November 30, 2010
And so it is...for real this time. As do most blogs, this one has run its course. Thank you for being a part of my life--our lives--for the past 15 years.
Posted at 03:01 am by midama
The Elixir of Life
June 26, 2010
[blog entry to be posted at a later date]
Posted at 03:42 am by midama
The Elixir of Life
April 12, 2010
Bananas on the Streets of Davao
Bananas on the Streets of Davao
During the season I was bidding friends good-bye in Hong Kong, I happened to have a conversation with a friend about our fathers. My friend who liked to ask about people’s social backgrounds asked what my father did for a living. I replied: ‘My dad is a farmer. He has his own little plot of land in one of Davao’s adjoining towns, plants his own vegetables in his backyard…’
That was the nice part I said about my father. But I continued.
‘…and when the trucks come, he STEALS—‘
My friend scoffed, for he was the type who would not associate himself with anyone less than honest; however, in characteristic l’esprit d’escalier, I failed to say the rest that follows: My father ‘steals’ bananas on the streets of Davao when the trucks from Dole or some other mega-plantation in Mindanao to dump bananas which are considered substandard, but edible nonetheless.’
If one were to read Tristam Stuart’s latest book, Waste
, one would realise how much ‘substandard’ food is completely edible and should be fed either to animals, or to human beings with more resilient stomachs.
But ‘stealing’ in the strictest sense it is, for those bananas were never my father’s property nor produce.
‘Stealing’ is still is, although the whole town takes to the streets, not to protest the seeming disregard for public property with bananas on the streets.
‘Stealing’ it is guiltily regarded, even when the townspeople have—for as long as those mega-plantations have been shipping prime quality bananas to Japan—picking up substandard and unworthy bananas from the streets to create a whole industry of banana products consisting of banana fibre, banana chips, banana cake, banana-chocolate pudding, banana pie, and all the delicious banana delicacies that come from my father’s home, largely considered by the rest of the world as plunged into religious turmoil and ruin: Mindanao.
When the trucks come dumping, the people in my father’s town are elated, for they have new banana products to sell and have a living to make. But ‘stealing’ it is, for the bananas are not theirs. Right.
I purposely could not use the word ‘scavenging’ to describe one of my father’s little pleasures, because it would have been demeaning. My father had done nothing in his life to bring himself, or his daughters, dishonour. He had done his duty as a member of the military, realised he could not wield a gun as soldiers could, earned a living by circumnavigating the globe with the opportunity he was given, raised three daughters with his absence, and has finally come home to a place he knows his own daughters and his daughters’ children would never follow.
Despite being away from his own children, living in conditions his own children would not themselves enjoy, my father has found contentment. In my last visit to Davao with my daughter, my father—the outdoorsman he can be—took his bolo and with one swift stroke, plunged it right in the centre of a coconut he had just picked from the nearest tree in the orchard, and cracked the fruit open. Out flowed the freshest coconut juice one could wish for, even in cities envisioning the freshest organic products on supermarket stalls. Nothing could beat the juice flowing from a newly cracked coconut skull that was detached mere seconds from its wiry twig and husk. He must have forgiven my daughter for not drinking it all; it must have been all that sugar in more citric acid-based drinks.
My father has shown me how difficult it can be to shun all the glistening attractions of money, power and wealth; sometimes he wishes he had won the lottery, but he couldn’t bring himself to gamble away FOOD, he would joke, as he would admit that he hadn’t the money for such ‘games’; but to walk away from all the things that one could not take to the grave when the death knell tolls, apparently quod est demonstratum
, can be done. Yes, it can be done.
In the Philippines, with the newspapers strewn with vile reportage and he newsworthy people shady and corrupt, what does ‘the good life’ mean? A.C. Grayling wrote about ‘the good life’ described in summary as a life in which a. one does no harm to others; b. one improves oneself to the highest degree that one’s mind can muster and to the degree one can afford; and c. one remains productive, active and capable of helping those in need while one’s limbs are working.
It has become common practice for some government officials to engage in bribery (lately in the form of brown paper lunch-bags somewhere along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City), but it takes a level of skill and, I dare say, artistry to wield a bolo
and strike only ONCE at the very centre of a coconut with deft and ease to crack the skull open and expose the flesh.
It takes strength of will and the courage to go against one’s heart to drive that wedge between the permissible and the unacceptable, the wheat and the chaff.
In other countries, where the natives are suspicious of foreigners, some visitors like to assure the natives, ‘We are good people.’ I often wonder nowadays what being a ‘good person’ constitutes. If one speaks for oneself, then that person could easily be the paragon constructed in A.C. Grayling’s What is Good?
But what if the person speaks for a community? The academe, or a community of learners, for instance?
Can the academe be trusted to safeguard its doors from admitting people who have—whatever their reputation in their chosen industry and despite their personal flaws, deliberately or not—committed a form of intellectual dishonesty? If the admission be done out of compassion, then it may all be well and good for the recipient of this kindness, as the faux pas can be forgotten, especially if the deed were an honest mistake. However, the deed creates a precedent for the whole community of academies in the country, as a recent event has been publicised elsewhere in the English-speaking world.
The next question the Philippines will confront is: Are the graduates of Philippine universities capable of upholding the highest standards of academic honesty
, despite the Philippine government’s ills, the country’s economic difficulties and its society’s inequalities?
If the answer is an insipid ‘no,’ then one should fear the harm an act of kindness
may do to the many intelligent and honest intellectuals of the country whose lives and vocations depend on scholarships, prizes and grants. More scrutiny will be involved—though unnecessary if one were from another, supposedly first-world country. The Philippines has become another laughing-stock in the English-speaking world: this time, the affront is not another cultural anecdote as a form of ‘mild’ racism, but an insult to the collective Filipino mind. And as most Filipino cognoscenti
who travel extensively with their Philippine passports know, the forms of scrutiny can be humiliating—and that is an understatement.
The fault of one’s fortune has become a scourge upon the plenty.
Such is the Filipino story of the public life, tainted by an exhibition of deception, the ostentatious display of greed, and the guiltless disregard for scruples and decency. How else can it be viewed without any other explanation sounding like a pretext?
Luckily, on the streets of Davao, the trucks that come dumping bananas don’t drive over their company ‘waste products’. Should that happen, not only public property will have been desecrated, but public trust as well.
Posted at 07:32 pm by midama
The Elixir of Life
March 23, 2010
Why You Should Never Marry a Poet
by Heather Bell
Think about it - the way that credit cards, bougainvillea,
vacations, dictionaries, the road on the way to work will
all never be enough. The poet wishes
with her deepest bones
and writes that she wishes
she would have killed you
in the supermarket. She wonders why
she ever loved you in song.
She publishes book after book. Each line detailing
how your hair is ugly and monstrous in the morning. And how,
like moss, you cling to her
But you marry her anyway.
and she looks like a roar of snow
in white. You figure she will read a poem about you
that day in front of everyone: her throat
is, after all, a stamen
But she is silent, says only the I DO's
and a few Bible verses.
The poet loves with a most violent
heart. What you have not known-
she has wanted to tell you the truth
all of these years,
but grew silent as an old lover does
at eighty. There is no way to say
how one loves the ache of your cracked lips,
the heavy belly of your tongue, the years she spent
feeling not loved,
but still loving. Think about it-
the poet is fearful of others knowing and finding your mouth.
She is frightened of you -
realizing you could have been
loved better or harder
or with real words.
In this age of 'Notes' on Facebook, tweets and other media, I think I shall be coming back to my old online home for a while.
I think my new home is where my element is...I have a good feeling about it.
Posted at 11:38 pm by midama
The Elixir of Life
January 16, 2010
And Number 0 song is:
Tori Amos' WELCOME TO ENGLAND
Ms Amos talks about the song here
I'm leaving Hong Kong in February.
Posted at 11:43 am by midama
The Elixir of Life
January 8, 2010
The Year of the Dream: 2010
I can very well remember one of the first songs I learned to sing by listening to the radio at age 5. It was Irene Cara’s ‘Out Here on My Own’. I remember struggling to belt those high notes ‘OUT HERE’ and ‘When I’m down and FEELING blue…’ with my granddad’s study locked shut (because that’s where the FM radio was), and then minutes later, my grandaunt would rap angrily on the door reminding me that it was siesta time.
It was those moments of feeling seemingly out of place that I felt compelled to keep singing. Of course, there was the Alan Parker original, FAME. Irene Cara played the over-all talented, all-too ambitious Coco and came out with her own album as well. Each morning, at age 8, my uncle would drive my cousins and me to school while playing her whole album. While ‘What a Feeling!’ seemed to be everyone else’s favourite, mine was ‘The Dream’. Yes, those high notes: ‘Never let go of the…DREAM!’
It may be too early to tell just yet, but whatever the result of my previous ‘disasters’ (of course, there are far worse things than rejection – like losing one’s home during a hurricane, for instance, which is why I remain stoic about it), I share in the wishful, hopeful spirit of everyone making lists at the onset of the New Year. And why are lists so important?
Because a person with a list has a plan. A person with a plan has a goal. A person with a goal has some purpose. A person with purpose truly lives.
So, to the list:
10. ‘Say (All I Need)’ – One Republic
‘Do you know where your heart is? Do you think you can find it? Did you trade it for something, somewhere better than to have it?’ My daughter dances to this song so beautifully; the wisdom on her face is beyond her years.
9. ‘Voices Carry’ – Til Tuesday/Aimee Mann
‘Hush, hush, keep it down now: voices carry. He wants me, but only part of the time. He wants me, if he could keep me in line.’
8. ‘Suddenly I See’ – K.T. Tunstall
‘Her face is the map of the world…she’s a beautiful girl…everything about her is a silver pool of light…she holds you captivated in her palm.’
7.‘Joyful Girl’ – Ani di Franco
‘I do it for the joy it brings/ because I’m a joyful girl/ because the world owes me nothing/ and we owe each other the world…I do it because I want to.’
6. ‘Say It Right’ – Nelly Furtado
‘You either got it, or you don’t/You either stand or your fall/ When your will is broken/When it slips from your hands…there’s a hole in the plan.
5. ‘Whirlpool’ – Molly Zenobia
4. ‘By Your Side’ – Sade
‘You think I’d leave your side, baby? You know me better than that.’
3. ‘Love’s Recovery’ – Indigo Girls
‘Tell all the friends…that these are ghosts and mirages: these thoughts of fairer weather. Though it’s storming out, I feel safe within the arms of Love’s discovery.’
2. 'Something that You Said' – The Bangles
'Now I know my life is sweetening, changing everything.'
1. 'Touch My Hand' - David Archuleta
This song is all about taking chances.
I shall know whether the NO. 1 song is relevant in a month or so. If there be other results, then I'm adding the 'zero' song. :D
Posted at 11:43 pm by midama
The Elixir of Life
October 31, 2009
I'm beginning to reconsider a number of things... the answers are quite surprising even to me!
I grew up in a household in which I had around 5 mother figures and 3 father figures. My mother figures were: my grandmama, her sister, and my two aunts. Then there was my mom who visited when she could. My father figures were my granddad and then two uncles removed by marriage. My father and I were pen-pals.
My parents, who were far too busy working all the time, were occasional guests. It worked this way: whoever was free to spend time with me and help me with homework spent time with me. As a result, I hardly felt any resentment at having to take care of me every day; yet I suppose as a parent myself, I don't seem to have achieved any focus at parenting 'solo' either.
One thing is quite true to all this, of course: it really takes one village to raise a single child well. A study that needs more in-depth analysis asserts that where a child has at least two paternal figures, the child would grow up a better person, to put it plainly.
This is why I wouldn't mind my children having more than one parent-figure in their lives. Our closest friends (child's godparents) are regarded by S (at present), and later when I have more children, as back-up parents of our offspring and thus should be treated with the same respect.
Westerners don't always get it; I don't expect them to.
Posted at 08:02 pm by midama
The Elixir of Life
September 8, 2009
The acquisition of language
It is said that a child first-language drawers begin to close at age 8. Before that, a child's tendency towards bilingualism or multi-lingualism can be encouraged by exposing the child to different sounds. It is quite a blessing for my daughter to have been raised in a multi-cultural environment where she is exposed to different world languages: Chinese, French, Tagalog, Spanish, English (of course) and Japanese. I'm so glad that she has a lot of friends from different countries so that her preference for languages may perhaps be informed by her friends' first languages.
Years ago it was Spanish, because of Dora the Explorer. On most Sundays, it is Mandarin, because she sometimes talks to her father in Mandarin. This year, it is French--because her best friends are French.
My daughter has a listening understanding of Tagalog (esp when she makes Nana cross) and a few words here and there. Unless I find a good Batibot DVD, I fear my little girl may lose interest in Tagalog. I used to think that Spanish just might be the right doorway to appreciating Tagalog's syntax and borrowed vocabulary, but this is not enough.
Until I've found a solution, I'll concentrate on other languages to teach her, like music. I bought her a kiddie 5-octave keyboard when she was 2. That instrument became one of her activity 'stations,' if you will, in order to keep her busy during the day. If she wanted to scribble or draw, she had her desk beside the front door; if she wanted to watch television (her dads doing, not mine), she could sit in the armchair and; if she wanted to surf the child-friendly web, she could set aside her writing pad to use her laptop. If she wanted to listen to her CDs, she had the CD player beside the armchair if she wanted to read, she could go to her room to choose a book; and if she wanted to play her keyboard, she had space by the sofa to do so.
In recent years, she has memorised notes in terms of 1-7. I've shown her the corresponding notes on musical staves based on her knowledge of Do-Re-Mi. Now I hope she takes the time to draw the notes in a notebook so she could compose a ditty or two. As soon as she learns this, I'll be teaching her dance notation. I think the most fun dance language to learn, because of its swirls and crosses, is Benesh Movement Notation.
My little girl likes to improvise. On some evenings before bedtime, we would take out one of her CDs, play a song or two, and we'd either dance together or she'd watch me dance first. After my turn is done, my daughter would play the same song and take whatever move or step she finds 'new' (she doesn't use the word 'interesting,' for I've not taught her to tell social lies, and don't intend to) and incorporates it into her dance. Some of her dances are quite intricate even for a 4 year old-- because she was 4 when we started this lyrical dance improvisation habit--but she looked like she knew exactly what she was doing...without any hint of self-consciousness at that.
I am determined to teach her dance notation, while I learn it myself. Back in high school, we were taught to document our dances using another language, Laban (though our PE teacher didn't tell us at the time, and I bothered to find out). It would be a crime not to document my little girl's work; as of late, I don't think I've ever thrown away any of her artwork from her Watercolour workshops, mainly because one could just frame them, and marvel at them as one lives with them. And after she was invited by her ballet teacher to join a choreography camp for 9 year olds at age 7 (yes, to choreograph), I cannot help but think--though every mother thinks her child a Wunderkind, and rightly so, for who else would--that my little girl has a spark or two in her that, if kindled right, would earn her place in the grander schemes of Dance. Who knows? Who would have known Pina Bausch, Marie Rambert or Lucrecia Kasilag would change the ways in which people move? One thing I do know: when a teacher spots that spark, parents should do everything they can to develop it. When ignored, and I do know this because my grandparents always said 'No' or 'next time' to everything except piano lessons and, temporarily, choir practice: the light goes out.
All will be dark in the world of ignorance and dreams dashed.
Posted at 02:13 pm by midama
The Elixir of Life
July 30, 2009
On writing well in Philippine newspapers
I have been browsing Philippine newspaper archives from 2000-2009, and I often wonder how some names manage to become journalists--especially in the lifestyle sections--without having any marked skill in writing besides the basic requirement of being able to string a proper sentence out of words.
It bothers me how the literate publishing industry of the Philippines tends to favour people whose credentials precede the actual writing.
It is no wonder than that I've found many essays bland or, to say the least on a positive note, merely grammatically sound.
An essay is not a slough [the correct spelling of 'slew' - another word gone awry in the Philippines and trans-Altantic English] of information spelled out like a memorandum or invitation. An essay is necessarily a revelation of the writer's preferences and prejudices, likes and dislikes. No matter how 'objective' one would like to be in presenting information--and this is demanded of the writer in headline news--lifestyle essays need to offer more quirk and character than the customary, perfunctory invitation and embedded advertisement to events and places of interest. Quirk doesn't have to sound like a cheeleader; character doesn't have to be conveyed by way of diatribe.
A lifestyle columnist and essayist is a taste-maker, and it is his or her job to sway the public's consumer options towards that which he or she thinks represents 'the good stuff'.
For this reason, the actual 'swaying' of public opinion requires that the prose should contain the rhythms and impulses of the writer's natural speech. When the prose sound s choppy and when sentences are chopped up into phrases that mistake themselves for sentences, neither ordinary reader cannot nor intelligent reader will not be lured in.
The queen of quirk is, if you might want to know, in my books, is Edith Wharton. Read her novels and you will find the 'dominatrix' of all fashion, art, home-making, gardening and all things related to lifestyle written with vigour and disdain, passion and loathing. Yet unlike those who express their disdain and loathing by blaming others for their lack of refinement, Wharton communicates her preferences and prejudice by description and by a carefully constructed cautionary cause-and-effect caveat, i.e. if she were writing in this era, 'If you don't listen to what I say, how would you, dear reader, expect to walk tall in your new Louboutin shoes?'
The King of character in American writing, in my books, is Mark Twain. I'm sorry, Henry James, but each page costs a tree and a half these days. If publications go on this way--hack-written, muddled in thought and uninspired--then surely, more publishing houses will be in peril.
To the publishers, editors and managing directors of Philippine dailies, do your searching amongst the young in the country's best universities. Be wise, hire them. Then train them immediately to train those who, clearly, want to be writers yet need the opportunity to become writing apprentices, though they be without a college education. Surely, within a generation, there will be more interesting writing that will bleed upon your parchment, because those writing apprentices will bring their lives into their writing, which are far more interesting than your average middle-class, sheltered laptop owner.
Teach them to read the masters of great journalism - literary journalism, please. Fielding, Richardson, Capote, Mailer, Sontag, Amis, to name a few. Those apprentices will have voices resounding with your readers, will have been educated to introduce their ideas properly yet without losing touch with their audience.
This, I think, is how to save the Philippines from illiteracy. Something needs to be done to educate the non-university graduate in the workplace. I think the writing workplace would be the best place to take these risks.
Posted at 06:54 pm by midama
The Elixir of Life
July 17, 2009
Introspection, Retrograde: My Old Column
I'm linking my old articles in retrograde here for easy personal reference. Not all articles were published online, but I'm making a list here in order to chart the 'arc,' if you will, of my writing ... and the thoughts my mind seems to preoccupy itself. Who knows where I would be coming out next?
1. Wrapping U.P.
2. The November of the Soul
3. The colour wheel
4. Theatre rules
5. The peace machine
6. Where went Lent?
7. This one is clearly one of my favourites. But if I were to use the rule often used by the likes of Danny Boyle, Samuel Johnson and William Faulkner as described in this article
, then this is one of those 'darlings' I'll have to 'kill': The cafe life
8. Mind your body
9. How to be a Phili-phile
10. The time is 9:11
[original title on typescript]
11. In her element
. This is a profile about a friend of mine who appeared in a series of short comedies. I wanted to start every sentence with the letter 'L'.
12. The Professional Life-Organiser
. I dedicated this to our dear Nana Risa, without whose help none of my projects in Hong Kong would have been realised.
13. Beware the crowd
. I was tempted to call this 'Beware the mob,' but it would have offended the sensibilities of those who mobilise
people for a living.
14. The love condition
. Yes, yes, I was *rather* inspired here. Pining away over nothing, more like.
15. Lessons from Tennis
. I'm still a Roger Federer fan, yeah!
16. Living Simply
. I do remember giving this article a different title. Pagudpud is one of my favourite places in the Philippines. I wonder how everyone is doing in those parts these days.
17. Aceite de Guzman
. The artist's website is here
I would like to write for a living. Yes, I really would like to. It's time to bag something in the interim...
Posted at 02:47 am by midama
The Elixir of Life