teaching, music, media, etc.

Once again, I find myself with a brief case every Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Communication Department with class list on hand and getting the young people in the com studio interested in the topics and themes I talk about between 12 to 1:30PM. It’s back to school for me as a teacher. My designation is ‘lecturer’ although many people think that whoever teaches in college is a professor. That’s many years and two degrees away. Just call me ‘sir’ or ‘Mr. Paredes’ in class.

I love teaching. Just as Heraclitus says about one never crossing the same river twice, I haven’t taught the same subject in quite the same way all these years. I think I pretty much learn something new each time and so pass on new insights or connect new dots everyday. And that is exciting. Every time a class ends, I almost cannot wait to have the next session. These days, we are discussing the history of OPM (Original Pilipino Music) from the 60s to the present. So much music to share. I wish this was a topic for one whole semester.

* * *

Last night, I finished a commissioned song for a big NGO group. It’s a song called “Beyond Giving’. The theme talks about not just giving charity to others but carrying the work to the end until goals are completed.

Going the distance
Going the mile
Going beyond giving
Going beyond the high
Leaving oneself
Becoming the other
Going beyond giving
Till all of us pull through

The Company sang it and I dare say they did a great job. And so did Ernie Baladjay, APO’s keyboardist and arranger who continues to surprise me with each project we do We finished it late last night in my studio and it will be launched on July 4..

I have a studio at the back of my home. Time was, I’d spend many hours there recording, or writing. I’ve done countless songs, jingles, and recorded albums there as so many other artists have since I made it a commercial studio. Once in a while, some projects can really be exciting. I regularly drop by and check on the progress of some people who record there—people like Mon David who recorded here months ago and who seems to be in a great creative streak for some years now. You will not find his albums in regular outlets or even hear them on radio the way, say, you would Kitchie Nadal’s. But Mon is an artist I truly admire. If you ever come across any of his work, you will be doing Filipino music a favor by patronizing projects that record companies won’t touch because they are not ‘commercial’. He writes and sings jazz, ballads, pop in 3 languages–English, Tagalog and Kapampangan! The more people walk the edge creatively, the more Filipino music consciousness is expanded, di ba?

* * *

In the same vein, I am proud of my artist-model-writer-host daughter Ala’ s new music show called Isla Music on ABC 5, Saturdays at 6PM. It’s not your regular ho-hum record company-dictated music show trying to be hip with an American accent. It is an engaging music show and they discuss not just the form but the substance of music, trends and the work and art of musicianship. It reminds me kinda of my old defunct show Tatak Pilipino which I loved to do even if it paid me peanuts. I wish every artist had the opportunity to do stuff like these and not just the usual inanity that TV offers them. Once in a while, we should all do stuff which feeds our souls.

What are the choices one has really with TV these days? There’s Chismis, where they invent stuff about people and the ‘news’ is how people they maligned deny the so-called news. There’s also musical variety where no one gets to sing any song completely by himself because he/she gets paired or grouped with people who often can manage to look good but can’t sing to save themselves. There’s the idiotic dramas which are so slowly paced you can go to Alabang at the start and back and not miss a thing. There are the reality shows which seem as real as cheap wigs, or comedies that are…well.. .I could go on and on. Maybe I shouldn’t be knocking them since I was complicit in some of those kinds of shows in the past. But then, maybe I should because what I write is true!

If there are crimes of plunder or crimes against the environment, shouldn’t there be such things as cultural crimes as well? Such crimes involve actions and policies which lead to the corruption, degradation, and the ‘bobofication’ of the Filipino mind. Round up the guilty (media owners, executives, directors, creators, artists, movie producers, writers, etc.. and oh, throw in the makers of shampoo commercials) and put them in a Guantanamo type of prison and give them the complete dose 24-7 of everything they have ever dished out the past years Or better yet, force their children to watch their work. Let’s see if they survive unscathed. Ha ha!

* * *
OK, I’ve been tagged (again)!

I know I’m too old for this but Ala tagged me. I guess the rule is I must answer these questions. That’s part of the rules of cyber citizenship.

Three names you go by:
1. Jim
2. Apo Jim
3. Jaime

Three screen names you have had:
1. Haringliwanag
2. Apo Gold
3. Mr. Walls

Three physical things you like about yourself:
1. face
2. height
3. color

Three physical things you don’t like about yourself:
1. hair
2. lack of thicker facial hair
3. can’t think of anything else

Three parts of your heritage:
(4 nalang)

1. Spanish
2. Chinese
3. Portugese
4. Ilocano

Three things that scare you:
1. losing things when I travel
2. not thnking things through
3. not having moments of quiet for extended periods

Three of your everyday essentials:
1. camera
2. meditaion
3. food

Three of your favorite musical artists:
1. Joyce
2. Simone
3. Caetano Veloso (all from Brazil)

Three of your favorite songs:
1. ‘Setembro” by Take Six, Quincy Jones Album
2. ‘Bohemian Raphsody’ by Queen
3. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ by the Beatles

Three things you want in a relationship:
1. comfort, calm and humor
2. acceptance
3. growth

Three lies and truths in no particular order:
1. I have never lied
2. God has a religion (this is a long discussion)
3. there’s a soulmate for everyone (the biggest illusion that has destroyed countless relationships).

1. Life has no intrinsic meaning. You give it your own meaning.
2. Everyday is a new day to start a new life.
3. No matter how many nights a moon may reflect on water, no trace can ever be detected when it’s over. This is how our mind should be.

Three physical things about the opposite sex that appeal to you:
1. softness
2. femininity and flirtiness
3. expressive eyes

Three of your favorite hobbies:
1. Internet
2. Diving
3. travel

Three things you want to do really badly now:
(4 things nalang)
1. travel again
2. do an album
3. finish my 4th book
4. have a photo exhibit

Three careers you’re considering/you’ve considered:
(4 nalang)
1. Psychologist/counselor
2. CEO of a tech company
3. a holy man
4. translator (Japanese or Arabic to English)

Three places you want to go on vacation:
1. Brazil
2. Cuba
3. Romania

Three kid’s names you like:
1. Andres
2. Natasha
3. Ligaya

Three things you want to do before you die:
Four nalang!
1. Live abroad
2. Be a world teacher
3. Publish 20 books
4. Make music that will outlive me.

Three ways that you are stereotypically male:
1. I like women.
2. I like my room messy.
3. I like adventure.

Three people I admire:
1. Ken Wilber
2. Dalai Lama
3. Paul Macartney

Will spare my friends and so will not tag anyone.

Warmth and Heat: Pinoys in Arabia!

One can never visit even just a part of the Arab world and remain unchanged, unimpressed, unperturbed, or maybe even undisturbed. In my case, it’s a combination of all that plus ironically, a sense of euphoria and wonder during this last trip of APO to Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. It is not strange to feel this way since this area of the world is a land of contrasts. There is a harshness everywhere that pervades. Perhaps it’s because the weather is so punishing. It can go up to 56 degrees Celsius or 110 Fahrenheit in the summer and bitingly cold in the winter. Their way of life, at least to me, can seem quite cruel and dogmatic. I talk especially of their attitudes towards women, sexuality, modernity, religion, etc. Life is hard period! And so live with its stringent rules! That’s what the whole scene seems to suggest to me.

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A mosque every few blocks!

But then, there is also a charming excessiveness everywhere. There is a mindblowing overabundance of gold, money, sand, heat, tradition, mosques, luxurious buildings, royalty, nice cars, rich people and really high end shopping malls. There is also an abundance of spirit, of faith as evidenced by the phrase ‘inshAllah’ (if Allah wills it) which they say when commenting about anything that is unsure in life. I am sure I am only touching the surface when I talk of life in Arabia in the way I do. Forgive me for I only stayed there for 10 days.

Bahrain is one of the Arab world’s nice free zones rivaled only by Dubai. They allow liquor, and people seem to be quite relaxed. There are discos, bars and there are sexy singers in short skirts, musicians with long hair, rappers, dancers, even hookers. No wonder they are regularly visited by the Saudis who simply need to cross the bridge when they need a break from their very strict Islamic society and get their fix of Western decadence! On weekends, drunken Saudis are everywhere! A high point for me was a visit to the grand mosque and a very interesting and enlightening conversation about Islam with a young female scholar.

Kuwait is the richest Arab state, and possibly the richest country in the world if we talk per capita. Its distinctive icon is the Kuwait tower which dominates its landscape. It is home to the ‘sweetest’, most easily extracted oil in the area. No wonder Saddam wanted to annex it.

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The Kuwait Tower which can be seen from almost any place in Kuwait city.

Oman is the prettiest among the three places we visited. It’s like a quaint ‘boutique’ country, if you know what I mean. For one, it is mountainous and has lush greenery. It also has old souks (markets) and like everywhere in the Arab world, one can buy gold cheap. Its charm lies in its look– buildings whose regimented white color stand out amid the backdrop of beige, jagged mountains everywhere.

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The luxurious Chedi Hotel in Oman. Simply fabulous!

One of the things I try to do when visiting a strange place is to touch base with the humanity of the inhabitants. With Arabs, this is not difficult. They generally are friendly, accommodating and honest. Just as Sting expressed it about the Russians, ‘the Arabs love their children too’, and they are like us and everyone else in many respects. Just don’t try to take stolen shots, most especially of the women. They have an aversion to having their picture taken. Almost each time, I had to ask permission first and was almost always refused. Sayang, because many of their faces are so ‘biblically’ dramatic pa naman. .But I still managed to get some good ones after I bluffed about being a correspondent for the Kuwait Times.

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The Arabs love their camel meat, too. This guy asked me to take his picture! I love this shot.

But the biggest imprint this trip has left me is still the indomitable spirit of the Filipino. Everywhere we went, we saw our kababayans exuding that great Pinoy hospitality and that drive to make something of themselves in this hot, almost inhabitable, alien world. We are everywhere—in Arab homes, hospitals, government ministries, entertainment centers, restaurants, hotels, malls, parks, etc. We are turning the cogs that run their industries, businesses, and all aspects of their lives. We are raising their children and holding the sky up together with Indians, Pakistanis, Moroccans, Egyptians, and other nationalities. But by and large, we do it with much more grace, competence, joie d’vivre, and humor.

Sure there are sad stories that also abound—-exploitation, violence, etc. Even so, we saw wide, appreciative smiles from 220 takas women who had sought refuge in our Kuwait embassy. Most of them had been physically abused, emotionally scarred, sexually beaten or raped, deprived of their salaries but they still managed to exude that child-like innocence and trust that characterizes us as a people. This is probably one of the reasons after economic ones why we so boldly seek employment in places unknown everywhere in the world. I was quite moved by the sight of all these women I actually wanted to embrace each one of them and promise them that things would be all right. Oh, if only I could really give assurances, I thought to myself as I held back.

We did one concert each in Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman and let me tell you, it was such an indescribable pleasure and an honor to perform for fellow Pinoys, in this part of the world. They laughed, cried, sang along, waved their hands as we brought them home to the Philippines even for just two hours. Perhaps it is easier to appreciate who we are when we are outside the country. Even as news about the Philippines was increasingly disconcerting while we were abroad, I could only see hope as I looked at our countrymen. I was proud, happy, and grateful to sing for them–and that I am not only one of them but also one with them. We are a hard, tough people who can smile and be happy in the face of difficulties and adversity. The politicians can all go hang. We are proving everyday that we have the right stuff as a people. The challenge is to behave at home the way we behave abroad.

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My name in Arabic!

Mabuhay tayo!!

flowing at the speed of life

It’s good to sleep. The body really needs it to recuperate and feel whole again. My last 4 days in the US before the tour ended was crazy. We were in 4 separate places (LA, Vegas, Atlanta and Houston) in a span of 5 days. Now I am back at home in Manila sleeping on my bed and it feels good. I just hope I can get a decent amount of sleep before I leave again for the Middle East in 3 days!

Life for me has been hectic the past months. Home is where I put down and open my baggage. My solitude is a hotel room that keeps changing every so often. Inside it, I can write, enjoy some quiet, catch some rest or simply look out the window and watch life go by. When I am not in my room, I am around people, and more people and frenzied activities. Such is what life has been lately. And to all this, I am thankful even if sometimes, I complain. I try and flow at the speed of life.

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‘Home in Houston’

In contrast, the past two days have been wonderfully slow and undemanding. I wake up when I wake up. There are schedules to do but I am not stressed out. Maybe I have just learned to deal with greater amounts of pressure and not be too bothered by them. But I know it helps that I have again been doing my zen sits which are hard to do on a regular basis when I am traveling.

Things that need to be done seem to fall into place easily. Two nights ago, I wrote a song that has to be submitted in study form by monday. Yesterday morning, I went to Ateneo to check on my new teaching schedule for this coming semester and fix a few kinks. In the afternoon, APO finished a recording for a UN project. Last night, I did some writing for my still-to-be-finished book. This morning, I awoke to Ananda’s delightful voice as she was trying to converse with her yaya during breakfast. When she saw me, she shouted ‘wowo’ (her attempt at saying ‘lolo’, I suppose) much to my immense delight. Everything seems to be in its right place and unfolding at the right time.

I have learned through years of meditation (off and on) that the world accommodates me best when I am centered. Or perhaps, it is the other way around and it is I who accommodates the world. Maybe doing one begets the other. I am not too sure. By accommodating, I mean an acceptance of whatever shows up–a conscious affirmation or saying of “yes” to life and its attendant excitement, surprises, routines, pain and pleasures. I am awake to all of it. Life is good, and when it is, it’s an easy thing to experience. And sometimes, I can say the same thing even when it’s bad.

But when I feel centered, I am comfortable with the simple reality that life is as it is, unqualified, neither good nor bad and not needing any labels or spin to be appreciated. As Desiderata puts it, “no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should”.

Simply put, when I am accepting of myself, the world seems to reciprocate the gesture. It’s like there is no separate world and no separate ‘I’. Maybe, the song is correct. We are the world!