-linguistic programming is being used to alter consciousness in language and in soft-skills training.
There are also many Filipino cultural references in the story, inside jokes, so to speak. For example:
Any hard-working person is called a “water buffalo”; in Philippine English the water buffalo is named the “Carabao.”
The “Northern Locos” is a re-naming play on the people of Ilocos Norte, a region in the northern part of the Philippines. The people are known for speaking very good English. They were the first students of the American soldiers and Peace Corps in the early 20th century, during the U.S.’s “benevolent assimilation” of the Philippines. They call donuts “Danken,” after “Dunkin’ Donuts.”
The Sunshine Industry in the Philippines is culturally known as the “new church of the gay religion” among other things, such as “the New Garden of Eden” and “the world of Plastics” and “an industry of college bosses.”
Workers in the BPO or “Sunshine Industry” whom most people refer to as “call center agents” are reduced to being “vampires” and “zombies,” because they work the swing shift or graveyard shift to service U.S. time zones. The tedium, stress — you name it — of the job inevitably turns them into zombies.
Also, I wanted to draw attention to how speculative fiction in the Philippines would use the English language. A lot of writers, because of the influence of their favorite authors and reading materials, would articulate the stories in a very westernized English, to the point that you would not be able to be distinguish their language from others’. I find some of our stories fail to represent our culture or can’t do so without being deemed “exotic.”
In addition, you were right in thinking that “Quartered in the Sunset” is a play on George Orwell’s Animal Farm as well as the myth of Pygmalion and perhaps the rewriting of rewritings of that myth: Pygmalion realizes what creating Galatea really meant. In this story, Pygmalion is viewed in a Philippine context.
You were also right in reading it as “a surreal romp” because as far as my mind and imagination go, when it comes to writing, everything is actually creative nonfiction and everything else is a kind of file extension of it. I always write by slipstreaming through genres.
On a personal and historical note: your publishing “Quartered in the Sunset” is, for me, a validation of the writing. The story was initially slated to be published locally in Philippine Genre Stories in 2011. A series of unfortunate events and circumstances caused my and others’ plans to fall through.
I hope I’ve given you enough insights on the story to help out with any questions for the readers. I’m really grateful for the continuous opportunities you’ve given me and am looking forward to sending you more of my stories and working with you more. Thank you so much.
Copyright © 2013 by Mia Tijam
and Bewildering Stories