Back to basics

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 28, 2017 – 12:00am

More and more, I realize how important it is NOT to engage too much in distractions like television and social media. In fact, it is good to divest and let go of a lot of what society and modern life are asking from us. I am speaking of the need to acquire or own “the latest,” the “new and improved,” the “best” whatever. It means ignoring the impulse to buy, or subscribe to the call to consume, own, possess, or be attached to material things.

Simplicity. The basic stuff. That’s what I aim for when I feel the world controls too much of me. I clear out stuff I don’t need or use anymore, like clothes I haven’t worn for more than a year, the exercise machines I stopped using that I keep under the bed, even files and photos on my computer which I haven’t opened for some time. I also let go of trying to be fashionable and cool, and the need to conform. I basically try to live with less.

The world can be so attractive and alluring. It is so easy for a person to be convinced he/she needs something to be happy or fulfilled. I try to fight that mindset and go inward instead of listening to the world.

What I find inward when I am full-on present is a feeling of completeness. I don’t need anything. I have everything I need. I am my own source of strength, fire and inspiration. My sacred space is not a geographical area but rather a state of mind and spirit. I am here where I am meant to be.

During such moments, the world can move on and I do not care if I am left behind. Being alone is fine and even wonderful. It is a very special moment yet it feels very familiar. It is as if it is our most natural state that we have forgotten.

There are times as an artist when I feel I am in my zone, like I am in my true element. I am in a flow. This is the same feeling, except that I am not doing music. I am not doing anything. I am only being.

In everyday life, I do not always crave certain types of food. Sure, I have my favorite dishes and I enjoy them. If I can’t have them, I do not make a big fuss. I literally eat what is available or what is served at the table. And whatever it is, I find comfort in it. I am thankful I am eating.

When I shop for clothes, I do not buy branded or fashionable styles. I go primarily for comfort. I do not like spending too much on myself. I have some clothes I have been wearing for more than 10 years. And that is just fine.

I do not like feeling entitled because I am a relatively familiar public person. I am aware that life has its disappointments. Just like everyone else, I must manage expectations all the time.

I am always dealing with ego issues. And that is the hardest thing. Ego is hard to kill and when you do, it manages to resurrect in full force. But sometimes I am successful. I can readily stand to be corrected when I am wrong. I have no problem with that. I can face opposition to views I hold. I do not take it personally. I can listen to criticism and not feel diminished by it. But I will not waste time with people of ill intent on social media. Life is too short to try and push my point of view or find the rhyme and reason in what they are saying. I just block them. When I am asked how I should be introduced during a talk, which is what I often do now, I say to just introduce me as an artist, or however they want. I am not big on titles, or bragging about achievements. Many times, I feel overrated and uncomfortable when I am introduced glowingly. I feel like I am attending my own funeral.

What I like is sharing my experiences and the little knowledge I have and getting people’s reactions. I go for “aha” moments, which I try to give my audience, and the reactions they elicit in me.

I am a performer whose career peaked years ago. I can accept not having as strong a presence on the radar screen as my group had during our heyday. When we do perform, I enjoy it more now because it does not happen as often as it used to. I am aware that fame, wealth and influence are fleeting. It is as it is. That’s the way of the world. And I find comfort in not having to act the way famous people are expected to. I just engage people as the person that I am.

It is not so much about rejecting the world, although more and more, to be real and whole persons, we must often say no to it. As the Bible puts it, “Be in the world, but not of it.”

It is a good mantra to remember.

The opposite side

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 21, 2017 – 12:00am

I am in Sydney as I write this. I have been here two weeks.? Prior to this visit, I was home for close to 10 months with only one foreign trip, to Taiwan. I have been, for the most part, home in the Philippines.?

Australia is where I have two children who have become citizens and who have chosen this country as the place where they will live, work, raise a family, build a home and a future. I have been to Australia many times, especially in the past 10 years. More than at any time, as I live here from day to day, it does not escape me that Australia and the Philippines are like two opposite worlds. I am not talking of these two nations as apples and oranges, although objectively speaking, one can argue that they are. I am talking as a Filipino who has spent most of his life living in my home country and occasionally experiencing life Down Under.?

The weather is a good place to start the comparison. Back home, we have two seasons: the dry and wet seasons, also known as the warm and the cool times of the year. As I write this, it is winter in Sydney, the temperature is nine degrees Celsius, while it is summer in Manila with the temperature hitting the high 30s. While Filipinos are suffering through the sweltering heat, we are enjoying manageable cold weather in Sydney. ??Where we look forward to enjoying a cold weather Christmas in the Philippines, here, it is “tank top” weather during Christmas. It is the height of summer and the temperature often goes past 40 degrees. People wear shorts, T-shirts and slippers. Definitely no sweaters on Simbang Gabi.

?Another striking difference here compared to back home is how Australia values the dignity of manual labor. I am talking about tradesmen such as plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, painters, gardeners, etc. To become a certified tradesman, one must go to school for proper training, then through years of apprenticeship before one can be licensed. A tradesman is expected to do a good job or a customer can take him to court and he could lose his license. ?When you need a tradesman, you have to make an appointment and pay lots of money for the consultation and the actual work done. Years ago, when we had a problem with our toilet here in Sydney, we called a newly arrived immigrant who was an unlicensed plumber to fix it. It was our way of helping him get established in Sydney. A few weeks later, the toilet broke down again and we finally called a licensed plumber. He pointed out that the replaced parts of the toilet (which had been repaired earlier) were of poor quality and were not even installed correctly. ?Before you get your car’s registration renewed, it must be inspected by a licensed mechanic (if it is over four years old) who must certify that it is road-worthy. After registration, if your car gets into an accident due to, say, faulty brakes, the government will go after you and your mechanic who will probably lose his license. ?Back home, we are still far from this level of professionalism where people are held accountable if they do not do their jobs well.?

We also fall very far behind in the delivery of justice. Down Under, politicians have been booted out of office for simple infractions such as not reporting an upgrade they enjoyed during a flight, or not reporting receiving an expensive bottle of liquor as a gift. A judge lost his job, pension and reputation for lying to the police about who was using his car that was caught speeding. He said it was driven by an American friend who had left the country. When the police investigated, they discovered that the judge’s American friend had died two years earlier. I think the judge also served jail time. Many years back, popular Prime Minister Bob Hawke was waving to people on the street from his car when he was called out by TV viewers who said he was not wearing a seatbelt. He ended up paying a fine. ?Big politicians, businessmen, famous people are routinely arrested when they commit crimes. No big deal. Police routinely order drivers to pull over for alcohol and drug tests. Driving violations are fined heavily. You can actually lose your license depending on the violations you commit.?

During the first year we moved to Sydney, I woke up to a knock on the door at 2 a.m. It was the police. Before I opened the door, I asked my wife if our son was home. I thought he might have gotten into some trouble. He was asleep in his room. When I opened the door, the police asked me how many cars I had. I said I had one. He then said that I had left my garage door open, and advised me to close it. I was impressed at how much effort the police took to make our neighborhood safe.?

Traffic is a monumental problem in Metro Manila. People complain of traffic here in Sydney too, but it is nowhere near what we go through back home. If you define heavy traffic as not having moved forward for at least 15 minutes (as often happens in Metro Manila), I don’t think I have experienced “heavy traffic” here at all. By Philippine standards, traffic is non-existent in Sydney. People call it traffic if their car is the fifth or sixth vehicle before the traffic light. ?

Lastly, I must say, it is more fun to spend your money in the Philippines because it is far less expensive there than here. Your usual McDonald’s meal back home of a burger, fries and a soda is four times more expensive in Australia. To get a car registered with insurance will cost close to P50,000. Council fees (the equivalent of barangay fees which we don’t pay back home) cost P60,000 per year. The cost of houses and rent keeps going up to ridiculous heights and there seems to be no end in sight. They say that properties in the Sydney area double in price every 10 years. A real concern is that a great majority of young people are not able to afford owning a home.

I have learned to love living in both Manila and Sydney. Each has its charms and its downsides. While my roots are in the Philippines, I like the different pace and dictates of living in a place where rules are more clearly defined and observed. I also love how much open spaces there are in Sydney compared to the density of Manila. I feel comfortable with and assured by the peace and order, and the predictability of life here. I love the snow-less winter. I also love the new friends I have made here. ?However, I enjoy the freedom of living back home. Sometimes, life in Sydney can feel too regulated. There are so many rules. It is great to have access to both worlds. I am reminded of a Zen saying that goes, “The opposite side also has an opposite side.” That’s fine by me.

A new mom speaks

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 14, 2017 – 12:00am

Author Jim Paredes’ daughter Ala Paredes Buencamino and her baby.

For this Mother’s Day, I decided to ask my daughter, Ala Paredes Buencamino, to write her feelings down about being a new mom. I thought first-time mothers out there would resonate with this since most Mother’s Day articles will probably be talking about older mothers and how they have successfully raised their children.

* * *

How are the first weeks of motherhood?” That’s what your friends who don’t have children ask. The correct answer is to paint a picture of a cuddle-filled existence that manages to be fulfilling even with very little sleep and having to change a hundred dirty diapers per day.

Here is a real answer: motherhood is fragile, physically and emotionally. While I found that I was prepared to endure birth without pain relief, I was unprepared for how long and slow postpartum recovery would be. I felt strong during my 10-hour labor, a mighty force of nature; but I felt flimsy and helpless when, two weeks later, my knees were still wobbling, I couldn’t sit up unassisted, I could barely walk, and I had this new, unfamiliar body covered in aches and pains. They say postpartum recovery takes six weeks; true, but only if you are Wonder Woman.

Early parenthood is full of doubts and perceived failures that have the power to shatter you and reduce you to a blubbering mess. One such “failure” was when my newborn lost too much weight in her first few days of life due to a delay in my milk supply. While I knew intellectually that this was not a “failure” on my part, it certainly felt like one, as though I couldn’t fulfill my basic duty of providing for my hungry baby. As I bottle-fed her with formula to get her weight back on track, I would collapse into emotional sobs. “She’s starving! My body has failed her!” I cried as my husband tried to console me.

Eventually, I learned to stiffen up and keep these imaginary failures in perspective. I was doing the best I could with what I had at that time. Being gentle and forgiving with yourself.

And while you learn to let many things roll off your back, you cry and feel a little resentful when you see your partner have free time to enjoy hobbies, something that is denied to you in the meantime. You feel sorry for yourself because you’re exhausted, unwashed, and barely have time to even put on a complete set of clothing, then immediately feel guilty about experiencing any amount of self-pity. Shouldn’t you be acting like a mature adult by now? You chose to have a kid so suck it up and deal with it, honey.

Still, you cry because so much is on you, you, YOU. You’re the mom. You carried this child in your womb for nine months, and you mean the world to this tiny, little person who can often only be comforted by your heartbeat, your smell, and the sound of your voice — nobody else’s! If you are breastfeeding, you are your baby’s irreplaceable, round-the-clock giver of life. All that responsibility on someone who feels so fragile.


Fragile because the transition into motherhood is an extreme chemical change in your identity, one that cannot ever be undone. For the first time in your life your heart truly feels its own depth and freedom as you’re overcome with a sublime love that feels almost too big to contain. You feel a heightened sense of time passing, watching your infant change faster than you can love each amazing version of her. You watch moments of heartbreaking beauty fly past you, never to be repeated. Oh, the joy you feel over that miraculous first smile, those heavenly hours you spend watching her as she sleeps, marveling at the wonder of her existence; and all you can do is pray that your memory will not fail and that those memories will keep your heart warm throughout the years.

So many big emotions rolled into one incomprehensible, beautiful mess. No wonder it’s easier to just stick to clichés when people ask you what motherhood is like. But here’s my answer in a nutshell: you have to be either crazy or naive to want to be a mom. I guess I’m both.

A trip to Sagada

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 7, 2017 – 12:00am

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A breathtaking view on the way up. Fog invasion.

After decades of saying I wanted to go to Sagada, I finally decided two weeks ago to set the date and do it. When I married Lydia, we vowed we would go to Sagada, but never followed through. We’ve opted for many other travels other than this place we had heard so much about.

Summer was going fast. I felt that I had not done any great traveling yet. Lydia was abroad. I did not want to let summer end and regret not embarking on some trip to remember.

Last week, with my driver Zenon, my grandchild Ananda and her friend Tricia, we finally took the 11-hour drive up to Sagada. The ride to Baguio, which was the first part of the trip, was fairly easy. It took us less than five hours. We stopped for lunch and then proceeded to Trinidad Valley to start our journey further upward. This was a bit tough, not because it was a long drive but because half of it is zigzagging roads. You have to really pay attention.

But the scenery was at times so breathtaking that we had to stop and take photos. Mountains of pines everywhere, an occasional waterfall, a sudden fog invasion, unexpected hard rainfall, pretty flowers lining the road kept us entertained and focused.

On the road up, we would sometimes feel we were lost and would stop and ask for directions. What I noticed was people in the area seemed to have a poor sense of distance. They may know directions but distance is always underestimated. During our fifth hour of driving, we asked a lady how far Sagada was and she said it was a kilometer away — only to discover it was 12 kilometers further up. We also asked directions to our hotel when we got there and someone said it was 600 meters away. It was more like one kilometer.

We arrived at the Shamrock Tavern at 7 p.m., which was to be our modest abode for the next three nights and days. In Sagada, most things are modest. Do not expect five-star accommodations. Mostly, you will have a decent place to sleep, a shower and CR, and that is about it. It is a small, rustic town and for all practical purposes, everything is within walking distance. The foreigners like to walk in their shorts and sandals while the Filipino vacationers like to ride.

The weather at this time was not very cold. It was about 24 degrees when I was there. You could feel the heat of the sun on your skin at noon but the air was cool and breezy enough to keep you from perspiring. I was wearing T-shirts every day. In the evenings, I would put on a jacket. But locals say that from September to February, expect the temperature to drop to a very cold eight-degree Celsius.

Sagada has many nice restaurants and places to eat. Notable are Sagada Brew, Lemon Pie, Strawberry Cafe, Yoghurt Place, and a few others. Eating out is great. And the average cost per meal is around P150 to P250! Yes, you read that right. All the meals I ate at Sagada Brew where delicious and wonderful. When you go there, try the pasta and the steak meal. You really get value for money.

When we planned the trip we thought we would do the sights on our own. As it turned out, you really need a guide to show you around for practically every spot you wish to visit. It is mandated. And you need to register as a visitor at the tourism office when you get to Sagada. Your guide can do that for you.

The first attraction we visited was the famous hanging coffins. This is a burial site where coffins are suspended on the side of a cliff to hang. On my way down a steep incline with improvised steps to get there, I slid down and twisted my ankles, tore my pants and got a gash. I was shocked since I do a lot of walking on similar trails in Australia and I’ve never slipped or fallen. Painful as it was, I still managed to reach the sight and take photos. Our guide who was very knowledgeable and he explained the tradition to us. I will not discuss it here since you may want to hear it for yourself during some future trip.

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I had to rest my ankle after we climbed back. After lunch, Ananda and Tricia visited Sumaguing Cave. There are two paths inside the cave: the easy and the difficult. Not surprisingly, the two of them chose the difficult one and had the time of their lives.

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Did some pottery.

Despite my swollen ankles, I was able to visit four other places, and photographed a sunset at Lake Danum. I was also able to visit a place called Agid where I waited for Tricia and Ananda who met us there after trekking to a big waterfall and swimming for two hours. We also attended a pottery session. We noticed that we did not have enough time to see all the sights.

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The trail at Agid which the kids took to get to us.

On our last day, we woke up at 4 a.m. to go to Kiltepan, an outlook ridge famous for its spectacular sunrises. When we got there, hundreds of people had already arrived earlier. We found our viewing spots and waited patiently. And waited. And waited. By about 5:20, I knew the sun would be a no-show. It was a cloudy day and all we saw was night turning to day. It happens, I guess. But none of us felt bad about it. We had arroz caldo and champorado which we bought from vendors as we enjoyed the cold morning.

Driving down was more relaxed. I was at the wheel and I knew the road already. It was a Saturday and the traffic going up had peaked the day before. There were few cars going down to Baguio.

I had heard a few legends about Sagada. One of them was that you could buy marijuana easily and no one frowned at you for being high. I asked the people from there about this and they said it was true. But not anymore. Duterte’s drug campaign put an end to that.

There was this other story we heard during the ’80s, that NPA warriors and military would cross one another’s paths in Sagada but neither side would fire a shot. They considered the territory a war-free zone, an escape from hostilities. An old cadre from the left confirmed this and so did one resident I talked to.

As much as I love Sagada, I was actually hesitant to write about it because, frankly, I do not want too many people going up there and destroying its pristine, rustic quality. But alas, I saw the cafes visibly filled up the night before we left with people who had suddenly ascended from below the mountains. They were brought in by “agencies,” as the locals like to call organizers of tourist groups.

I am glad that many people are still turned off by the long drive to get there. I secretly smile when vacationers who have not gone up get anxious about the less than five-star accommodations and the sites that demand some physical challenges to get to them.

No. This is not a place for your average tourist who is on the lookout for discos or nightclubs, or eating in elegant restaurants. It is more for tourists who like gazing at the stars at night, and who like to walk during the day and enjoy the simplicity of life there.

And I hope it remains so for a long time.