26 reasons why it’s hard to say goodbye to Manila forever

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 29, 2012

My Philippine passport carries an Australian permanent resident visa that allows me to enjoy living, working and having the opportunities that regular Aussie citizens have in that country. Believe me, that’s a lot of privileges we are talking about including the many social benefits for health and education that Sydneysiders enjoy. There are a whole lot more goodies I can avail of as a resident there.

And yet, as the song Manila by Hotdog goes, “I keep coming back to Manila,” something I catch myself singing and doing all too often. Despite all our seemingly unsolvable problems — traffic, flooding, peace and order just to name a few — it is still difficult to write off Manila completely and just live in Sydney.

Here are 26 reasons why this is so.

1. The smiles are easy and natural in the faces of the people here. Even when people are shown on TV reporting a crime where they were victimized, it is not uncommon to still see them smiling somewhat. Why? I don’t know for sure. We are naturally friendly and easy-going even compared to Aussies whose “no worries, mate” mantra I have always found comforting. But I do believe it could be part of our coping mechanism. Whoever it was who said that “We laugh because we do not want to cry”, might as well have explained correctly why we smile amidst the often chaotic life we live here.

2. Manila is a 24-hour city. Sydney is not. One can find a restaurant even at three in the morning for some snacks. Sydney’s malls and shops close around 6 p.m., generally.

3. The Greater Manila Area has lots of what I call “pockets of nice.” There’s Eastwood, the Fort, Glorietta, and many other places that stand in contrast to the squalor that is in a lot of places and has been around for quite a long time. Because of their contrasts, these “pockets of nice” seem to stand out more.

4. Manila has quite a variety of restaurants to enjoy. And that is putting it rather mildly. There are so many eateries to savor everywhere. And there’s a quite a variety to choose from. I would be hard put to come up with a list of just 10 places since there are so many I would rate as quite good or even excellent.

5. It does not cost as much money to have a great time in Manila. Going “out on the town” in Sydney easily costs double or even triple to enjoy its Manila equivalent.

6. It’s easier to plan outings in Manila. I’m certainly not talking about traffic here. People are quite busy with their jobs and running their lives without household help in Sydney, so to indulge in a sudden dinner out with friends or go on sudden whimsical flights of fancy to a mall or some other place will take more days of planning.

7. The chances of having friends to invite out or hang around with in Manila is much greater simply because we probably have more friends here than in Sydney.

8. To have tailor-made clothes is easier and more affordable to do in Manila. I have yet to meet anyone in Sydney who has had tailor-made outfits done there. It’s just too damn expensive.

9. Our rainy weather here in Manila, which occurs almost the same time as winter in Australia, is actually more suited to the Filipino. I would rather use a mild sweater when it gets cold here than wake up shaking in single-digit temperatures while having to, say, clean the car, mow the lawn, or just do anything outdoors in Sydney.

10. This sounds crazy, but one is less paranoid about driving in Manila than in Sydney. It can be quite traumatic to fail a driving test, as some people I know can attest. The rules are many and quite strict. Enforcement is quite merciless. In Manila, very few ever really get caught violating traffic rules.

11. Dental and eye care, generally not covered by insurance in Sydney, is a lot cheaper in Manila. A lot of Pinoys who live in Sydney plan a vacation home and have dental and eye work done while visiting here. One time, my son had to have four tooth extractions done costing many hundreds of dollars per tooth without the cost of an anesthesiologist, and so he opted to travel home and have it done in Manila at less than half the cost plus vacation.

12. One may see a lot of insects here but you can be comforted by the fact that unlike New South Wales, which is home to many of the deadliest spiders, snakes and other creepy crawlies in the world, one will probably not die when bitten by spiders and the like here.

13. We have household help! That frees many from the tedium of housework and many other chores.

14. We have drivers! The traffic thus becomes a lot more bearable.

15. We have tricycles. Sometimes, I wish they had them in Sydney, especially when one has to walk long distances during summer.

16. Christmas has pleasantly cool weather in Manila. In Sydney, it’s tank-top time. The yuletide season is in the middle of warm summer and that can be a bit jarring to Pinoys.

17. When dealing with banks, groceries or other services, the exchange between customer and client, though more efficient in Sydney, is often friendlier in Manila. For one thing, there is no accent barrier and so one is less tense because one can be easily understood.

18. People need less documentation to present when renting homes. But in Australia, the ID system can be quite strict. To rent a house, one needs a 100 points or more of ID, meaning one must present a driver’s license (50 points), an employment slip (50 points), credit cards (10 points), etc.

19. In Manila, there are less restrictions about home repairs, extensions, etc. In Sydney, the council determines what can or cannot be done. Sometimes, this can get to be quite complicated.

20. Socially, one can find easier access. Relatives, classmates, province mates, etc., play a more important role in making one feel socially accepted.

21. There’s more time for to enjoy the material things one owns here than in Sydney where one’s time is spent doing home and office work.

22. It is easier to take care of younger children in Manila with the presence of yayas, in-laws, parents, etc. Everyone is helping out.

23. Movies are much cheaper here. In Sydney, we almost always watch movies on Tuesdays since that’s the only day when tickets are half-priced, and even with the hefty discount, it is still more expensive than in Manila.

24. It is cheaper to own cars here. In Australia, there are inspection fees to register one’s car. Throw in insurance and each car can cost you more than P40,000 every year. Insurance premiums increase with every traffic violation you do, and will also depend on the overall peace and order situation where you live.

25. Bargain sales are more spectacular here — by a mile!

26. Lastly, while everything is more chaotic in Manila, one gets the inexplicable feeling of “home” even amidst the discomfort and ruckus. Like I always say, even the potholes somehow “speak” to me in Manila. In a foreign country, one can feel total alienation amidst the hum of efficiency. Why? Because even if it has become home, it is still an adopted one.

To be fair, I could also make an entire list of 26 reasons why It is hard to give up Sydney. And that list would be as easy as making this!

Reversals of fortune

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 22, 2012 12:00

The APO did a show once for our kababayans in Rome. The hall was full. It was a great show and we all felt good about it. I still remember the curtain calls amid a standing ovation.

The next day, on a train, my wallet containing 600 euros was stolen despite the steps I had taken not be ripped off in that notorious city.

In a second, I descended from a high mountaintop to a deep valley. A sudden steep decline in fortune is how I describe it. It happened so quickly. After an hour frantically calling up credit card companies to stop payment on anything charged to my stolen cards, I just had to laugh at how silly my situation was. A humorous saying played in my mind that went, “Sometimes you are the statue, and sometimes you are the dove.” Indeed.

It happens, and it will happen to everyone at some point and in some form. We have seen the high and mighty fall — dictators, rulers, big businessmen, VIPs — lose everything almost in a snap. Marcos, Khadafy, Noriega, Idi Amin come to mind.

It has also happened to empires, states and even markets. The economic meltdown in the US cost taxpayers close to a trillion dollars in losses. Many who had assumed a life of stability and even prosperity, lost everything practically overnight.

While it is true that losing is a more dramatic and bigger story when it happens suddenly, it is still painful nonetheless, however slowly or quickly it occurs.

One may be hard put to explain why these things happen, but it is easier to see why from a philosophical standpoint. Apart from the immediate cause and effect, or clear and immediate reasons why things happen, there are other elements that may be playing out universally.

Buddhists call it karma, which does not always mean punishment. It is simply the basic law of cause and effect at work. When things, events unravel as they do, they are merely following karmic law. What is reaped is sown and what is sown is reaped. That’s how everything is explained. This belief in karma is the driving force behind the spiritual practice of Buddhism which leads its adherents to compassion.

In New Age circles, the reversal of fortunes would be called an energy exchange or a transfer that occurs between two parties to balance things out. Where energy is needed, it will go.

The fundamental laws of nature point to the same direction somewhat, and this is evident when an animal or being is killed to become the food and sustenance of another, so it may live. Even humans do this. We kill millions of cows, pigs, chickens daily to eat. Evolutionists call it survival of the fittest. From a Darwinian point of view, it is clear what is happening.

The Christian view may not be far behind. There is also the trading of life — where one gives up his life so that another may live. The main difference is in the voluntary quality of giving that it espouses. Christian charity, whether it is doing good acts or giving wealth, time or even one’s life, is done out of the goodness of one’s heart which seems to be outside the imperatives of nature’s laws.

Jesus did exactly that. While every mortal and sentient being will eventually die, very few do so voluntarily. The claim of Christianity is that Jesus voluntarily chose death so that others may live. In one way, He did not defy Nature’s way but went along with the idea of a life for a life. He gave his life in exchange for our liberation. I am not stressing here the quantity of the lives He gave his up for, but the fact that He voluntary did it. That, to me, is significant. It is a game changer.

I follow Bill Gates on Twitter and often he tweets about how his foundation is helping many people fight disease, hunger and ignorance all over the world. I hear of Warren Buffett giving billions and volunteering to pay more taxes to ease the burden of poorer Americans. There are people like Mother Teresa and Gandhi who gave not material things but their lifetimes to help others. There are many others who are doing good things for the less fortunate and it is indeed admirable that they do so.

Call it energy transfer from a yin of abundance to the yang of scarcity, or good karmic deeds that can only produce cosmic good, or plain old Christian charity and kindness where one simply sees God in one’s neighbors. Whatever it is, it is wonderful. It elevates the conditions of those who are in want and relieves the suffering of others.

The basic premise behind why people do good deeds is that it makes things better for the recipient, and yes, for the giver too, even if those who give often do not claim any credit. And indeed it does. If we look at our own lives, we know we have been touched by the goodness done by others, and we have at some point experienced the act of giving. And we know deep down that it is good and right.

It makes me wonder though, given all these realizations, why is that many cling to untold wealth and great excess and find it hard to part with material things which they obviously cannot consume even in three lifetimes? Why are there misers in the world?

As much as there is an impulse to give, there is also an impulse to withhold, or to hoard. And despite my admittedly limited understanding of human nature, I believe that the difference lies in some kind of faith (or lack of it) in the unseen hand of the Divine.

If I went back to the time my first child was born and tried to compute how much it cost me to raise her till age 21, I would surely have balked at the idea of having two more children. Surely, if I had projected then what I had to pay for every single need she had or blessing she received that gave her the opportunity to learn, grow and expand as a human being, I would have been dumbfounded and depressed and left feeling reckless and irresponsible. Clearly, my own resources would not have been sufficient to cover all this.

But it is natural to hope for something better. There is an unspoken optimism we have that life, while unpredictable, can also be blessed. Life is abundant and perhaps even unlimited. And it is serendipitous. And this is where the spirit of giving comes from.

Sad are those who trust only their own resources for their vision is limited and their experience of life is miserly. In their world, grace is hardly noticed nor appreciated when it appears. They have a really small corner of the unlimited sky.

Ruminations on death and life

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 15, 2012 12:00 AM

Dolphy is dead.”

The news came as a jolt while I was reading tweet questions on my Samsung tab as host of an online streaming show on music. A series of tweets from friends flooded my timeline outnumbering the questions that came regarding my RadioRepublicPH show. I was shaken and had to pause for a while then I went off-topic and announced that Dolphy had passed away.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012, just before 9 p.m. will be remembered as a moment when all Filipinos felt a collective sadness and sorrow. It was when the familiar showbiz mask of laughter finally gave way to the mask of tears. Yin had turned to yang. The King of Comedy had breathed his last.

Dolphy entertained many generations of Filipinos with his brand of comedy. He was a man who was loved by all. I even once met a man from Japan who told me that he would fly to the Manila when there was a new Dolphy movie out.

We have already read and seen a lot of things about Dolphy since his death last Tuesday, so this will not be a bio on Dolphy but a rumination on Death and Life.

Death has been called many names — a thief in the night, a transition, a passing, a crossing over, the end of suffering, the final adventure, the great liberation. To those who would demystify it by avoiding its full implications, death is reduced to “collateral damage.” And death is guilty as charged of all of the above.

That there are many names for death is probably because it is one of the great mysteries of life that literally gives us great pause. Why? Because death is the opposite of life. When death happens, life’s many concerns stand still.

Like love, sex, and even God, death is one of life’s unsolvable puzzles that will forever remain a mystery to man. It makes us think deeply about our own lives and how fragile and transient we really are. Sure, we know that we will die one day. But that is at best a mental concept until we see it happen to our loved ones, and until it finally happens to us.

My uncle described martial law in the ‘70s as something that was not real until it happened. Death is very much like that. We are in great denial of it for the most part. How does one explain the great shock, grief and sadness we feel when death comes, even if we already know that it is inevitable?

“Dying is fearsome. It hath been often said that it is not death, but dying, which is terrible,” wrote the novelist Henry Fielding. There is the pain, the loss, the contraction, the aloneness, which are anathema to everything we crave for in life. We want comfort, the spaciousness and abundance of life, and we want to experience all these with the people we love. But the time will come when life’s rent money runs out and we must give up our space among the living. It will happen to everyone.

But life goes on even after death, as it will for those left behind and, from all accounts and practical projections, it always will in some form or another. The living must move on until it is their turn to face death. Meanwhile, the bills must be paid, the job done, exigencies attended to. The drama, joy, tears and struggle of staying alive must not stop, until it is time to stop. That is the mandate given to those who are left behind.

There is so much to wonder about the meaning of life, and what the afterlife could be about. Some are sure of the answers because of faith; some because of science. Some do not know. The faithful, the scientific and the agnostic may have little to agree on. And to be quite realistic about it, no one really knows for sure who is right. Life and death never reveal enough to give us answers we can securely latch on to.

What stumps me is this: we are unborn, then we are born into this world, and then we disappear without a trace. We start from nothingness, we come to life, and we eventually die. Coming from the eternal void, we become finite mortals and we die unto the eternal void. We are like shooting stars. Our life is a blaze of glory lighting the night until it ends without a trace.

“A comet streaks across the sky, but the hum of the universe remains the same.”

Among the three stages I mentioned, the living part, tough as it already is, is still the easiest to make sense of. Think about it. We seem to be mortals addicted to immortality. We are transients who think we will last forever. We are the eternal beings playing in the fields of time and space. We are earthbound creatures who like to look up to the stars. We are imperfect creatures who can conceive perfection. We are as big a paradox as death is.

Death reminds us of who we are and what we must do while we are alive. And what we must do is live as though our contributions will be forever enshrined in the continuing story of mankind. In a sense, despite the march of time, everything we do will live forever, not in its original form, size, impact or dimension, but as part of the entire human effort to evolve into higher beings and experiences.

“Death is the dropping of the flower, that the fruit may swell,” said the 19th-century social reformist Henry Ward Beecher. Our lives may be a speck of sand in the eternal desert but they form part of the pillar that holds up the sky for all. Like beads in an endless rosary, we all have a moment that comes up momentarily and passes, but we can be sure we have contributed somehow to the sacred ritual of life.

Life is a blink in eternity. For some it is a moment of lucidity when ones’ eyes are open. For others, it is a moment when one’s eyes are closed.

I would like to think the message of death is that it is part of life. That is its craziness, and its paradox. We must therefore embrace death and face it with the same passion and purpose as we embrace life.

Cosmic goodies

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 08, 2012 12:00 AM

The other day, I posted an audio message on Bubbly, an Internet social network site that I titled “Enlightenment in 80 Seconds” that got some good response. Today, I would like to expand on the topic, by attempting to describe enlightenment more elaborately, more than what I can say in 80 seconds, and using only so many words.

I don’t know if this is at all possible, for two reasons. One, I may have to write a whole thick book to even just skim the surface but I only have this small column. Two, as much as I want to tell you about it, words can never capture the essence of enlightenment.

That is a paradox in itself. There is much to say about it, but the more you talk about it, the harder it is to get to the bottom of it. So let’s forget the thick book. Besides, my Zen teacher advised me to not read books about enlightenment, and just go with the flow of experience.

There are states of consciousness that are within the territory of enlightenment. These are the states of Kensho or satori, which are some of the terms Zen has for this unique experience.

I will not try to tackle the topic in a scholarly way. Instead, I am taking you to a mountain or a view deck near the territory where we look to the horizon — north, south, east and west — and hopefully see enlightenment from a distance.

?In everyday life, we like to compartmentalize, split or separate things from each other. My philosophy teacher used to say that one has a sense of oneself by knowing what he or she is not. It goes something like this: I know I am me, or this body is who I am because I see a chair, a table, the garden and I know them to be separate from my body.

This suggests a dualistic view of things. There is the subject which is “I,” and there are the objects everywhere. In this dualistic existence where we live, things are always perceived as split into sides, like good vs. bad, hot vs. cold, white vs. black, brilliant vs. stupid, safe vs. unsafe, friend vs. stranger, and so on.

The part of us that makes this judgment is the ego, which wants the most comfortable existence. It goes for the best and it does so by judging what it considers to be good, advantageous and best for us. This is basically how we live everyday life.

This duality serves us in many ways. And it is the way of the world and its various disciplines and how all fields of knowledge and perception are arranged and programmed. ?There is you (subject) acting on the world (object). You have a job, family, bills to pay. You eat, work, pray, love, laugh, cry, feel, play in the dual realm.

But once in a while, it happens that you sense a stillness, like time stopping. There is a silence in the middle of whatever is going on and there appears to be a bigger reality arising. A spaciousness outside the field of all the divisions and dualities, time and space, good and bad, is unfolding and the noise of life gives way to a deep silence.

Your perception field — where you see things like inside and outside, you and me, subject and object — blur and boundary lines that separate you from them melt away. A new reality seems to open itself up.

As you gaze around seeing objects, you begin to ask yourself the nature of what you are seeing, hearing, feeling. And as you go deeper, more than asking “what,” you begin to explore more fundamental questions like who is it that looks through your eyes, hears through your ears, feels through your skin and perceives through your senses?

Who indeed. Is it the real you? Which is that real you? Are you participant or witness? Is it your soul, your Spirit that is witnessing everything, including you?

?Your sense of “self” has stopped being the center of sensation. The “I” that once ruled your thoughts seems far away. While there are still thoughts arising, you wonder who is thinking them. They arise and depart like clouds passing. There is nothing to like or unlike about them or anything in the field of reality. Everything is phenomena rising, just as the sun and the moon both rise and set. They are no different from the planets and stars orbiting, the wind passing, the leaves rustling, the cat meowing, the grass and foliage growing and dying, the lighting flashing, the cars passing, pedestrians walking, the world turning.

?Everything is simply arising, you included. Amazingly, you have ceased becoming a subject. There is no one watching, not a “you” at the very least. There is only the field where all this is happening. There is “no one” experiencing it. If there was, it would still be a dualistic experience. And the word “it” becomes a meaningless word since an object implies there is a subject. How can there be an object when the subject is gone? There is really no one home. There is only the radiance of connectedness, unity, Oneness.

?When I first stumbled upon this, I was floored. There were songs that were playing in my mind. One was the Beatles’ I Am the Walrus, which starts with “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together…” Another song was The Stylistics’ You Are Everything (and Everything Is You).

?The connectedness of all parts in the united field that we know to be reality was palpable. There are really no parts, just a unity including my “self” in it. Things were not separate, divided, dualistic. Everything was in its proper place and that was a divine and mind-boggling discovery. There was a great feeling of Being, of Spirit witnessing everything. Spirit permeated everything. Spirit was every thing that was being, happening, passing and fading. There was nothing that it was not.

?Being was the entire limitless field of phenomena. There was nothing it was not. And strangely enough, it was a limitless “I.” It was all there was. And yet, I could see the objects around me with perfect clarity. The bed was a bed. The window was still a window. No magic here. It was not my mind playing tricks, no sleight of hand or smoke and mirrors. It was an awakening to the radiance of reality, the suchness of everything. It was Spirit rising, recognizing its own awakening and switching me on as a portal.

There is a sense of awe that goes with what is undoubtedly a God experience. It’s like everything becomes a portal to the divine.

Like I said, words do get in the way. And I don’t know how many can actually relate to what I have written here. That’s all right. I have taken the risk of being criticized for writing about my experience with enlightenment. But I have done so because I realize that every aspect of true reality that presents itself to a few, must in the end become available to everyone.

The real cosmic deal here is: a powerful reality, or Truth, will choose to reveal itself to you, but in exchange, you must talk, write, shout about it regardless of consequences. That’s how you pay for the cosmic goodies.

As it has been and always will be.

Countering the ‘secret doubt’

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 01, 2012 12:00 AM

 I don’t know if it happens to all public figures but I — and my friends who live public lives — especially those in showbiz, often experience this. I am talking about how we who live public lives react to adulation and criticism.

It feels strange that even when one delivers a good performance and gets generally good or even outstanding reviews, things can turn sour because of a few negative reactions. Public persons are sensitive to public reaction, especially to the negative ones, even in the face of overwhelming positive reviews. And sometimes it does not even matter if the bad review is fair, balanced or spiteful. A bad review is a bad review and it is painful.

The public person will almost always focus on the singular bad review in the midst of the many raves and be disproportionately affected by it. Such is the nature of fame.I have often asked myself why this is so. Perhaps it is because on a white page, a tiny stain becomes more evident. Or maybe because public life carries with it the great self-delusion that one is perfect to begin with.


But then, I have found that this rule seems to apply to almost everyone else as well, even to ordinary, non-public persons who live more mundane lives. The one bad or even only mediocre grade on a report card, for example, can totally eclipse the glory of an otherwise outstanding academic performance assessment. After living as long as I have, I have realized a few things. One of them is that there is good and bad in everyone. That is something anyone who has ever wronged or been wronged discovers in a profound way.I have also thought a lot about why, in our minds, the bad easily overshadows the good, and why we project this to the world.

I am not sure if there is any merit to these thoughts but here goes:The crux of the matter lies in our propensity for self-rejection. Deep down, we feel we are not good enough, bright enough, worthy enough, deserving enough to feel otherwise. Julia Cameron, author of the book, The Artist’s Way refers to it as the “secret doubt” that we all harbor deep down that makes us feel we do not deserve to lead creative lives.She defines secret doubt as “the doubt that we are really creative and deserving of the care we need.” This is the major stumbling block to living a vibrant, productive and creative life.

This is probably similar to what Original Sin is about in the Christian matrix, that we are born “damaged” and in need of repair and salvation, and Jesus alone can save us.In creativity workshops that I give, I always stress the fact that the very first thing one must do to be creative is to “show up.” If we don’t show up, none of our dreams, aspirations or ambitions can come true. Extend this thought to achieving personal joy and happiness. If you do not show up for what makes you happy, it won’t and can’t happen.

But even as you show up for whatever it is you want for your life, there is something else that shows up as well. It is self-doubt, self-rejection, the crosstalk inside ourselves that questions why we are even falling in line for bigger dreams and joys. Self-destruction is a constant temptation.I am not sure if we were we born this way. But I tend to believe the psychologists who say that conditioning —how one was raised — could have much to do with excessive self-loathing.

Any quest for self-liberation, whether personal or spiritual, must consider this dilemma. The aim is to conquer self-defeating attitudes, to neutralize destructive self-talk so that more of the good in us can shine and lead us to live more happy lives.It is sad that mostly, we are in denial of what is good, wonderful and creative about us. We are born with more power and potential for good than what we can imagine but we insist on leading downgraded lives.

The apt Buddhist imagery of the son or daughter of the king who insists on begging in the market place comes to mind. We must treat ourselves in a manner that is befitting our real stature as creatures of God.I am not sure if one can eradicate or neutralize destructive self-talk completely. And perhaps we should not totally eradicate it since a healthy dose can keep us grounded.

There is a place for healthy skepticism, which has a balancing role to play, that is quite different from the secret doubt mentioned above.The secret doubt is probably one major reason why people strive for popularity, power, success and admiration, because it frees them from self-loathing. But when we fail and fall, the secret doubt bounces back and expresses itself ever louder about how right it is about us, and that we are actually worthless and unlovable to begin with. 

I leave you with a quote from Henri J.M. Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest who wrote, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

The spiritual exercises that work for me are self-affirmations that remind me of the good inside and counter the self-loathing. These are: that I carry within me the Creator’s DNA and so I can’t help but be creative; that I am a force of good; and that I am capable and powerful enough to create things and situations in images and likenesses that reflect the greatness of the Greatest Artist of all.Try this exercise.

Choose your own affirmation. It works.