Why I believe we will overcome

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 10.10.08 AM

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

“One of the big things we need to do is to simply behave in our country the way we behave abroad.”

In this article, I will attempt to write about aspects of who we are as a nation and race. The subject matter is a hard one. It is like describing something you do not see, like air. We were born and largely raised as Filipinos and have taken that for granted and therefore we may not be objectively and consciously aware of what we are like.

I have been a Filipino for 66 years. To write objectively about being Filipino is like searching for God. How can you search for something that has always been already present? How can I step out of being myself to describe who I am?

Let me start by stating what the mythologist Joseph Campbell said many years ago. He said that every people and race in the world thinks they are the “Chosen” race. We are no exception.

We pride ourselves on being the only Catholic nation in Asia and this supposedly makes us special, maybe even blessed among all nations. Even when we do badly we explain our behavior with the catchphrase “only in the Pilipins” to berate ourselves, but often also to put a positive spin on our blunders and rebrand them as “uniqueness.” Recently, I heard some people claim that the term “Pilipino” is supposedly derived from two Tagalog words — pinili (chosen) and pino (to refine or smoothen) — oblivious to the historical fact that our country was actually named after King Philip of Spain whose name was Felipe in Spanish.

I have encountered many of our countrymen abroad and in the Philippines and I have observed certain commonalities we all share as a race. I speak generally but at the same time I am aware that there are exceptions. Here are some observations:

1) We love beauty contests. We take great pride every time a Filipina wins an international title. Beauty contests also happen in every barangay in the Philippines every year. We love pageants of all sorts. We also hold contests for Mr. Philippines and Ms. Gay Philippines. In almost every Filipino community abroad, it is not an uncommon occurrence.

2) We like things “small.” In Nick Joaquin’s essay entitled “Heritage of Smallness,” he observed that we have a penchant for downsizing things and making them less big. Instead of going for the bigger solid enterprise, we like to cut things up into smaller parts. When a province gets big and prosperous, we like to divide it into Norte and Sur. When a city becomes bigger, we want it halved into two. This is also obvious in these little geographical enclaves called subdivisions. Aside from the main entrance gate, it is not unusual to see other gates in many streets inside further subdividing the area.

In almost every nation abroad, it is hard to find one big united Filipino organization. Instead, you will see a host of organizations subdivided along ethnic and provincial groupings reflecting the way things are back home.

3) We love titles. We are status conscious. If you were once a president, a senator or a congressman or a judge, you expect to be addressed as such for life. The joke among our countrymen abroad is that if there are one hundred Filipinos, there will be 101 organizations because everyone wants to be president or a head of something. And of course, there must be an umbrella organization to unite them all.

4) We love the underdog. We identify with them. Almost every success story is framed in such a way that a “humble beginning” is always the way they all start. More than examining the elements that make something a success such as hard work, diligence, foresight and a methodical approach to goals, we like to focus on the odds that stood in the way of succeeding. Redemption stories are more inspiring when laced with a little extra drama.

5) We are genuinely kind and hospitable. We like to share whatever meager resources we have with visitors and guests, especially when they visit our homes. We genuinely want them to feel at home and be part of the family to a point where we forgo our own comforts and offer the best amenities we have to our visitors. We are also generally kind to foreigners. We are amused and pleased to no end when foreigners speak our language or adopt our customs.

6) We love socializing. We celebrate birthdays, christenings, baptisms, weddings, First Communions, house blessings, fiestas in honor of patron saints, graduations, Christmas, New Year, the birth of new enterprises, anniversaries, Valentines, Halloween, Mother’s and Father’s Day, the Feast of the Black Nazarene, etc. Even when there is no reason to celebrate, we look for one. We are party people.

7) We are generally optimistic and hopeful regardless of the situation. We collectively know that we as a people have gone through many trials before. We can overcome almost anything.

8) We are slow to anger but once we are collectively incensed, watch out.

9) We are daring and extremely adaptable. You can find Filipinos everywhere in the world working and raising families under all kinds of social and political systems, cultures, religions and weather conditions.

These are just some observations. The Jesuit historian Horacio Dela Costa once wrote that the characteristics that describe a nation or people are not permanent. They change over time. Many of their virtues are born out of historical necessity.

We are a very young nation. Our people are talented. As such the Philippines is full of promise but, at the same time, it is fraught with danger. We have so much to learn. Like a child, we have not learned to think and plan for the future. We still have to learn discipline, discernment, and to focus our efforts towards a direction of irreversible and continuous progress.

We have been colonized by the Spanish, the British (very briefly from 1762 to 1764), the Americans, and the Japanese. But so have many other countries. Many of them have moved past their colonial history and no longer use it as an excuse. We still have to fully overcome this once and for all.

During these times when, once again, our democracy and our institutions are threatened by dictatorship, I am hopeful that we will rise to the occasion to do the right thing and evolve. I believe there are enough people who can be motivated more by love for country rather than fear in collectively solving our problems.

You may ask why I am optimistic. I am because I have seen Filipinos survive and thrive in societies that are modern, progressive and run under the rule of law.

One of the big things we need to do is to simply behave in our country the way we behave abroad.

What good memories are made of

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 22, 2018 – 12:00am
Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 10.42.44 AM

Last weekend, Lydia and I, my son Mio, my daughter Ala and her husband John Buencamino and their baby Sadie went on a short land trip to Turon Gates at the outer Blue Mountains in Capertee to live in a cabin for two nights and three days. We wanted to have bonding time.

It was a leisurely two-hour drive outside of Sydney. It was also a beautiful day. We stopped in a few places for lunch and coffee on the way up.

Turon Gates is surrounded by mountains and rolling hills. To get to our cabin, we had to drive through some unpaved roads. The landscape is quite majestic. It was mostly brownish in color with sparse but beautiful touches of greenery, and fallen trees not uncommon during winter. We saw a few kangaroos, wallabies and wombats running around

The cabin was quite spacious. It had two rooms, a moderately sized living area and a sala with a fireplace to keep the house warm, two bathrooms, and a big balcony. The cabin ran on solar power. It was not connected to the electric grid. The solar panels generated the electricity. We had to be mindful of our power consumption knowing that we could run out. The oven in the cabin was gas-run.
It was a cozy setup. Well, it was supposed to be except for one small thing. The weather forecast that weekend was a high of 18 degrees Celsius and a low of -4 degrees.

When we got there, Ala, Mio, John and I took a walk near the river. The weather was nippy. The terrain was interesting. We walked beside the river and saw some wildlife that tried to avoid us. Interestingly, we saw skeletons of small animals, probably of wallabies, which we picked up and brought to the cabin.

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 10.43.06 AM

That night, dinner was adobo with rice — comfort food that Lydia prepared the night before we left.

It was cold. In fact, we were freezing in bed. I had layers of clothing on and four blankets over me. Aside from my thermals and sweaters, I had to wear a beanie to keep my head warm. Apparently the fireplace was not big enough to heat up the whole cabin. It only warmed the sala where my son Mio slept.
When we woke up around 8 a.m., we saw a thin film of frost covering the rocky brownish landscape. The trees that covered the hills were frosted too. We also discovered that no water was coming out of the tap. Apparently, the pipes were frozen.

I called the main office and told them about the water situation. The manager assured us that water would be resumed soon. He advised us to keep all the taps open. Once the ice had thawed, he said, water service would resume. In about an hour and a half, water came back just in time to wash the plates and cooking pans we had used for a hearty breakfast.

None of us seemed to mind the minor inconveniences. We were just happy to be together. We spent a lot time sitting around the table and just talked, laughed, reminisced. We took photos, cooked and ate.

Most of my family were there except for Erica and Ananda who live in France. We all just felt great being together even if we were incomplete. Since we now all live apart from each other, we had a lot of catching up to do.

Our apo Zadie, Ala and John’s daughter, was the center of attention and delight. She just loved the cold and the presence of her Tito Mio, Lolo and Lola. We showered her with affection. She seemed to have discovered that we are all close and connected and that her family was actually bigger than she thought.

That afternoon, we drove around Turon Gates and stopped by near a river. We spread a blanket to sit on and took some photos. Ala brought a ukulele and played and sang. Everything was picture perfect and pleasant.

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 10.43.34 AM

Ala and John on the way up.
We went home early and set a fire and drank some wine. As it got dark I played the ukulele and sang a few songs. Mio turned on his phone and we went live on Facebook. It was such a unique moment that we wanted to share with friends.

After dinner, Mio and decided to brave the freezing two degrees Celsius weather and drive out to a hill we had passed earlier. We wanted to take photos of the stars. The sky was awesomely beautiful. The heavenly bodies were showing off in a grand way. They were fabulous and countless. Without much effort, we could see the Milky Way spread out across the sky. We climbed the hill guided by a torch that lit the way. We could see a few kangaroos staring at us. It scared me a bit but we figured that we were safe as long as we left them alone.

Since we did not bring tripods, we balanced our cameras on rocks and tree stumps to shoot the night sky. It was such a special moment. There we were, out in freezing weather and almost unmindful of it, totally absorbed and awe-struck by the greatness of God’s creation.

I felt especially blessed. I thought to myself, How many fathers can claim to have had a night like this with their son? I smiled in gratitude. Mio and I were totally enjoying each others’ company as we tried to go for the best shots. There was no effort to even connect. We just connected naturally and seamlessly. It is a night I will always remember.

The next day, we drove back home to Sydney. It was great to be home.

That night, we all exchanged photos via internet to relish the weekend we had. We will probably do this more often.

This is what good memories are made of.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/07/22/1835559/what-good-memories-are-made-of#plwthOEdbq6zBRwj.99

Bar life down under: Footy and a beauty contest

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 4.07.48 PM

I have been to Sydney many times and have seen and experienced a lot of what comprises Aussie living and social life. I have done a fair amount of what the locals do. I have gone hiking in the forests, gone to the beach many times, gone camping, had numerous barbies (barbecue picnics), celebrated ANZAC day, Australia Day, visited national parks, owned a house, had a job, paid a mortgage, taken countless train and bus rides.

I have also gained Aussie friends, and I feel comfortable with them. They are very friendly and accommodating. “No worries, mate” seems to be one of their national mantras.

Last night, I had a minor experience in acculturation. I went to a bar, watched Footy there and took photos of a modeling contest. This is quite unprecedented for me. I hardly go to bars; I don’t even drink. I’ve never sat and watched more than five minutes of sports on Australian TV. Footy, a very physical contact sport similar to American football but with Australian rules and without the protective gear, is very popular here. But I still have to learn to like it enough to care to watch it. I do not know the teams people cheer for, nor the mechanics of this strange sport called Footy. And as for the modeling pageant, while I have attended and judged a beauty contest here in Sydney before where Filo-Aussies competed, I had never witnessed a beauty pageant with an all-Aussie cast until last night!

Two close friends of mine, Paul and Rissa McIness, brought me last night to the Ettamogah pub here in Western Sydney. We have been there before to eat. The pub/bar is a popular family place because it serves good meals. It is a huge complex. A portion of it is a bar where people just drink. Rissa, an active member of the Filipino community and the Lions Club in Blacktown, was invited to judge the modeling contest. Paul and I tagged along.

The modeling contest started during the break in the game. The judges, a mixed group of ex-winners, beauty queens and civic leaders, were looking for a Miss Photogenic, a Miss Personality, a Miss NSW, a Miss Queensland, and the big winner who would be crowned and given a sash with “Face of the Origin winner” written on it.
Inside the pub, I could see TV monitors everywhere. People dined and drank while watching the sports match between New South Wales and Queensland. Each time the NSW team scored, the noise level in the bar would escalate so loud with cheers. When the NSW team would lose the ball, people would shout in frustration. It was quite interesting to observe. While we were watching the game, Paul patiently explained everything that was happening. It is a fascinating game. Actually I can understand now how most people can get quite involved and carried away watching Footy, thanks to Paul.

The modeling contest started during the break in the game. The judges, a mixed group of ex-winners, beauty queens and civic leaders, were looking for a Miss Photogenic, a Miss Personality, a Miss NSW, a Miss Queensland, and the big winner who would be crowned and given a sash with “Face of the Origin winner” written on it.

As their names were called, each of the 17 contestants came out wearing skimpy sports clothes. They were all bubbly and gung ho as they presented themselves to the judges. Like most girls who join contests like these, many find the limelight and attention thrilling, maybe even overwhelming. They loved the spotlight and gamely posed for anyone who wanted to take their photos. I could feel their excitement.
I have watched many of these contests before in the Philippines. I noticed a general difference in how Filipinas and Aussie girls presented themselves on the ramp. The Aussies seemed to be more energetic. They had bigger movements. They seemed bolder on the ramp. Some of them actually stretched their arms when they presented themselves. They appeared less shy and seemed more comfortable with their bodies.

I am speaking generally, of course. I have seen some of our own girls back home parade with great confidence, too. But they do it with less “loudness,” if you get what I mean.

After about 40 minutes of the pageant, the game on TV resumed for another 40 minutes. When the game finished, the contestants reappeared on the ramp in bikinis. The pub area was suddenly filled with more people.

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 4.08.02 PM

Ettamogah was a curious experience. There is still so much to discover about Australian life. Watching Footy and a modeling contest in a bar may have been just trivial things, but interesting nonetheless.
In my limited observation, nudity and body exposure are not as big a deal in Australian culture compared to ours. There are nude beaches here and no one makes a big fuss, save perhaps for a few tourists. I remember shooting a model with some photographer friends of mine at Bondi Beach. The model made no issue about changing outfits right there by the beach without cover. No one stared, and no one cared. Undressing and dressing in the outdoors is so ordinary here.

Personally, I find it quite healthy when people are more accepting of partial or even full nudity. There is a confidence and even a wholesomeness when people have few reservations about their bodies.

There are so many locations here that are very scenic. The beautiful outdoors can make people feel more carefree. Semi- or full nakedness can be celebratory and liberating.

Ettamogah was a curious experience. There is still so much to discover about Australian life. Watching Footy and a modeling contest in a bar may have been just trivial things, but interesting nonetheless. I opened myself to a new experience and it was good. I even had half a beer. (That wasn’t meant to be a joke.) My understanding of Australia and its people expanded a bit.

I have spent quite some time here over the past 12 years. I like watching politicians debate in Parliament. I still have to experience Aboriginal cultures and ways outside of what I’ve seen in museums and read in books. I also have to get bolder and explore a bit more of the outback and the rest of the continent, among many other things.

Acculturation is when you learn something new from another culture. I love it. It is a never-ending process. The more you learn, the more you understand a bigger chunk of the world and its people.

You also understand yourself better.

My gadgets? My cell phones, my rosary

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 8, 2018 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 4.05.30 PM

I have always been more spiritual than religious. I always felt that most religions place too much weight on dogma, rituals and rites. I am not against rites, rituals and practices as long as they “work,” in the sense that they make you inspired and drawn to the great mysteries that they are suppose to connote. The problem for me is many of them do not take me there. I intellectually understand what they are suppose to do, but they do not inspire me.

As far back as I can remember in my childhood, our family always prayed the rosary. I remember kneeling in our sala with my sibs as my mom led the rosary while facing a statue of Jesus who sits on a throne. Our household help would join us. We would also participate in the Block Rosary ritual where a statue of Mary is passed around the neighborhood and each family leads a communal rosary with a long novena for a few nights.

I also associate the rosary with riding our car. Often, when our family would be riding, my mom would suddenly start praying the rosary. And that was a spoiler since, all of a sudden, a pall of seriousness would come in and change the mood in the car. To counter that, my siblings and I would start singing a few minutes after we got inside the car so that my mom would forget to start praying the rosary. She loved listening to her kids sing.

In grade school and high school, it was the same. We prayed the rosary in school all the time. We were expected to carry one in our pockets. During the month of October, we wore the October medal with blue ribbons in honor of Mother Mary.
The rosary baffled me. I would always ask myself why we had to repeat the “Hail Mary” 53 times, and the “Our Father” six times. And I could never remember the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer, and the “Pour forth we beseech thee oh Lord thy grace…” prayer to end it. For a young man, all this was repetitive, and boring.

Lately, my wife has picked up a new hobby. She has started to make rosaries to give away to anyone who wants them. She spends hours and even days stringing up beads making rosaries. She finds it not only therapeutic but it also gives her a feeling of peace. She feels that it helps the Catholic cause by giving them away.

A few years back, while rummaging through some old stuff, Lydia found my dad’s rosary. My dad died in 1957. He prayed the rosary every day. I don’t know how long he had that particular rosary before he passed on. I remember praying with that rosary a few times. I imagined how many miles my dad’s fingers had traveled through it. I was moved.I felt my dad’s presence. I could feel the holiness and sacredness that this surviving family relic possessed.
When I was going through my decades of cynicism about religion and the Church, I turned to meditation. That became an integral part of my spiritual practice. I got used to silence and watching my thoughts come and go without being attached to them.

Since the new pope came in, I’ve softened my stance somewhat about religion. I started attending Mass again though still not regularly. I again picked up the rosary and started doing formal prayers just like I did when I was a kid. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was this pope’s openness and his liberating views that made me reconsider a few things.

In the late evenings, I like to pray the rosary in the dark. I often fall asleep without finishing it. But it calms me down. Its repetitiveness makes it feel like a mantra. I try to focus on every word. When I say, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners…,” I add the names of people I know who need prayers. It makes it more meaningful.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a devotee. Far from it. I don’t do it as a regular practice yet. But I have discovered its power to stabilize me and calm me down. I try to think of all the times the rosary had been prayed over the centuries, and I am awed into humility. There is a power to it.

I remember a classmate of mine saying that after spending most of his life asking big and small questions about life, love and the nature of God, he still ends up going back to his basic catechism and finds the answers there.

I haven’t found all the answers. And I know the answers that I have found so far may not even be the same as those my classmate found. But as an older person now, I am more patient and I can concentrate more when I pray.

I keep a rosary beside my bed and pick it up quite often now. It is there on the table beside my cellphones. My mother would be so proud.

While my modern gadgets connect me to the world, the rosary, I have rediscovered, is still a reliable gadget that can connect me to deep solitude and God.