How I ended up in a destination not on my travel list (and loved it)

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 27, 2016 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2016-11-27 at 12.43.06 AM
Nanya rocks offer rugged, dangerous beauty.

I have never been to Taiwan. It wasn’t even on my list of dream destinations to visit. But suddenly, there I was last week with a group of travel writers, bloggers, hoteliers. We flew in on the invitation of Air Asia Philippines which launched its newest international flight destination last Nov. 21.

We were quite amazed how close it actually is from Manila. It took less than two hours to get there. Ably piloted by Air Asia Philippines’ CEO Captain Dexter Comendador, the maiden flight landed smoothly and on schedule in Taipei at 1 a.m., full of excited merry passengers gifted with special souvenirs from the airline.

We checked in at Hedo Hotel located at what they call “the old city” part of Taipei. By 9 a.m., we were off on the first day of our tour.

Screen Shot 2016-11-27 at 12.43.54 AM

The first stop in our tour was at the massive Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial hall, a must-visit complex of impressive structures reminiscent of old empires gone by. It houses a humongous bronze statue of Taiwan’s founding leader Chiang Kai-Shek guarded by two soldiers. Every few hours there is a changing of the guard ceremony that takes place and is a must-see. Solemn and precisely choreographed, it is quite impressive.

Next stop was the National Palace Museum where we saw impressive, exquisitely made art and masterpieces from centuries back. It was just sad that we could only stay a short while because were on a tight schedule. We had our first delicious lunch, a mixed plate with some Sichuan dishes.

We had to rush to the Air Asia press conference by 2 p.m. where the new Manila-Taipei-Manila route was formally announced to the media in Taipei.

We then proceeded to the Longshan Temple which is quite an experience. Intricately designed with dragons and religious symbols, this temple was filled with worshippers chanting and praying almost non-stop.

Screen Shot 2016-11-27 at 12.43.27 AM

The scent of candles, incense, burning joss sticks, food offerings and flowers filled the air. There were personal ceremonies going on at the back of the temple where devotees threw wooden blocks in the air and, depending on how the blocks fell, they would get their answers.

The day closed with another sumptuous Chinese meal. I am not the type of traveler or blogger who takes pictures of food. I just sit down and heartily savor what is on the table. Every meal we had on this trip was what I would call an elevated experience as far as my palate was concerned. Yes, all meals were Chinese food but everything was prepared differently.

The tofu, veggies, mushrooms, pork, seafood, soups, dessert had a touch that I had not experienced in Manila. The meals were scrumptious and heavenly.

The next day we went to the Northeast Coast where we took pictures of the wild sea and its waves splashing on the rocky shores under rain and strong winds. The Nanya rocks are awesome.

The scenery included wild rock formations strewn randomly along a coast as killer waves smashed against them with such fury, it was breathtaking. It reminded me so much of Batanes in its roughness and rugged beauty. We passed by the Golden Waterfall, a series of waterways that, though majestic to look at, are actually heavily polluted with poisonous chemicals and heavy metals. One can only admire — but do not touch or go near the water.

Screen Shot 2016-11-27 at 12.46.04 AM

Lunch was at Joufen Village. It was quite a trek of a few hundred steps before we reached our dining place. But the food was well worth the physical challenge. I thought it was the best meal we had on the entire trip.

In the evening, we meandered around the neighborhood near our hotel and tried out some street food. I always fancied myself an adventurous eater, but I admit to failing the test when it came to the notorious Stinky Tofu, and the ampalaya smoothie. I won’t describe it. I will leave that for you to try out when you visit Taipei. Who knows, you may like it. The fun part is summoning the courage to try something new and edgy.

The next day, we visited Taipei’s premier high-rise tower, an ultramodern and luxurious building called Taipei 101, which boasts the fastest elevator in the world — one that travels 89 floors in 39 seconds. At the top, one can see a panoramic view of the entire city.

Screen Shot 2016-11-27 at 12.44.06 AM

It was an extremely foggy and rainy day when we got there and so we hardly saw anything. More impressive for me was seeing the engineering wonder that could keep this building “balanced” during earthquakes and powerful typhoons. It is a huge damper in the center of the building occupying a few floors held in place by thick metal cables. During earthquakes, the damper moves slightly around balancing the building, however much nature’s forces try to shake it.

We went shopping at a fancy arts and craft store called Eslit where I bought a sturdy dry bag for travel near the sea and during inclement weather. Taipei is a delightful place to visit. The sights are awesome, the food is wonderful and the shopping is nothing short of fantastic.

Whether you are a high-end or low-end traveler, shopper or eater, Taipei has something for you. And oh, yes: the people are quite friendly and accommodating to visitors.

On my last day, not far from the hotel, I discovered a small home gallery displaying old photos of the early days of Taiwan. They were nostalgic photographs of Taiwanese life before prosperity transformed it into an economic miracle. Despite the communication gap, the owner and curator welcomed his few guests warmly as we appreciated the artworks.

I felt that this was my short fleeting moment of a personal encounter with a local in this place I had visited for the first time. It was a good way to end the trip. I will surely come back.

* * *

Air Asia Philippines flies daily to Taipei from Manila at 11:05 p.m. From Cebu, it leaves at 6:35 a.m. on Wednesdays, and 10:20 a.m. on Fridays and Sundays. Photos by JIM PAREDES

Rage against the dying of the light

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 20, 2016 – 12:00am

I have been avoiding writing about this. Too many people have expressed their views about the political situation in the world, most especially in the Philippines and the United States. For the life of me, I have tried to stick to “safe,” non-political subjects, but there is no escaping from the realities of the day.

Duterte, Trump, the Supreme Court decision on the Marcos burial, daily EJKs are all upon us. In the US, discrimination against women, race, gender rears its ugly head, leading to violence.

We can’t help being affected by the Nov. 8 elections in the United States. From the time I was growing up, the US has been the center of the world as I know it. We learned to speak English from the Americans, we watched (and still watch) US sitcoms, we listen to American music, and we like their way of life so much, many of us aspire for all things American.

The recent events in our country and the US have redefined reality for many Filipinos. The presidential elections in both countries have changed everything. The shape of the new reality is still a blur but the details are getting clearer by the day, and it is not pretty. It is a departure from the way we used to know and feel about that country and ours.

Questions arise on how we should react. Should we just accept these leaders — Duterte and Trump — simply because they won the elections? After all, isn’t that what “Vox populi vox dei” is about? Or is this a case of vox populi vox crazy? What I know is, while there are those who are happy with the outcome, there are many of us who feel physically and emotionally threatened by the results.

I see myself as a liberal democrat and I am in a quandary. Has democracy played a joke on us?

It was Plato who pointed out the irony that tyranny actually emerges from a democracy. We have seen this in the history of the world. In Germany, Hitler rose to power using the legal route, albeit coupled with cunning and intimidation. Duterte and Trump were both voted into power, but they are extremely polarizing figures. They are dictatorial, with views that many of their citizens not only disagree with, but find abhorrent and threatening.

To complicate matters, our President is not a unifier. He goes out of his way offend the Catholic Church and isolate those who did not vote for him through the machinations of his paid trolls in social media. His rabid followers threaten, insult and intimidate those who criticize him. I have been the recipient of death threats, too many to list down.

What should we do when the words and actions of the President go against our moral compass, what we hold true and sacred? Should we just grin and bear it, live in denial, be apathetic? Should we just shut up because our views are against those held by the majority at the moment?

My views have changed drastically these past four months. I am no longer interested in giving an ear to political strategies, or explanations and justifications on why a leader behaves as he does. I have no patience with the spin doctors who are trying to save Duterte from himself. I don’t need them to tell me how to think. I believe my conscience is quite reliable and accurate in sensing what is right and what is wrong. I don’t dabble in shades of gray or moral ambivalence.

Right is right and wrong is wrong. Injustice is injustice. Murder is murder. The “clarifications” of paid spokespersons of government do not impress me. In fact, they strengthen my resolve to speak out and call a spade a spade.

An article in the New York Times pointed out that during Hitler’s rise in power, some people actually believed his anti-Semitism was only a “joke.” In another article, Liel Leibovitz, whose Jewish grandfather survived Hitler’s wrath, gave advice to citizens of regimes that sow hate and violence:

“Treat every poisoned word as a promise. When a bigoted blusterer tells you he intends to force members of a religious minority to register with the authorities — much like those friends and family of Siegfried’s who stayed behind were forced to do before their horizon grew darker — believe him. Don’t try to be clever. Don’t lean on political intricacies or legislative minutiae or historical precedents for comfort. Don’t write it off as propaganda, or explain it always as just an empty proclamation meant simply to pave the path to power. Take the haters at their word, and assume the worst is imminent.”

This is not the first time we’ve experienced dictatorship. We should have learned our lessons by now. I know I have and I refuse to accept the present situation as “normal.”

It is far from normal when people are killed without due process. This is an aberration, a monstrosity and a blatant abuse of human rights. If we accept EJKs and stop pointing them out as wrong, the entire value system that has made us tolerant, fair and compassionate to each other will crumble.

I am 65 years old. I lived two decades of my life under the Marcos dictatorship. I am angry that issues that we thought were already settled a long time ago have resurfaced, this time giving legitimacy and even hero status to a torturer, murderer and plunderer, by our dictator-in-the-making.

I end with the words of Dylan Thomas that inspired me as a young man during the martial law years: “Do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The soundtrack of our lives

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 6, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 11.56.06 AM

Illustration by IGAN D’BAYAN

As I write this, I am listening to the music of Simon and Garfunkel and other artists of the ‘70s. My iPod is on a playlist that I made of songs that mattered to me then. I was just in my teens when I first heard these songs. They still touch me to this day.

They defined many of my thoughts and feelings, which I could not figure out, much less express, by myself. They sang about the pains and joys, the anger and frustration, the angst of young people of that time, and the new world our generation dreamed of.

The songs were beautiful and the artists were cool as cool could ever be. They were expressive, opinionated, talented, novel, rebellious, experimental, chic, crazy, daring and they were making different kinds of music the likes of which the world had never heard before.

They were breaking from tradition in all ways. They did not look like their elders. They dressed very differently, they talked differently and they sang of love that was raw, real and honest. They also sang about politics, peace and changing the world. They moved my generation and touched us deep to the core. We could quote from the verses of these songs the way the religious can quote from the Bible.

It was a great time to be an artist and to make music. It was a time when artists understood what was going on, and the producers and executives just followed suit even before they could figure out the scene that was unfolding.

Having cut my musical teeth on the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Fifth Dimension, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Bee Gees, etc., spermizide – wie verhindern sie eine schwangerschaft? | ohnerezeptfreikauf my attitude and taste in music is wide, eclectic and very open. Memorizing hundreds of songs and being able to actually sing and play them was such a great education and achievement for me. My knowledge and familiarity with the chords and lyrics of these great songs of the ‘70s allowed me to express my emotions easier and gave me the template for writing my own songs.

While my generation was musically influenced by Western pop music, many of us consciously opted to write Filipino lyrics at some point. The rebellion in music was happening here, too, and it was tied up with the battlecry called “Filipinization.” In the campuses, the students were demanding more relevant education. By this they meant they wanted an education that was more in tune with the needs of the nation. Overnight, speaking in Filipino became the norm.

Some 40-plus years later, here I am listening to these artists-catalysts who shaped me as I grew up and led me to the same career that they were in. It is an exhilarating feeling actually.

Many of the singers on this playlist have retired. Some have even passed away. There are some who continue to perform. The music they recorded ages ago is still full of freshness, passion and genius.

Some years back, I used to mock the idea of one day becoming a “nostalgia” act. I felt it was a trap I did not want to fall into. That is why I continue to write new material. I just released my third solo album a few months ago. Yet, I must recognize that some songs I’ve written are as meaningful and “defining” to some people as the Western songs of the ‘70s are to me. I must respect that.

When I sing my old songs, I imagine that they must have been the theme songs of couples that trigger special memories of their youth, the musical background of many pledges of love they made that continue to touch them enough to renew their life-long commitments to this day.

More than listening to them as songs trapped in some era, some songs become timeless, and will always be relevant. These songs are shared with their children and even grandchildren who grew up listening to them, too, as the soundtrack of their lives.

I am proud of the music of my generation. Those songs were instrumental in developing our consciences and made us appreciate and even fight for universal values such as peace, equality, woman empowerment, tolerance, spirituality and yes, love!

If the world could just pause for a while and people would stop rushing to move to something new, if we could set aside the endless quest for new thrills and just listen to the music of my generation, we could hopefully re-learn what “cool” is really all about.