Close encounters of the ghostly kind

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated November 01, 2009 12:00 AM

I was just six years old that rainy night in 1957. It was just a few weeks after my father had died in a plane crash. Torrents of rain were pounding on the roof of our house. It must have been about 2:30 a.m. when I was awakened by my younger brother Raffy’s crying. He was bawling his eyes out, afraid of the thunder and lightning that seemed so close to the window in our room. I lay on my bed curled up under a blanket on another bed facing the opposite side as he cried loudly, waiting for an adult to come and comfort him. And then, after a few minutes, without my mom or anyone entering the room to check on him, he suddenly stopped crying and fell asleep.

It was only years later, reminiscing about our childhood that he told me that our dad — who had passed away earlier — had suddenly appeared to him and sat down beside him that night on the bed, assuring him everything was going to be all right. That put an end to his crying.

I have heard similar stories from certain people about how dead relatives seemed to enter the realm of the living in order to help out somehow. A cousin of mine many years ago claimed that, when she was four years old, the “woman in the picture” hanging on the wall of my grandparents’ home who happened to be our lola was the one who helped her pee in the toilet when her mom and the other adults were too busy to take care of her. The thing was, our lola had long since passed away before my cousin was even born.

My wife Lydia and my three children all claim to have seen spirits around our house and garden. When the kids were growing up, they claimed to see a little child who would be walking around the premises of our home. They describe it without feeling any fear since this child seemed so benign. As for me, I have yet to see or experience its presence.

Do I believe in dead spirits living in our material world? Hmm… I really do not know. I do not discount other people’s experiences that seem to confirm that spirits live among us.

I have had my own “encounters” that leave me perplexed, wondering whether they were real or not.

Many years ago, I was in a province sleeping in a five-star hotel. I was suddenly awakened around 5 a.m. because I was so sure that someone had whacked the soles of my feet. I lay there with my eyes closed feeling a presence in my room. I refused to open my eyes because I did not want to know who was there. I fell asleep again after a few minutes. Thirty minutes later, I was again awakened because I felt my bed was shaking.

At around 8 a.m., I was talking to the people in the front desk and asked them if there was an earthquake at around 5:30 that morning. They immediately confirmed that there was indeed. That settled that, I thought, although right after the other guests hanging around the front desk had left, one of the hotel employees asked me what room I was staying in. When I mentioned my room number, he looked at his co-employee and said, “I guess there’s also a ghost there.” It seemed that there was one other room in the hotel where strange occurrences were known to happen. A hotel guest who had just checked in had opened his room to see a child playing in the bathtub!

When I was still part of the reality show Pinoy Dream Academy, one of the participants, Panky Trinidad, all of a sudden started having nightmares. Even when she was awake, she claimed to be seeing a child in fatigues, a young girl, a soldier and a few others hanging around the house at different times of the day. Also, it seemed strange to me that all the girls in the house were suddenly complaining that they were having bad sleep the past few days. Could Panky be telling the truth? Was this something the participants were suddenly “believing” since the time it was happening close to Halloween and All Souls’ Day? Was it all psychological? I was quite suspicious.

As the headmaster of the show, I ordered the male participants to change rooms with the females and see what would happen. It wasn’t too long after that the boys decided on their own to start sleeping in the sala since something “strange” had been going on in the room. They were uneasy and could not sleep. I felt some of them were close to hysteria and anxiety about what they were feeling. I was afraid that there was more here than met the eye.

After consulting with the producers, I called on two psychics who were highly recommended by a priest friend. I told them to check on the premises while everyone was out. I promised them that no TV coverage would happen.

That morning, when they entered the house, they heard psychic alarm bells ringing. According to them, there were spirits in the house that had been there for quite a while and were intentionally disturbing the peace. I expressed my cynical suspicion that they were somehow engineering all of this, so close to Halloween. It was too “showbiz,” I thought. The psychics told me that precisely because it was this time of the year, the spirits liked to make noise since the living were more likely to notice them, as they were most likely thinking of the dead anyway.

To make a long story short, they “exorcised” the premises with salt, crystals and prayers mixed with certain rituals. They concentrated on the girls’ room, and also went through the tunnels where the 50 or so cameras were kept that recorded everything in the house. We learned that the cameramen were also quite agitated because they, too, felt “spirits” who had suddenly tickled their ears, kicked their butts, or scampered about in the dark corridors.

After all the rituals were done, one of the psychics claimed that a dwende who lived in the garden wanted to “hang around” with me. I asked what “hanging around” meant. She said that dwendes liked to do that with people they fancied. In turn, they would bring luck and protection. They like to hang around for weeks, months or even years until they get tired, then move on to someone else. Quite amused at the prospect of an

“otherwordly” being following me around, I said “Sure,” and asked her what the dwende’s name was. After pausing for a while, she said his name was Hari Saray!

I smiled as she said that and commented that Hari Saray would have to take care of his own visa when I traveled back to Australia.

A month later, when Pinoy Dream Academy had ended, I did go back to Australia. To my big surprise, as I surveyed the garden, I had spotted a little dwende statue in the corner where before there was none. When I asked Lydia where it came from, she said it was given to us by a friend and she put it there to guard the garden.

Our bodies, ourselves

(The Philippine Star) Updated October 25, 2009 12:00 AM

My body — which is well over 50 — continues to amaze me. I am thrilled that I am still strong and can travel and do tours that involve lots of movement and other physical activity.

The human body is a many-splendored thing. It is where we reside while we are alive. It is the locale from whence emanates our unique point of view about all aspects of life. It is the housing by which our spirit takes form and has a human experience. I have a sturdy house that seems to be aging nicely.

Some people look at their bodies as temples, as sacred places where spirit resides while they live on earth. They treat their bodies with great respect and care, and nurture them with life-enhancing ingredients and practices. They do not smoke, hardly drink, and they exercise and eat well. Many of them do yoga, tai-chi and other exercises that calm and harmonize body and mind.

I, more or less, fall into this category. I do not smoke, barely drink and do my best to eat and sleep well, and do some exercise.

There are people who think the opposite — that the body is a nightclub, a great big tent for sensual experiences. They have an “anything goes” attitude that includes drugs, alcohol, smoking, constant bingeing on rich and delicious but unhealthy foods, perennially late nights partying and just indulging their bodies. They are also too lazy to exercise.

There are some others who look at the body and all its needs, urges and wants as something to be controlled or even denied. They are the ascetics who deprive themselves of earthly joys that the body craves for, as part of spiritual practice.

It does not matter which among these three types you are. However you regard your body, it is something that you have a very personal relationship with. You are your body and your body is you, and its very condition can determine how you feel about yourself.

As I write this article, I am in the US which, in the eyes of this Third World citizen from the Philippines, is home to many of the world’s most obese people. It is both amazing and alarming to see so many super-sized human beings everywhere. The figures show that something like one in five Americans is obese.

I do not mean to sound facetious or condescending in any way but I often wonder what it is like to be 100 pounds overweight. I travel a lot and dragging a 50-pound suitcase around is hard enough. I try to imagine what twice my luggage would be like if it was evenly distributed around my body and I carried it 24 hours a day. When I see morbidly obese people (that’s the medical term for the really fat) trying to fit into tiny airline seats, or lining up to go to the toilet on a plane, I can’t help but wonder how uncomfortable they must be to be maneuvering in the world “wearing” the bodies that they have.

In the Philippines, we do not see that many overweight people. We also do not see being fat as much of a problem as it is here in America. My sister Lory, a US citizen, once pointed out how kids who appear in food, vitamins and milk commercials in the Philippines are obese. She wondered why we do not see the irony of using them as models when obesity is a health issue. It is as though, to the Filipino mind, a fat kid is a healthy well-fed kid. We need to reexamine that mindset.

As a photographer who has taken lots of pictures of artists and models who are quite beautiful and physically appealing, I can attest to the confidence most of them exude during pictorials. For many of them, their physical attributes define much of who they are. And yet, while they project confidence in pictures, what is amazingly mysterious is that many of these beautiful women, pretty as they are, can be self-deprecating about their bodies.

They often express this during pictorials. Sure, they know they are pretty, but there is a deep-seated dissatisfaction, and even a self-loathing at times about their self-perceived imperfections — their “big” arms, their “overweight” look, their imperfect body parts, etc. They always find something to complain about. I have noticed that a great number of very beautiful women who probably go about their everyday lives being ogled at and admired often underrate their looks and thus can be unhappy about how they see themselves.

There is also the cult of youth that the world seems obsessed with which demands a perfect body. And when I scan through magazines, and look at pictorials of the famous in Hollywood, I am struck by the “uniformity” of their beauty. While they are pleasant to look at, I know that they do not reflect the world’s inhabitants, by any measure.

Despite the high standards set by media, not everyone will meet, much less have social access to “perfect” people whom they will end up marrying and living with happily ever after. It will take maturity and acceptance of this fact before one can put less emphasis on physical beauty and see other more desirable and enduring qualities among the majority of the population who are less than physically perfect. To put it more truly and philosophically, it is with the spirit that we have true eyes that can see the other in a more real way.

My daughter Erica has lots of tattoos. So does my son Mio. I have been thinking of getting one myself. From conversations with my daughter and son, I know that getting tattooed, which some may see as a form of disfigurement, is all about self-enhancement and vanity. But there are others who are disfigured not through self-induced and glorified body piercing and tattoos but with real physical scars inflicted by life.

I think of the many women who have had mastectomies due to breast cancer. There is something beautiful about them despite the so-called “imperfection” that cancer has foisted on their bodies. They have an inner beauty that shines and transcends and even overshadows what is visible to the eye. Their trials and how they came to terms with them have made them inexplicably radiant.

When I saw my wife Lydia’s fully shaved head after she was diagnosed with cancer, I thought she was achingly beautiful, with her strength of character shining beyond the vanity she had to give up.

A brilliant advertisement in Sports Illustrated magazine said it all: “Scars are tattoos with better stories.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Heroes are everywhere


“Where I’m from, everyone’s a hero.” So reads a sign put up by someone on Facebook to describe the outpouring of help from Filipinos here at home and all over the world to the victims of the twin tragedies that have befallen Luzon. Not since the EDSA revolution have we felt so good about ourselves as a people.

I am moved by the efforts of the many good people who have responded to the call for help in the wake of the devastating floods. I catch myself choking on my tears when I hear or read about the great suffering of many and the compassionate heroic work being done by our fellow Filipinos to alleviate the pain of others. It is truly awesome and inspiring.

There are many tales of selflessness in the midst of all the hardship. And this seems to be happening more often since President Cory Aquino passed away. As a people, we seem to have reacted differently to these present tragedies and disappointments compared to before. It’s as if our greatness has been awakened and we are surprising even ourselves.

Many people seem to just naturally come to the conclusion that there are a lot of things that need to be done but, unlike before, they are not about to pass on the job to someone else. They are taking over the situation by volunteering in relief centers, setting up soup kitchens, countering the sense of helplessness they have often felt in the face of tragedy.

There are encouraging signs that we are in a “oneness” mode. Everyone seems to be generously pitching in their time and resources to help all who are suffering get through the next meal or the next day, and rebuild their lives. The word that comes to mind is “heroic.”

Author Rob Riley wrote, “Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the hero within us is revealed.”

These past weeks, I have been thinking about what heroes are like. What constitutes an act of heroism? How does one become a hero? As a people, we have met at least two of them in the past 30 years: Ninoy and Cory Aquino. There are many others who are unsung, but bona fide heroes nonetheless. At the very least they are, one might say, the people who have kept us from failing entirely in our search for the path to our greatness. By their examples, we have been inspired to continue our wandering in the desert despite periods of national aimlessness and spiritual and moral dysfunction.

Heroic acts come in many sizes and dimensions. I know of schoolchildren who have been giving their baon or allowances to the victims of the typhoons. Some others have opted to give their time working in relief centers packing food, or being part of the human chain delivering survival kits from warehouses to waiting trucks. Some have braved the floods, mud and stench to help in food distribution.

And yet, heroism is not always about what one has done; sometimes it is about what one has opted not to do that makes one a hero. Someone once wrote that a boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero. “He can say he doesn’t like pie when he sees there isn’t enough to go around.”

There are the people who decided not to hold the long-planned lavish birthday party, or gave up the vacation abroad and instead contributed what they would have spent to help the homeless. I include in this list those who opted not to criticize for now the pitifully inadequate efforts done by the government to make sure that there is no further buildup of anger and frustration, and to encourage everyone to focus on the task at hand.

Then there is also the hero who not only shows up ready to help when a crisis happens, but is willing to stay, fix the mess and clean up. They commit to the long haul. These are people who go beyond the initial oceanic feeling of compassion that one feels in the presence of suffering, and are willing to do whatever is needed, committing to whatever it takes to alleviate it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson put it aptly when he wrote, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.”

A hero is one who can go beyond the “feel good” moment one experiences when giving and go a farther distance even when the night continues to be dark and the light seems far from appearing. This is even more dramatically true when it is clear that the light at the end of the tunnel could be an onrushing train. With more suffering ahead and no relief in sight, he stares down the hopelessness and resists the temptation to throw in the towel with the often-valid excuse that he has “done enough.”

Emerson was right in describing the hero as an “ordinary man.” After all, everyone feels fear, doubt and hesitation. We all vacillate from time to time. But a hero, while feeling all these things, goes ahead and does what needs to be done.

Like Oskar Schindler, the man who saved many Jews from the Holocaust, the brave Filipinos who risked their lives swimming in the flood to save others must have felt the weight of the challenge to do the right thing as being too heavy for their feet of clay. Even Jesus, by all accounts, doubted the wisdom of His Father and questioned His own mission orders. But what made them heroes is that they went ahead and did it, despite the fear.

But however we define a hero, one thing is clear. A hero is someone who already had something percolating inside him or her. When things get stirred up, something happens to the arrangement of his or her priorities, values and station in life.

They see themselves torn between staying within the confines of the known, the comfortable and the convenient, and setting out in the open sea where one could lose sight of one’s origins with no clear destination appearing just yet. In the end, the choice either way is painfully personal.

“A hero shows you how to solve the problem — yourself,” Jet Li, the director of hero movies, said.

The hero is called to commit to the unknown while clinging to a notion that things may get better. In the end, the hero is one who commits to something bigger than himself. It may demand that he commit the rest of his life, or even lose it.

Right now, many Filipinos are undertaking the heroic task of helping as many people as we can to recover from these calamities and move on. Some will be there for a while. Some may be touched more and stay for far longer.

An English proverb describes a hero as “a man who is afraid to run away.” May we be afraid to run away and do the job until it is finished.

There is every reason to believe that the tragedies that have befallen our people, horrible as they are, have their upside because so many of us have been forced to think outside of ourselves and do something for others. I pray that this rude awakening will inspire us to the collective action necessary to finally get us back on the road to recovering the spirit of EDSA I, the event that, 23 years ago, made us all feel like the heroes we can all become.

Enjoying the ride

On tour again with the APO as I write this. It’s a pretty short tour actually, just 5 shows all in a month. We have done Toronto, and this weekend it will be in Houston and Dallas. Next week, we finish everything with shows in Hayward near San Francisco, and Moronggo near LA. All shows happen on weekends for economic reasons. People are free and therefore can attend shows if they like the performers. I can’t recall how many times APO has gone on tour in our 40 years of performing. Our first tour ever was in 1974. And we are still doing it.

Our audiences everywhere are always fun. Maybe we do attract a fun crowd because of our music and our act. That’s why shows abroad (or anywhere for that matter) are a lot of fun to do. No wonder we’re still doing it on our 40th year.

Things can get pretty weird in between shows though. In a month, ‘home’ is at least 5 different hotel rooms. Plane rides, long ones, are common. There is so much time waiting at airports, sitting on flights, going through long drives, or even just hanging around the hotel room. As much as I get really tired traveling, the upside is I have a lot of time to be alone and think. What enters my mind constantly is impermanence– how everything seems to be in flux. Every performance is in a new venue. One day you’re in one city with a set of producers taking care of you, the next day you are moving again to a different locale. The change of time zone highlight that things are really transient everywhere and every minute. There is something so zen about it.

Then there is the lure of shopping. I often indulge myself in electronics shops and buy a few gadgets. The thrill of the purchase, the discovery of the wonders of modernity, the promise of happiness however fleeting it is always beckons. And through the years, I have learned to handle myself better about living with and being content with the purchases I have made even if in a few weeks, the newer gadgets that come out make the one I just salivated over and bought suddenly old or obsolete. Years ago, I used to feel a great sense of loss when those things happened. But age has a way of smoothing the rough edges of expectations and unmet gratifications. Now I KNOW it will happen and I am cool with it.

I have learned pretty much how to flow. What happens is what happens. Things are what they are. To resist or to expect something more than what is there always leads to disappointment. Because of this mindset, a lot of experiences take on a spiritual dimension.
In every tour, we must meet close to a thousand people who at the very least will shake our hands, ask for autographs and have pictures with us, or engage us in some sort of chit chat. I generally enjoy these things although sometimes, they are pretty hard to do when I am tired. But I always gamely do these things and with much enthusiasm.


Such moments are literally noisy ones with people jostling for a position for pictures, or wanting to just be with us to engage in conversation, etc.. But because of years of doing this, the pleasure I find in all this is qualitatively different now as I have aged. Years ago, the whole scene was primarily something that did wonders for my ego gratification. These last few years however, I have noticed that in the midst of all the noise and excitement of it all, I can be detached without losing engagement. These things are happening and I am present to them and I have no other agenda except to be with people and be present. I do not feel pumped up and important because people want to meet me or watch me perform, etc.. I know this may seem hard to believe but I feel no need to be more famous than I already am (which is a modest fame at best).. What I feel is the pleasure of what 40 years of APO music has done to the three of us and those who had followed us through the years.

It is gratitude plain and simple. And this gratitude extends to my two friends Danny and Boboy, our management, our band, our audience and the years and effort we have put into doing what we do. Life is good. We have done good and I wouldn’t change places with anyone who seems more successful.

I know that every tour ends, and even APO will eventually do so as well. But that is for another time and place to write about. Right now, I am enjoying the ride in all possible ways.

Mon David: Coming true in LA

Mon David: Coming true in LA
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated October 11, 2009 12:00 AM

Mon David is on a roll these days. He recently released a jazz album in the US titled “Coming True” and is starting to really get noticed.

We scheduled our flight to Los Angeles to make sure that we would catch a concert and album launch at the Catalina Bar in Hollywood on Oct. 4 where our good friend Mon David was to perform. In spite of the two-hour delay leaving Manila, I was happy that we made it.

Mon David is on a roll these days. He recently released a jazz album in the US titled “Coming True” and is starting to really get noticed. He is starting to be played on radio stations across America and critics have raved about his recordings and live shows.

Danny, Boboy and I have witnessed the evolution of Mon David from band singer, drummer, vocal coach and arranger, to recording artist and soloist, and into the compleat musician that he has become. It was Mon David who trained the APO and taught us a great deal of what we know about singing.

His struggles were the same as what all serious musicians worth their salt anywhere in the world go through. In this business, everyone pays his or her dues, and the truth is, the dues are never completely paid. You start off as an unknown, and until the end, whether you make it or not, you will always be proving who you are, even if only to yourself. You put your reputation on the line and earn the respect of your audience with every performance. And no matter how solid your career seems to be, it can go crazy if you don’t develop the right character and mindset to keep you grounded.

We have toured, recorded, performed and rehearsed with Mon many, many times. Our relationship spans decades. As a drummer, he was cool and steady, studious and reliable. He always worked well with the team even if I knew that, although he played our music with gusto, he was swinging to the beat of a different tune.

In truth, Mon simply loves jazz. And he has worked hard to be a jazz artist. Even as he immersed himself in all musical styles and genres, his heart was beating to the syncopated charm of the jazz music he was intoxicated with. I remember him during APO tours hanging around jazz clubs where he would spend his hard-earned money to watch his favorite artists perform.

In 2006, we all wished him well when he joined a worldwide jazz singing contest held in Britain. To everyone’s great joy, Mon won the top prize against some of the best performers in the world, people he listened to and learned from while cutting his teeth in the genre. He beat some of his own mentors and idols.

Soon after, he moved to the US with his family and tried his luck there. It has been a tough three years, singing in tiny clubs and Filipino community functions, audiences who hardly care about jazz. But slowly and surely, he has created a niche for himself. And soon he began to get the recognition that he deserves, not only from Pinoys but from the jazz audience.

There is something romantically artistic about what Mon has done. His is a redemption story that a lot of people, especially artists, can relate to. At over 50, he moves to America and goes for his dream. Three years later, he is beginning to taste success. And the best thing is, he continues to be as curious and creative as ever. It is no surprise that he is growing and blooming in his artistry.

That night at the Catalina bar, Mon David showered his audience with fine, elegant, eclectic and playful jazz. His scatting has always been amazing and that night was no exception. He sang classic pieces in the unique style he has developed through the years — marinated in classic American jazz as delivered by the likes of Kurt Ellig and Tony Bennett with a generous dose of Joe Henderson et al.

He also threw in a lot of Pinoy pride, generously mixing his songs with Tagalog and Kapampangan words amid the doo-wops and the skidadidababebweyas. As comfortable as he was doing an edgy Moonlight Serenade, he just as easily whipped off a Charlie Parker piece with Tagalog lyrics and sang it like it was originally written that way. Mon is simply, as they say in the jazz club world, “The Dopeness”!

The audience sighed, clapped, whistled and shouted “Bravo!” His musicians — Tateng Katindig, bassist Dominic Thiroux and Abe Lagrimas on the drums — were fabulously brilliant. His numbers with Bituin Escalante, Charmaine Clamor and Columbian saxophonist Justo Almario were so magical, the audience cheered loudly.

Watching Mon David weave his music that night, I remembered the moments we had spent together doing APO’s music, and all the times I have watched him sing solo doing his own stuff. He is the artist I have long admired, the artist I want to be, for his dedication, perseverance and great artistry.

That night, Mon showed everyone the mark of a great artist, and that is fearlessness. He was bold and daring, taking off with every song into unknown adlib territory and marvelously landing it all back on terra firma.

The best thing about Mon is that he has not changed. He is still the same guy I’ve know and worked with all these years. While he emanates a constant passion for excellence and high standards in performance, he is never one to belittle or show impatience towards anyone who does not deliver at the same level that he does.

I am happy to know that in his gigs in the US, his Kapampangan and Tagalog songs sometimes get more applause for their uniqueness and freshness than the more recognizable jazz standards. To an idiom as American as apple pie, Mon has managed to inject his own heritage and make it seem so natural. He is an artist who knows how to flow, and that is, after all, what jazz music is all about.

As his album title says so well, Mon David is “coming true.” And the world is listening and applauding.

Mabuhay ka Mon!

Best Personal Blog 2009!

I just found out about an hour ago via Twitter that this humble blog was awarded the Best Personal Blog at the Philippine Blog Awards which is still ongoing as I write this. I thank you, my dear readers, commenters, fellow bloggers and the people at the Philippine Blog Awards for this wonderful honor. I thank my Pansitan sponsor Gigi Manoloto-Refugia for hosting Writing On Air, and other interesting blogs.

This is uber coolness! True to the spirit of cyber communication, I was informed of the awards via social networking (specifically, Manolo Quezon III’s tweet from Manila around 8PM but early this morning in Toronto), and I gave my thanks via the same route. Amazing. It’s a new world. We connect in a new way that no other generation has ever done.

The congratulatory tweets, the facebook comments are quite overwhelming. Though I am not able to go up the podium and say thanks to everyone, from room1226 at the Novotel in Misasssauga and alone in my room, I bow before all of you in humility and gratitude.

No ‘me’ and no ‘other’

Just 24 hours before Typhoon before Ondoy brought those torrential rains to Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, everyone in its path was living life in their usual ordinary way. In less than half a day, most everyone’s circumstances turned upside down. Things we took for granted — our homes and shelters, the streets we ply, our physical safety, our cars, the availability of food, cell phones, and other things that hold up the sky of our physical and mental well-being were suddenly threatened.

More importantly, the safety and lives of our friends and loved ones that we have taken for granted are all suddenly unsure. Since September 26, every person I have talked to has spoken about his or her experience of personal survival during the great flood. It’s almost like everyone is in a state of shock and has to talk about their ordeal to feel better.

I have very few stories to tell about my own “suffering” since the worst that happened to my family was ankle-deep water inside the house. It was painful to see things floating around but, at worst, it was a minor inconvenience. Most of my family’s pain comes from the fact that many of our friends, and the community we live in, are suffering heavily.

So many have been deprived of their homes and belongings; some have even lost loved ones. Where are they to go? How will they pick up their lives after such a devastating loss? So many walking wounded, lost souls, people we know and love, are living a hellish nightmare right now.

This whole sordid episode has struck me as a painful but ever-so-real lesson in detachment, the first of three lessons that I have learned in the past week. In a blink of an eye, the conditions of our world can change drastically from a comfortable one to something grotesquely unrecognizable.

* * *

There is ultimately no means of safeguarding anything in this world; anything you gain can be lost, destroyed, or taken away. For this reason if you make the acquisition and retention of goods or status your aim in life, this is a way to anxiety and sorrow. — Muso Kokushi

This was the reading from that greeted me this morning. It is rude and insensitive, something one doesn’t want to read when one is trying to take stock of what has been lost or what can still be saved. But it carries the thud of truth.

My daughter Erica was so moved by the devastation brought by the typhoon that she organized a few friends through Twitter and Facebook to set up a small sandwich-making operation in our house.

“The world is not going to heal itself,” she tweeted. Not too long after they got going, other volunteers who were “friends of friends,” or people who just heard about what was going on in our house, began to show up bringing supplies and volunteering their services. At times, there were close to 25 people packing meals, cooking and making deliveries to areas in need but have not been serviced by other efforts.

From an initial fund of a few thousand pesos that she and her friends put together, the operation has become quite big with supplies donated by kind souls from everywhere. Erica even received a call at 3 a.m. from someone asking how they could help, or telling her what they needed.

The volunteers, ranging from her close friends to celebrity basketball players and other strangers, have been putting in real work to make sure that they feed as many people as possible. On the third day of operation, they had reached four to five thousand people.

What took me totally by surprise was Erica herself. I know she has many virtues that I love; but I did not have any idea that she could expand her world quite willingly and easily to include the less fortunate and the suffering. I say this not to denigrate her in any way. I am simply pleasantly amazed since I also know her and her friends to be die-hard fashionistas, party animals, mall and club habitués, whose world revolves around the glamorous world of print fashion. And here they are helping people whom they would never encounter at work or in their social lives. Yesterday, they came home all muddy and dirty but with hearts aglow knowing they had done something good and significant for their fellowmen.

Which brings me to the second lesson that this crisis has taught me, and that is, that people are not static creatures. There is much potential in everyone to be and do great things. Often we look outside ourselves for the heroes we need when the truth is, heroism and greatness lie in each one of us just waiting to be expressed. We are greater than what we imagine ourselves to be. Catalysts such as Ondoy can spring this greatness to life and, in the process, surprise the world and ourselves.

I am inspired by the number of people who have taken it upon themselves to look after their neighbors. One of Erica’s friends took in 40 orphans in her house. There is much sharing of homes and resources, and genuine concern being extended by people to strangers. It was quite touching but somewhat funny when a Brit came to my house to donate some goods. He explained that he had a jeepload of supplies that he had bought and wanted to distribute himself until he realized it wasn’t that easy. So he turned them over to Erica’s team. To the group’s surprise, the goods consisted of Evian bottled water, imported corned beef, Play-Doh for kids, and other expensive stuff!

This brings me to the third lesson, a tenet shared by both Christians and Buddhists which, though expressed differently, seem to have common ground. “Love thy neighbor as thy self,” said Jesus. Buddha too spoke about compassion.

Because of my Jesuit education, the term “a man for others” always plays in my head, especially in times of crisis. In these times, the genuine outpouring of compassion from most everyone seems to validate these teachings not just as a tenet that will lead us to the right path, but more importantly, it is an apt description of what we really are as humans.

Joseph Campbell wrote that the first rule of life is that we are all one. Survival is only the second. Maybe it is true. After all, the wounds of suffering are the same everywhere. There is no peace in our hearts when others suffer.

I know a lot of people abroad who have expressed their wish to leave the comfort of their lives there and come here to be one with the suffering, if only they could. They know that suffering makes them feel solidarity, somehow, with the rest of humanity.

Maybe, the Jesuit mantra of “a man for others,” while true, is somehow not just a metaphor of what we are seeing these days. I am referring to the spirit of volunteerism and how many people are so selflessly helping any way they can. More than an ideal, or a figure of speech, it is a literal, accurate description of much of humanity in our part of the world especially under these circumstances. We have all heard of the young man who saved 30 people before he was swept away by raging waters and drowned. God bless him. The stories of countless people risking their lives to save others continue to inspire us.

On a much deeper level, it seems that all this suffering and how we have responded to it is telling us that there really is no “me” and no “other” to speak of. The separation is an illusion. No one is saving anyone. It is only Oneness awakening and expressing itself.

Not one but two!

Hey peeps,

It seems this little blog of mine is on a roll! I am up for two blog awards for this site Writing On Air (this site). Read on:

‘Greetings from!

As one of the finalists of the Best Personal Blog category, we are excited to inform you that your blog is also part of the Flippish Viewers’ Choice Award!

This time, the viewers get to decide on who wins, by voting for their favorite personal blog. On top of that, they also get a chance to win a Nokia 2330classic if the blog of their choice gets the most hits!

The winners of the Flippish Viewer’s Choice Award and the Nokia phone will be announced during the live webcast of the Philippine Blog Awards on October 9, 2009, 6pm only on

Spread the love, spread the link! Check out for details.’

The other one is the Asia-Pacific Blog Awards at Make sure you vote all categories to have your vote counted. Am in Best Celebrity Blog. If you have time, pls vote. Voting ends in a few days.


Do you know this man?


Do you know this man?

He is one guy who can cast fear in the hearts of major entertainers in the Philippines. His name is Norman Mitchell. He does a lot of shows all over the Philippines and communities of Pinoys all over the world. The reason why he is a scary guy even to the likes of APO is because he is a tough act to follow. He is rib-tickling funny without subscribing to toilet or green humor, and he is brilliantly Pinoy at the same time.

With guitar on hand , he can entertain people from all walks of life under any circumstances. I have seen him perform in prestigious halls and small town fiestas with devastatingly hilarious effects. In truth, he is one of the best kept secrets in the business.

Norman Mitchell will be performing with Ms. Joey Albert and some local talents in Sydney on November 14, saturday at The Lyceum, RSL at Castle Hill. Call 0410 618 299 (Conrad Isip) and 98363494 (Lydia) to reserve your tickets. they are 55 and 65AUD.

I guarantee you that this show is underpriced for what it offers. As a performer myself, I want you guys to have THE BEST experience when you watch shows. each person I bring to Sydney is someone would pay for to watch. Western Union is our Major Sponsor for this show.


Jim Paredes

A bout of shyness after 40 years


I was featured on Probe Profiles last September 30, and I received as of today more than 300 hundred tweets, countless texts, comments on FB, calls, etc..

I wasn’t too keen on making an announcement that I was going to be featured. I wasn’t really sure if it was interesting enough. In the end, I made a twitter announcement a few hours before it showed. I did not announce it on facebook though. The truth is, I was suddenly overcome with shyness about my personal life being shown on TV. Who would have thought that this could still happen even after being a public figure for some 40 years. Ha ha.

Anyway, it got overwhelmingly great reviews. If you want to watch it, here’s the link. My thanks to Cheche Lazaro and her team. They were, as usual, brilliant.