storms and a column


Typhoon Milenyo was something else! It came rampaging at around 12 Noon and was finshed by 2PM. It left in its wake 77 dead, flooding and destruction everywhere. Was just so relieved that our house survived with minimal damage. I wish I could say that for so many of our kababayans who live under less secure abodes. They showed a woman on TV being carried out of her house in the middle of the storm right after she had just given birth. The kid was so tiny and fragile but safe and warm. And yes, his name is Milenyo!

The fierceness of Typhoon Millenia seems to tell me two things: Mother is mad and has lost her nurturing sweetness and has spoken and she is now officially known as Mommy Dearest. Also, she has made it clear she does not like billboards!

I was talking to Leah Navarro yesterday and we were speculating whether Typhoon Yoling and Dading, two big ones in the 70’s were actually stronger than the Milenyo. Am not too sure. But I remember being a teenager and out in the street at the height of Yoling. I felt I was gonna fly like a kite. I could feel the wind slapping my face at certain angles. What was I doing there, you might ask? Wala lang! It was reckless youth enjoying its percieved invincibility.

I just got my electric power back after two days and nights of brownout. The first night Erica, Boogie and Nino (my daughters’ boyfriends) and I played Trivial Pursuit. That was fun. The second night (which was last night) I slept right after I got home from an APO show.

Living two nights without electricity, I realized how ‘wired’ my life was. Without internet, and my reading light, and my cell phone, I noticed how peaceful the night can be. There was no clock to look at. I fell asleep early and slept quite well without a blanket and without the whirring sound of an electric fan.There were also no tricycles to wake me up in the morning. It was like a night of sleep in the suburbs of Sydney in the sense that my body woke up when it was ready to. SARAP!

Starting today (Sunday), I will have a regular column with the Philippine Star. The title of the column will be HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE which is also the title of my first book. I wrote about midlifing for this week’s column.

No, my writing for Star has nothing to do with the tiff I had with the Inquirer a few weeks ago. I was already asked to consider writing for the Star while I was still in Sydney. It just took time for me to say yes. What’s the column gonna be about? I will be writing about stuff I find interesting, and it will probably not include politics since I find that the least interesting topic right now. If you have any suggestions on what you may want to read about, feel free to do so and I will write about it, that is, if the spirit moves me. I hope you watch out for it and become a regular reader.

Tiny but warm, and WEIRD!!!


The last time I was in Guam was 10 years ago when APO did a show with Ariel Rivera. This time around, we performed with Rachel Alejandro and Nanette Inventor under the Kumustahan banner at the University Of Guam gym last Friday. It was a great show. It will take a while for me to forget how the auditorium reverberated with the thunderous sound of a packed crowd stomping their feet as their way of asking us back. Unbelievable and wonderful.

Guam has changed a lot. Somehow, it looked more rustic then. I could not even recall having visited any big shopping areas at that time. Nowadays, there are many malls to choose from and new things to do. The Filipino presence seems more obvious now. Listening to the radio, one would think that you were in the Manila. The ads are in Tagalog and the songs are mostly Filipino pop.

I hooked up with an old classmate Pyng Urbano who taught me a few photoshop tricks and who gave us the picture above. Pyng and Myrna, thanks for taking the time to be with us and for the wonderful pasalubong you gave us.

Saipan was pleasant. It is a tiny speck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is part of the Marianas Islands. While it is a US territory, it has its own immigration and an independent government. Life in Saipan is laid-back and very rustic. At times, I felt I was in Laguna or some other Philippine province. Except for a few hotels, there are not too many tall buildings. Half of the population are Filipinos. One is close to the ocean everywhere. Throw in a TFC cable subscription one can actually feel like you never left the Philippines.

There is Filipino hospitality everywhere. The cleaning ladies on the 8th floor left me boxes of chocolates in gratitude for my posing for pictures with them. I was quite touched. Everywhere, from the time you land at the airport to the time you leave, our kababayans are ready to assist you. Our show went quite well last Saturday evening. We had the biggest concert crowd ever in Saipan with 3,000 people.

I will be back to visit Guam and Saipan again one of these days. I need more time to relish the sights and sounds. While they are tiny places compared to, say, Sydney or even Manila, two days was still just too short to really enjoy them.

Here’s something weird that my balikbayan niece Cristina Tangonan saw at 168 Department store, that big discount store downtown filled with super cheap goods from China. I am totally baffled by what’s written on the clothes! I never imagined I would ever read this on underwear. Ano to? Pangpa-guilty? Someone said it’s some form of chastity undies. Ha ha.

Do they actually understand what’s witten on this? Will someone give English lessons to the manufacturer of this one?

The world is an interesting place, I tell you!


maps and tightropes

Above is a map and the dots are constellations of visitors of this blog. The bigger the dots, the greater the concentration of readers. The red dots look like points of light in sea of blue and ocre-green, like friendly islands that have lights on to welcome voyagers. I am really curious about the dots at the top of the map of the Canada and Europe. And those in South America. And the single dot near the white icy land on top and those in Africa and the little islands by the side. Who are you?

I know that there are Filipinos everywhere but it’s quite a thrill to know that from these far-off places (to me, at least), they actually visit this humble URL. If you are reading this, please write to let me know who and where you are. Really curious about what our kababayans do overseas. I know you work, but the traveler in me wants to know more about your impressions of the places where you are, its good and bad points and whether you would recommend it for a visit. I am the type to walk ‘the road less traveled’ in many ways, and I also mean it not just philosophically but also literally. So please write.

I visit Daily Zen everyday for its sayings. Here are two that spoke so clearly to me a few days ago.

Where there is beauty, there is ugliness.
When something is right,
Something else is wrong.
Knowledge and ignorance
Depend on each other.
It has been like this since the beginning.
How could it be otherwise now?
Wanting to chuck out one
And hold onto the other
Makes for a ridiculous comedy.
You must still deal with everything
Even when you say it’s wonderful.

– Ryokan (1758-1831)

I find it both humbling and mind-blowing to read such insights. Personally, it helps tame both the polyanna and the cynic in me. It speaks so eloquently of the twin aspect of reality. Everyday, as we walk through the thicket of our personal jungles, machete on hand carving our path, we leave certainty with every step forward and move towards uncertainty. We have one leg on our comfort zone and another leaving it. Sometimes we hop, skip and jump and so we find both our feet on the unfamiliar. That’s how it is. The only way to continue the journey is to accept it. Acceptance has a magical quality that makes the contrasts a unity of sorts, a non-dual, One experience. That’s zen.

The practice of Zen
Has no secret,
Except standing on the
Verge of life and death.

– Takeda Shingen (1521-1573)

This is what life is for me right now. My family is in Aus and my work is here for now. Everyday, I walk the tightrope that delineates these two emotionally charged territories. If I walk through it asleep, I fall towards one side crying and lost in loneliness. When I remind myself to be awake to the situation, I am calmer and can concentrate on what needs to be done in my life right now.

And that is what’s amazing–being awake opens a portal of appreciation of the situation just as it is. Yes, unity and separation, joy and tears, life and death, clarity and confusion, the sacred and profane are all there. They are each other’s twin. They comprise the richness of life. To refuse one for the other is a prescription for samsara, or pain and suffering. But to walk the middle line of the tightrope affords one the breathtaking view of it all. It is like having an all access pass. If Zen masters claim that they can drink the pacific ocean in one gulp, I say that Sydney and Manila are in one place today. Lydia is right here. Mio is playing guitar over there, and Ala’s laughter is within hearing distance. The figurative and the real are one. Everything is already here.

I am awake today. Must make sure to keep the coffee pot boiling.

Big Consciouness Talking..

After all the pros and cons commenters wrote on whether Pinoys are traitors or heroes for living abroad, read this. This man’s insight is truly valuable. Truly, here is big consciousness talking. Nigerian novelist, Ben Okri, in an interview with Ode Magazine.

“We lack knowledge; we lack insight. I think it is a kind of imprisonment. We believe that people should only live in the place where they were born. As if you signed a contract with God: ‘I was born in Birmingham and I promise never to leave.’ This imprisonment has contributed greatly to the ignorance that exists throughout the world, to the prejudices that people have about their neighbours, the next country or another religion—and about ‘that tribe’ and people of ‘that colour.’ If people were free to travel more… if someone travels from Birmingham to Thailand, it is not really travelling. That is tourism. But if you travel from Birmingham to Liverpool and live in Liverpool and then go to Ireland and live in Ireland and then come and live in London for a bit and then maybe do a spate of living in Paris and then you visit Africa and then visit Thailand, now that is travelling. Travelling challenges you to change your provincial perspective. Travel begins by altering your sense of the assumptions that you make about the world.

Travelling enables you to see how different you are from your next-town neighbour, and how similar you are.

“That is why it is important to teach children to think clearly, but it is also important to travel with them. I think that moving children gradually away from where they originate is an important influence on freeing the mind and reducing the amount of prejudice. You must deal with the problem of racism in a manner that is not only political. You cannot legislate it out of existence. It is important to understand why people are that way and why they think that way. The problem is not that white people have not met black people. The problem is that people do not leave their neighbourhoods. Real freedom for a Dutchman would be the freedom not to be Dutch and for an African not to be African. It is the freedom to expand your definition of what you think and experience constantly, always allowing new possibilities.

“It is the freedom to investigate your shadow side, the side that you disown. You need this knowledge in order to find your vocation. You do not just get up and become a photographer. You have to enter into the process. You have to learn and surrender and, at some point, mastery will come to you. There comes a point when your hands are broken, your face is broken and your spirit altered, when you begin to sense the hidden laws of your art. Only then can you start to take photographs and write poems that will be of great value to this world. Only then can you transcend yourself.”

Tears for Steve Irwin

Steve Irwin is dead! I was shocked when I heard it. Here was a man who seemed to have lived ten lifetimes in one, was overwhelmingly full of life, enthusiasm and passion for wild life and in an instant, he is gone–done in by a stingray. The irony of it all was that the very creatures he loved and helped conserve killed him. But as a true conservationist, I venture he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I’ve always liked stingrays and mantas myself. I had a close encounter with a small one, maybe the size of a pizza bilao during one dive in Pulang Buli, Anilao. It was covered with sand at the ocean floor. I must have startled it as I descended to about 25 feet water since it slammed itself on my chest and made a quick dash. It happened so fast I almost did not figure out what hit me until I saw it fleeing away. Startled, I immediately checked for a hole on my wetsuit and when there was none, I began to relax.

A friend of mine was actually barbed by a stingray on his leg. He was bleeding a lot and had a fever for four hours but pulled through. Steve Irwin got it bad because he was pierced right through his heart. I’m not sure but I don’t think he was wearing a wetsuit. I was teary-eyed watching Larry King awhile ago as Steve’s best friend spoke about the accident. The poor guy could not help crying as he narrated the last moments that Steve went through. Steve even managed to pull out the barb underwater before dying on the rescue rubber boat.

Steve Irwin’s pictures welcome everyone who land in Aus. Even on the plane, the video they show of what one can bring and cannot bring into Aus is done by him as he explains the fragile ecosystem of the land Down Under. This blog bids farewell to a wonderful, extraordinary human being whose passionate persona has transcended all national borders. He belongs to all humanity and he will be missed by all.

The kids are REALLY talented. I am talking about the Pinoy Dream Academy scholars. They can sing, write their own songs, and they can do it so effortlessly. They are so young and fresh and ready to learn as much as they can from three old guys like Maribeth, Moy and I whose combined working years in the business is 81 years.

Needless to say, we have been approaching our work with dedication and a lot of TLC. We all realise the raw potential we are working with and so do our coaching and teaching work with a lot of patience and dedication.

When the idea was first broached to me to be the headmaster for the academy, I was almost gonna turn it down automatically. I was not a fan of Big Brother and another reality show wasn’t gonna pull me out of my family in Aus. But it was Lauren Diyogi, PDA’s business unit manager and my producer and director for Tatak Pilipino (the best TV work I did) who approached me and so I gave it a listen. He said the training and the values we would teach were all up to us. In other words, it will be my call. That got me excited enough to consider it and eventually say yes. I would have the opportunity to ‘workshop’ the kids and hopefully the audience watching as well. Kahit papano, we can hopefully pass on good habits and values we believe in. Besides, I was going to be in Manila anyway till October. It would mean extending just two months more.

We are dedicated to teaching these kids the important professional and life skills they will need to be in this business for a long time while keeping sanity and soul together. Aside from training them to be good technically and artistically with voice, dancing, acting and songwriting lessons, we are teaching punctuality, working as part of a team, creativity, humility, keeping passion alive, handling themselves with dignity and dealing with psychological blockages that stand in the way of expressing their wonderful talents. At least this is the direction we wish to go as teachers and I hope they follow. Every week, we are hoping that some if not all of them upgrade their skills and discover better versions of themselves as artists and people.

Meanwhile, I am aware it is also a reality show where people outside the academy watch the kids’ lives unfold. I am hoping the teaching and learning parts are also given prominence in the telecasts. Let’s hope there’s a good balance that we can achieve. I am hoping the learning part of it and the lessons the kids learn will translate to good television as well.

I am suspending my tendency to be cynical about this. I am hoping there are stories of redemption that happen along the way that can inspire not just the artists but the televiewers also. A reality show notwithstanding, it’s a pretty good opportunity to do something worthwhile with the power of media.

Manila is just not the same for me right now. I ask people how much has changed since the 5 months I was away and they are unable to say anything except for a few news stories that have happened. Perhaps I have changed. I am no longer as tired and sad I was when I left. But I am terribly missing my family who are in Aus. So while I am feeling better in some ways, I am finding it hard to accept fully as of now that this is my here and now.

There are some aspects of Manila that continue to ‘speak’ to me and engage me totally the way it always does, and these are the many wonderful people who are here and who I care for. There are my APO friends and everyone connected to us–the band, management, the people we’ve worked with through the years. There are my household help, my relatives who check on me knowing how lonely I can get. And there is the quiet of my room where my zen pillows are and where I do my zen sits to keep me centered while the crazy world works at making me conform to its craziness.

Right now, despite the loneliness, things feel right as I type all this down. There is the internet, this invisible space of cyber that is everywhere and nowhere, waiting for me to upload this. ‘It’s center is a circle but its circumference is nowhere’–that’s ken Wilber’s description not of the internet, but of the center of gravity of the ‘witness’ that one notices one becomes while in zen or in a state of pure being. I am that witness right now, everywhere and nowhere, just like cyberspace and I am uploading my blog about my loneliness on the internet. But as Ken points out, whatever is witnessed is NOT the witness. The subject cannot be an object. And so , I am really not my loneliness at all since I can talk about it in the third person. That’s a relief. Hah! But if I can talk about a ‘me’, then I am not that ‘me’. Who am I then and who is writing all this?

Gulo ba? ha ha!