Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ill Will

The highlights in the lives of Filipinos based in Saudi Arabia are simple: payday, pay raises, annual vacation back to the Philippines, and opportunities to watch other kabayans dance and sing. In Riyadh alone, the embassy compound is regularly booked because it is probably the only safe space to conduct musical performances in the city.

Here in the Eastern Province, the dibs and dabs are all over, a big night at a performance would normally draw a full house.

Here now comes TFC PopStar.

A clever marketing gimmick by ABS-CBN's global service, The Filipino Channel, the contest finally found its way into Saudi Arabia. Our organization earlier submitted a bid to run this contest with the franchise holders in the country, but our allied organization Saring Himig won the bid because of their closer relationship. In retrospect, it was a wise decision for us not to push for running this show - our time and energy would have been focused to run the show, at the expense of our clinics suffering. Yes, it was a wise decision.

I don't know if it was really wise, though, to bid for the sound system. One, I knew we wouldn't make as much money because the Saringhimig guys were our friends and as such, we weren't expected to charge them much. Two, there would be all sorts of questions should technical goofs arise. More on this later.

Camille, whose belting out "Bukas Na Lang Kita Mamahalin" by Lani Misalucha is featured in my photo album (I'm having problems posting so I will see what to do with this next post), was one of our bets to make it to the Riyadh finals. Her contemporary, Guen, faded in the last elimination round (much to my dismay, for I had her rated a notch higher than Camille). They weren't my students, but I did manage to direct them for their recital last year. They're good kids, with their hearts in the right places, and rooting for them would be natural as opposed to it being a matter of esprit de corps for our organization.

Nine hopefuls made it to the regional final - and only four of them teenagers, though two of them, to my mind, are rock-solid all the way to Dubai. The first, Kim M., is a vocal fireball with a "I-know-I'm-too-good-so-I-can-be-bitchy-but-I-feel-sorry-for-you-so-I-will-be-kind" attitude. God knows what will happen to her if she or her parents have to deal with failure. The second, Jasmine A., has the vocal cords but not the panache of Kim, only she is miles ahead in the looks department - her appeal can be encapsulated in the immortal lyrics of Tim Rice: "Of all the talent, a cross between a fantasy of the bedroom and a saint." And they're both only 14 years old or thereabouts.

(Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Shut your trap, I'm trying to be objective here, though saying things like that about 14 year olds gives me the heebie-jeebies.)

My other big bet was one of our friends too - Tim M., though I had serious reservations about his being a Pop Star (capitals intended), what with his being married, his being in the 30s and his dated '70s/'80s musical sensibility. He had talent to win the contest, but something was very wrong about his packaging/song choices. The others had varying degrees of chances to succeed in the competition. I knew Camille didn't have the horses to make it to Riyadh, but one never knows, that's why we have these tests of skill. The outside bet was Alma A., who had all the goods but not enough power in her vocal engine. She always had a fresh image, but a hackneyed performance for one of her songs could be fatal.

We were not really involved in the running of the show though on the side our group provided the intermission numbers (dancers) and on the side, I actually scripted the spiels for the show because the Saringhimig guys were hard-pressed to come up with a passable script. (I'd rather take no credit, just giving assistance, given what happened later in the show.)

Show day arrived and the only remaining worries were the two professional microphones we were renting and the CDs we were supposed to play for the show. I should have been antsy but I wasn't. We had our set-up the previous evening and I was expecting the material would have been there and that we would run through the program as agreed upon. As I had expected, our principals weren't ready and we wasted the evening (well, at least we didn't have to lift anything heavy on Friday morning). It was our Chairman's birthday, and as par for the course, we partied well into the wee hours of the morning. Which probably explained why I was loose.

Call time was 12pm and I arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule. Our microphones did not arrive until 1:00pm. Neither did the performers and organizers. While we waited, we did the full test to make sure we wouldn't be bedeviled by equipment failure. We only began preparations for the show in earnest at around 3 pm because that was the only time the organizers were available. We did a sound check with all 9 contestants and all the microphones were OK. There was, however, not enough time to check ALL the 20 separate CDs and two cassette tapes that would be used. The wise move would have been to play them all.

BUT....There was not enough time to play them from start to finish, which I would have done if we were the creative control behind the show. What I managed to do was transfer all of the fast songs, the TFC theme, and the dance tracks to the laptop that I brought to the show.

Showtime came and I noticed that there was a little more electricity in the air than the last time we supplied the sound system for the first evaluation round (about a month back). The audience was more pumped up and even the crew was moving with a more sprightly step. That comes with more preparation, I would surmise. However, I know it wasn't that great yet.

Preparation couldn't mask the poor choices the show director had for the opening numbers- thumbs up for choosing "Vogue" but where did "Wild Boys" come from? Not only did the song seem hackneyed, it was downright faggy, no offense to homosexuals, of course. I also was a bit put off by the clothes they gave the girls for the production number.

Camille did give it her all - but her tired vocal cords and her lack of preparation washed out whatever chances she had. Her vocal placement was all shot, though she did pretty well in all other aspects. In a thinner field, she would have done well and qualified. The whole group was just too stacked.

Jasmine showed little of the fever that was troubling her the previous evening, when she didn't practice with the rest of the hopefuls. Jitters or no, she shook off whatever tension she had. Her performance was well-received. On a technical level she still had to reach her full potential. The ceiling has not been fully laid for what this girl could do. Her qualifying was almost a given. It's a shame I wouldn't be in Riyadh to watch out for her - I'll be in Dubai (where I am now completing this post.)

The kids who now make up the SPA Dancers gave an incredibly good performance --- I did take a page from the retro theme of the production numbers and recommemended "Footloose" and "Just Got Lucky."

The performances worked out but for an unbelievable hitch --- and the performers played out to their strengths, except for one contender who was really off-key during the fast song portion.

The GREAT MACHINE that was SPA ran smoothly. All the parts ran in harmony. Starting with the transport of the sound system, and as always, the Porcioncula deserves all the credit for graciously hosting SPA headquarters. We were able to marshal all the equipment we required. And --- the SPA ladies cheered so loudly and were so ornery that pound for pound they were the loudest members of the gallery. The competence of the team was understated --- all I had to do, at best, was to point the guys to where we should go. It was an easy job.

And then it happened. Kim M. sang her version of Celine Dion's "To Love You More." The CD literally STOPPED! I felt the eyes of the crowd bore on me, and all I could do was throw up my arms --- what could I do?

One small beat, two small beats, three small beats of my heart and then the CD came back on. After a momentary loss of composure, she went and had a great comeback. It was a bravura performance. I hadn't seen its like for a long time.

Which brings up the question --- did she do better because of the glitch, or in spite of it? Who knows, really?

But then, all the fruits of the ill will between our two groups would manifest themselves.

More in my next post (you didn't think I would give the entire story in one go, didn't you?)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Shared Destiny

Here they come again --- the bombings in Tel Aviv have torn open this wound that has hardly healed. This wound is a cancer that eats on the hope that there will be a just and lasting peace. My reflection on this draws a lot from the popular mass song --- "Neither Heaven is at peace / when we live not in peace."

Peace is never the end, it is the means.

My soul preached to me and showed me that I am neither more than the pygmy, nor less than the giant.
Ere my soul preached to me, I looked upon humanity as two men: one weak, whom I pitied, and the other strong, whom I followed or resisted in defiance.
But now I have learned that I was as both are and made from the same elements. My origin is their origin, my conscience is their conscience, my contention is their contention, and my pilgrimage is their pilgrimage.
If they sin, I am also a sinner. If they do well, I take pride in their well-doing. If they rise, I rise with them. If they stay inert, I share their slothfulness.
-- (Kahlil Gibran, Thoughts and Meditations)

As to the events in Manila, I can't help but admire --- in the same way I admire and dread the deadly killing abilities of a cobra --- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. On the one hand, she goads her rabble in Congress to push for constitutional change, for she knows that the public distrusts their own representatives, and will resist such initiatives. On the other, every single bit of resistance buys her more time to rally her flagging strength. The deadlock will be all the more to her benefit.

The second loop in this program is even more insidious: should the charter change initiative pull through, she would be in the best position to dictate the terms of how she will wield the power after the change pushes through. Again, should these changes meet resistance, she secures her flanks and if necessary, she can let her allies take on her opponents, and let their squabbling keep her afloat for another day.

She may yet go down in history as one of our most astute politicians ever.

Which is why it is all the more important that our countrymen realize that we share our destiny, and should we fail to engage the problem at its source, we will fall victim to our own hubris.

Monday, April 17, 2006


This is my first reboot for quite some time. I was happy with Powell Street template care of Blogger Templates but I'm looking for something new to make the blog look simpler (besides, once I saw somebody else using the design, it didn't feel right - as if this lifted reboot would be any better, hehe.)

It'll take some time to perfect this so please bear with me. I'm also having problems with the Internet connection for some reason so I can't put up the changes as quickly as I would like.

Running Out Of Ideas

You Are a Newborn Soul

You are tolerant, accepting, and willing to give anyone a chance.
On the flip side, you're easy to read and easily influenced by others.
You have a fresh perspective on life, and you can be very creative.
Nonconformist and nontraditional, you've never met anyone who's like you.

Inventive and artistic, you like to be a trendsetter.
You have an upbeat spirit and you like almost everything.
You make friends easily and often have long standing friendships.
Implusive and trusting, you fall in love a little too easily.

Souls you are most compatible with: Bright Star Soul and Dreaming Soul

P.S. Yeah, and I need to reboot this blog, too.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spirit of the Times Page 2 : The breaking point

Wala lang. I'm blown away by the quality of the writing, and I'm not even a baseball fan.

It's funny because so many things American are mirrored in the Philippines ... the emergence of the reality shows, the degeneration of primetime newscasts to tabloid TV, all the shadow games in government, and the subtle-yet-overt use of fear to control the people.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Oh So True?

You Are Internal - Realist - Powerful

You feel your life is controlled internally.
If you want something, you make it happen.
You don't wait around for things to go your way.
You value your independence and don't like others to have control.

You are a realist when it comes to luck.
You don't attribute everything to luck, but you do know some things are random.
You don't beat yourself up when bad things happen to you...
But you do your best to try to make your own luck.

When it comes to who's in charge, it's you.
Life is a kingdom, and you're the grand ruler.
You don't care much about what others think.
But they better care what you think!

Easter Lesson

The passion of the poor -

I am a privileged person.

Throughout my entire life I have never experienced privation except by choice.

My Easter lesson is to never to take the life I have for granted. If I had used some of it in unnecessary excess, taking refuge from imagined or real pain, or failing to challenge myself to the fullest of my abilities, it is all on me.

Hardcore Poetry by Tavares

It depends on who is looking at the tenement walls
Whether he's coming home or passing through
You can walk the streets and find so much to criticize
But that would be the easy thing to do

'Coz there's beauty in the concrete
If you see it with your heart
The sidewalks only hurt you
If you hate them from the start

This is a song not necessarily sweet
I'll pass it on to folks that I never will meet
And if my words don't make history
Just call it hardcore poetry

You can blame the world if troubles come
And knock at your door
Let your weakness cut you down to size
If you find some fault with everything surrounding you
Maybe it's your narrow-minded eyes

'Coz there's music in the city
If your ear is to the ground
Only nonbelievers never hear a single sound

This is a song not necessarily sweet
I'll pass it on to folks that I never will meet
And if my words don't make history
Just call it hardcore poetry

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
-- Susan Ertz

Monday, April 10, 2006

In the Past ___ Year

Just going down memory lane:

In the past (fill in the blank) year(s):

1 year: I was vacationing in the Philippines and elsewhere, as captured in my April posts last year. Yes, I wish I were home now. And to answer that second question in your mind, yes, I wish I were with someone special right now, too.

2 years: I was a newbie in Saudi Arabia, and just getting used to the people and the place.

5 years: I was still about to break open another career path, or in other words I was broke, jobless, and desperate to find a job. I jettisoned a career in Global Sources a few months before, went on my own way to do freelance writing but I needed more regular work. At this time my friend referred me to Integrative Learning after I had gone through a bunch of interviews, rejections, and crappy job offers. I started with IL late April/early May. There was a standing invitation to re-join RFM's Office of the Chairman, which I eventually took a few months later when I ditched IL...

7 years: I was with RFM's OCoB at the time - back for my second tour of duty. Yes, the pay sucked. The work was okay and something to live for, but everything else...hmm, I love the staff (save for a few), I love the old man (but not the way he worked and still works), and the place was a dead-end, though at the time I didn't know yet.

10 years: I had just succeeded getting myself fired from Ayala Health Care. Now how does one go about that? Simple: don't show up, don't answer phone calls, don't even bother resigning. Object lesson: I tasted the bitter fruit of what I just did to other people by having someone do it to me. In my defense, I was younger and more headstrong, and if I failed, it was just all up to me.

13 years: We were conducting the live-in retreat for Batch 12 of SHARE. This capped a really long summer when we went to Lipa to conduct training for college students ("Heal the World" by Michael Jackson was still big in the provinces), spent some time in Marinduque, and conducted this training. And oh, there was the renewal also in Lipa. We snuck in Gary V's concert care of our host and had a great, great time. One great summer, and the last significant one with C.

15 years: Nothing significant to report. Well, yeah, some drinking and some volunteering and some studying were involved at the time. But nothing significant, really. It was one lazy summer, though I do remember we re-organized SHARE at the time following the renewal in Laguna (exact date of which I cannot supply).

20 years: It was just weeks after I had graduated from grade school, and I was embarking on the great adventure of high school. I wasn't much of a memory keeper then (I started only when I got into college). Did we go to Pangasinan or Baguio as was our wont? Most likely, since this was almost a yearly thing back then. I do remember '87 I was in Cebu with my father and later I went to band camp. In '88 my brother, my first brother-in-law (I'll have another one come this June) and I were in Batangas, followed by that wonderful stretch in ChemStart at the Ateneo. In '89 we were back in Baguio again without our parents, which was the last time all of us six siblings were together for one long trip.

(Hmmm..there were those two days before New Year 2004, but we were in just a hotel so it doesn't really count). Summer '89 was Peer Counselors's Training, and it was also the beginning of my brother's ordeal that changed our family forever...

Okay, the memory banks finally worked... yes, we did go to Baguio in 1986, though not exactly this date (but in the vicinity anyway).

25 years: Tough call. I just finished third grade then, and our official summer itinerary before I got into high school was:

a) Customary visit to Pangasinan with our cousins there. The formula then was to get to the beach, eat a lot of yummy stuff (and sneak in sips of beer which my father slipped on the side away from my mother's eagle eyes), and scare each other silly with ghost stories. Good times all around.
b) Annual vacation of our domestics, which meant that we had to do the housework. In any case, the mandate we received was to clean house. My assignment was waxing and scrubbing our bedroom floors, and occasional washing of the plates after meals.
c) Receive an annual visit from any number of our cousins, mostly from our mother's side of the family. We never had much by way of male cousins our age visiting. It was mostly the girls. Up to now it's still a mystery why.

30 years: Now that's really tough to call. Sorry, it would take more than 30 minutes' rumination to cough up this memory.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Humor Me

Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.
---Mark Twain

I hate rants. That being said, I have to mention a few things that deserve some attention. I hope the faithful (and few) readers of this blog will humor me as I vent my latest frustrations.
  • My sister and brother both decided that they needed to upgrade their cars. So they borrowed money from me to finance their purchases. Not much, but it's still my money. The upshot of this long story is that my brother did not remit six monthly amortizations to my sister's car. Result: the car ends up being repossessed. Now, I love my sister and all, but now she asks me for some more money to buy yet another car. Mind you, it would not have been a problem lending some more money for the monthly payments. Plus, the money in itself is inconsequential. It's the trust I invested in them. That I'm terribly disappointed is saying the least.
  • One of my Filipino colleagues asked me to be one of two guarantors for him to take out a company loan prior to his vacation. He gave his assurances that he will return after his vacation. Even before he had gone, I had an inkling that he would go somewhere else to seek outside employment, but I had no idea until today that it was his plan from the very beginning to ditch the company while he was vacationing. (That thought gets me in the worst possible way). Well, he didn't return AT ALL from his vacation, and despite the entreaties of another colleague/co-guarantor (who was his housemate too), he refused to send a resignation letter. Now the Company is charging his housemate and me a significant amount of money for the balance remaining on his loan. What a balls-up!
  • Yeah, I'm gaining more weight. What's new?
  • And oh, more of the usual back home in the Philippines.
  • Still more by the way, what would you say if I sported a glowing look courtesy of possible nuclear attack on Iran?

Please humor me that my problems are the weightiest burdens in the universe!

(Diabolical laughter in the background)

Sunday, April 02, 2006


A kabayan who worked as a machine operator died last Friday morning. He apparently had a seizure and suffered cardiac arrest. He was thirty years old. On this contract, he was saving for his wedding, as he had been recently engaged and on his first available vacation he would have gotten married.

Details are sketchy, but one source says he died en route to the hospital. He and his friends were said to be drinking, and the people who were bringing him to the emergency room were fearful of being tested positive for alcohol. Had they been taken into custody, they would have received not only administrative charges from our Company and thus lose their jobs, they would also have received criminal charges since the official government line bans alcohol.

Not to mention, they might have been charged with criminal liability for the death of their colleague.

I'm assuming this story to be untrue. But it feels true. How can a young man, in the prime of his life, in sound physical health (his medical records when he left the Philippines showed excellent fitness), die of a cardiac arrest? Another Rico Yan story of pancreatitis (patently unbelievable)?

My heart needs to be flanged - it's hard to read my emotions on this. Pity, or disgust?

Very Ape (K. Cobain)

I am buried up to my neck in
Contradictionary flies
I take pride as the king of illiterature
I'm very ape and very nice

If you ever need anything please don't
Hesitate to ask someone else first
I'm too busy acting like I'm not naive
I've seen it all, I was here first

Out of the ground
Into the sky
Out of the sky
Into the dirt

If you ever need anything please don't
Hesitate to ask someone else first
I'm too busy acting like I'm not naive
I've seen it all, I was here first

Out of the ground
Into the sky
Out of the sky
Into the dirt

Out of the ground
Into the sky
Out of the sky
Into the dirt

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Reviewing Past Review

Cover to "First Snow...", originally uploaded by Spocker.

In Frank Herbert's "Dune" the Duke Leto Atreides recites a haunting, dirge-like poem (backed by Gurney Halleck on the baliset) which repeats the line, "Review then, troops long past review." Leto mourns that young men must die under his command, but he cannot, will not, countenance surrender, because justice on the world of Arrakis could only be earned by the strength of their arms.

It is time, then, to review troops past review --- the generation that has passed has now yielded to this generation. Where we once called the hope of the nation, we are now partly hostage to the difficulties of life that it is almost anticlimactic to cite that once-lofty billing. Plus, you could almost add that any significant Filipino politician of our age group is one of the following: a poor retread of his/her parents, hopelessly blinded by the warped ideology of the failed socialists or totally co-opted by the Macapagal-Arroyo regime.

What does await the young graduates of today?

A few months back, I was privileged to have been involved in "First Snow of November" as an actor-director, and through the script the playwright successfully poses the question - what is home to a Filipino should memory fail us? What future would we hold if we had forgotten the lessons of the past?

Why is that so many graduates are driven by the prospect of overseas employment? What lessons would I, or so many contemporaries living here in KSA, Europe, or the USA, have prepared had I known that my career path would bring me here?

Has our dream for a nascent Philippines failed?

Review, then, troops long past review. So many young men and women have fallen in the protracted wars --- one of "revolution" by the communists, one of "freedom" by the Muslim separatists. Oh, what evil was sown among us by chaining our minds to old hates! What folly have we to think we have learned enough to sow the seeds of peace?

"Selling The Drama" by Live

And to love: a god
And to fear: a flame
And to burn a crowd that has a name
And to right or wrong
And to meek or strong
It is known, just scream it from the wall

I've willed, I've walked, I've read
I've talked, I know, I know,
I've been here before

Hey, now we won't be raped
Hey, now we won't be scarred like that

It's the sun that burns
It's the wheel that turns
It's the way we sing that makes 'em dream
And to Christ: a cross
And to me: a chair
I will sit and earn the ransom from up here.