Food and love

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – April 29, 2018 – 12:00am

It so happens she likes cooking and I like eating! I am so lucky we are a great match on this.

I love watching my wife get excited about lunches she hosts at home. She puts her total being into it. She prepares and cooks food that is so good everyone raves about it. The glasses and plates are set on the table neatly. The wine, coffee, soft drinks, water and ice are by the side table. The dining area is spruced up so prettily and is ready to receive visitors.

She has done this countless of times for our friends and relatives. While she may complain that she is stressed, tired and that she has so little time to prepare before the guests arrive, everything gets done and ready on time.

Last Wednesday, she invited eight girl friends whom we’ve known for years, some for over four decades long. Everyone brought a dish. What a glorious, noisy, fun lunch it was. The conversation was lively, non-stop and these women talked about a whole range of topics. I could see them enjoying the food while laughing, teasing, sharing stories and mild chismis about people they knew.

They sat down to eat lunch around 2 p.m. I left for the gym past 4 p.m. By the time I got back close to 7 p.m., they were still around the table talking with the same gusto and energy. Lydia was ready to open and distribute the packed take-home food she gave everyone if they were going to stay for dinner. They left soon after. It was quite a lunch. Lydia was happy.
Almost every day last week, Lydia went out to lunch with different groups of friends. It started last Tuesday with her high school classmates from St. Bridget’s School. Last Friday, it was with the wives of my sibs who are in town. Today, we join her family for Sunday lunch.

In Lydia’s family, It is an understatement to say that food is important. Everything is centered around meals on the dinner table. There is always lots of food. When I say lots, I mean LOTS!

We are continually munching on something while talking. Before meals, there are chips, peanuts, fruits and other chichiria on the table. Then there is the big meal with about four to five viands and rice. After the lunch, desserts of chocolates, fried bananas, cakes, cherries (when in season) are served. Coffee follows. Then more chichiria is served. The table never runs out of food.

In my family, food takes second importance to singing, jokes, camaraderie, bonding, political talk and loud laughter. The food is never wanting but it is not as spectacular or as varied as my in-laws’ banquets.
At dinners, the Paredeses end the night with singing and loud banter. In Lydia’s family, they end the night still eating while conversing.

When we first got married, I always complained that she cooked too much that there were almost always leftovers. I thought it was wasteful. My mom always told me to finish the food on my plate.

For Lydia, cooking a lot is a natural thing. She used to tell me that a house must always have lots of food ready to feed its occupants and unexpected visitors who may show up. Food is always meant to be in big servings.

Her mother was the same way. They come from a family of 10 sibs. And my mother-in-law always liked to prepare for her children’s friends who like hanging around their house after school. She could whip up a meal for her kids and about six to 10 friends who often suddenly showed up. She loved having visitors and feeding them.

I also come from a family of 10. But we were not fed as extravagantly. Mom had a smaller budget but she somehow always made sure everyone was fed. We ate smaller portions. We were fed enough and well, but not in any grandiose way. No “unli” eating. And we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner on time.

My kids are more like Lydia’s family regarding their eating habits. They eat when they feel like it. Meal times are flexible. They have snacks anytime they wish, often skipping a meal in the process.

I used to be so different. Like clockwork, I actually got hungry at around 12 noon, and 7 p.m. at night. I did not like munching anything an hour before I ate because I wanted to enjoy a full dinner.

I have somewhat adjusted since living in a home run by my wife for decades now. I get an occasional urge now and then and I raid the cookie jar between meals. Or I sit with her and eat chicharon anytime. I now also have the habit of eating dark chocolate an hour or two after meals.

But I still have to learn to appreciate coffee as much as she does. Or have that occasional glass of wine which she loves. I get tipsy and red too easily. She has a far more sophisticated palate than I do, I must admit.

When she is not here, I often find myself going back to my basic eating. Nothing fancy. Just regular food to tide me over. I am generally okay with that. But as I get older now, I notice I want more and more of the good stuff.

In a life that is shared with someone, couples defer to each other about who should be in charge of certain things. I take the lead in certain matters, but I definitely defer to Lydia on everything to do with food.

It has been said that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. While there are many other things I like about her, I must also agree with this saying. And my stomach agrees as well

It so happens she likes cooking and I like eating!

I am so lucky we are a great match on this.


Going beyond the tourist experience in Bali

With author Jim Paredes (third from right) are (from left) Agnes Gervacia, Marivic Anonuevo, Violi Remo, Margaux Hontiveros, Ibu Mansri (mother of the teens), Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.06.33 AM

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – April 22, 2018 – 12:00am

I have been to Bali a few times. I have seen almost all of its temples and a few of the rituals performed for tourists. I have admired the way the Balinese have retained their traditions and preserved their old houses and sacred sites. I also love the food, and the natives of this island for their easygoing ways and their friendly attitude towards foreigners. I have enjoyed shopping for souvenirs and I can still do it again and again.

But it was a different experience this time, during my last trip as guest of Air Asia Philippines. I joined a group of people invited by AirAsia chair Maan Hontiveros to attend a food festival. As it unexpectedly turned out, the food festival was not the big thing we came for.

In a conversation with a waitress at the hotel we stayed in, I learned a few things about some Balinese traditions. One of them happens to every Balinese person very early in life. Balinese babies are not allowed to touch the ground for the first 105 days of life. That is because they believe that newborns are still too close to the spirit world and so must be treated with respect and be protected lest they be contaminated by evils of the earthly plane. Babies are also seen as replacements of old relatives who have perished and therefore are treated like gods in some ways.

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Offering rites at the teeth-filing ritual at the Neka property
The waitress also told us that many Balinese babies are carried until they can walk. They mostly avoid crawling. When I asked why, she said that crawling was a trait of animals and was considered not good.

Another thing I learned about was the ritual of the teeth-filing ceremony and procession every Balinese person goes through between the ages of 16 to 18. It usually happens in July, but we were able to witness a ceremony that involved teenage members of the wealthy Neka family in Ubud. This elaborate ritual is one of the biggest events every Balinese goes through.

We were lucky to have been invited. Valentine Willie, a Malaysian and resident of Bali, was a longtime friend of the Neka family. He lived with them some 20 years ago. Some of us know Valentine from way back since he visits Manila quite often. He hosted a delicious lunch at his garden on the second day of our trip. He also invited us to try his masseur, which turned out to be one of the best massages we ever had. But I digress.

The teeth-filing ritual and procession involves the filing of the incisors and other teeth to remove their pointed edges. The teeth are filed to be aligned until no pointed tooth is evident. In doing this ritual, it is believed that six evils are taken away from a person. These evils are Sad Ripu, which is desire/passion; Nafsu (greed); Lobha (anger and resentment); Krodha (drunkenness); Mada and Matsarya (envy/spite); and Moha (confusion).

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High Priest of the Brahmin caste

The ceremony is a big event and something that families prepare for months ahead. The choosing of the date and the rituals are all done according to old tradition and the ancient Hindu calendar. The ritual is presided over by a High Priest of the Brahmin caste. Many guests are invited. It is a big social event.

When we entered the huge Neka property as invited visitors, we were all stunned. The house was filled with people and elaborately decked out with flowers and decor. Everything looked like a tableau of Balinese culture such as you’d see in paintings. Those of us wearing shorts were given sarongs and yellow sashes to wear to fit the occasion.

I felt like a National Geographic writer/photographer who was privy to a ritual the Western world had barely heard about. The splash of colors, the intricate ceremony, the chanting on top of a full gamelan orchestra playing, the elaborate offerings given to the Buddha, and the primal strangeness of everything gave me goosebumps. It was a spectacle that thrilled all our senses.

The ritual was to be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and would run for two days. The venue is open and welcome to friends. Guests show up in traditional fashion, and are fed sumptuous meals.

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Teeth-filing ceremony (Photo from Bali Star Island)

Three teenagers of the Neka clan were supposed to undergo the ritual. The teenagers are required to stay in their rooms one day before the ritual until they are called, lest evil spirits enter and possess them. I was able to take photographs of the ceremony except the teeth filing itself.

Our tourist guide described his own teeth-filing experience. He said that his whole head was shaking as it was going on. He had to take bed rest for three days afterward. The High Priest uses a small hammer, a file, and a carver.

This Bali trip will remain among my most memorable trips. As a traveler, it is good to go off the beaten track and immerse ourselves in the rituals of the places we visit. We learn a lot. By “going native,” we learn a lot more about humans everywhere.

The writer Thomas Wolfe said, “Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” I say it is a way a people try to make sense of life, and everything about it.


I can hear the humming

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – April 15, 2018 – 12:00am

If eternity has a sound, this must be what I am hearing. The hum wakes up my entire being. It is saying volumes.
Right now is a good moment.

Everything is perfect just as it is. It is night. The universe is awake, alive. The stars are shimmering and planets are moving around their orbits in great precision. Every atom out there is where it should be. Playing all over the outer and inner worlds is a dance that is not only scintillatingly beautiful but so well choreographed. Everything is in perfect balance!

My room is lighted. Outside is darkness. I feel like my bedroom is the control room of a spaceship penetrating space. It moves seamlessly without friction. It is floating into the heart of everything unknown.

The controls of my spaceship are not in some hi-tech console. I do not even have a console. I am not pushing buttons or moving levers and joysticks. All I have is an awakened consciousness that knows how to navigate this moment. I feel very settled where I am right now.
When my mind is without baggage it seems omnipresent and everything is within reach. Zen masters used to say they could drink the Pacific Ocean in one gulp. I understand what they mean right now. I am everything out there and everything is also in here. I know myself and everything is part of me and vice versa. There are no boundaries that separate me from anything. There is no other. Or maybe there is no me.

The silence is wonderful. Now I can hear everything. As contradictory as that sounds, it is true. My focus goes to the source of where the sound of ALL emanates from. There is a humming in the universe. There is. It does not sound like anything we have heard. It is a loud silence. That’s how I describe it. The hum wakes up my entire being. It is saying volumes. If eternity has a sound, this must be what I am hearing. It is as clear as a bell but it cannot be expressed in words nor measured by any device. And it is in dialogue with me. I have just one answer to it and the word is reverberating in my whole being. The word is “yes.” Yes to everything.

There is nothing inside or outside that offers resistance or friction.
There is nothing to worry or care about. The world is a mess. It is also so beautiful. The contradiction is built into the moment. And yes, it is necessary. It is good. It is bad. It is. Everything is balanced perfectly. This state of being cannot be real if one or the other is missing.

Moments like this have happened to me before. Sometimes it is the result of intense Zen meditations. Sometimes it just happens for no reason. I ride with it. It is intense but there is a kindness and calm to it. It does not rock or shake you, forcing you to go to some mental plane. It is as simple and effortless as light suddenly appearing and blessing everything.

One time it happened while I was driving a car in Tagaytay. All of a sudden, I experienced a clarity about everything. The clarity was not in relation to big questions being asked or answered but more about the calming of the need to ask or know everything. I did not need to search anything. It was all there! There was nothing to need, to want or to desire. Life simply flowed. I was aware of it, as it was aware of me.

The Tibetans have figured out all the levels and states of consciousness. There are Tibetan words to describe a whole range of them — from gross, subtle to causal states, each one built on top of the other in ever-expanding consciousness. Tonight I am somewhere in one of those higher states.

There is a joyful feeling to it. Sometimes it is close to being ecstatic. There is also a deep sense of peace, resignation and a warm feeling of gratitude. There is a great sense of freedom. It feels like nothing can tie me down. My spirit is everywhere. Also, I find myself filled with wonder and gratitude.

While it happens rarely, I ask myself why there is a quaint familiarity to it. There is that feeling of affirmation, a feeling of coming home. You know it is real. Could this be our natural state before the world screwed us?

Some of you out there may have experienced something close to this. I know the writer C. Joybell C has. He phrased it like this: “Last night I lost the world, and gained the universe.” Amit Ray also said, “Your greatest awakening comes when you are aware about your infinite nature.”

We are like dragons — creatures that are reptilian but can fly. While we may be earthbound, we can dream and taste heaven.

To accept the contradictions is liberation itself.

Life is as it is. Things are what they are. Allow the reality of that to sink in. Once you accept it, there is nothing else to do. You are free. Your spirit is awakened. Your innate unconditional joy, calm, full awareness and compassion may just suddenly spring forth.


The Lio experience

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – April 1, 2018 – 12:00am

I remember asking for a plastic bag since we were going on an island tour. I was pleasantly shocked when they said they do not have plastic bags on the island.

From out of the blue, I got an invitation to go to Lio Resorts in El Nido to write about the Lio festival and a list of other activities. I made plans to go to the town of El Nido in Palawan before but it fell through. But here it was, suddenly being presented to me. I readily said yes.

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Up Dharma Down performs at Lio to the delight of the crowd

I flew in on a 48-seater plane together with some writers and bloggers. from Manila. In one hour, we were in Lio, a place that is everything Manila is not. It took a five-minute ride from the airport to take us to our hotel. We were greeted by a gorgeous beach, breathtaking scenery, fresh air, total absence of traffic, big wide open spaces, lots of trees, sand on our feet and hotel staff who were more than friendly. I actually felt their eagerness to make our stay a comfortable and an enjoyable one.

Lio is a tourism estate amid very tall coconut trees. It’s on an island along Baquit Bay in El Nido. It has four hotels, three of them a stone’s throw from each other. Each also caters to slightly different markets. Hotel room rates range from P5,000 a night to P9,000.

Lio has different restaurants and bars that serve a variety of dishes and drinks. It is a well designed complex. It was built by Ayala Land. Very few trees have been taken down. Those that were taken down are in a nursery and will be planted somewhere else. The area’s topography was not altered to fit into development plans. Instead the opposite happened.You will see no artificial hills. There are no structures above a second floor. And the forests in the 300-plus hectares remain lush and green.

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Everything is within walking distance. The beach is quite an attractive one. The smooth white sand extends more than a kilometer and a half. The waves are big enough for both swimming and surfing. And you get a magnificent view of Kalaw island, home of the highest mountain in El Nido.There is a beautiful jetty that extends a few hundred steps to Baquit Bay, which is the perfect spot to appreciate the mountain. Just staring at it especially in the late afternoon towards sunset is quite a visual thrill, as clouds cover parts of it and the sun rays paint the horizon in different hues of grey, pink, orange, and red.

The whole estate has been designed to be sustainable and kind to Mother Nature. I remember asking for a plastic bag to put my dry clothes in since we were going on an island tour. I was pleasantly shocked when the front desk said they do not have plastic bags on the island.
There is also a small artists’ haven where locals and people from nearby sell their crafts and arts. The merchandise is wonderful and, best of all, inexpensive. I bought myself a bunch of drinking straws made of bamboo for use at home. I promise to buy more on my next visit.

The festival itself was held last March 23. It was open to guests of the hotels and the general public free of charge.

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Shopping at a small artists’ haven where locals and people from nearby sell their crafts and arts.

From 4 p.m. up, there were games along the beach, murals being painted by artists.The public was encouraged to join. There was story-telling to kids emphasizing the care of the environment by women from the Haribon Foundation. By 6 p.m., there was DJ Cam playing music along the beach as people enjoyed the sunset.

At around 8 p.m., we gathered around a big tent for the concert. It featured four acts, three of them local. It started with Mike and Lyka, an acoustic duo from El Nido, followed by Woopis, band from Puerto Princesa that not only rocked but regaled the crowd with their hits and funny songs. It was followed by a drum ensemble called Kawangis Tribu, also from Puerto Princesa that got the crowd dancing. The closing act was done by one of the country’s best OPM bands, Up Dharma Down. The crowd was enthusiastic. They applauded, sang along and had a great time.

What a night!

We also toured a few islands in El Nido. Most impressive were the Big Lagoon, and the Seven Commandos islands. We wanted to see more but there was hardly enough time.

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Author Jim Paredes at the Lio Beach in El Nido Palawan

I am quite a traveler and have been to many islands and resorts. This is one of those places I will remember not just for its spectacular beauty, its wonderful staff but also for its respect and kindness towards Mother nature.

I will be back there soon!