Hanging on to the child in us

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Every child has a beautiful name…
We grow and change but we’re all the same.
As people still, we’re all the same

— Godiego

I was watching a reality show on TV the other night and I saw an 11-year-old girl with makeup that made her look far beyond her age. She said she put on makeup every day, to the consternation of the authorities in her school.

Many times, we see kids in the malls and other public places all dolled up, smoking and projecting an “adult” demeanor that can be quite jolting. In the Philippines, it’s quite common to see young people in their early or mid-teens drinking alcohol in discos and clubs. Drug use, unfortunately, is often seen as a badge of honor among young people who no longer see themselves as children and are struggling to be recognized as “big people.” Many times, I almost have to ask myself why these kids are in such a rush to grow up — even if I know why.

There is the strong desire to be more and more independent and the way they do this is to look and “act” grown up. This can be manifested in many ways: one is to look like an adult with all the gear, to project a more overt sexuality, to have access to big toys like a car, to have a special someone, to go out on dates without a chaperone, and be as independent as one can be while, of course, still living off one’s parents and enjoying their largesse. And while all this is going on, throw in an overdose of unexplained, undefined angst.

I still remember what I had to go through to reach adult status, or at least to reach that point when I felt I was no longer treated as a child. I had to present myself as someone my parents did not have to worry about with regard to school, to act as responsibly as I could and do what was expected of me. Of course, I wasn’t always really that way but I worked hard to create that impression on my elders. I noticed that the more I appeared to be reliable, the more my parents treated me as an “older” person.

Wanting to be independent is a natural yearning of people in their teens and they can’t be faulted for it. Part of being young is hating it and wanting to be older. That’s just the way it is.

As I write this, I am thinking of how I was in my youth (from childhood to my teens) and the way I looked at the world. And as I reminisce, I am thankful that I never said goodbye to many of my childlike ways, even when I embarked on the road to being an adult with all its attendant seriousness and responsibilities. Hanging on to some remnants of childhood, I truly believe, has made me a happier person as an adult.

One vestige of my youth that I keep to this day is idealism.

I may never have been a pie-in-the-sky Pollyanna as a kid. I did not believe in Santa but I was easily moved by true and fictional stories of courage, of fighting for the glory of love or one’s beliefs. I also did believe in the innate goodness of people, and the wonderful capacity of everyone to be happy. I still do. Sure, there is evil in the world and I have not been spared from it. But I believe that there are many more good people who are willing to do their share in helping others and are willing to grant goodwill to everyone. It is not in my nature to be overly suspicious of others; I presume innocence until proven otherwise, at least most of the time.

I have also maintained my playfulness and creativity. I am still a kid at heart when it comes to “rearranging” reality in my head and creating new ways of looking at things. Very often, I look for solutions or answers not in the usual places where most people would tend to look. I like trivia ­— especially wild, unusual trivia.

I must have gotten these traits from some adult nurturers I was crazy about when I was a kid, those who treated me in a special way. They always managed to arouse my curiosity by using surprise and delight. My older sister Tictac used to hold all sorts of contests (we had to make things — Christmas cards, Valentine cards, etc.) before she shared some of her hard-earned salary as gifts to her younger sibs. I had uncles and aunts who told fantastic stories that constitute our family lore. They were the most interesting people since their stories challenged what I knew to be “true” and thus took my imagination to places it had never been.

To this day, I believe surprise and delight are the keys to a good APO show, or even a workshop, a public talk, or any other activity that is worth doing. And I get an enormous kick each time I can successfully execute this.

I was a snob and a bit of a rebel as a teen and I continue to be. I thank God for this because it continues to serve me well. I have always seen myself as someone who is, well, different. I have always felt that I march to the beat of a different drum and I guess this has been evident in many of my life choices. I opted for a career in music and showbiz at a time when the politically correct thing to do then was work for a big corporation and get a regular job. As a group, Danny, Boboy and I wrote and sang original songs when the trend then was to sound like foreign singers. I never went for music or fashion or almost anything else that everyone was currently raving about.

In many ways, this rebelliousness has been seen as recklessness or even quirkiness. An example is, I gave up a green card at the height of the worst coup mounted against the government in 1989 to express my defiance of what I felt was a creeping militarization. But early last year, I decided to leave the country and move to Australia. I just feel that as a truly free person, I must liberate myself from the expectations of others, especially those that get in the way of personal growth and expression.

Even in my spiritual path, I have taken the less trodden but more scenic path over the usual, predictable route. I have never been comfortable knowing God through hearsay or peer pressure. I’ve always wanted to know Him/Her/It personally.

The most important thing I have kept with me from my childhood is my capacity for wonder. I wonder at the big things and also the little ones. I can honestly say that most of the time, I can muster enough wonder to make any mundane, ordinary situation an interesting, even a mind-blowing one.

As I get older, I notice I can be happy under most circumstances. And I can because I’ve always kept that built-in macro lens we were all born with, the one that helps us appreciate the freshness of every moment and marvel at the intricacies of its gifts. This same “magnifying glass” we had as kids awakens my creativity, making me recognize silent patterns everywhere and this, in turn, reinforces my belief in a universal conspiracy that life is indeed beautiful just as it is.

Indeed, the child, if we hold on to it, is the father to the man.

* * *

I am announcing the 33rd and the 34th run of TAPPING THE CREATIVE UNIVERSE (TCU) to be held in two places. Manila and Melbourne.

MANILA (The 6-Day Run)

WHEN: August 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13
WHAT TIME: 7 to 9 PM
WHERE: 31 M. Jocson St. Loyola Heights, QC

To reserve a slot in this life-altering workshop, or ask for a syllabus, call 0916=8554303 and ask for Ollie, or call 426-5375 or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com.

MELBOURNE (The Full Day Run)

WHEN: August 25, 2007
WHAT TIME: 8AM to 6:30-7:00PM

WHERE: Philippine Australian Multipurpose Centre, 93 Cowper Street, Footscray VIC.

If you are interested in attending a life-changing workshop, here are the contact details:


Emmy and Nestor – 0438 849 788 or email emmy.duLake@aanet.com.au
George 0411 566 885 or email george@philtimes.com

Home alone with myself

Sunday, July 22, 2007

From Sunday night till Wednesday evening last week, I had the house all to myself. My son Mio, the only companion I have here in Sydney, went on a skiing trip with his classmates. It is winter here, and I must admit that the idea of being alone in this cold, quiet house in the suburbs was not a thrilling prospect.

The night before I took him to school for the bus trip to Snowy Mountain, I was feeling quite stressed since it seemed that a few things were starting to go wrong for me. For one, the dishwasher door would not open, and trapped inside it were practically all of the plates and utensils we have at home. The only things left for me to use were my granddaughter Ananda’s pink Barbie plate and a small Captain Nemo saucer. As trivial as the inconvenience may seem, I was getting anxious about it. What if I couldn’t get those plates and utensils out in the next two or three days? How was I going to function? Here I was, alone and with little knowledge of how to feed myself, and this had to happen and make things more difficult. I was beginning to entertain worst-case scenarios.

With self-pity beginning to well up, I felt myself contracting somewhat. I was beginning to feel that I had enough reason to justify staying under my bed covers and feeling sorry for myself. But I reckoned that my choices actually boiled down to two: be miserable during the next freezing days ahead, or learn something productive for the time being, until Mio got back.

Life is like that. We all get kicked out of our comfort zones every so often and I might as well not resist it. I could either have a miserable time or I could seize this chance to discover new things.

So I made calls. A friend said he had a friend who would ring me back for the repair of the dishwasher, but he never did. After a few hours of waiting I called another friend and he suggested I check the Internet. Of course! I had forgotten that this country is quite orderly and so conveniently structured that one can find almost any service in cyberspace.

The next day, a dishwasher specialist I found on yellowpages.com.au came over and opened the stuck door. Thanks to him, my prospects for the next few days began to look better.

The following days, I experienced moments of intimate discovery about this house we live in and about myself. I took pains to sweep, vacuum and mop the floors, wipe the tables, arrange the magazines, know what strange uncooked stuff resided inside the freezer, get the lawnmower to work, and be smart enough to figure out that the reason why it stopped was because it needed petrol. I also watered the indoor plants, arranged the beds, cleaned the toilets, threw the garbage in their proper bins, and a whole lot more. And during moments of rest, I learned to stop stiffening and contorting my body to fight the cold but instead to relax and learn to cohabit with this winter season that’s been the coldest in Sydney in 20 years.

During moments of non-activity, I learned to live with the silence and be aware of the creaks and noises that the house makes in reaction to the heater when I turn it on. I also looked more intently outside my window, at the beautiful early sunsets of winter that Sydney treats its inhabitants with.

I was becoming an astute observer. Certain types of birds make their presence felt at specific times of the day. The one that hoots repeatedly does so around mid-morning while the chirpy ones appear in mid-afternoon.

I also learned to pay attention to my own thoughts. During house cleaning, I learned to appreciate the work of every household help I have ever had the privilege of employing. I also noticed that I have this great fascination with entropy, or the doctrine of inevitable decline and degeneration of all worldly matters, especially if left alone. This is the reason why houses and all things have to be constantly used and cared for. And I am also talking here of our physical bodies that need to be attended to regularly.

In many ways, my simple task of taking care of myself and keeping house is a noble one. It is no less important than holding up the sky and making sure this humble abode remains comfortable and sturdy for my family’s eventual return. It is, oddly enough, a counterstrike against entropy, the second rule of thermodynamics. In fact, all these simple things I did when I was alone amounted to the equivalent of death-defying acts!

With regard to cooking, I made the daunting choice of not always reheating food but cooking something special for most meals. On Monday night, after a few consultations with Lydia via text, I took chicken out of the refrigerator and made my first adobo dish. I know that, to most people, it may not be a big deal but for a novice like me, the idea of paying attention to the preparation of food, the actual cooking and the minor intuitive and often commonsensical decisions one must make (like how much salt or garlic to use, or how to compensate when one can’t find bay leaves) are a huge deal. It is an exciting and empowering experience to learn to prepare something that not only nurtures the body but is delicious as well.

I ate my first self-cooked adobo that night with such relish and glee. I laughed when I heard myself go “Mmmm” in genuine appreciation, with every bite I took of the crispy chicken adobo. The truth was, I could hardly contain myself.

There is something magical about taking a sabbatical. In my case, moments like these are like living the monastic life. All I have is myself, and the tasks that I need to do. When I am paying attention, I notice that the seeming “sparseness” is hardly sparse at all. There is so much going on, and all of it simultaneously. The interconnectedness of things unravels before me and I actually witness its divine mission.

Nightfall weaves its charm seamlessly. There is a rhythm to the way the wind rattles the canvas awning near my window and rustles the leaves of a nearby tree. And how wondrously the laws of physics show off when I dabble with heat while preparing food.

While we moderns may think that not having anything new or novel to do all the time, or the idea of being deprived of our usual entertainment make our lives boring and meaningless, I submit that actually plunging into quiet aloneness can be a rewarding — if different — experience. We learn that the self is largely undiscovered territory and there is so much to explore. Our fears, anxieties, our joys, our inner monologues reveal themselves, and when we listen to them instead of resisting, we get a better grasp of who the person that inhabits us may actually be.

We quickly realize that the best surprises are the ones we learn about ourselves.

* * *

I am announcing the 33rd run of “Tapping the Creative Universe” (TCU), a cutting-edge creativity workshop that will help transform you to the person you were meant to be — someone fully alive, joyful and more capable of doing anything you wish.

The six-day sessions will be held at 31 M. Jocson St. Loyola Heights, QC on August 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13, from 7 to 9 p.m. Cost is P5,000 for the entire workshop.

To reserve a slot or ask for a syllabus, call 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie, or call 426-5375 or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com.

Two TCUs in August!

I’m on fire and on a roll.

I am announcing the 33rd and the 34th run of TAPPING THE CREATIVE UNIVERSE (TCU) to be held in two places. Manila and Melbourne.

MANILA (The 6-Day Run)

WHEN: August 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13
WHAT TIME: 7 to 9 PM
WHERE: 31 M. Jocson St. Loyola Heights, QC

To reserve a slot in this life-altering workshop, or ask for a syllabus, call 0916=8554303 and ask for Ollie, or call 426-5375 or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com.

MELBOURNE (The Full Day Run)

: August 25, 2007
WHAT TIME: 8AM to 6:30-7:00PM

WHERE: Philippine Australian Multipurpose Centre, 93 Cowper Street, Footscray VIC.

If you are interested in attending a life-changing workshop, here are the contact details:


Emmy and Nestor – 0438 849 788 or email emmy.duLake@aanet.com.au
George 0411 566 885 or email george@philtimes.com

Here’s what people have said about TCU.

TCU helped me learn a lot more about myself and how I abuse and deprive myself of what I know would be fulfilling and joyful to me. It helped me get things started and finished without being too hard on myself and just simply enjoying every small step of the way.

In TCU you will meet people from different walks of life, different careers, different priorities, and different perspectives in life. It is an opportunity for growth as an individual as everyone is learning from each other. There is also a sense of authenticity within TCU that helps build up and encourage character and fulfillment.

Creativity is a gift everyone has regardless of your profession. Believe it. You NEED to have that connection to your creative side. Join TCU and learn how much of yourself you may have forgotten or dreams you want to achieve.

Jim shared a poem with us during the TCU, and for me it was the essence of the seminar:

“To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
To hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.’
-By William Blake

The TCU has changed the way I am, therefore it has changed the way I see things. Let Jim show you how… Tiffi Avila

The TCU has made me aware of my blocks in life. By removing many of them and unburdening my mind, i seem to be able to do whatever i want now and more importantly, enjoy it and have good fun! –Ric Jose—

TCU has made me come face to face with my blocks and has given me the tools to overcome them on a daily basis. –Michelle Gemperle–

I was one of the participants at the first Tapping the Creative Universe workshop in Australia last July 06 -a birthday present for myself.

At this time, I’m so eager to forward Jim’s invitation to you guys for the second run of the TCU workshop – at a convenient venue.

Most things in life are floating in the air, until we choose to grab it so to speak, with pure intention and a loving heart.

To tap the creative universe is an encompassing calling but I’ve learned everyday since then, that it is the essence of our being –

I can say there is a time for everything – and if it is your time to take time for yourself – then I’m sure you’ll find yourself at the TCU workshop.

“Being conscious that every second, every thought, every little action.. and every little energy counts towards some destiny. It is about NOW. A series of joyous now, makes a joyous life. TCU has made me conscious about the importance and logic of The Present .. Moreover, I have found TCU friends here! TCU is growth not just during the classes, growth is also what you do with what you have learned as part of your journey after the classes!
(Diane, 40 years?!, oh ? it?s just a number!)

“TCU has changed my life…for better. I recommended it to my husband and it worked for him too. SPLENDID!” Warm regards,Athiporn

“Every writer dreams to have his works published some day. TCU has opened a portal in my mind, and enhanced my adventures in creativity. Furthermore, it developed my skills as a writer and made me realize that there are countless opportunities for recognition!” Jard M Gerona, writer

“TCU was a fun learning experience for me. At 50 (when I took the course), I was the oldest in the class of about 2 dozen or so people who were mostly in their late twenties to early thirties (some are friends of my kids). Thanks to my ex-classmate Jim Paredes for teaching me useful tips on creativity.

Just do it!” Rene Ongpin, retired stockbroker.

“TCU helped me unblock my creativity and get in touch with my inner self. I have discovered that there is more to me than what I know and there is no other time but NOW to do whatever I should. =)” Lara M. Garcia, 34, Ghostwriter/Researcher & Vocal Coach

“Learning to live each moment to the fullest has had a tremendous impact on me.”
Wouter Lincklaen Arriens, musician, 47

Home alone with Mio

Sunday, July 15, 2007

On my second week here in wintry Sydney, the only companion I have at home is my 18-year-old son Mio. For a week prior to my arrival, Mio was home alone in Sydney. Erica and Ala and Lydia and myself were in Manila, so we were constantly worrying. Although Mio constantly reassured us that everything was fine, I felt I had to come home ASAP so that he could have someone with him. Now it looks like Lydia’s ticket home will take some time to fix, so it looks like it will only be Mio and me here for another week or so.

There are many firsts that I am experiencing being home alone with Mio. I am learning to run the house beyond just paying the bills, taking out the garbage and the occasional cleaning. I am doing pretty much everything — the laundry, cleaning up, mopping, shopping for groceries, errands, tidying up the house, watering the indoor plants, and so many other things. But the biggest challenge — and the most fun, as it is turning out — is cooking!

From the outset, I realized that my original plan of living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches indefinitely, or until Lydia gets here, would not be feasible. And so I plunged head-on into kitchen duty. You must realize that I am coming from practically zero experience since my knowledge of anything culinary is nil. I know very little about cooking save for the suspicion that it probably involves heat! My few engagements with food preparation and anything culinary date back to my youth when, as a Boy Scout, I cooked eggs and heated stuff from canned foods while camping.

Normally, I can live on food that does not have to be spectacularly delicious or visually appealing. I’m quite a low-maintenance guy when it comes to sustenance. While I enjoy going out, I generally would much rather eat at home and save money. I can even eat the same dishes for days on end, much to the disgust of my family!

But I find that I don’t relish eating so-so or lousy food during these cold, wintry months and so I have taken the bull by the horns. With the help of friends who I call when I have a question about what to do next, I have bravely taken out unprepared frozen meats from the freezer and prepared some dishes from scratch. Since I got back, I have made baked chicken, fried lumpia, mushroom and cheese omelets and a few other dishes. Last night, I was thrilled to have cooked steak, which, in my humble opinion, was rather scrumptious. I sprinkled them with salt and pepper the night before and they came out quite delicious. I was happy (no, ecstatic is the word) about my accomplishment and quickly agreed with Mio’s suggestion that we should try baking a cake or something!

Mio pretty much leaves me to do the cooking while he does the dishes and throws out the garbage. He also drives when we go out. What I am enjoying most at this time is being with him. I have always enjoyed my son’s company. He has a great sense of humor. He is a fairly easygoing kid who can do some pretty spectacular stuff. Even as a first-year immigrant, he shares the honor with two other classmates of having the highest standing in his English class. He is also number three in math, arts and music. Aside from that, he can play a mean guitar (Joe Satriani, Dream Theater stuff) and now has embarked on aerosol art, which he loves to do.

I have had many moments with my son in the past but these days are quite special. There are no other people — not his sisters, my grandchild, or even his mother — who can interrupt our bonding time.

I have been encouraging Mio to take steps toward being more independent. Last week, he finally got a job as a pizza delivery boy. He came home the first night saying he hated the job. I told him to give it a chance since very few people really like the first day of anything. The next day, he felt better about it. He’s been going out a few nights a week since his shifts are in the evening.

Since we got here, we have had so many meals together, including one with his girlfriend. Last night, we watched the movie Transformers and had a great time. The best times are when we are just talking about anything — cracking jokes, figuring out different ways to keep the house clean, this and that, and even big topics like his future. He says he likes it in Sydney and is not missing Manila enough to want to go back. He will end his senior year soon and will hopefully be going to the university by February next year.

In the car last night, I told him about a bank employee I spoke to earlier who is in her late 20s and already owns a house in our neighborhood. He then asked me if I ever imagined when I was young how much my music would be heard and performed, or how successful I would be at what I was doing. I said no, I really just got into everything because I liked doing it.

He said that he is torn between saving all his money for something big in the future, or spending it on art materials, since he needs to pursue what he enjoys doing. He said he is embarrassed to have to ask us for money to support his artistic inclinations and he worries that he is just throwing money away. I told him that I think he is spending his money wisely since he obviously finds fulfillment in his art. He should therefore just thank his lucky stars that he has parents who will support him in the directions that he would like to grow.

As a struggling artist in my youth, when I could not even afford guitar strings, I would sometimes resort to tying broken strings together. But I was happy every time I played the guitar. I wished my parents had the money then to buy me a nicer guitar, or that we could have been in a better financial situation so I could go to music school. But what mattered was my mom always encouraged me to do what I loved to do. Now, I can afford all these things for my kids and I really don’t want them to have to scrimp on their vision of what they want to be, or on their dreams.

These moments with Mio are so precious, as I relish every opportunity I have to spend individual time with each of my children. Many times, as parents, we like to compliment ourselves by pointing out that we are providing for our kids’ welfare and education. And we think that is more than enough. But we may forget that it is equally important to go beyond being just a provider and getting to know them more intimately as the unique human beings that they are. And vice versa.

Destiny has thrown us together in this unique time and space, and that is quite a privilege. Our time with our loved ones may be long, or it may be short-lived, as it was with my own father. So such bonding moments when we talk and share dreams, wisdom and our love for each other are nuggets to be cherished. They are the gifts we give each other that really matter.

Many years from now, would you rather be remembered for the sizeable bank account you left behind, or the fact that you were never there because you were working too hard to provide for your kids?

Our children will remember all that. But I am betting that they will remember and cherish much more the memory of how loudly we laughed with them, how sincerely we listened to their stories, how patiently we tried to understand them, how tenderly we cared. They will even appreciate how painfully, but faithfully, we administered tough love when we felt it was needed.

Such memories will compensate for all our shortcomings as parents, whatever they may be. These, more than anything else, are what will shape our children into warm, loving, compassionate and happy human beings, and hopefully, much later, into warm, loving, compassionate and fun parents.

* * *

surprises, music, books and survival

A place as orderly as Sydney and a people like the Aussies whom I perceive rightly or wrongly to be quite straight-laced compared to us Pinoys have just managed to pull off a rather odd surprise as far as I’m concerned.

I was with my son lined up in a government office a few days ago. When it was our turn to be served, we approached a counter and a man in spiked mohawk hairdo, facial piercings, and an arm completely covered with bright colored tattoos was there to help us with the papers that needed to be filled up. I tried hard NOT to stare at his very interesting tattoos and his carefully coiffured hair while I asked him all the questions I needed answered.

Cool. What can I say. It’s just not something I would expect from a government official! It’s nice to be reminded that everything straight, prim and proper and appearing to be two dimensional has a wild, dark, interesting and redeeming side. Ha ha.


Been listening to the sequel of the mega hit album KaminAPOmuna ULIT since last night. No, it’s not out yet. I am enjoying the privilege of being able to listen to it before its official release since it’s a tribute to APO after all. I know I should not preempt my record company by talking about this but let me just say one thing about it: MAKE SURE YOU GO OUT AND BUY IT. It is very interesting!!

Oops. I better stop before I spill the beans. STOP JIM!!!!!!

To all those who have invited me to join their Multiply circle, and have wondered why I have not accepted their requests, I have to explain something. If it seems to you that I have been snubbing you, please forgive me. I have not. I have close to 500 invites and I am really sorry I cannot say yes to everyone. As of now, it’s just taking quite long to read everyone’s updates in my approved circle. I will probably not approve most of the 500 for the simple reason of practicality.

Sorry po!!

I don’t get it. I announced that I have copies of my new book with me through this blog and I got lots of calls and emails. What I don’t understand is the book has been available online for the last three months now. I guess people still do hesitate to order online. To those brave souls who did, I thank you. And if you wish to write a review or anything about the book, please post it at lulu.com. I will be happy to read a review or a reco.

To the others who are interested, I am down to my last two copies of the new book (As Is Where Is) but have a few more of the first three (Humming In My Universe, Between Blinks, Writing On Water). Just write me so I can arrange to send it, or if you are in Sydney and wish to pick it up at my house, feel free to email at emailjimp@gmail.com for details. The new book is 20$ AUD while the three other books are 15$ AUD each.

Mio and I watched Transformers a few days ago. What a blast! Don’t miss it. You’ll be a kid again for the duration of the movie.

I was happy that Spielberg has once again come up with a great one. I hated the War of the Worlds. I thought that Spielberg had become a spent force after I saw it. But with Transformers, he has redeemed himself.

I have learned the past two weeks to fend for myself in the kitchen since it’s only been Mio and I who have been inhabiting our Sydney home. The girls are all on vacation although they should be joining us again shortly. I have surprised myself by actually cooking. Yes, that’s right. And not just fried egg or heating things from canned goods but stuff like baked chicken, steak, fried lumpia, and a few more. OK, I’ll admit my repertoire of food I can prepare from scratch is not that varied yet.

That’s why I am appealing to you, dear readers. If you feel moved enough to send me easy recipes to cook for the survival of this FOB father and son tandem undergoing this awful winter in OZ, it will be greatly appreciated.

A few guidelines:

1) send a recipe that is easy to execute
2) that can be made just for two or at most, 6 people
3) that is delicious.
4) dessert suggestions welcome as well

Thank you and I look forward to reading the wondrous suggestions that you may send our way.


The gift of (foreign) gab

Sunday, July 8, 2007

I was in a big hardware store near our home in Sydney with my son Mio to buy paint for some school projects he had to do, and he was remarking about the slow service in the store. He’s been buying his aerosols from there and he always has to wait a while for someone to attend to him.

The surprising thing was how in the middle of the conversation, he automatically switched to Tagalog the moment we were within hearing distance of non-Filipinos who were working in the store. From where we were, all we could see were white Aussies who tended the different counters.

I pointed out to him how advantageous it was for us to be able to switch from one language to another when the need arose. As Filipinos, we take this gift of bilingualism for granted. Actually, many of us may even be trilingual since we not only speak English and Tagalog but also a regional language, like Capampangan, Cebuano, Ilocano, etc. And on top of that, if you happen to be an OFW in a non-English speaking region and have learned to speak to the natives fluently, that makes you quadrilingual! Whew!

Speaking in many languages fluently is not only a matter of being able to translate words and sentences. Every language carries with it a unique world view. While we may seem to be able to describe things objectively in two or more tongues, there is a different take on how we perceive the world whenever we switch from one language to another.

Language is borne out of the reality experienced by its users. Eskimos, for example, may have no words for grass or desert sand, but they have more than 30 words for snow. They have precise words to describe snow when it is, say, in mid-air, or freshly fallen, or melting; whether it is afternoon snow, icy snow, dirty snow, etc. The phenomenon of snow is, after all, such a big part of their everyday life that they had to develop more specific words to describe it in its many nuances.

We Pinoys are as extravagant with our many words for rice. Americans just have one word; they call it “rice.” We have kanin, bigas, sinangag, tutong, suman, lugaw, bibingka, and so many more. Rice is something so ingrained (no pun intended) in our everyday life, something we cannot live without, that we have an overdeveloped vocabulary for it (from an English point of view) which encompasses every interaction we may have with it — rice that is sweetened, ground, cooked, overcooked, baked, sugared, boiled, burned, uncooked, etc. And because the really exciting thing about knowing languages intimately is the different mindsets that we are able to traverse as we switch from one to the other. I call the flawless switching we do cambio, as in switching gears. We can seamlessly enter one reality and cambio to another, sometimes even in mid-sentence! It’s like doing high-flying trapeze — so graceful and effortless. When we say, “What’s the address nga?” or “We were gonna go sana pero we got tamad,” or even, “Ganyan talaga ang buhay. Weather-weather lang,” we are freely juxtaposing not just words but making halo-halo out of two cultures. It’s nothing short of amazing.

There are some things that are easier to say in English, and other things that flow better in the vernacular. For example, a Filipino sentence that is hard to translate directly to English is, “Pang-ilang presidente si George Bush?” Try it. You’ll be at a loss. It’s tempting to think up a sentence that you end with a question mark, something like, “George Bush is the how manyeth president?” except that there is no such word as “manyeth,” and won’t do as a substitute for “pang-ilan.”

Often, we think we are translating something correctly until we analyze things at the etymological level and see that we are expressing different realities. Take the phrase, “I love you.” We think we are saying the same thing when we say “mahal kita.” Actually, we are not. When we express love in English, there is an independent “I” (subject) and a “you” (object) conjoined by the word “love.” But when we say “mahal kita,” where is the subject (ako) and where is the object (ikaw)? We do not say “Ako mahal ikaw” unless we are trying to speak barok! In the Filipino reality of love, subject and object disappear and is intimately melded in the word “kita.” Clearly, that must say something unique about our experience of love itself.

Are there such things as a Filipino “reality” and an English one? I don’t know. But I do know that there are two interpretations of the same reality that do not entirely overlap. I think each language can only encompass certain chunks of reality but cannot handle other chunks as well as other languages. As bilinguals, we know there are certain things that are “invisible” or not real in the English domain but are real in our Filipino reality, and vice versa. We are more attuned to the spirit world, for example, and do not bat an eyelash when we talk about a deceased loved one who is nagpaparamdam. Try saying that to an English-speaking foreigner and he will give you a strange look. To many rural Filipinos, time and space are not always linear but experiential. For example, we describe the distance from one town to another as “isang sigarilyo lang,” and we know we are not comparing it to the physical size of a cigarette.

While we pride ourselves on being English speaking, I suspect that our primal understanding of many things is Filipino, and at best, we express much of it by word substitution in English. We mostly use a Filipino sensibility and our mental and lingual syntax is still Filipino. For example, we have no problem taking an English word and conjugating it in Filipino. A verb like “shopping” turns into: nagshopping, nagshoshopping, napashopping, etc.

As a young songwriter years ago, I realized early on how much more visceral a reaction I was getting from the audience when I sang a Tagalog song instead of an English one. The world of emotions I sing about in Tagalog just hits home in a more intimate way. I am sure my songs in the vernacular will outlive my English ones. And partly because of this and for many more reasons (and I know this is controversial), I believe in a language policy that promotes Filipino over English, but that’s for another discussion later on.

Language is a subject that has always fascinated me and I know I have merely skimmed the surface here. Before I end, I would like to leave you with this intriguing question that I hope you will ponder over this weekend:

Why do we speak to our dogs in English?

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For her and him..

While many people in America are currently entertaining themselves with their newly purchased iphones, I am tripping on two products I came across recently. I have not used them and probably never will (as you will see later), but I am amused that they are part of this universe we live in.

I was not looking for them but somehow, they found their way into my presence and consciousness and I guess that’s a pretty good sign that they should be blog material.

One product was shown to me by my sister-in-law Vangie Mabanta. It is called Anion. It is panty liner and comes in a box and it is manufactured in China. There’s nothing unusual about that since everything seems to be coming from China these days, until we read the directions for use printed on the package. I am quoting verbatim.

1. Inside the cunt, anion can promote the exchange of biological enzyme;
2. In sanitary napkin, the anion chip can instantly absorb blood.”

Apparently, the Chinese-to-English translator must have learned his English lessons by watching porno. Ha ha.

Here’s more:

*** it comes with “lady vagina inflammation self-test paper”. Whut…?

I am guessing that they wanted to be clear that it does not come with ‘men’s vagina’ inflammation self-test paper, just in case we were looking for that.

The other product is something Lydia discovered somewhere and gave it as a gag gift to my brother-in-law Peter Gonzales who celebrated his 50th birthday last week. I also brought one to Sydney for Mio who had a good laugh. I assure you, it was not given to them because they need it.

The product is called “PENI FRESH”. It is an “Antiseptic Male Organ Wash Soap”. On the label, it says,

“Male Hygenic HERBAL Soap that keeps your private part clean and free from unpleasant odor due to bacteria. Clinically proven to be safe, mild and gentle. Use morning and night or as needed for best great feeling. TUTTI-FRUTTI FLAVOR.

It’s a product from Sweden but manufactured by ORO Laboratories in Quezon City.

I thought I had seem everything.

Meanwhile, my iphone can wait while I relish this amusement.

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PS. If you posted comments a few days ago and did not see it, it’s my fault. Someone anonymous posted some 25 pages of nonsense which prompted me to moderate comments. I forgot to change back the settings.

Anyway, you can now comment as usual and you will see your comment promptly. I still reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or malicious.


The very next day after APO’s last show which was for a Unilab event at the Shangrila Hotel, I left for Australia. I arrived Sunday and immediately did some housework. I pretty much cleaned the house and hung around with Mio, my son. It was a good day even if I was so sleep deprived. the truth was, I was quite anxious to come back to Sydney. For one, Lydia, Ala and Erica with Ananda are all in Manila. That means that I would be going back to a very quiet house and I will have to cook every meal I will consume and do all the housework, not to mention contending with the loneliness. Also, I was again getting quite attached and comfortable with my life Manila and was worried that I may feel alienated when I come back here.

To my surprise, I settled in quite well almost immediately. I entered our Glenwood house and it was ‘home’. It was cozy and warm since it had been ‘territorialized’ by people in my family, and it felt like it. It felt like I belonged here. I also quickly noticed how quiet life in OZ is compared to the hustle, bustle and bedlam that is Manila. There is no escape from noise and stimulation there while it is serene and relaxed in this part of the world. I just have to deal with the cold. It was freezing last night and I did not get the great sleep I was looking forward to.

Today, I actually did quite a lot around the house cleaning, doing laundry and working in the kitchen which I never imagined I could do. After calling some friends and asking rocket science questions like, how to thaw frozen meats (yes, that’s how ignorant I am of any practical culinary knowledge), I cooked some hot dogs, and a hearty omelet of mushroom and cheese for breakfast. For lunch, I made some rice and longanisa. For dinner, I made baked chicken, a first for me, and to my great amazement, it WAS delicious!! Ha ha. Can’t believe it!

I just finished having a snack of meat pies prepared by my son Mio. It’s good to have time with him and just talk and bond. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to since he’s been living alone for a week now here in wintry Sydney. I was so pleased to hear how he managed to live alone and how he even liked it. He clearly enjoys his life here and is not thinking of coming home except to visit. So happy that he is happy!

Yesterday, I bought the Nintendo Wii game console and it’s a lot of fun. We’ve been playing the Wii sports games since yesterday and it is a blast. During my tour in the US a month ago, none of us among the APO and entourage could find one since it is so popular. Glad I got one here.

By tomorrow, I resume my job as guitar and voice teacher. Many of my former students have signed up and I am excited to see where they are now. I find teaching people music and making them love it great work which I do with passion.

My life here is quite the opposite of what I have been doing the past few months which was concerts, traveling, workshops, and one that is constantly surrounded ny people. It is 9:30 in the evening and Sydney is so quiet and calm. No dogs, no tricyle, and I don’t hear people talking while walking the streets. No one is out there!!

My TV is off. My ipod is playing quiet music at a volume so low compared to how I need to play it in Manila. This is all nice and good. My soul needs this downtime.

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By the way, I am looking for models to photograph in Sydney while I am here. I am looking for interesting and/or pretty faces. If you are interested, email me a pic at emailjimp@gmail.com

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Lastly, I have a few copies of my fourth book As Is Where Is which I brought with me to Aus for anyone interested in purchasing it. The book is only available via internet, but I have some right here. If you want to buy one, it is 20AUD. Email me at the above address and we can arrange to meet up or I can mail it at cost.