Thursday, May 21, 2009

Meeting British Rizal Biographer Dr. Austin Coates

I can still remember it clearly, the day I have met that famous Oxford Scholar and one of the famous international biographer of Philippine National Hero--Jose Rizal.

I was then taking my Masters at De La Salle University-Manila but already teaching at the University of Santo Tomas. The Third International Philippine Studies Conference was hosted by the Philippines for the very first time (why the third time only?) . Thanks to the consortium then by the University of the Philippines, Ateneo De Manila University and De La Salle University to bring home the convention locally in 1989.

Dr. Austin Coates delivered his paper nonetheless about Jose Rizal, his latest thoughts and views on the hero.

Dr. Coates was a British civil servant, writer and traveller. He was the son of noted English composer Eric Coates.

Austin Coates wrote extensively on topics related to the Asia-Pacific region, particularly Hong Kong and Macau. He was first connected to the East through his service for the Royal Air Force intelligence in India, Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia during World War II.

Coates was the guest of many prominent Asians, among them the Tagore Family, and Mahatma Gandhi to name a few.

After his visit with Gandhi, he decided that understanding between East and West was one of the most important goals in the world.

The noted academicians of the world were always with him during the conference. I couldn't squeeze myself in. The media reporters were also trying their best to get nearer. Tough luck indeed to have a chat with Austin Coates.

I made myself busy momentarily by listening to some other lectures by the invited speakers.

That was a whole 4 day convention series at the historic Manila Hotel.

I already forgot which day I saw Dr. Coates, but the eventful meeting with him was a big surprise for me.

Dinner is served... according to the hotel staffs.

The Maynila Ballroom was the venue for the final dinner of the convention.

I was late to enter the room. I had some chit chats with some colleagues from UST and classmates of mine from De La Salle. I rubbed elbows with the history professors from Harvard and Yale.

The ballroom was full. The dining chairs were all taken. Suddenly the concierge approached me and guided me to one vacant slot in front. I was still lucky at that moment to find a place to eat.

The head waiter pulled the chair and assisted me to sit. I gazed my eyes on my seatmates trying to recognize if I knew someone by looking at their conference IDs.

Heavens! When I stared on the left side of my seat. It was Dr. Austin Coates! WOW! I would be sitting right next to him. A big opportunity to have a chat or talk with him.

I was trying my best to see Dr. Coates to consult him. I was working on my research about Rizal's possible 23rd language at that time. After eating, it was time to ask.

I already introduced myself to him prior to dining. I told him that I was on a current research on deciphering the facsimiles I found from some old rare books of Rizal. I told him I found 6 documents that Rizal wrote in an ancient language if he was aware of those documents.

Dr. Coates with all honesty did not know about my latest discovery on Rizal. He wanted to see my work. I told him that I was still writing my first drafts since I needed to refurbish my Spanish language to interpret the documents. I just promised to send him my printed copies when it's already published. I've learned that he was residing in Portugal at that time. He gave me his address. I promised to mail him my work when it's done. Unfortunately, only after 10 years that my latest research on Rizal was published. I also lost his calling card.

I also remembered that during the conference, I encountered several German history professors who wanted to see my Rizal facsimiles. Fortunately, the documents weren't with me. My fear then was the possibility of stealing my work upon seeing my latest research and publish it ahead of me. A pioneering work in the academic world is always an easter egg hunt adventure as I realized.

I firmly believe that a Filipino must be the first to write something about his country, especially if it's a novel research work.

Dr. Austin Coates eyes' sparkled in amazement upon learning my latest work. He was very excited to see my complete paper. Him. The notable Rizal biographer, did not know that Rizal spoke or had written that ancient language. As of this day, our Rizal texbooks claim that Rizal knows 22 languages.

The complete list includes French, German, Latin, Greek, English, Arabic, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Swedish, Russian, Spanish, Malayan, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Dutch, Catalan, and the Philippine locals Tagalog, Ilocano, Visayan and Subanon.

What's Rizal's 23rd language?

Coming up next in the very near future...

Dr. Austin Coates died in 1997 without seeing my published work and this saddened me a lot.

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