Fearless forecasts, 2016

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 27, 2015 –

Yes, I know. It will be a new year soon. Frankly, I am ready to let 2015 go. Bring on 2016.

As I have been doing the past few years, I am making my predictions for the coming year without any consultations with Madame Auring, or any other seer. I have my own methodology in predicting the future. No Tarot cards, crystal balls, tea leaves or examining animal innards. I don’t gaze at the stars either. How do I do it, then? Simple. I look at the computer screen and… I simply make it up.

In the name of all things carelessly and irresponsibly said, I predict these events for 2016.

1) 2016 will have 365 days, 8,660 hours, 525,600 minutes before it bows out to 2017. This will be my most accurate prediction in this list.

2) Google will have a tie-up with all hospitals, clinics all over the world and will access and upload to the Internet all colonoscopy videos, X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, etc. As a result, anyone can now take a realistic look at anyone’s colon, lungs, heart, brains and practically all parts of the body on Google maps.

3) Because of the worsening traffic situation, new businesses will come up to service people stuck in their cars. These will include video rentals, karaoke, pizza delivery, Porta-lets, massages, manicures, showers, quick sex, among many other services. People will also be able to take educational courses right in their cars from teachers who will ride with them daily. For spiritual growth, inspirational speakers will be available to give lectures, and priests can hear confessions right inside people’s vehicles.

4) Super typhoons will be the new norm and will enter many countries with impunity despite very stringent immigration laws.

5) UFOs will finally land on Earth and reach out to world leaders. This will stun everyone. The aliens, as we have always suspected, will be way superior in technology. They will promise that there will be no war of the worlds or any of the kind. A great show of peace and friendship will happen. Things will seem to be all right.

But the aliens will decide to never return to Earth. After meeting world leaders, entertainers and the press, they will come to the conclusion that Earth has no “intelligent life” whatsoever.

6) Mar Roxas will win as president of the Philippines. To placate an extremely divided nation, Mar will appoint Rodrigo Duterte as the ambassador to the Vatican.

But wait. Here’s another prediction in case that does not happen.

7) President Duterte will sponsor the Ms. Universe 2017 Pageant right here in our country. The pageant franchise holders will accept the offer on one condition: that the President’s welcome greetings to the candidates will be limited to three-second handshakes. Nothing more. No hugging, no lips-to-lips kissing.

But wait again, here’s more.

8) President Binay will start using skin whiteners, and will stop participating in boodle fights. He will start to dress fashionably. He will announce that that he is tired of acting poor now that he is president.

9) Seeing firsthand the enormous influence beauty queens can have in swaying public opinion, Bayan Muna will resort to something truly unconventional. They will launch beauty parlors all over the country to recruit and influence potential pageant candidates. With the amount of time women spend doing their nails, for example, Bayan Muna will train their manicuristas how to discuss in a friendly way the dialectics of communism, low-intensity conflict, and why the US is The Great Satan.

10) The Miss Universe 2015 Pageant will be investigated by the CIA, FBI, the International Criminal Court and the UN and they will come to the conclusion that it was Lee Harvey Oswald alone who planned and executed the big mess.

11) The planets will align. Absolutely nothing extraordinary will happen.

12) All the people all over the world will continue to experience sunrises and sunsets wherever they are. But due to climate change from global warming, they may have to wear heavy clothing or no clothing at all.

13) Lastly, I predict with great certainty that when you wake up on Jan. 1, 2016, you will think of 2015 as if it was only yesterday.

Home for Christmas

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 20, 2015 – 12:00am

SYDNEY — I flew in from Manila five nights ago. I am here at home with my wife Lydia and my son Mio. I will soon see my daughter Ala and my son-in-law John Buencamino who live in the city.

It is great to be back in our little house in Glenwood. It is a typical house in the neighborhood, painted dirty white with dark gray tiles on the roof. It has a modest frontage like the other properties here, framed by two jacaranda trees that we planted nine years ago. Beside ours are similar-looking houses, all built by the same developer.

Inside the house there’s some of our old furniture we brought from the Philippines 10 years ago, mixed with newer stuff we purchased in Sydney when we settled here. Lydia has added interesting touches to accentuate corners, lots of tiny abubot that are pretty to look at.

The dining table is the center of the house. It is where we mostly gather and enjoy each other’s company. I have lots of memories associated with this house. I look at my bedroom and every area in this house and recall having to do a lot of housework — mopping, cleaning, washing plates and pans, moving furniture around, mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage. I also remember cold winter days when all I wanted to do was hibernate and lay on my bed all day. Of course that was impossible since I literally had to do housework, errands and even cook my own meals.

Living in Sydney is definitely not like living in Manila where there are people are hired to do such day-to-day things for you. But this is the appeal of living here, or anywhere abroad, I suppose. The rules are simple and clear. Chores must be done and there is not much leeway in terms of how you should react to the situation. You simply must do what needs to be done or things pile up and you will have to work harder later if you do not act on them now. You are totally responsible for the state of your own affairs.

Our house in Glenwood is a happy place that has a constant stream of visitors throughout the year. On Christmas day, more than 70 people come and celebrate with us. You can smell the aroma of good food, and live music playing. Our family and our guests regale everyone with songs and other musical performances. It is something I look forward to every year. In many ways, Sydney has become home because of the Christmases we’ve spent here.

And then there is our home in Quezon City, which will miss us this year. As much as our house in Sydney is home, our house in the Philippines is also every bit our home. We have spent many special moments there. Every piece of furniture, every bit of décor evokes certain feelings in me.

As someone from a middle class background, I never imagined I would own other properties aside from the home I purchased in 1986. It was a 16-year-old house, spacious with big rooms, sala, kitchen and garden. Through the years, we built many memories under its roof.

Many great events have transpired in that house. Many political analyses and plans were drawn up and many life passages happened there — graduations, Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries, my wife’s bout with cancer. I also wrote four books in that house.

I ask myself what makes a house a home. There are many ways a house becomes one. Can a family have many houses and call all of them home? Yes.

A home is a place where memories have been built and shared; where family members live and share big chunks of their lives together. A home is where we find comfort, security and love in each other.

I remember our first Christmas in Sydney 10 years ago. We invited five families who had just also moved here. On the afternoon of Dec. 25, they came bringing food, wine and desserts. After dinner, as we gathered in the dark, we started singing Pasko Na Sinta Ko which caused everyone to become emotional about the homes and loved ones we left behind in the Philippines. It was a beautiful shared sadness we all felt. We followed it with Ang Pasko ay Sumapit which got everyone back to feeling the good cheer and joy of the season.

To my readers, wherever you are, whether in the Philippines or parts abroad, this Christmas, may your house be a home for everyone who lives in it.

Make your family or loved ones be the Belen. The casting may not be exactly accurate, but it does not matter. As long as love, hope and acceptance are there, the spirit of Christmas will permeate and reign inside your home.

Journeying with my students

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 13, 2015 – 12:00am

A few days ago, I went to the cashier at the Ateneo de Manila University to collect my modest pay as a teacher. Yes, it is modest, but I feel good about it because it is money I earn doing something really important. I am passing on wisdom and knowledge to young people.

My subject is called “Special Topics in Performance and Practice” under the Communication Department. The semester ended last Dec. 3. It was a great class. I will not forget this semester.

I have been teaching on and off since 2000. This must be my sixth or seventh year of teaching. Every time a class ends, I go through a lot of wondering and self-examination. I ask myself if the lessons I have just taught will make a real difference in my students’ lives. Did I impart anything of value that will prepare them for the real world? Was it worth their time?

I go through feelings that I take the time to process. Despite the years, I still have mixed feelings about being a teacher. While I love the interaction and the discussions and the sharing of knowledge and experiences in class, I ask myself if I taught the syllabus as competently as I could have. It is always a good question to ask. I also ask myself if I gave enough time, attention, patience and understanding to every student in my class. Was I too lax? I often think I am. Was I too “unscholarly” or informal? Perhaps, yes, in the sense that I do not refer too much to scholarly writings and research to back up my syllabus.

In college, we had to refer to a lot of books and lecture notes to help us cope with class quizzes. Now, as a teacher, I find that I can pass on knowledge and wisdom to my students by going beyond the usual theoretical, intellectual approach to the subject then have them repeat it back to me.

While I may talk about theory in class, I make sure they have an experiential appreciation of it via homework and tasks. The papers I ask them to write are not about repeating what I said in class but about their reflections on the lessons based on their firsthand experience of the topic. I want them to “get out of their minds” and experience the “word made flesh,” so to speak.

I grade them not for parroting what I say but by how many quality insights they have gained. Thus, I am not at all offended when a student gives a totally contradictory reaction to what I say, as long as I see he has given it a lot of thought.

Perhaps because I am a performer, I tend to ask a lot of questions and engage my class in lively discussion. I want audience reaction. The sound of my own voice lecturing alone bores me and makes me consider that I may be boring my class to tears. When they challenge and question what I say, it means they are listening and thinking.

I can empathize with a lot of their questions and personal concerns. I see them struggling with self-doubt as young people often do. I realize that when they see me as an adult who takes them seriously, they open up.

In one of the topics in class called “The Creative Mind,” which calls for a lot of sharing of experiences, I often feel that my students project some kind of a father role onto me and I act as one, even if in a somewhat distant manner. To them, I am not just an authority figure. I actually feel the full trust they give me.

This particular batch of students I had this year was quite exceptional. There were some really creative students who often surprised and delighted not just this teacher but the entire class with their presentations and comments. There were also many who seemed shy and withdrawn at the beginning of the semester, but actually came out and bloomed before our eyes.

More than just learning facts, data and a few good lessons, students can actually awaken to their own strengths and capabilities, and the discovery of who they really are. I have seen some of them suddenly inspired not only by the attractions of the world around them, or what a teacher teaches them, but by their own awakening to their bigger identity, constantly creating and capable of generating their own inspiration from inside themselves.

They are the ones who go beyond their comfort zones, unafraid to make mistakes. They go beyond the intent of getting high grades into a full-blown love affair with the topics in class. They are motivated, happy and very engaging.

As a teacher, I emphasize the importance of submitting requirements on time. I tell them that true genius or brilliance is being in the right place at the right time. And so it goes with their work.

Lastly, this class was wonderful because we all embraced the same journey metaphor. We were all journeying, in one way or another. They were journeying to greater knowledge and to adulthood. I was journeying into deeper consciousness and passion about the sacredness and power of teaching and being a teacher.

Christmas the world over

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 6, 2015 – 12:00am

It’s hard to find places in the world where people do not recognize or pay homage to Christmas. Even in the Arab world, Christmas is a special day for Arab Christians. It is also a great opportunity for merchants to cash in on shopping and the like. In Dubai, commercial centers go whole hog during Christmas; some people say it is like being in a Western country celebrating the season. The city is bedecked with Yuletide trappings.

Curious to learn how the Christmas season is celebrated in different countries, I looked it up on the Internet and was amazed at the local traditions and practices of people all over the world that make the season unique to them.

Here are some.

1) In India, which has a small minority of Christians, (about three percent of the total population) the fir or pine tree which you find in other countries is absent. Instead, they deck mango and banana trees with tinsel, lights, bells and Christmas balls!

2) In the Czech Republic, Christmas has a touch of Valentine’s. If you are single, you can throw a shoe over your shoulder towards the door. If the shoe lands and its toe points at the door, it is said you will get married in the coming year!

3) Finland has a rather strange practice during Christmas. If the Czechs think of singles getting married, the Fins remember loved ones who have passed away. They go and light candles in cemeteries. At home, they leave food on the table and sleep on the floor in the event that the dead come to visit.

4) In Japan, a marketing ploy that started four decades ago has become a Christmas tradition. While in many parts of the world, the turkey is the main staple at the Christmas table, in Japan it is KFC chicken! Yes, KFC is highly associated with Christmas. KFC sales on Christmas day multiply by five to 10 times the normal.

In Japan, Santa is called “Santa Kuroshu” and is believed to have an eye located on the back of his head so he can see which children are naughty or nice!

5) In the Ukraine, people put artificial cobwebs on trees. According to folklore, there was once a poor family that could not afford to decorate their tree. When Christmas morning came, the children noticed that their tree was filled with cobwebs. When daylight hit the tree, the cobwebs turned to gold and silver, and they had a bountiful Christmas. Thus, the cobweb has become a symbol of Christmas.

6) In response to all the letters that kids write to Santa during Christmas, Canada has assigned H0H-H0H0 as Santa’s official postcode. Thousands of volunteers read the children’s letters and reply to them!

7) The “figgy pudding” in Britain is laced with hopes and wishes. While making it, children are asked to stir the mix clockwise while making a wish. Sometimes, they put objects inside like coins and rings, and whoever finds these during the Christmas meal is believed to have good luck in the coming year by way of wealth and love.

8) In Catalonia, for some strange reason, Christmas is associated with defecation. In nativity scenes, you will find characters grinning and defecating together with the Three Kings, the farm animals with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus! I have no idea why. Can you imagine seeing this in a Filipino family Belen?

9) In Austria, there is a twist of Halloween thrown in. According to folklore, St. Nicolas has an evil partner named Krampus. Men go around during the Yuletide season dressed as evil Krampus and frighten the children in the streets.

10) In most countries, we expect Santa to hand out the gifts in malls and other places. Not in Italy. A kind, lovable witch named La Befana does it in place of Santa.

11) In Estonia, the sauna experience plays a big part in the lives of people. The three most popular days for family saunas are Christmas, New Year’s Say and Midsummer’s Eve.

To each his own way of celebrating Christmas. One thing is for sure: there is no missing out on Christmas wherever you are.

Of vaginas, sex gurus and our children

Boyoboy! What can I say? What some ppl will do.

A few years back, I interviewed Mocha Uson, entertainer, dancer and self-proclaimed sex instructor on youtube who was getting millions of hits on her blog.

Lo and behold! From out of the blue, she recently lambasted me on her site because I am not for Duterte. She made twisted comments about me which I suppose is for the purpose of discrediting me. I interviewed her in 2012. That was the first and last time we ever met. (The post-traumatic ‘shock’ she felt only now, 4 years after came because I am not a Duterte fan. Very strange). LOL

If you are interested, look up her article on her site. Here is my response.

Mocha naman. We are all entitled to our own opinion. My beef with Duterte is human rights.

I interviewed you extensively sometime ago to write an article for my column but editor said it was not for Sunday reading. Yes, my interview with you was a largely about your sexual persona and you knew it was about that prior to the interview. You volunteered a lot of lurid info even without my asking. You like sex and you are proud to be an advocate of free sex. Nothing wrong with that.

Did I ask those things you said I did? I honestly cant remember. I can look for the audio. You were very candid, almost bragging pa nga which from an interviewers point of view is great. From what you told me I don’t think anything can shock you. I think you are exaggerating your reaction. You are certainly not a blushing flower.

But there was MUCH MORE to the interview.. I also asked you about your childhood. YOur mom who is a pediatrician and cancer survivor, your dad who was a judge and was murdered, where you went to school, how you felt about the murder and so many other things. I wanted to understand where you were coming from since your public persona is about sex and your sites were getting millions of hits.

I also wanted a perspective where I could humanize you and bring out other aspects of you aside from what was obvious. .

I think its pretty darn cheap of you to twist things just because you hate my politics. Labo nun. I treated with great respect. I did no harm to you. I will post the article if you wish. Let me find it.

Here is the article that never saw print. Did I insult you? Make you bastos? Or was your imagined reaction caused by your political intolerance? Be honest girl!

Of vaginas, sex gurus and our children
By Jim Paredes (Written right after our interview in 2012)

I finally got to watch the Vagina Monologues a few days ago. It was quite an entertaining and illuminating show and I wasn’t surprised. It had a subject that was at the very least risqué and perhaps taboo to many and its in-your-face approach to discussing vaginas in all its varied glory, beauty, fascination, mystery and allure assured everyone’s rapt attention. It also talked about angry vaginas, raped and humiliated vaginas, heroic and strong vaginas like those that birth children, etc..

What I found ingenius was how playwright Eve Ensler approached her material. The way I would describe it is this: she wanted to scream about it tabloid style with calculated prurience and malice for shock value. And when she had gotten the audience‘s attention, her real intention was to lead them on further seducing them to go into a wider and deeper exploration so to speak and ruminate on the political, religious, social, economic , ecological issues that affect the female half of humanity. In so doing, she got the audience to smile, laugh, wonder, feel good, feel angry, disgusted, and cry, sigh, applaud, and appreciate the struggles of women everywhere in the world. And yes, in the process, she would make her audience feel empowered to do something to correct injustices against women and girls.

But wait! I must stop right here. This is not really an article about the play although it also deals with sex and vaginas too. I wrote a little about VM because, like Ensler, I somehow wanted to situate the topic of this article. And it’s about a person whose blog I visited a few times, and whose videos I watched.

I am talking of Mocha Uson, a 25 year old modern girl who sings and performs with a group, dances and says and does shocking things that would upset many people. She is, to say the least, controversial, reckless, daring, bold and yes, quite courageous in the things she espouses through her blog, tweets, videos, live performances and the way she carries herself as a person.

To the more religious, prudish, and reserved, she can best be described as slutty, cheap, a loose woman of low morals and ill-repute, and easily condemnable since she is a walking, breathing, living corrupt influence to the youth, espousing evil hedonistic sex, and yes, the devil incarnate herself! How can she not be? She after all espouses such horrid things like safe sex, daily orgasms, heterosexual, homosexual and lesbian sex, endorses sex toys and gives her opinion to anyone who would care to watch her videos, or tweet a question about techniques to make sex more enjoyable.

What made an impression on me when I visited her blog was that she had already gotten more an unbelievable number of hits, mostly from Pinoys and Pinays of all ages, sexual orientation, and from different parts of the world. They read her opinions on the RH bill, lesbianism, orgasms, sexual hygiene, masturbation which are quite articulately expressed. They also watch her videos where she explains and performs with her female friend and sex buddy demos and simulations (with clothes on) on masturbation, seduction, finding the G-spot, stimulating the clitoris, pleasing both male and female partner, etc. They are surprisingly quite informative, often sexy but can on occasion also be clinical in their approach to the topic. And since it is evident that they have done practical and hands on research on the topics and have few inhibitions talking about it, they are believable and credible to many.

I was quite curious to know more about this internet phenomenon and so arranged to meet her and find out if a) she was ‘real’, and b) if I could write about her. We met over coffee and we were immediately relaxed in each others’ presence and got to talk freely. Sex of course was the main topic. She was open, frank, and was at times boastful. I felt that she enjoyed pushing the limit to get a reaction.

But I wanted more. I do not know if you will believe me but I was very eager to get to know more about the real person behind the sexual persona that a lot of people only see but follow.

She talked about her family and her school life. There seemed to be very little extraordinary stuff that happened to her while growing up save for her father’s assassination years back. It may have had something to do with his being an RTC judge. Her mother is a pediatrician and a cancer survivor. She has sibs, and grew up in a middle class setting. She went to a Catholic school for college.

I wanted to put on an amateur psychologist’s cap and elicit anecdotes or stories from childhood that may have ‘led’ her to become the self-styled sex guru that she is now. I was hard put to find any explanations.

No, she was not driven to sex because she was molested, raped , abused as a young girl, or any of the sort that some may explain to justify her behavior. No such thing ever happened. Hers was a not-so-uncommon tale of a typical ‘awakening’ which was pretty much a ‘stumbling upon’ on sex early in life with a female classmate. Not long after, she got very interested in it, and her belief in the healing, liberating and plain fun aspects of sex has made her not just a ‘practitioner’ if you will, but also an ardent advocate.

It is hardly surprising how her overtly sexual stance, opinions, conversation and actions online and on stage can get throngs of people quite interested in her. She matter-of-factly showed me a remote controlled, silent clitoral vibrator she keeps in her bag which she uses often and endorses.

‘Bisexual, not gay’, as she likes to describe herself. She explains to me that while she has a girl partner at present, she would still like to end up with a man but who will allow her to date other girls occasionally.

I asked her what other passions she had and she said that aside from her crusading for the RH bill (‘Responsible Horniness’ as she likes to call it) and condom use, she likes performing with her group and cooking.

Throughout the conversation, I was again amazed at how strange the power of celebrity can be or how a person from showbiz, more than a scientist or an expert with a PHD can reach out to a wider audience. There is Dra. Margie Holmes, a sexologist who captured the Filipino audience decades ago and continues to do so today. But then, she hasn’t come close to generating millions of hits on the net nor does she get as many emails as Mocha Uson does.

All this drives the point of how being a celebrity can make one so influential. Tech savvy-ness is key if you want your message and persona to go viral. But this also calls for emerging social media stars to be more responsible in disseminating their messages.

This is by no means an admonition of Mocha Uson for disseminating all this sex info on the net. I find it healthy that sexuality which is a huge part of every person’s unique identity is now being discussed with greater candor and acceptance from people everywhere.

To parents, teachers, and those involved in the formation of young people’s values, I think it is now appropriate to adopt some boldness in discussing such topics. It is obvious that the kids are ready. And it would be better if they heard it first from people they respect, those they are close to and who love them.