HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 27, 2019 – 12:00am
What if you could gather 10 Filipinos (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be? What if you could be witness to 10 events in world history, what would they be?
Ok. I am making it easy for myself. I will not write about one central theme today. I want to do some daydreaming instead. I want to imagine “what if” situations and answer two of them in my mind.

Admittedly, what I am doing is similar to a slam book activity where teenagers ask friends to list down their favorite colors, actors, movie, flower, song, quotes etc. in a special book.

In this article I will try to engage you dear readers by posing two really interesting what-if questions. I will answer them too. Maybe you can mentally answer the questions on your own if you wish.

Here goes question number 1.

What if you could gather 10 Filipinos (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be? My list would include:

1. Jose Rizal — I would like to know his take on how Philippine history has played out since his time and the modern world today. Rizal was a renaissance man. He was also a futurist. I am sure he would have a lot to say.

2. Lapu-lapu — I have always been curious about how he and his people reacted to the first white men who landed on their shores and what it was like to engage them in battle. I would like to hear his account first hand.

3. Enrique de Malaca — He was Magellan’s slave who in all likelihood came from southern Philippines and is the first Malay to circumnavigate the world). He may have the most interesting stories to tell especially about how he got to Europe and learned the ways of his masters. His account of the voyage from Spain to Las Islas Filipinas, the first encounter between the two peoples, the first mass, the Battle of Mactan, the slaughter of the Spanish officers by Humabon, etc. should be riveting.

4. Nick Joaquin — I remember meeting Quijano de Manila and being interviewed by this very inebriated genius. He was brilliant, funny and quite outrageous at the same time. After answering his questions, he would sometimes retort back and say “I don’t believe you.” Perhaps he was trying to provoke some kind of reaction from me. He was playing games. I considered it hilarious. Through the years I have read a lot of his works. I will make sure I serve beer, of course.

5. Ninoy Aquino — People say that Ninoy was a great conversationalist. He had a sharp mind. It would be an absolute delight to watch him interact with Rizal and the others as they talk about politics and life.

6. Juan Luna — I would like him to talk about not just his art but about the unfortunate incident where he shot his wife and mother-in-law in a fit of jealousy.

7. Rodrigo Duterte — It would be interesting to see how he reacts to the other guests. He would have no spokesman or apologist, nor an encouraging laughing audience to save him. Let’s see what happens. I will make sure he is seated beside the next guest.

8. General Luna — As portrayed in the movie, he is not one to tolerate bullshit and calls out traitors without fear. I would love to see him have a discussion with Duterte about the latter’s policies and attitudes towards China and the West Philippine Sea. Let us see if violence erupts or at least, who walks out first.

9. Emilio Aguinaldo — I would like to discuss with him his controversial legacy. My sister Tictac when she was a young student in the 50s, was part of a class excursion at Aguinaldo’s house. A classmate asked Aguinaldo straight if he indeed killed Bonifacio. The general, taken aback replied that history will be the judge of that. It seems history has sent feelers and it does not look good. What do you think, General?

10. Maria Ressa — I would like her to come as a journalist and engage my invited guests with probing questions and write about the entire event for the world to read.

My next question: What if you could be witness to 10 events in world history, what would they be?

1. The landing of Magellan in the Philippines. How did the people on our islands react? What were their thoughts? It must have been close to encountering aliens from another world. This encounter changed the Philippines and geopolitics forever.

2. The Last Supper — I would like to see Jesus with his closest friends on the night before He died. I want to partake of what they ate and drank. I would pay attention to Judas when Jesus says that one of them would betray Him. What would it have been like to have witnessed the first mass ever consecrated?

3. Buddha’s moment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree — Two thousand five hundred years ago. On the 40th day of his meditation, it is said that Siddartha Gautama had become enlightened. He had penetrated the true nature of life and grasped it. This was a great moment in the spiritual history of mankind. I would probably not engage him in conversation since the deepest wisdom and understanding cannot be expressed in words. But I would surely see everything radiate from his being.

4. The concert on May 29, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées when Igor Stravinski played his composition for ballet entitled Rite of Spring for the very first time. It was not just controversial, it sparked very strong reactions. People booed and walked out. The ballet dancers could not hear the cues well because people were arguing so loudly. It actually caused a riot in Paris. Listen to it. It still sounds contemporary today.

5. Martin Luther King’s Selma to Montgomery march. This historic march forced President Lyndon Johnson to file a voting act in congress to make it easier for people of color to exercise their right to vote. It changed America forever.

6. The planning of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. No one knows when or where it happened. Surely it was secretly planned by evil men and women. Up to this day, no one really knows who ordered the murder, and what actually happened in the tarmac. It may well be lost in history.

7. The battle of Normandy —This brought a final and decisive end to World War 2. Hundreds of thousands died. The divisions in the world as we know it now was largely caused and shaped by this event.

8. The first concert of the Beatles in Liverpool at the Cavern on Feb 9, 1961. Geniuses in the bud. I would like to have seen them perform there before the entire world discovered them.

9. The day the earth was hit by a huge comet that caused the death of the dinosaurs. Scientists believe the impact of the comet caused a major dust pollution to cover the sun for years. As a result, it killed almost all plant life which caused dinosaurs to starve and go extinct. No man has seen such a cataclysmic event such as this.

10. The crowning of King Tut in 1334 BC — Tutankhamun was the youngest and most famous Pharaoh. It must have been a magnificent sight for those who were there at his coronation. I would also would have liked to be present during the burial since it would have been quite a spectacle of epic opulence.

That’s it for my daydreaming today. My answers would probably change next time I indulge myself with the same questions. Enjoy yours this lazy Sunday. Share them with me.


Musings on millennials

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 20, 2019 – 12:00am

It seems today’s kids are suffering from so many things. There’s a plethora of dysfunctions that experts have diagnosed to explain youth behavior in the past 25 or so years. ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, autism, addiction, self-esteem issues, bullying, stress, being a “special” child — these are some of them.

When we were in school, these issues were non-existent, or never brought up. At least I don’t remember if they ever were except for bullying perhaps. In truth, during our days bullying was not a burning issue although it should have been. Rarely reported were wild behaviors like drunkenness and possession of porn material. I surmise that low self-esteem was probably explained as mere shyness then.

When I think about it now, it is possible that many of us who were in school in the ’50s to the ’70s were suffering from the conditions above, but no one knew what they were called then. We were undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and lived with it.

But then, it could be that a lot of these are entirely new problems that have just recently been uncovered. Are they conditions that have sprung up just recently?

I don’t know. I must research more about this. But something tells me that these are mostly new psychological troubles of a new era. Kids are growing up in an environment and time that is unprecedented. I am not even sure parents know how to raise them properly in this new setup. There is no rear view mirror to look at to navigate the future.

Last weekend, I was talking with a few friends about how differently the kids are being raised today. My friends’ ages are from 40s to 60s. They pointed out how easy everything is for millennials. Where we had to go to the library and research, they have the internet. Where we had to use a typewriter to write down our thesis, they use word processors on laptops. So many conveniences at their fingertips. Doing schoolwork has become a lot easier.

From the point of view of those who never had these when they were in school, the students never had it so good.

And yet, as a teacher, I feel many of the kids in ADMU (and I suppose in other universities as well) are actually at a disadvantage compared to students of the last century. To me, I feel we were emotionally stronger and could cope with hardship better. We also had a greater capacity to concentrate and focus.

In terms of general knowledge, I notice many of the kids now are largely uninformed about things that happened in the world past 40 years ago. They are not knowledgeable or that interested in history. They like watching videos but are not too fond of reading. They hardly know the classics. But they are savvy in social media.

As a teacher I realize that going to a classroom and simply teaching the lesson is not enough. There are many students these days who are looking for more things to learn from a teacher aside from academic stuff. In terms of presentation, a teacher must be more creative and must engage them in more ways. Aside from the lesson, I also know they are looking for adult modeling. When I pay attention to my students, I am amazed at the connection we easily establish. Often I get a feeling that I may be one of very few adults in their lives who take them seriously. Could it be that their own parents are unequipped or too busy working and have no time to talk to them?

My friends were saying that during their time, they did not have teachers who actually cared about what students were going through as young people. In the old days, I did not know of any teacher who encountered students suffering from depression. If they did, it was not their problem. There was the school counselor. Depression was just “the blues” or perhaps an emotional problem not needing any special attention. They pretty much just taught the lessons. If you did not ask questions, or did not submit your homework, then sorry for you. As a student, you just had to tough it out.

The classroom has changed now. Kids are encouraged to ask many questions, have more sources when researching. Teachers are also more aware of students who are undergoing depression. I have had a few depressed students tell me that they are going through it. Each department can corroborate this.

In my own family, my eldest daughter Erica has undergone bouts of depression. We have been very supportive as a family. Luckily, she can hold things together and get over it.

Recently, I heard of a young musician who jumped off a building. I was so troubled to hear about it. So young. A huge loss. As it turns out, he was somehow a friend of my two daughters. This made him more real to me. It really made me think how important it is to keep communications open with young people these days. Too many suicides happening now. During our time, suicides were unheard of in the Philippines. At a time when so much is available to young people that can help them learn and reach their potential, there is also so much angst that troubles them now.

In a way, it is not surprising. Sometimes, too many choices actually leads to unhappiness. Instead of enjoying the power to choose, we suffer over the loss of options. When that happens, commitment becomes so hard to do. Without committing, how can one have any direction or purpose in life?

There was something about growing up decades ago that actually toughened earlier generations. We had little money, possessions. We had no cellphones. We had television. No social media. We had real, flesh and blood friends we could physically be with. No online life. We could be “grooving” somewhere or chilling out without half of the world wondering where we were or what we were doing. Our parents also made it clear that they wanted us to finish school, get a job and support ourselves. We knew what the rules and templates were. Some of us broke them and created our own lives. Some followed the common and expected paths.

These days, I am not sure if parents and kids even know what to do. Everything is in flux. Things are changing too rapidly. Where before we looked at our parents as a different generation, someone in college today may look at their kid brother in grade school (or even in high school) as belonging to another one. There seems to be nothing you can be sure of. These are confusing times.

Just the same, today’s young people will have to make sense of everything and come into their own somehow. Our parents probably felt the same way about my generation during those wild hippie days of the ’70s. They often must have felt we had gone over the deep end.

I would like to believe that, in the end, I will discover that I am only reacting as my parents did. I wish today’s young people all the best.


Paradise regained?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 13, 2019 – 12:00am
We had planned to go to Boracay months ago. The President had promised that Boracay would be reopened in six months. We were sure that by January of 2019, the resort we had booked would already be opened for guests. Sometime in October, we called the resort to check if they had their permit to open. They still did not have it. We hurriedly looked for an alternative and ended up booking three rooms at the modest but comfortable Shoretime Hotel, a resort we had stayed in twice before.

My daughter Ala, her husband John and their toddler Zadie arrived in Manila from Sydney on the eve of Christmas. We left for Boracay last Jan. 1 on a morning flight.

We had heard so much about the changes the government had done to clean up this magical place. We were excited but at the same time apprehensive. We wondered if the government had turned Boracay into something better than what it was. Or was it now a cleaner place but with so much regulation that it would not be the same fun place anymore? We would soon find out.

We arrived at Caticlan airport around 11 a.m. From there, we rode a car for 15 minutes, got off and went to a welcome tent to register as guests with proper vouchers from the hotel where we had registered. As a tourist, you can’t get into Boracay now unless you have a voucher from an accredited resort. Accreditation means these hotels have followed the required installations and repairs to deal with their sewage systems. It also means they have fixed any encroachment issues they had (if they did) and have abided by other regulations.

From the tent, where we got hand-stamped, we entered a building before going to the boats waiting by the docks to take us to the island. We had to purchase tickets, go through x-ray inspections, wait in a waiting area, then proceed through ticket counters and walk to assigned ferries. It was a 20-minute boat ride to a dock in Boracay. The last leg was a 30-minute land ride to Shoretime Hotel at Station One.

It is pretty challenging to go through all this without help from the hotel that you are staying in. You can’t go to Boracay and then find a place once you get there. You need to have a booking prior to going.

The most beautiful sunset Photo by Lyd ia Paredes
After checking in, we strolled by the beach and took a swim. The water was cool but pleasant. Noticeably, there was no green algae. It looked beautiful and pristine. When I shared this observation with the natives, they explained that during December, the beach is really algae-free. They said the green stuff appears during summer. They added that it has been about six months since the island was closed and cleaned. It is only natural that the scene had a fresh look to it.

The tourists have not come back in droves. Sometimes, the beach is hardly populated. In the late afternoons, people come out to take photos and enjoy the sunset. At this time, the beach is alive and busy but not anywhere close to what it was before. For a tourist like me, I saw that as a good thing. By 6:30 p.m., at least at the front of Obama Grill, there were just a few people out on the beach.

Lots of the resorts and restaurants along the strip are still closed. I saw only one bar operating 500 meters to the right of the beach when I took an evening walk around 9 p.m. There were hardly any people — unlike its heyday. The first evening we were there, the stars were out. I could see the Milky Way with my naked eye.

When you ride around the city, you will see open spaces where lots of buildings stood before but now have been torn down. They had violated easement boundaries and had to go. I heard from the locals that more will be destroyed. Some roads have a fresh coat of cement but their open sewers have not been finished. The holes, pipes and exposed metal bars are ugly eyesores. They look quite intimidating and dangerous. People or vehicles could fall into them.

The roads on Station One have been dug up and excavated but still have to be cemented. A local said that the government ran out of funds but promised that they would fix it this year. Until it is fixed, prepare yourself for the roughest ride of your life over potholes. I actually bumped my head a few times while riding tricycles going back and forth to and from our hotel. When it rains, the potholes can look like mini lakes. Watch out to avoid being splashed by muddy water from passing vehicles.

Like before, Boracay still has its gustatory attractions. We had a great time eating out everywhere. Thai Basil at D’Mall, Sunny Side at Station One, Real Coffee, Pig Out all served delicious meals, desserts and coffee. I talked randomly to foreigners who said that they were enjoying themselves and would definitely come back.

If you’ve been to Boracay many times before, what you will miss these days are the Poi fire dancers at the beach during night time, the sandcastles, massages offered by natives under coconut trees, dining al fresco nearer the water, music by the beach from establishments, concerts by the beach, big crowds, and vendors. It has ceased to be a party town in this sense.

Boracay’s charms are just too enticing to ignore.
There are still a few vendors who sell sunnies, souvenirs along the strip but not too many now. Notably, I also am quite bothered by the presence of military security wearing T-shirts with “SWAT” written on them patrolling the beaches.

Also notable, despite the reported massive cleanup, is the absence of trashcans along the beach.

Natives say that a lot of things for Boracay’s future will depend on this coming summer. Will the algae be back? Have they really solved the sewage problem that has been dirtying the ocean for decades? Have they rid the waters of the e-coli that thrived on green algae? Will the roads be finally finished? Will the resorts earn enough to keep going considering that there is now a cap on the tourist population?

Many people lost their jobs. Even if some of them are back, they still feel the loss of so many months without income. The procedure going to work in Boracay from the mainland and going back home has become expensive and cumbersome. Too many rules. One worker said it was like martial law because of the military presence. Where before their families could easily visit them on the island, now they have to go through certain checks before entering.

Would I recommend that my readers go to Boracay? The jury is still out concerning the changes that have been introduced. It will take time to see the results. I share the natives’ skepticism and caution.

But I must say that, in the end, Boracay’s charms are just too enticing to ignore. The scenery is still achingly beautiful. The fine sand is the best in the world. And the sparkling blue-green waters, the refreshing wind, and the sunset are too magnificent to resist. The red tape and regulations are a small price to pay to get to Paradise.

I would return again.